It’s been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I’d planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting “Pies for Dinner” cover, and I started to think about how long it’s been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I’m often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it’s a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I’d say that this savory tart is right up there.
The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it’s so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I’ve used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you’re looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.
Speaking of my cookbook, I’ve been getting quite a few questions lately about writing a second book and I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself but I’m also trying to honor the resolutions I made at the beginning of the year to just have a few dedicated months of quiet time without shaking things up on the work front. I’m almost done with my first quilt (I’m hand sewing the back right now, and it’s coming together pretty darn well if I do say so myself) and just learned how to use my new sewing machine this week. I’ve managed to weasel myself into a book club that I’m really excited about, and have been starting to push myself in running distances again. So yes, while I’m definitely thinking about what book 2 will hold and have started to make lists and draft ideas, I’m trying to take some time to not push, push, push too quickly as well.
In fact, I just finished a book that talks about that constant push, push, push forward that so many of us do (whether it’s in regards to work or family or personal goals) called A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit. This little book of essays is the first I’ve read of Solnit’s, and I ended up doing a lot of underlining and note-taking; there’s some good stuff in here. The sections I was most struck by were in “The Blue of Distance” when Solnit describes that longing for the future that we all tend to actively do or experience at some point. She uses mountains in the distance as a metaphor, describing “the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away … the color of where you can never go … the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in.”
It’s the inverse of “wherever you go, there you are”: However far you go, the distance (and its allure) is still…distant. As soon as I’d written a book, I discovered I was 0% of my way through Book 2, and then there are the dreams of buying a house or eventually starting a family with Sam. And so forth, and then a few more still.
To this Solnit notes, “For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints to the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs. Something is always far away.”
If you’re like me, you often can’t stop yourself from running out to one horizon or other, trying to reach it by making these fantastic lists of the things you want to achieve and putting them in their right order. There’s an allure to the blue, a call toward that horizon that’s actually pretty hard not to heed. I’ll probably be bad at ignoring it tomorrow, I’m sure that I’ll spend much of next week running like Kip Keino out to some horizon or other, but today I’ve somehow managed to be pretty happy to look out at it all from inside my own windows, to put out of mind (for now) the Next Big Thing that I can already hear calling, and just appreciate as it is, and where it is, that singularly beautiful blue (with, yes, a little bit of Seattle grey).
There will be time to strike out again for those faint shapes on the horizon, but this afternoon is going to be given to hand-stitching the back of a quilt, drinking homemade hot chocolate, and taking just a minute to talk about how delicious this tart was. It’s something worth going back to.
Minor note: As written in my cookbook, I pre-bake this crust for 15 minutes before adding the filling but when I made it this time around I forgot and it was completely fine, so I’ve removed that step from the recipe below. Now, an even easier tart!
Regarding the whole wheat flour in this tart, you can use virtually any flour you have at home. I often use spelt flour, but I’ve used everything from barley flour to white-whole wheat flour with great success; this is a very, very forgiving recipe.
From: Whole Grain Mornings
Butter a 9-inch tart pan with 1-inch sides and a removable bottom. Using a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse together the cornmeal, flour, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal (alternatively, you can use a pastry blender or your fingers to work the butter into the dry ingredients). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse until the dough starts to look like wet, clumpy sand. It’s ready if a small piece holds together when pressed between your fingers. If it still seems too crumbly, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Turn the dough out into a large bowl and mix in the millet using a fork. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and sauté the shallots until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
In a bowl, whisk together the milk, crème fraîche, eggs, capers, dill, salt and pepper. Spoon the shallot mixture in an even layer on the bottom of the crust; arrange the salmon across the top evenly. Pour the custard mixture on top.
Bake until the top is golden brown and the filling is set, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool 15-20 minutes. Unmold the tart onto a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.