Thursday, October 22, 2020

Willa Jean Cornbread

In case there could be any doubt as to the credence of The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread, there are no fewer than seven biscuit recipes. That even includes one dog biscuit. I received a review copy of this new book by Kelly Fields of Willa Jean bakery in New Orleans. This cookbook is written specifically for the home cook and for baking the best versions of several well-loved recipes. It is definitely not a pastry chef’s ego trip. Through anecdotes and asides shared throughout, you get a sense of Fields’ extensive experience and capabilities, but the recipes shared are for straightforward baking in a home kitchen. And, right away, I learned a few game-changer tips while baking from it. Yes, I’m showing you cornbread today, but it’s not just any cornbread. This cornbread involved one of those game-changers. It is hands-down the best cornbread I have ever made. I also have to tell you a bit about the chocolate chip cookie recipe in the book. I was introduced to a type of chocolate I had never encountered before but will now be using often. 

For the Willa Jean Chocolate Chip Cookies, Fields experimented with ingredients to arrive at a cookie that’s “chewy, crispy, and crunchy with ample chocolate in every bite.” There are three kinds of chocolate used in the dough: Valrhona Caramelia, Valrhona Dulcey, and Valrhona Guanaja. The Caramelia and Dulcey are both made with pre-caramelized sugars that lend a lovely depth to the sweetness. I wasn’t able to find Dulcey locally, so I used more of the Caramelia and had to work hard not to eat it all out of hand before it went into the cookie dough. I bought feves of both the Caramelia and Guanaja, which are a little big for cookies, and cut them all in half. The cookie dough was mixed, portioned into big rounds, and placed on a baking sheet that went into the freezer. The frozen-solid dough was then sprinkled with flaky salt and baked at a lower oven temperature for a little longer than usual. They were magnificent. And, you can bake just what you need as you need it and have more in the freezer for later. 

Some other recipes I have my eye on from the book include the Glazed Lemon-Cornmeal Muffins, the Sweet Potato Biscuits, the Moon Pies, and the Spiced Rum Bundt Cake. I should point out there’s a primer on hand pies with several filling options in addition to turnovers. And, thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, I’m already considering the Sweet Potato and Toasted Honey Marshmallow Pie or the Pumpkin Pie with Roasted White Chocolate Cream. 

But, back to the cornbread. It’s made with corn flour (not cornstarch but corn flour) and cornmeal. Both are pre-soaked in buttermilk overnight before mixing the batter. The corn flour and cornmeal become fully hydrated and bring about an incredibly tender crumb. Regarding the issue of sugar, I disagree with Fields on this point. She likes her cornbread a bit sweet, and I do not. I omitted the granulated and brown sugars in the recipe and added just a bit of the honey. The cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet until golden. 

First, the texture of this cornbread is unlike any other I’ve made. It’s crumbly from the cornmeal but tender and not at all dry. It was delicious the day it was baked and the next day and the day after that. It was a treat with a pat of butter and better than some cakes I’ve had with a dollop of jam. It’s clearly a keeper of a recipe, and I look forward to getting just as hooked on others from this book. 

Willa Jean Cornbread 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread.

Makes one 10-inch round or one 9 by 5-inch loaf 

3⁄4 cup corn flour (I like using Bob’s Red Mill) 
3⁄4 cup coarse cornmeal 
2 1⁄3 cups buttermilk, at room temperature 
3 tablespoons plus 
1 1⁄2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted 
2 1⁄3 cups all-purpose flour 
4 teaspoons baking powder 
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda 
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar 
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar 
4 eggs, at room temperature 
2 1⁄2 tablespoons honey 
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt 
Butter for serving 
Cane syrup for serving (optional) 

This cornbread recipe is a testament to what happens when multiple folks put their heads together and collaborate on a seemingly simple project. The fantastic team at Willa Jean and I dissected cornbread—what we love about it and what we don’t—and became absolutely maniacal about creating a version that spoke to all the different things we imagined the perfect cornbread to be. First and foremost, it’s about achieving great corn flavor. But almost equally important is texture—we hate dry cornbread. This version—the best version ever—blurs the lines between the texture of traditional cornbread and that of a tender quick bread. Then there’s the issue of sweetness, about which there is an ongoing decades-long debate. Some folks believe that cornbread is just cake if you add sugar to it. Folks in the South are real serious about their position on this. I can tell you that I’ve debated it a hundred times over (and often with the same folks over and over again), and I will l stand behind and defend my stance: I like a little sugar in my cornbread. But in truth, I believe there is room in this world for all the cornbreads! 

At the end of the day, I think the real jewel is the cornbread that you can and will eat all by itself for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and that you are equally happy crumbling on top of things like red beans and chili. The trick to this perfect cornbread is letting the cornmeal, corn flour, and buttermilk sit overnight; this allows the corn flour to fully hydrate, while the acid from the buttermilk tenderizes the cornmeal, helping to create a tender, almost cakey bread that still retains that slightly gritty texture you expect. The beauty of this cornbread is that you can leave the fully prepared batter in the refrigerator for 2 days before baking it. 

1. In a medium bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir the corn flour and cornmeal with the buttermilk until there are no dry pockets remaining. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or for as little as 1 hour if you want to make the cornbread right now). 
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with the 1 1⁄2 teaspoons butter. In another medium bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour with the baking powder and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk the granulated sugar and brown sugar with the eggs, honey, and salt. Whisk in the cornmeal mixture until well combined. Add the flour mixture, stirring just until combined, and then stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter. 
3. Pour the batter in to the prepared skillet or pan. Bake for about 35 minutes, if using a skillet, or 50 to 55 minutes if using a loaf pan, rotating the skillet or pan after 25 minutes, until the cornbread is golden and irresistible and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
4. Slather with butter and cane syrup, if using, cut, and enjoy immediately. Store leftovers loosely wrapped in foil at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Anchovy Dip

With most cookbooks, there are chapters that just aren’t for me since I don’t eat red meat. I like reading cookbooks all the way through to see what new things I learn, but I don’t end up using the meat recipes unless there’s a sauce that I repurpose with a different protein. It’s a completely different experience when I read a cookbook focused on fish. I received a review copy of Foolproof Fish: Modern Recipes for Everyone, Everywhere from America’s Test Kitchen and quickly fell for this book filled with recipe after recipe that I wanted to try. As is customary with America’s Test Kitchen, you can rest assured that every technique in every recipe has been investigated to arrive at the best procedure for each dish. There are instructions for everything from removing bones and skin to properly flipping delicate fillets in the pan. Each recipe begins with a description of “Why this recipe works.” One of the first recipes in the book, the Miso-Marinated Salmon, caught my eye because the “why it works” description explained how the miso cures the salmon if you marinate it long enough. I also realized that other miso salmon recipes I used in the past never recommended scraping the marinade off the fish before cooking. Right away, I realized what a better approach that is. After enough time marinating, the flavor has been absorbed by the salmon, and the excess ingredients will be too thick for a nicely lacquered finish. And, then I just wanted to make everything as I turned the pages of the book. Baked Halibut with Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas and Israeli Couscous with Clams Leeks and Tomatoes are two examples of quick, one-pot meals but there are several. I loved the idea of poaching cod fillets in a Thai-inspired coconut broth with lemongrass and ginger. There’s also a Hot-and-Sour Soup with Shrimp and Rice Vermicelli that sounds delicious. Classics abound like a lobster roll, shrimp po’ boy, gumbo, crab cakes, and clam chowder. I got distracted by the Peruvian Ceviche with Oranges and Radishes but then started cooking from the book by making the Shrimp Burgers topped with classic tartar sauce before I set about making the Anchovy Dip. 

When I announced I was making anchovy dip, Kurt was uncertain. He likes anchovies; he just wasn’t sure that making a dip of them would be a good idea. I, on the other hand, knew it would be good. I had the gall to make a couple of small changes to the recipe despite the testing it had already undergone. The recipe calls for blanched almonds, but I used raw cashews because I had them on hand. And, I skipped the suggested raisins for sweetness. To start, the nuts were boiled until soft, about 20 minutes, and then they were drained and rinsed. The nuts along with anchovies that I had soaked and drained and water, lemon juice, lemon zest, fresh garlic, Dijon mustard, pepper, and a pinch of salt were pureed in a food processor until smooth. To go with the dip, I returned to one of my favorite ways of making chips. I slowly baked thin slices of sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes. 

By pairing the anchovy dip with homemade, baked potato chips, the snack became fish and chips. And, the dip was a smooth, savory delight. It was like bagna cauda made thick with the cashew puree. The anchovies gave it lots of great flavor that wasn’t overpowering at all. Whether you’re looking for the best approach to cook your favorite seafood dishes at home or for something new and different, this book has you covered.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Spinach, Ricotta, and Mushroom Tartlets

I’ve always enjoyed playing with pastry dough. But, crimping the edges of a pie crust, cutting and weaving lattice pieces, or making leaf shapes of pastry for the top of a pumpkin pie is about as far as I’ve taken it. When I received a review copy of The Pastry School: Sweet and Savoury Pies, Tarts and Treats to Bake at Home, I soon realized how much more could be done. These pies and tarts are works of art. For Julie Jones, pastry is her medium of choice, and she’s practiced the skills to produce masterpieces. There are recipes for different types of pastry including shortcrust, puff pastry, choux pastry, gluten-free, and vegan followed by tips for rolling, baking, blind-baking, and decorating. I appreciated the tip for blind-baking a tart shell with overhanging pastry beyond the edge of the tart pan. I’ve seen many pastry shells shrink down below the top edge of tart pans over the years. By leaving extra in place, you’ll have a full height of pastry in the tart pan when you trim the baked excess. And, the suggestion for trimming the edge is to slide a vegetable peeler along it until it’s level with the edge of the tart pan. Such a great idea. Another great tip is to use a pasta rolling machine to get extra smooth, thin pastry. A lot of the decorations are achieved by using very thin sheets of pastry cut and shaped into designs that are then adhered with egg wash to a very thin pastry lid cut to the size of the top needed. So smart. In some cases, the filling becomes part of the design as well. The Apple Rose Tart is made with curled apple slice roses and pretty flower- and leaf-shaped pastry pieces. For the little Mango and Coconut Cream Tartlets, the decorations are very thinly sliced grapes and tiny coriander flowers. The Pistachio Tart with Rhurbarb Tiles, shown on the book cover, is particularly stunning with perfectly lined-up rectangular pieces of rhubarb topped with a pretty profusion of swirling apple slices, blackberries, and pastry pieces. There are also savory pastries, and the Griddled Greens, Cauliflower, and Lemon Triangles made with sheet pastry and baked until shatteringly crisp look delicious. It was the parquet look of the Chicken, Chorizo, and Spinach Pie that I had to try. I decided to limit my first attempt at this type of decorative pastry to smaller tartlets, and I filled mine with a vegetarian mixture. 

I made the shortcrust pastry and let it chill while working on the filling. I sauteed a mix of mushrooms and set it aside. Next, spinach was sauteed with garlic and allowed to cool. I mixed the spinach with ricotta. Next, I rolled out half of the pastry and cut and filled tartlet pans with overhanging pastry. I cut parchment paper to fit into each pan, and filled them pie weights for blind-baking. After 20 minutes, the pie weights and parchment were removed, and the tartlet shells baked for another 15 minutes. Once cool, the overhanging edges of pastry were trimmed with a vegetable peeler, and the pastry shells were cleaned of crumbs with a pastry brush. For the decorative tartlet tops, I rolled the other half of the pastry through my pasta machine. I cut thin sheets of pastry into circles to fit the tops of the tartlets. Those base tops were chilled to firm them up. Next, I used more of the thin, pasta machine rolled pastry to make tile shapes. I measured and cut the rectangles and then placed them in the parquet design on the chilled thin pastry lids. I worked on top of parchment paper, and flipped the whole assembly over onto another piece of parchment paper so I could trim the tiles to the edge of the bottom layer of pastry. I flipped the whole assembly back to parquet-side-up and chilled the finished tops. While the tops were chilling, I filled the tartlet shells with the ricotta and spinach mixture and topped that with mushrooms. I ended feeling like the day had gotten away from me, and I only topped two tartlets with the parquet effect. The other two received plain pastry lids. The chilled pastry tops were set in place and brushed with egg wash and the tartlets went back into the oven until golden and crisp. 

Let me tell you what I’ll do differently next time: I won’t attempt to do all of these steps on the same day. The pastry can be made in advance and refrigerated. The tartlet shells can be blind-baked and trimmed in advance. The thin pastry lids on which the decorative layer is placed can be cut and chilled in advance. And, of course, the filling can be made in advance. With everything prepped and ready, more time and attention can be focused on the fun, decorative layer. I loved learning these tips for working with pastry; I especially loved all the inspiration for amazing pastry art; and I look forward to getting more practice.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Flautas de Rajas con Queso with Salsa de Aguacate

As soon as I opened my review copy of Chicano Eats: Recipes from My Mexican-American Kitchen by Esteban Castillo, I knew I was going to have fun cooking from this book. This is a collection of Mexican food and flavors transformed by time and place. Castillo has been inspired by the cooking of his mother while growing up in California and by his grandparents whom he visited as often as he could in Colima, Mexico. And now, he puts his own stamp on family favorite recipes and creates new takes of his own. First, the book has a joyful feel to it from the layout and use of color to the many, richly saturated photos. The recipes start with basics like salsas, beans, rice, and sauces and move on to everything from appetizers to desserts and drinks. There are so many things I want to try; this book will be at my side in the kitchen for the foreseeable future. I fell for the book when I flipped it open to the page with a torta filled with delicata squash seasoned with a spice mix based on chorizo flavors. A few pages later, there’s a Rigatoni with Cilantro Pesto and Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms and then the Shrimp Ceviche Tostadas. Of course, I was hooked. There are a few versions of pozole, lots of options for tacos, and delicious drinks with and without alcohol. In the head note for the BBQ sauces, there’s a mention of grilling quail which I think would be fantastic with the Hibiscus BBQ Sauce. That sauce is also used to marinate the Tequila BBQ Chicken Skewers. I’ll have to try both. I also predict I’ll be trying several options in the Drinks chapter. I’ve never made homemade horchata, but I want to try it. There are three versions here: classic, matcha, and coconut, and all can easily be made dairy-free. And, the aguas frescas all look incredibly refreshing especially the Cherry Lime Chia Agua Fresca and the Strawberry-Jamaica Agua Fresca. The Desserts chapter reminded me that I’ve been meaning try a chocoflan for ages. It’s a layered dessert that’s made with chocolate cake batter topped with flan custard. As it bakes, the layers switch places, and the flan moves to the bottom of the pan. It sounds like magic, and I want to see it happen. To get started cooking, the Flautas de Rajas con Queso looked like a surefire hit, and I had a craving for the accompanying Salsa de Aguacate. 

I don’t know why I had never made avocado salsa before. It’s a perfect mix of guacamole and salsa verde. The day I made it, I declared it was my favorite thing I’d made lately. I keep making it now so it’s always in supply in my refrigerator. It’s a simple puree of avocados, garlic, green onion, tomatillo, cilantro leaves, serrano, lime juice, and salt. It couldn’t be easier. For the flautas, I had some locally-grown poblanos on hand, and they were seeded, sliced, and cooked with chopped crimini mushrooms, and minced onion. Garlic was added, and the mixture was seasoned with salt, pepper, ground coriander, and ground cumin. Then, I strayed from the recipe just a bit. Strips of panela cheese were suggested. With a strip of cheese, you could just add one piece to each tortilla before rolling it up with the filling. I opted for an aged goat cheese that I shredded. Corn tortillas were filled with the rajas and mushroom mixture and some shredded cheese, and my tip is to use a toothpick to hold the rolled tortillas closed. Once they were all filled, they were fried, seam side down with the toothpicks removed, until golden and crispy. I topped them with cilantro leaves, sliced jalapeno, and that delicious salsa. 

I always love bright, spicy, bold flavors like what’s found throughout this book, and the flautas and salsa were two great examples of them. And, I was right. This book is a lot of fun with its mix of traditional and creative approaches. I need to get back to the kitchen. I have lots more cooking to do.

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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Spiced Salmon Skewers with Parsley Sauce

Like everybody, I’m a big fan of all the books from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. So naturally, I was excited to read the latest from Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley which is Falastin: A Cookbook, and I received a review copy. This is a collection of recipes and stories about Palestinian food and culture. Some dishes are classics, some are reconsidered classics, and they all sound like something I want to cook. At the start of the book, I learned that there is no “P” in the Arabic language. Falastin refers to the Palestinian people, the land, the culture, and more. The authors’ goal with this book was to “strike a balance between telling it like it is in Palestine and conveying the upbeat spirit and ambition of the people.” The stories of cooks, farmers, producers, and restaurants that appear among the recipes achieve that goal well. And, the recipes move from breakfast to every course of a meal with one delicious idea after the next. This is straightforward, home-cooking that’s easy and craveable. I stop every time I flip by the photo of the labneh balls rolled in herbs, chile flakes, and za’atar. I have to make those soon. I might even attempt a vegan yogurt version. There’s a chapter for Veggie Sides and Salads, and I don’t know why I’ve marked pages because I want to make everything here. Every single thing. The Roasted Cauliflower and Charred Eggplant with Tomato Sauce; Spiced Chickpeas with lots of herbs and green onion; and Bulgur, Tomato, and Eggplant Pilaf are a few examples. Ordinarily, a Soups chapter may or may not interest me much, but although it’s a small chapter here, it stopped me in my tracks. Butternut Squash and Saffron Soup with Caramelized Pistachios and Herb Oil and Chard, Lentil, and Preserved Lemon Soup with crispy onions are just two options I can’t wait to try. Also, the Sumac Onion and Herb Oil Buns and Za’atar Bread are on my list. The chicken dishes all look delicious, and I’m imagining ways of making the various meatballs and stuffed vegetables with either ground poultry or a mushroom and bean mixture instead of the lamb and beef. I really do want to make everything. That definitely applies to the Fish chapter as well. Fish Kofta with Yogurt, Sumac, and Chile; Roasted Cod with a Cilantro Crust; and Prawn and Tomato Stew with a Cilantro Pesto are all competing for what I’ll cook next. First though, I fired up the grill for Spiced Salmon Skewers with Parsley Oil. 

The head note mentions that these skewers are “a winner with all when served,” and I whole-heartedly agree with that assessment. They were only served to two of us at my house, but the recipe was definitely a winner. After the fish was cut into chunks, it was tossed with a Fish Spice Mix and olive oil and was left to chill for an hour. That part could be done the day before. The spice mix was made with ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric, and paprika with added sumac and salt and pepper. There’s a suggestion to make more of this spice mix than you need since it works so well on so many things, and you should. I want to marinate all things in this spice mix. Now, I have to admit, I took a couple of liberties with the recipe. The idea was to cook quartered onions in olive oil and cool them before stacking them on skewers with the salmon. Since the salmon cooks quickly, this gives the onion a head start. The assembled skewers were to be cooked on a grill pan. I made the onion chunks a bit smaller, added some summer squash, peppers, and cherry tomatoes to the skewers, and seared them on a hot charcoal grill outside. There’s a great tip for making sure the salmon cooks evenly: if you have some thin pieces from the tail end, fold them in half to make a thicker cube on the skewer. For the parsley oil, parsley, garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper were pureed until smooth. The skewers were served with the parsley oil and lemon wedges on the side. 

Let me say, this is something I’ll be making often. The flavors from the spice mix and the punchy parsley oil made the salmon and vegetables addictive. I already had a habit of making lots of skewers for the grill, and now I’ll be making even more. I’ve learned more about Palestine from this book--I’m now trying to find Palestinian olive oil so I can taste how delicious it is--and I’m going to be cooking a lot of great food from it as well.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Sourdough Brioche Cinnamon Buns

I’ve really liked baking with sourdough since my first attempt years ago. I have a few favorite recipes that I bake often like sourdough bagels, baguettes, and a rye and wheat combo loaf that seems foolproof. I realized that I may have gotten stuck in my habits with sourdough. I’m used to the recipes I’ve made several times, know how the timing will work, and understand when there is flexibility in the scheduling. Dare I say, I’d gotten stuck in a sourdough comfort zone? It was time to try something new, and Modern Sourdough: Sweet and Savoury Recipes from Margot Bakery, of which I received a review copy, by Michelle Eshkeri was great inspiration. These breads from Margot Bakery in North London are varied in origin but all rely on great flavor from sourdough. The book also includes some cakes, cookies, and bars offered at the bakery that are not made with sourdough, but I was intrigued to find Sourdough Rye Brownies, Fennel and Feta Muffins, and Aubergine Einkorn Galettes all made with sourdough in the recipes. The Margot loaf is a round, country-style loaf with Khorasan and white bread flours, and it rests for a long, slow rise in the refrigerator before baking. There’s also Focaccia, Challah, Simit, Beetroot Bread, and even laminated pastry dough all made with no commercial yeast or other leavening. There’s even a version of Rugelach made with that laminated pastry dough that looks delicious. But, it was the brioche that got my attention. I’ve made brioche several times and in different ways in the past. Most recently, my old mixer broke and I ended making a very rich brioche dough by hand with lots of kneading. I’ve made a sourdough brioche before that was used for hamburger buns, but that recipe included some yeast in the dough. Here, the brioche is definitely rich with eggs and butter, but it was all up to the starter to make it rise. I had to give it a try. I was torn between using the dough for a Babka loaf or Cinnamon Buns. Both are made with the same dough and same filling and I’ll eventually come back to try the Babka, but a cinnamon bun craving had to be addressed first.  

The recipe itself was a multi-day process after I had fed my starter for a day to revive it. Stage one just involves feeding a small amount of active starter with the amounts of water and flour listed. Stage two mixes the Stage one starter with more flour and water, and this time a little sugar. Stage three is for mixing the brioche dough with a pause for the autolyse, a long ferment in a warm oven with a bowl of water, and then additional resting in the refrigerator to make the dough easier to handle. Once chilled, the dough was patted into a rectangle and schmeared with a butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon mixture. With every other cinnamon bun recipe I’ve ever made, the dough is always rolled into a log and then sliced into rounds. Here, the dough was cut into strips first and then rolled three strips at a time before being separated into rolls and placed in a baking dish. It prevented the dough from becoming stretched and elongated. Once the rolls were formed, they sat, covered, at room temperature for 16 to 24 hours before baking. At last, the next day, they were baked. I can never resist topping cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting, and I did that here as well with a coffee-flavored frosting. In the book, a simple syrup is poured over the buns while they’re still warm from the oven for a simpler look. 

To call these cinnamon buns decadent would be an understatement. They are delightfully rich, and all the waiting time was worth it for the flavor it produced. While I have no complaints about these at all, next time I might reduce the amount of filling since it did escape the rolls a bit. But first, I need to try those brownies and the focaccia and the muffins.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Roasted Tomato and Zucchini Tarts

A trip to France seems especially dreamy right now. Dreamy and impossible. But, it’s a perfect time to transport yourself through food. Melissa Clark’s Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France of which I received a review copy, is just the book for that. She was introduced to French food at an early age on trips to France with her parents, and they incorporated that food into meals back at home by using books by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. She grew up knowing New York food and French food and combinations of the two, and that experience continues to inform her cooking now. This new book is a look at how she cooks today with that mix of influences in mind. I was first struck by the scandalous abundance of cheese, cream, homemade mayonnaise, and eggs in dish after dish, but that kind of richness is a signature part of French cooking. After reading through the recipes, there are plenty of options with a leaner profile too. For a brunch dish described in the head note as “over-the-top rich and creamy,” the Twice-Baked Cheese Souffles made with leeks, herbs, gruyere, parmesan, and cream look like decadent fun. I’d also like to try the Cornmeal and Harissa Souffle with a green salad for dinner. In the Cheese chapter, the Croque Monsieur Casserole sounds like a crowd-pleaser, and latkes are shown with added gruyere in them. You’ll find some lighter fare in the Salads chapter with Classic Salade Nicoise that sticks to the tradition of good canned or jarred tuna and Shaved Zucchini and Melon Salad with Mint and Almonds for a warm weather meal. There are also soups, savory tarts, fish dishes, chicken and other meats, a chapter just for vegetables, and dessert. The Giant Prawns with Preserved Lemon, Herbs, and Brandy is one of those less-rich dishes made with an herby-lemony sauce that will work just as well with shrimp if you can’t get prawns. I’m hoping to find myself with lots of sungold tomatoes soon so I can try the Buttery Crab Pasta with Golden Tomatoes and Chervil, and The Ratatouille Sheet-Pan Chicken will make a perfect dinner for eggplant season. Most of the desserts are simple in nature like the French Yogurt Cake with Cherries and Cardamom and the Raspberry-Lavender Clafouti. I’ve marked the page for the Almond Milk Sorbet and can’t wait to follow the suggestion of dropping a scoop into a glass of cold brewed coffee. But, for now, zucchini and tomato season is in full swing, and I got started on the Roasted Tomato and Zucchini Tarts when I saw them. 

For these petite tarts, the crusts are made in a muffin tin. I made the dough by hand, and it was left to test in the refrigerator for an hour before being divided into eight equal pieces. Each piece was rolled into a thin round and fitted into a muffin cup. It was suggested in the recipe that the dough be weighted down while blind baking either with another muffin tin on top or with foil balls. I just docked the dough and pressed it down again when I turned the pan at the halfway point. Once golden, the crusts were left to cool. Chopped zucchini and halved cherry tomatoes were tossed with olive oil, seasoned, and sprinkled with rosemary before roasting. I wouldn’t have thought to reach for rosemary here, but I’m always happy to snip a bit off the shrubs taking over my yard. While the vegetables roasted, ricotta, egg, chopped parsley and chives, and minced garlic were whisked together. I opted for a vegan ricotta since I’ve been eating less dairy lately. It’s not a strict rule for me, and I did use butter in the dough, but just a reduction overall in cow dairy. The ricotta mixture was spooned into the tart shells, the roasted vegetables were added on top, and I added chopped olives for a salty bite rather than parmesan cheese. The muffin pan went back into the oven for another 25 minutes until the filling was bubbly and hot. 

I served the tarts for dinner with arugula salad and then for brunch with eggs, and both meals were delicious. The summery taste of first of the season zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes is always so good, and the herbs in both the roasted vegetables and the ricotta filling brought bright flavors to the mix. More virtual travel through meals is definitely on the menu. 

Roasted Tomato and Zucchini Tarts 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France

Serves 8 

3/4 cup (97 grams) all-purpose flour 
1/2 cup (77 grams) whole-wheat flour 
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt 
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks / 141 grams) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes, plus more for greasing 
1 large egg yolk 
2 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed 
1 pound zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes 
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves 
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed 
Freshly ground black pepper, as needed 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
1/2 cup (4 ounces) fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese 
1 egg 
2 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, and chives 
1 small garlic clove, finely grated or minced 
5 tablespoons (1 1/4 ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese 

1. Make the crusts: Using the ingredients listed above, prepare the crust according to the directions on page 117, adding the egg yolk along with the ice water. Gather the dough into a ball and then form it into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour. (Note that this sticky dough comes together best in the food processor—which distributes the butter and egg more evenly—but you can do it by hand.)  
2. Heat the oven to 375°F. 
3. Grease 8 cups of a standard 12-cup muffin tin, leaving the other 4 cups ungreased (or use two 6-cup pans). Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, shape each one into a golf ball–size sphere, and roll each ball out to form a ⅛-inch-thick round. Press each round into a greased muffin cup and lightly crimp the edges. Nestle a second muffin pan on top of the first to help weight down the crusts. (If you don’t have a second muffin tin, crumple up balls of foil and place them in each doughlined muffin cup instead; the goal here is to keep the pastry from shrinking too much.) Transfer the muffin tin(s) to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the top tin (or foil balls) and continue to bake until the bottom of each crust is just dry to the touch, about 5 minutes more. Transfer the muffin tin to a wire rack to cool.  
4. Prepare the filling: While crusts cool, raise the oven temperature to 400°F.  
5. In a bowl, toss the zucchini and tomatoes with the rosemary, salt, pepper, and oil. Spread the mixture out on a rimmed baking sheet and roast it, tossing the vegetables occasionally, until they are tender and light golden, about 25 minutes.  
6. In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg, mixed herbs, and garlic. Season with a large pinch each of salt and pepper.  
7. Spoon an equal amount of the ricotta mixture (about a heaping tablespoon) into each cooled crust. Top the ricotta with the roasted vegetables. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top. Transfer the muffin tin to the oven and bake until the tarts are bubbling and golden, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly before serving. I like to pop these out of the tins with a small offset spatula, but a butter knife also works. 

Thinking Ahead Dough: You can make the tart dough and chill it in the refrigerator up to 2 days in advance. Flatten it into a disk and wrap it in plastic wrap before chilling. Tart shells: You can bake the shells up to 1 day in advance before filling them. Store them, uncovered, at room temperature.

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