Tomato Pie

This past weekend gave us a great taste of summer with bright sunshine, cheerful birdsong and a mini-harvest of strawberries from our rather pathetic strawberry bush that lives in a flowerpot on the patio.

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Tomatoes are currently a bestseller both in the local produces markets and in the supermarket chains, and they are very well priced. When I went shopping early Saturday morning, two other items caught my eye. Firstly, and especially interesting to me because I like sheep’s milk yogurt, I noticed crème fraîche au lait de brebis, the American equivalent of which would be sour cream made from sheep’s milk. I had never noticed crème fraîche based on anything other than cow’s milk, so naturally, I had to try it. Secondly, there was an excellent special on Italian Mozzarella di Latte di Bufalo. That clinched the deal, we would have a tomato pie for our light and summery dinner!

Being lazy by nature, I used a ready-made, store-bought shortcrust pastry dough for my pie. The only slight effort I invested was a blind-bake with ceramic beads to make the pie a little crisper.

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While that was going on, I sat comfortably at the kitchen table slicing a small mountain of ripe tomatoes and letting myself be distracted by a British TV program on home renovations. The tomato slices also had a brief pre-bake in a 110ºC/225ºF oven, seasoned with a few grinds of a pepper mill, some coarse sea salt, plus ground coriander seeds, dried marjoram, a little brown sugar, and a few drops of olive oil.

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The purpose of that extra little bit of heat was simply to bring out the tomato aroma more strongly. Meanwhile, the pie assembly commenced on the kitchen counter by spreading the sheeply sour cream all over the bottom of the pre-baked pie case and sprinkling it with lemon zest, salt & pepper, ground coriander, powdered parmesan cheese, and some left-over shredded Emmental cheese. I also distributed teaspoon size dots of tomato pesto here and there. That’s a flavorful base for our Tomato Pie! After the tomato slices were placed in concentric circles, I just added the Mozarallo bits, shredded fresh basil, some yellow cherry tomato-halves, and another dusting of parmesan – we were ready to go in the oven.

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This pie would be as easy as, well, pie if you omit the pre-backing altogether. With juicy tomatoes, it will come out soggier than ours, though. Lay the dough in a pie tin, smudge sour cream and some mustard in the bottom, followed by shredded cheese(s), and salt & pepper. Slice a bunch of ripe tomatoes and put them on top of the cheese in overlapping circles. Finish with more seasoning and cheese and the pie is ready to be baked as per package instructions. That’s all there is to it and it’s very tasty on a warm evening, maybe with a glass of chilled white wine. Our dish wasn’t any more difficult, just a little more time consuming. For once😎, I used mostly store-bought and processed ingredients, for example, the tomato & basil pesto was a commercial item and the grated parmesan cheese came in an envelop. I love freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, of course, who doesn’t? But it’s prohibitively expensive which makes it a rare treat for special occasions. For cooking, I think, the powdered stuff is quite sufficient. I look for the best freshness date and buy the most expensive-by-weight small pouch.

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Our dinner included the Tomato Pie with a slice of cold-smoked wild Alaskan salmon from the fish counter in the supermarket, some frisée with fake crab salad from the deli counter, and a cup of yellow pepper and mango gazpacho from the cooled dairy section, where I also found the mozzarella and the sour cream. See, I told you I’m lazy! The wine, by the way, is a chilled Bordeaux Clairet. A dry yet fruity, light red wine mostly based on Merlot grapes. It is a very popular summer wine in the Bordelais region. Have a great week!

P.S. Here’s an update: In response to my Tomato Pie post tonight, my dear friend T. Michael Jackson of Traverse City, Michigan allowed me the use of his recent and completely incidental “Tomatoes in Colander” painting for my little story. Thank you so much, Mike, I love it! So much more apropos than roses!!

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“Tomatoes in Colander” by T. Michael Jackson, 2019

 

 

Figs, Figs, Figs, and 7 Pears in Three Chapters

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The other day, my friend Liesel came over bearing gifts, late summer presents from her garden, pears and figs. Two pears have since been consumed, but the ripe figs required a little more detailed attention. What do you do with a kilo of figs, if you’re not really interested in making jam? Easy, you make chutney!

Searching online for a recipe, I came across the website of Traci Antonovich aka “The Kitchen Girl“. Low and behold, her most recent post was titled Serrano Spiced Fig Jam – auspicious, right? Developing my own recipe with ingredients I happened to have around, I was nevertheless heavily leaning on The Kitchen Girl’s recipe. Thank you, Traci!

First Chapter: FIGUES AIGRE-DOUX

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Let’s get the ingredient list out of the way, shall we?

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  1. 50 ml blood orange juice, freshly pressed if possible
  2. 1 Kg ripe figs, trimmed and quartered
  3. 2 Espelette chiles, seeds & ribs removed, sliced thinly
  4. 1 heaped tsp grated ginger plus 1 chunk about 2 x 2 x 1 cm
  5. 1 heaped tsp grated lemon zest
  6. 20 g light brown sugar, or less to taste
  7. 0.5 tsp of powdered cinnamon, or more to taste
  8. pinch of salt
  9. 0.5 tsp powdered Curcuma [Turmeric]
  10. 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  11. 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  12. 20 g butter

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For a spice package to be cooked with the figs, you need a Tbsp of toasted coriander seeds, 5 cloves, and a small thyme & laurel bundle.

Slicing and dicing all these ingredients is a little annoying, but once you’ve assembled everything the rest is a breeze. Start out by toasting the coriander seeds at medium-low temperature, which then go with the other aromatics in the flexible rubber turkey leg or any more boring spice satchel you have at hand. Then pour the orange juice into the still hot pan [watch for the splash!] and immediately add the figs and chiles. Now turn the heat all the way down and relax. Stir the pot lazily while incorporating ingredients 4. through 8.

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Gently simmering, let it all turn into a soupy slush, occasionally scraping the sides and bottom of the pot while excess moisture evaporates. Oh, I almost forgot, put the turkey leg in the center of the fig soup and turn it ever so often to release the aromas.

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While we’re hanging out in the kitchen, let me tell you about the Piment d’Espelette, the bright red peppers we’re using in this recipe.

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These pretty chiles are fairly spicy, but a lot milder than Serranos. They are cultivated, who da thunk it, in Espelette, a town in the Basque Country not all that far from us in the SW of France, right in the Pyrenees mountains separating France from Spain.

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The region is very beautiful

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with many small villages where one finds local specialties like yaourt au lait de brebis [incredibly creamy sheep-milk jogurt] to be enjoyed with a dollop of rich, black cherry preserve, also a regional product. As you see in the close-up above, the chiles carry the AOP label [Appellation d’Origine Protégée] which means that only the Espelette community may sell peppers under this name.

And, if you will indulge me, staying with these chiles a little while longer …

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DO NOT PROCESS THEM WITHOUT GLOVES! The scorched skin capsaicin effects are NOT pleasant.

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Once you are satisfied with the consistency of your chutney, add ingredients 9. through 12.

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Then turn off the heat and let your chutney rest for a little bit before ladling it into jars or similar.

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Second Chapter: MORNING GLORY* CHEESE PIE with FIG CHUTNEY

Now that we have all that lovely chutney, what are we going to do with it?

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As we also happen to have a large, hairy sweet potato and a nice chunk of reblochon melty cheese, we might as well bake a deep dish pie. I’m a notoriously inept baker, but as silly as my creations look, they do usually taste alright.

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We recently bought a fancy new kitchen machine and I’m still learning how to use it. Our lovely Morning Glory project thus offered both kneading and slicing teaching moments for me. The dough was just a simple bread dough of flour, water, salt, and yeast, to which I added one egg before the second proofing. It rose quite nicely but was such a sticky mess that I ultimately had dough up to my elbows. And I left the high rim in the baking dish much too thick, resulting in a lumpy skyscraper of an awkwardly towering crust, oh well. While the dough was fermenting, I ran the tuber through the slicing disk of the machine, thankfully not encountering any problems. The pie filling consisted of alternating, irregular layers of chutney, sweet potato, and cheese.

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The baking time for such a monster is considerable. I left it in the oven first for 45 mins at 180C [convection] plus another 30 mins at 160ºC, plus a few mins of broiling to brown the cheesy surface – and the sweet potato slices were still ever so slightly underdone. Better than a totally mushy mess, I hope?

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And then there was the third Chapter: PLAIN-TOMATO-PIE

As it happened, I had some dough left over. Loath to throw anything away, I made a second, very simple small pizza pie consisting of a thin base spread with mustard & olive oil, over which I layered sliced tomatoes and topped them with a little grated parmigiano and spices. Basta! That was it!

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I have to admit, I do have a great affinity for tomatoes and cheese – and the right wine to complement them 🍷 For our Double-Pie-Fiesta, I opened a bottle of nicely chilled Châteaux Penin 2017 Bordeaux Clairet. For just a second, it looked like we might enjoy an elegant dinner …

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… when we moved operations back into the kitchen to eat in front of the TV.

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It was, after all, college football night!

[* Sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas, are in the Morning Glory family of Convolvulaceae]