Blueberry Cobbler

This is one of those dishes that missed its final photo shoot. It’s just so good that when you pull it out of the oven, you gaze in awe for a moment, and then immediately leave the room because you know that if you look at it any longer you’ll never have the willpower to give it the 15 minutes or so it needs to solidify and cool off before you should thrust a spoon into it. When you come back to heap a serving onto a small dessert plate, the last thing you could possibly thing about is grabbing your camera before you dig in.

I made this twice this summer, the first time in my mother’s kitchen in Connecticut. While traveling in the States late July, I bought a pint of blueberries almost every day and ate them as snacks while wandering around New York City in the heat, while reading in the Amtrak, and while sitting on a friend’s back porch outside of Boston.

When we got to my mother’s house, I told my French counterpart that I needed to make a blueberry dessert while we were in New England because the blueberries in France cost around twice as much. I nosed through my mother’s cookbooks, eyeing the recipes of my youth, but deciding to make something much simpler – no sour cream, no buttermilk – just blueberries, a bit of sugar, and a touch of topping.

The first weekend we were back in France we were perusing our usual Marché Aligre on a weekend morning, when I spotted a fruit seller on the corner of the square – Les myrtilles, 1 euro les deux ! 

Blueberries - two pints for a euro

Blueberries – two pints for a euro

In disbelief, I approached the plastic pint containers, expecting the berries to be covered in mold. I picked up two, three, four boxes – not moldy. I was sure the berries wouldn’t last very long (since the cheapest fruits at the market are usually waiting to be consumed immediately,) but I bought six boxes to the hefty tune of 3 euros. (Usually, a one-pint box of blueberries will cost 4-6 euros.)

I re-made my cobbler, and found that, unexpectedly, it actually tasted a bit better here in France – thanks to the better quality of our butter (sorry, Americans!)

Preparing the cobbler - before topping

Preparing the cobbler – before topping

Blueberry Cobbler
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe: http://markbittman.com/blueberry-cobbler/

500-600g (5-6 cups) blueberries
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar, divided
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
75g (½ cup) all purpose flour
115 grams of butter (1 US stick) softened, plus scant extra for the dish
pinch salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Rinse the berries and dry them – I do this by letting them sit on the windowsill for an hour or so. Butter an 8 inch (20cm) square ceramic dish, and preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

Gently pour the berries into a large mixing bowl and toss them with 1/2 cup sugar and the cornstarch, mixing carefully but well enough to ensure no lumps of cornstarch remain, then pour them into the baking dish.

Pour the other 1/2 cup of sugar into the mixing bowl along with the flour, salt, and baking powder, and mix well. Cut the butter into thumbnail-sized cubes and incorporate it into the dry mixture along with the egg and vanilla, being careful not to let it get too soft. I mixed it together with my hands, with a bit more force than tossing a salad, pressing the flour and sugar mixture into the butter cubes with my thumbs.

Once you have a mostly uniform, but sticky and thick, batter mixture, spoon it out into heaping tablespoons on top of the blueberries.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, checking after 20 minutes, until it is fully golden and browning at the edges.

Let it sit for at least 15 minutes before you dig in!

 

Michel’s Red Onion Tart

We sat around the thick wooden dining table after sunset in Avignon. The sky was still deep blue, slowly turning black, reflecting the colors of a mood ring.

We’d made dinner for our hosts – as we like to do when we play the role of overnight guest. Stuffed tomatoes and zucchinis (courgettes), a reminder that summer was quickly on its way, and a salad as a starter.

Ottolenghi’s red onion, walnut, and goat cheese salad with arugula (rocket.)

Michel commented on the onions with a grin “Ah, l’oignon rouge… quelle douceur.”

“Wait a second, don’t you have a red onion dish that you make?” my partner in crime interjected.

Red onions

Red onions

Michel smiled and nodded, pleased that his good friend’s eldest son remembered the recipe, one of his potluck staples.

“What was it again? A savory tart?”

I remembered, too – I’d already heard about the red onion tart during family dinner discussions of summertime get-togethers with the friends from Avignon.

Michel told us the story of having been invited to a conference in Spain that he didn’t want to attend. The conference booklet had included the dinner menus for each evening. One night, the group was to eat a “Catalane onion tart,” and Michel, curious about what such a tart would possibly taste like, decided to make it up himself.

“So, I added a bit of cinnamon, some red wine, and some small dried raisins. Cooked the red onions in a frying pan, and then poured the whole thing into a pie crust and browned it in the oven.”

“Wasn’t there some crème fraîche too? Or shredded swiss cheese?” asked Michael, testing his childhood memory.

“No, not at all!”

“Do you put lardons?” I asked, inquisitively.

“Of course I do!”

Michel beamed in telling us that he’d made the tart for a neighborhood association dinner, and minutes after having laid it down on the table, it had disappeared.

After dinner and before bed, I scribbled down my notes about the tart and vowed to recreate it, myself. Like a game of Telephone, I give you the Catalan onion tart, and invite you to make yet another version, if you please.

Thyme

Thyme

Michel’s Red Onion Tart

Serves 6 as a light dinner main with a salad, or more as a happy hour snack.

Ingredients

25 grams (3 Tablespoons) pine nuts, lightly toasted
100g lardons, chopped fine
3-4 red onions, chopped (500 grams)
1 cinnamon stick
1.5 Tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
60 cl (¼ cup) red wine
45 grams (4 Tablespoons) Corinthe raisins (see note)
3 eggs
15 grams (3 Tablespoons) fine breadcrumbs
one puff pastry pie crust
salt, pepper, olive oil

Method

Start by sautéing the lardons until lightly browned and crispy, about 2 minutes.

Add a splash (about 1-2 Tablespoons) of olive oil, the onions, and the cinnamon stick and sauté over medium to medium low heat stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and sweaty, about 8-12 minutes.

Sautéed red onions with raisins

Sautéed red onions with raisins

Add the thyme and red wine, stir well to incorporate, and continue to cook until all the wine has evaporated.

Taking off the heat, add the raisins and allow to cool.

While the onions cool, heat oven to 190C/375F. Blind bake the crust with pie weights (or a bunch of beans that have been collecting dust in the back of the cupboard…) for 12 minutes, remove weights/beans and continue to blind bake for 3-4 minutes until golden brown.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, season with salt and pepper. Discard the cinnamon stick and add the onions to the egg mixture, along with the breadcrumbs and toasted pine nuts, and mix well.

Pour the mixture into the piecrust and bake for 28 minutes, turning halfway to ensure an evenly browned crust.

Serve lukewarm or at room temperature, with a glass of red wine.

Michel's Red Onion Tart

Michel’s Red Onion Tart

Note: Corinthe raisins are small, black raisins and they work perfectly in this tart because they are about the same size as the pine nuts. If you can’t find them, regular black raisins would work, too.

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Courgettes

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Courgettes, waiting to be stuffed

Two courgettes walk into a bar.

One of them is standing upright, bowtie properly affixed; white oxford shirt tucked into his pleated khaki pants. The other looks like he had a rough night. Slooping slightly to the side, his hair is slick and syrupy. He’s got some kind of lanyard tied around his waist like a belt. His shoes are grimy, the leather well-worn, the soles falling off. His smell is a bit more pungent than the first courgette. Maybe a hint of musk?

“Man, what’d you get up to?” says the first courgette to the second.

In a refined Received Pronounciation accent, he raises his jaw line, straightens his posture, and says to the first courgette: “I spent the evening in a marvelous warm bath with a lovely cocktail of organic vegetable broth, sweet pomegranate molasses, plenty of dried mint, and heaps of freshly ground allspice.”

The first courgette begins to feel a bit intimated. Despite his sleek exterior, he knows deep down in his soul that he can’t hold a candle to this eloquent mess.

“Oh yeah, dried mint, I’ve got some of that too!”

“What a sweet elixir with crushed garlic cloves, and fresh cilantro finely chopped blended with the rice that fills my insides…”

The second courgette undoes his soiled white bowtie and sits on a stool. Raising his voice, he calls down the bar “Waitress, could I please have some Greek yogurt drizzled with blend of mint leaves and olive oil?”

“Uhh, and a sprinkling of parsley for me please!”

**********

I realized last week that there were recipes for stuffed courgettes in both Plenty and Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi (for whom I have already proclaimed my fangirldom.) I’m unsure of why it took me so long to try either of them, but I decided to make them both back to back, a few days apart.

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi's Plenty (The First Courgette)

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty (The First Courgette)

Despite my narration above, I should insist that both recipes have merit. The first one is an excellent weeknight main dish, prepared in under an hour (simmer time: 40 minutes.) It is flavorful and healthy and not that complicated.

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi's Plenty More (The Second Courgette), just before cooking

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (The Second Courgette), just before cooking

The second one, however, takes the whole idea of a “bastardized version of a Turkish original” (as Ottolenghi so proclaims in Plenty) to a whole new level. More ground allspice, more dried mint, plus a tomato, cumin, some garlic, tons of chopped cilantro, and perhaps my most favorite ingredient in any sauce – pomegranate molasses. With a simmer time of at least 1 hour and a half, this is more suited to a weekend afternoon cooking project in advance of a dinner party. (He suggests you serve them the next day, cold or at room temp.)

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Stuffed Courgette from Plenty More – the Second Courgette, ready to be served

For the recipes: I’ll leave you to find the first here, on The Guardian.

For the second one, well, you’re just going to have to pick up a copy of the book.

One particularity to these recipes is that you’re not instructed to use the scooped-out courgette flesh in the stuffing. In order to do something with the flesh of the nine courgettes I stuffed last weekend, I made a simple cold vegetable soup.

First: sauté a chopped onion in some neutral-tasting vegetable oil. Once soft, add the courgette insides (and one more fully chopped courgette, if you have one – because the addition of some courgette skin will give the soup a nice color.) After about 3-5 minutes, cover the veg with broth (vegetable or chicken) and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and add one large skinned, seeded, chopped cucumber, and one or two avocados, cubed. Mix with a hand blender, allow to cool, and adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, lemon or lime juice, as you wish.) Makes for a delicious cold summer soup, even picnic-worthy if you have a clean empty juice jar lying around. (Made about six servings.)

Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

An ode to the apricot, part deux : sweet version.

IMG_3233

Another day, another apricot inspiration. Similarly to the day when I was in the metro daydreaming about pomegranate molasses and chipotle pepper, one day a few weeks ago I was in my office, in between emails and phone calls, and that little background brain of mine was thinking about the big bag of apricots in the crisper drawer.

In the summer time, I love upside-down cakes. Gooey, sticky, fruity upside-down cakes with buttermilk or yogurt batter flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. Raspberry upside-down cakes, peach upside-down cakes, why not an apricot upside-down cake?

Better yet, what about cupcakes? And what better way to decorate an upside-down apricot cake than with rosemary. But the rosemary would need something to rest upon – frosting, of course.

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And there you have it: a handful of summertime bliss.

The batter for this recipe is adapted from a cake I have been making over and over this summer: Candied Fennel-Topped Lemon Cake from Epicurious (try that one, too!) The base for the mascarpone frosting comes from none other than Martha Stewart.

Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

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The Urban Gardner: two libraries in Paris

My interest in gardening derives directly from my interest in food. As a sunburnt child in my grandparents’ garden in Connecticut, I would run barefoot across the dry summer grass to the garden, picking green beans off the stem and popping them directly in my mouth. Asparagus were the hardest to grow, according to Grandma, and cucumbers and zucchini were abundant and would burst to be the size of my young forearm towards the end of the season.

Here in the city, I have a small space off my kitchen window that overlooks the courtyard at the ground floor level. I have a nice herb garden and a few fruit bushes – strawberries in a window box, raspberries in two pots (thanks to friends who gave me raspberry babies two summers ago – merci Sam et Chris !)

This Urban Garden, Paris 11

This Urban Garden, Paris 11

I recently discovered that there are two libraries in Paris dedicated to plants and gardening. While the resources at these libraries are 100% en français, I thought this could be interesting for other Parisiens looking to spend an afternoon browsing and reading about the subject, or for those who have small children and are looking for new kid-friendly sites to discover.

Maison de la Nature

Located in the Parc Floral, a special garden within the park of the Château de Vincennes. The Parc proposes numerous activities throughout the year – from open-air concerts in the summer, to gourmet food fairs and other exhibits in the fall and spring.

The library collection spans from books about the environment, to different plant types, climates, types of soil, forestry, etc. etc. There are numerous children’s games and books, as well.

Books can be consulted on-site or borrowed to take home. A separate subscription is necessary from that of the regular Paris Libraries.

Note that the Parc Floral is only free to visitors in summertime during the week; on weekends there is an entrance fee. The library occasionally organizes special free events on weekends, and if you’ve signed up in advance you can enter for free.

More information in English can be found here: http://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71343/Parc-Floral-de-Paris-Jardin-botanique-de-la-Ville-de-Paris

Website in French: http://equipement.paris.fr/maison-paris-nature-17576

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Maison.Paris.nature

My sweet garden: growing mint

My sweet garden: growing mint

Bibliothèque de la Maison et du Jardinage

This library is inside the Parc de Bercy in the heart of Paris’ 12th arrondissement, free to visitors year-round. There is a tiny courtyard outside the building with various potted plants, and a small greenhouse only accessible by reservation.

Inside, the ground floor is dedicated to children’s activities, with interactive games and exhibits.

Upstairs, the small library contains an arsenal of books about all different kinds of plants, gardening techniques, and periodicals. Books may not be borrowed – but consultation on-site does not require any subscription.

Website: http://equipement.paris.fr/bibliotheque-de-la-maison-du-jardinage-6619

In the meanwhile, back at my apartment, I’ve tried my hand at staking the raspberries. Anyone tips or suggestions on raspberry growing are welcomed!

Supporting raspberries

Supporting raspberries

Roasted Apricot Caprese with Pomegranate-Chipotle Sauce

Roasted Apricot Caprese with Pomegranate-Chipotle Sauce

Roasted Apricot Caprese with Pomegranate-Chipotle Sauce

An ode to the apricot, part one: savory version

Sometimes inspiration suddenly strikes in the most unlikely of places, for no known reason. Sitting in the metro line 9, riding home from work, I thumbed through the last few chapters of The God Of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, but some back portion of my brain was concentrating on dinner.

My brain silently scanned the pantry as I read on about the escapades of Rahel and Estha in Kerala. Pomegranate molasses, yes… Chipotle perhaps? And isn’t there some mint? Dum dum…

Once home, I emptied the pantry for all the likely culprits who could help enhance my dinner. The vinegars, the oils – the nuts, seeds, dried fruits. The herbs already perched along the countertop watched and waited with anticipation as I threw bits and bobs into the blender.

The meal that evening (already-cooked couscous with turmeric cauliflower,) got lathered in this special sauce with a few additions (chicken drumsticks, roasted apricots, and basil,) and Eurkea! An idea for an excellent starter was born.

I give you this, to relish now while the apricots are abundant and ripe in the Northern hemisphere. If you don’t have a chipotle-peppers-in-adobo-supplier wherever you are, I’m sorry. Try Amazon.

Roasted Apricot Caprese with Pomegranate-Chipotle Sauce

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