Caught in the middle with pancakes

September has always been a month caught in the middle, a time of change, and possibly for that very reason, it’s my favorite. Although it can be comforting at times, I get tired of routine; it’s the ebb and flow of things that keeps us going, I think, luring us away from complacency, pushing us just beyond our comfort zone into the territory of new challenges and expectations.

As a child, September meant shopping for protractors and pretty pencils, Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers (I had this exact one) and shiny new shoes (or specifically, chunky Mary Janes as my early ’90s childhood often dictated). By August I was surprisingly bored by the freedom and play of endless summer days, and I longed for new lessons and friends, and especially for chilly nights destined for sweaters and hot apple cider.

Not quite summer, not quite fall, September weather is often unpredictable. One 90-degree day may still linger like the party guest that just doesn’t know when to leave, launching you off in a frenzy to find the flip flops and tanks you had already tucked away. Just one day later could send chills right to the bone, proving that Mother Nature is indeed in motion, whether or not you unpacked your sweaters or stowed away your air conditioners and bikinis.

I think it’s fitting, then, that this September has gifted me one very big change, beyond the shorter days and cooler nights, beyond the exchange of tomatoes for apples at the greenmarkets. I start a brand new job next week, one for which I have high hopes, and suddenly I’m a little girl again heading back to school, giddy and a bit nervous, but mostly just happy.

It felt like a whirlwind, these last four weeks, and as I am wrapping up my previous two jobs in these last days of this month that I love, leaving the people I’ve come to know and count on for guidance, for a laugh (pause for a little emotion, here), I finally had a little spurt of energy for this post. There hasn’t been much cooking this month, no, there were hurried meals out and leftover takeout (or let me be honest, more than one sad little toasted English muffin) in between sleepless nights of excitement or stress or both. And then suddenly, this week, there was one decadent celebratory dinner with the one that I love, and a slew of good-bye lunches with the ones that I hate to leave.

Thankfully, I’ll be distracted by this week’s emotional rollercoaster of wrapping up and starting anew while entertaining some houseguests on Saturday.  I love visitors, if for no other reason than to have an excuse to break out the fancy plates and make brunch. Plus, I know just the thing to make.

After all that talk about change and looking forward, you might find this recipe for lemony ricotta pancakes topped with a bounty of summer fruit to seem a little off balance. But this little dandy has been hanging out in my back pocket for the better part of two months now, and I thought it better to unload it while there is still a hope and a prayer to find good fruit at the market (of course you can always find berries at your grocery store, but they’re never quite the same).

To be honest, if I’m going to make these golden beauties this weekend, I’ll probably head out early on Saturday to snatch up the teeny apricots and rosy plums I saw piled not-quite-so-high-as-summer on Wednesday. A sweet and sour punch would make a nice addition. I’ve also seen a version topped with hot sauteed apples and cinnamon. And past hungry guests of mine enjoyed them with a side of maple syrup. Really, what is a pancake but a vehicle for something else, anyway: fresh fruit, whipped cream, butter and maple syrup? Or at least that’s what I thought until I tried these pancakes. Tart from the juice and zest of lemon (Think Summer!) yet fluffly and rich with pockets of ricotta (Think Fall!), they would be just as lovely unadorned, with nothing but a generous flurry of powdered sugar on top. Oh, and a side of champagne for me. Cheers!

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Fruit

Adapted from Bon Appetit

A few notes: Like I often do, I cut down on the amount of sugar used.  In this case 1/3 cup of sugar seemed like overkill to use with my already sweet fruit.  The riper the fruit you use, the less sugar you will need.

The original recipe called for 1/2 cup chestnut flour, which I swapped for oat flour since that’s all I had.  I think it gives the pancake and heartier nutty flavor and makes the edges crisp.  I also used strictly all-purpose flour on one attempt, and they worked out fine as well.

Don’t skip the step of whipping the egg whites before incorporating them into the rest of the batter; it may seem fussy, but it’s a trick I’ve learned is used in some of the best pancakes ever.  It’s what makes them so unbelievably light and fluffy, and with a stand or hand mixer, it really takes no time at all.

When blending your ricotta, do not mix until it is homogoneous; leave it in chunks. One of the best part of these pancakes is finding the suprise hidden pockets of sweet cheese, very reminiscent of a cheese blintz. Yum!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk ricotta
  • 2 cups chopped fruit of your choosing
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup oat flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tbsps grated lemon zest
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • Melted unsalted butter for brushing

Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth (or paper towels) and set over a small bowl. Add ricotta to strainer and let drain for 15 minutes; set aside.

Gently combine berries, 2 tbsp sugar, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Let macerate, tossing occasionally, until sugar dissolves and juices are released, about 15 minutes.

Whisk both flours, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy. Gradually beat in 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until peaks form.

Whisk the egg yolks, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, and zest in another medium bowl to blend. Whisk in milk. Add the yolk mixture to dry ingredients; whisk just to blend. Add half of the egg white mixture; fold just to blend. Fold in ricotta, then remaining egg white mixture.

Heat a griddle or large heavy nonstick skillet over medium-low heat; brush with melted butter. Using scant 1/2 cup batter for each pancake and working in batches, ladle batter onto griddle and cook until bottom is golden brown, edges are dry, and bubbles form on top of pancake,about 1 1/2 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook until browned and just cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer pancakes to plates. Top with fruit.

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Tomato tart on a whim

I made this savory tomato tart on a whim with no intentions of sharing the finished product. I didn’t have any particular high hopes or great plans, no fantastic recipe clipping burning a hole in my ideas binder, just a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes and two empty stomachs for inspiration. But the tomatoes were so darned pretty– yellows, reds, greens, and purples–all heaped together in a paper sack from the greenmarket, that I took a few photos. And then the cold, diced butter sprinkled with fresh thyme leaves and a small heap of flour for the crust, looked rather artful in my mini food processor (I may or may not have been hallucinating from hunger). And when the dough pulled together, soft and fragrant and all flecked with green, well, you get the point. So here it is. My thrown-together-at-the-last-second tomato tart.

Do you know what the best part is? Like so many unplanned and unfussed-about things that happen in life, it was wonderful. The tomatoes had swollen and burst in the high heat, creating small pockets of jammy sweetness. Despite the rivulets of thick tomato juices, the crust maintained its crispness and crumbled like a savory cookie with every bite. To make it a meal, I topped each sliver with wild arugula tossed in garlic vinaigrette and served it alongside zucchini pancakes–like summer latkes–swapping heartier, earthy potatoes for the for the light, fresh flavor of green squash, dolloped with lemon pepper yogurt. Judging by the second (Ok, it was more like third) empty plate of a certain curly-haired man next to me, I do believe I’ll be adding this dinner to my permanent summer supper repertoire, along with the spicy fish tacos I threw together last year and pasta with a no-cook tomato sauce, that, frankly, I can’t believe has not made it up here yet. I must dig that clipping out, pronto.

As tart dough, goes, this one was pretty basic. I adapted this recipe by adding a fistful of chopped fresh thyme and some grated Pecorino Romano cheese to give some oomph to an otherwise blasé crust. Blitzed in a food processor with some ice water, the dough comes together quickly. The dough must chill for a bit in the refrigerator before you roll it out and once it’s in the pan. This is probably the most time-consuming part of the process as the rest is pretty snappy.  After 30 minutes or so, it is ready for rolling and pressing into a buttered tart pan.

I mounded the tomatoes, generously salted and olive-oiled, into the unbaked crust. That’s right, no blind baking needed! I found that the crust browned in the oven long before the tomatoes were hot enough to burst open and bombard the crust with their tomato-ey juices. Nifty trick, right? If you will be using whole-cut tomatoes instead, I would definitely consider baking the crust first.

You can get more creative here, add some ricotta or fresh mozzarella if you’re in the mood. Perhaps you have some fresh basil or other herbs in your garden (Please know that if you have either fresh basil readily available to your whims or you have your own garden, I’m terribly jealous). And that’s really all there is to it; Summer simplicity at its best.

Do you have any easy go-to summer recipes?
Cherry Tomato Tart with Cheesy Herbed Crust

Ingredients–Crust adapted from Recipe.com

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

9 tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced

1/4 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese

2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

4 tbsp ice water

___________

2 pints cherry tomatoes (a variety of colors looks best)

2-3 tbsp olive oil

sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and butter. Using short pulses, process until the mixture resembles oatmeal. Add thyme and cheese, and pulse again until combined.  Add the ice water and pulse quickly until the mixture begins to come together but don’t let it actually form a ball.

Transfer the mixture to a lightly floured surface and gather it into a ball with your hands. Gently flatten the ball into a smooth disk about 1-1/2 inches thick and wrap it in plastic or foil. Refrigerate until firm enough to roll, at least 1 hour.

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a round about 1/8 inch thick. Roll the dough over your rolling pin and lift it over the tart pan. Unroll it loosely over the tart pan and gently press the dough into the pan without stretching it. Roll the rolling pin back and forth over the pan and discard any severed dough from the outside of the pan. Prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork, cover with aluminum foil, and freeze for at least 30 minutes and as long as overnight.
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the foil, and put it on a baking sheet.  In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with olive oil to coat and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mound the dressed tomatoes into the tart shell and bake in the oven for about 50 minutes or until the crust is brown and the tomatoes have burst and begin to wrinkle.

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Lavender: the way to my heart

There was a time when the scent of lavender reminded me of medicine and old musty spice cabinets. When the gift of a lavender-scented something was completely lost on me, tucked away in a drawer I never used, rarely to be seen again. But times change. And of all the things that could have changed my mind–sachets, lavender oil, fancy french soap, do you know what has turned me into a lavender enthusiast?

Cupcakes.

Am I that transparent? Is the way to my heart, like the tired (but often true) saying, really through my stomach? Apparently, yes.

On my first trip to London–Europe, for that matter–I happened upon the Hummingbird Bakery, nestled between the watercolor-washed houses and antique shops of Notting Hill. My friend and I stopped in on a whim on our way to find the famous Portobello market, and during a failed attempt to locate the travel bookshop from the movie. The shop was a little girl’s fantasy, very pink and pretty and filled with gobs of icing and pastel sprinkles. The vanilla cupcake I had wasn’t especially memorable, but I was smitten with atmosphere and the fancy European coffee. (Now living in New York, Illy coffee is far less exotic but still strong, dark, and aromatic, just the way I like it).

So, lavender…getting there. My boyfriend knew of my childlike fascination with this little confection factory and bought me the bakery’s cookbook for Christmas after spying it on my Anthropologie wish list (a place that cute can do better than mediocre vanilla cupcakes, right?) And in it, I indeed found a treasure trove of yummy recipes: key lime pie, hummingbird cake (like carrot, but with pineapple!), spiced pumpkin cookies, and yes, lavendar cupcakes. Despite my own feelings towards the little flower, I decided to make them for the ladies in my family–I knew my mom, sister, and aunts would just flip over a lavender dessert.

I bought the first baggie of the tiny purple flower heads at a street market and poured those fusty little things into cups of milk to infuse, as instructed. I cringed when the once pretty buds swelled and bloated after a few hours, turning the milk a pale shade of dirty and wondering why on earth I had selected this flavor. But I kept at it, adding the questionable-looking milk to the sparse cupcake batter (more on that later), dutifully filling those little tins with a hope and a prayer as I slid the pan into the heat wave of the oven. There was just a splash of lavender milk left, and into the butter and sugar it went for whipping sweet icing.

Stop. That right there. That’s what did it. When the frosting turned light and fluffy, I dipped my pinky in and braced for the worst–for the taste of old lady’s perfume to bombard my taste buds. But that never happened. It was surprisingly good. Really, really good, actually. And then another wonder…the cakelets rising in the oven smelled…fragrant and delicious and I found myself counting down the seconds until I could remove that hot pan from the oven.

It turns out that the cake is quite nice: light, delicately perfumed with lavender. But it’s the icing that is swoon-worthy. It’s less flowery than I could have imagined, more herbal and savory than simply sweet. It’s really very hard to explain how fantastic this icing is. You’ll have to trust me on this one. In fact, I could do away with the cake entirely, fill up a pretty parfait glass with a dollop, and eat it like a strawberry fool. It’s that good.

And this cupcake, my friends, specifically that fabulous fluffy icing, has changed my attitude towards this particular flower forever. Musty? What was I thinking? Lavender is the stuff dreams are made of! (OK, that line is the sugar high talking….) But I have since dug out that gifted lavender spa pillow (you warm it up in the microwave, so nice!), tucked a few sprigs from my aunt’s garden into a pretty vase on my dresser, and have developed a weakness for all things lavender, food or otherwise.

Yes, I’ve certainly lost the lavender battle, but it has been a sweet victory for all.

Lavender Cupcakes

from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Now, onto that sparse batter. Once you sift the flour (makes such a difference), add that scant cup of sugar, crack one lonely egg, and whip it all together, you might glance inside that sad little bowl and wonder where it all went. I understand. I went through this the first and second time I made them. I thought I forgot an ingredient or misread the proportions. Unlike regular cupcake recipes which churn out a whopping 24 cupcakes, this recipe is for 12. A very conservative 12. The finished cakes fall just below the cupcake paper. Be aware of this now, so you are not disappointed or rather confused, later. Double the recipe if you like, but honestly, unless I’m bringing them to a party or can pawn them off on my co-workers, one dozen cupcakes is already quite the menacing opponent to the canister of oatmeal I usually reach for in the morning. I would, however, strongly suggest you make a double batch of icing, or a batch and a half. The cakelets, small and subtle as they are, need a little oomph.

Cupcakes

½ cup whole milk

3 tbsp dried lavender flowers

1 cup all-purpose flour

a scant ¾ cup sugar

1½ tsp baking powder

3 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 egg

12 small springs of lavender (optional)

Put the milk and dried lavender flowers in a measuring cup, cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight if possible. Do the same with the milk and lavender flowers for the frosting, in a separate cup.

Line a 12-hole cupcake pan with paper cases. Preheat oven to 325F.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and butter in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.

Strain the lavender-infused milk (for the cupcake) and slowly pour into the flour mixture, beating well until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add the egg and beat well (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula).

Spoon the batter into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the cake bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the center should come out clean. Let the cupcakes cool slightly in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Lavender Frosting

2 tbsp whole milk

1 tbsp dried lavender flowers

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

5 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

a couple drops of purple food colouring (optional)

Beat together the confectioners’ sugar, butter and food colouring, if using, in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Turn the mixer down to slow speed. Strain the lavender-infused milk and slowly pour into the butter mixture. Once all the milk is incorporated, turn the mixer up to high-speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. The longer the frosting is beaten, the fluffier and lighter it becomes.

When the cupcakes are cold, spoon the lavender frosting on top and decorate with a sprig of lavender, if using.

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A vacation from the ordinary

Hola! Cómo estás? I’ve been away on an island respite.  Not the one usually reserved for my dreams, but an actual island, surrouned by idyllic blue waters, wave-less and warm, where the song of the coqui frog lulls you to sleep each night (or drives you entirely crazy, depending on how you want to look at it).  I would say I am glad to be back but that seems a little bit like lying, since I’d rather nothing more than to be lounging on the beach, drink in hand, waves at my feet or even to be mud-caked and soggy, alternately schleping across slippery crags and soaring above the palms like a red-tailed hawk atop the Toro Negro.

While I reacclimate myself to the real world, restock my baron refrigerator, and prepare to utilize that thing, you know, the stovetop, I thought I’d share some of the exotic bliss I happened upon in Puerto Rico. For starters I’d love to tell you about the  seven new-to-me fruits I tasted in the rainforest of that lush green island. That’s right. SEVEN.  Oh, paradise.

Let’s start with something I know you’ve all heard of, the passionfruit.  Sure I’ve had passionfruit before, in the humdrum form of water ice or popsicles, sometimes lingering in a fancy cocktail or some sort of dessert plate puddle. But I’ve never seen one plucked straight from the tree and cracked open with bare hands, a baseball-sized cocoon giving way to vibrant sunset-hued pulp and glossy seeds so fantastically tart that my cheeks pucker at the memory. It was truly one of the most amazing flavor experiences of my life.  If only I could have stuffed my backpack full of them and snuck them past the USDA inspection point at the airport…
I’m getting ahead of myself. I should have started by telling you this all occurred during a ten hour rainforest adventure, a muddy, tiring, exhilirating trek that included jumping, stiff as a board, into a 12-foot water hole, scaling a waterfall, scrambling on all fours over slippery river rocks, and finally, zip-lining our way back to base camp.   That being said, upon entrance into the rainforest, our expert guides pointed out a long brown pod, not unlike tamarind, containing several large seeds within.  I didn’t catch the spanish name for it, nor did I get a photo of the seemingly inedible pod as we waded knee-deep in cold waters with my camera tucked  away in a dry bag.  After some rather rudimentary Google searches (brown pod fruit, Puerto Rican edible pod seeds), I’ve decided that what I willingly palated was locust fruit. The marble-sized seeds are covered in a dry cottony substance, its fruit, which when placed in your mouth seems to melt like cotton candy, morphing into a pleasantly soft consistency with the flavor of vanilla icing.

Next up, poisonous berries!  This one kind of baffles my mind in hindsight.  As our group hiked up the only trail exposed to the sun and therefore not covered in mud (yay!), our guide pointed out a bush studded with tiny black berries and told us we were welcome to try them.  As I nibbled on a few, he explained that there were two almost identical berry bushes in the rainforest: one safe to eat and one terribly poisonous.  The only way to tell the two apart is by some small variation in the leaves of the plant.  The gravity of that statement did not hit me then, nor at the moment when he laughed at my berry-stained teeth, the equivalent of being caught red-handed, I suppose.  No it was much later, back at the hotel, musing over all the new things I had tried that day. What if he screwed up and pointed out the poisonous plant, instead??? Needless to say, I’m not terribly upset that I don’t remember the name of that berry.

While we’re on the topic, I also consumed a “hairy berry” which does not sound very appetizing, I know.  Our guide, Raymond, was so excited and insistent, however,  that I almost thought he would hand feed it to me if I did not pop it into my mouth on my own.  The color and size of a large blueberry, and indeed covered with a sort of wispy hair (think raspberries), it was faintly sweet but had more savory overtones.  When I told him this, he asked me to explain the meaning of “savory”. Hmmm.  After considerable thought and anticipatory regret for fear of sounding like a caveman, I tentatively answered “not sweet.”  How profound.
More than halfway into our excursion, and hours away from a good solid meal, one of the guides ran ahead of the group.  When we caught up to him, he was beaming above a pile of elongated apples, urging us to eat.  He had scaled the massive tree before us to shake down these funny little rose apples, yielding like pears to our bite, leaving  flavors of apple and rosewater on our tongues.  They were refreshing and sweet and flowery–how wonderfully weird–a welcome interruption to our growing appetites.
Finally, after a long day of hiking and swimming, we were rewarded with a hearty traditional Puerto Rican meal: rice and beans, yucca, chicken, pork, and breadfruit with bananas, ripe from the tree, for dessert. Simple and soulful, the meal was well-seasoned and delicious.  My personal favorite was the starchy breadfruit, cut into shingles, fried, and salted, much like tostones, and as irresistable as potato chips.  I think we all had seconds and I may have swiped a few from the boyfriend’s pile.  We cleaned our plates, stored the equipment, and climbed  back into the van, well fed and clad in warm, dry clothes for the first time all day.
Winding our way back down from the mountain, we made a pit stop for one last specialty.  We bought a huge cluster of quanapes from a man on the side of the road.  A pile bigger than my head for a mere four dollars.  These spanish grapes resemble tiny key limes, with  dimpled leathery skin you penetrate with your teeth to peel off.  Inside, you’ll find sweet and fleshy fruit the palest shade of pink which you pop in your mouth and chew off the pit. They were addictive for the texture alone, if not for the tart green grape flavor.
And so I left the rainforest, exhausted and happy, with dreams of going back again.

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Steak tartare and the other Carpaccio

Imagine for a moment that you’re on a first date, a picnic, in a beautiful park with the sun shining on your face. Your date spreads a blanket on a grassy knoll, reaching into a basket to produce the lovely lunch you think you’re going to nibble on demurely while making googly eyes across the blanket. Your date produces, among other things, two eggs and a brown paper package tied with a butcher’s twine bow. How intriguing!  you might think. The package is carefully unwrapped to reveal a mass of ground beef, your first thought being, Where’s the grill? But instead of placing that bloody red meat over sizzling coals, your date, instead, mounds a healthy portion onto your plate, expertly sculpting a divot in the center, like he is about to pour gravy over a heap of steaming mashed potatoes. Then comes the clincher; he gently splits the egg on the side of your plate—egg salad had been your naïve guess—and coaxes the golden yolk from its silky counterpart into the center of the raw “hamburger” mound. Lunch is served.

Sounds romantic, no?

I was probably about 8-years-old when I listened to a rendition of this true love story. It was the first time I had ever heard of someone consuming raw meat, and my parents’ friends, the ones who always served homemade pesto and fresh bread before dinner, were describing their first date. He the chef, she the gracious diner of this steak tartare rendezvous. I sometimes wonder if that was a deliberate test, a sort of how-adventurous-are-you barometer of dating. She obviously passed while I, surely, would have failed miserably. (Lest you label me a lame girlfriend, I, for the record, have passed the door test on every occasion, long before I remember seeing what is now one of my very favorite movies.)

It only took me 15 years to get over the initial shock and horror of that story and muster the courage to consume some raw beef, myself. My first and only taste of it was in the form of Carpaccio, not too long ago, at the lovely restaurant XIX situated atop the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia. I flirted with the idea of the beef Carpaccio appetizer as I had always wondered what it would taste like—and if it, like so many other mis-informed food boycotts of my childhood, would end being surprisingly delicious. After a few passes over the menu and more than a few sips of my *extra* dirty martini, I decided to be brave and order it.

The waiter brought out a small wooden board topped with tissue thin slices of tenderloin seemingly melting into a pool of olive oil with micro greens and shaved parmesan curls artfully placed around the dish. I remember the portion looking unexpectedly large. How much raw steak can one possibly consume in one sitting? I plucked up one lacy piece, placed it in my mouth and, to this day, remember the texture more than the flavor. It was sort of off-putting at how soft it felt, though not at all slimy as I had anticipated. I remember thinking that it was interesting, but rather bland—not the vinaigrette it was sort of marinating in—but the beef itself. If I had to describe the flavor, I would say it was vaguely sweet and somewhat tinny. I don’t really know what I expected raw beef to taste like, but I went back for a few more bites neither deterred nor especially intrigued. I was glad I had experienced it, but certainly wasn’t clamoring for another bite. I had had my fill.

If you are squeamish around raw meat or even if you’re not, I promise you will enjoy this Carpaccio. This Carpaccio, made with zucchini, a drizzle of olive, fresh lemon juice and herbs, is Tyler Florence’s playful pun at its meaty namesake. Since the process doesn’t involve any cooking, it is perfect for summer and al fresco dining. It’s also especially nice for those days when you can’t bear to turn on the stove. I made it as a last-minute accompaniment to a briny plate of linguine with clams and thick-cut tomatoes covered in olive and lots of crunchy sea salt and pepper.

The key to this simple dish is to cut the zucchini paper-thin, just the way beef is cut for Carpaccio, so it can quickly and easily absorb all the flavor of the herbs and lemon you put on top. I layered the veggie coins like shingles on a roof, sprinkling them with salt to release the natural juices. Once the lemon and oil is drizzled on top, the zucchini marinates in this little mixture and gets sort of melty and soft, again just like beef Carpaccio. You chop up some fragrant herbs to place on top, and let it all meld together in the refrigerator for a few minutes before diving in.

Tyler calls for dollops of ricotta on top, but the boy and I ended up pushing the too-rich cheese to the side and instead focused on mopping up every last drop of lemon juice. Perhaps if you’re eating it solo, and not with a giant plate of linguine, the ricotta would be just right. If you do choose to use it, I would suggest mixing in some lemon zest and cracked pepper before adding it to the plate. It adds a little extra something.

The whole dish is very refreshing and so bright and pretty when plated.  I plan on making it again and again this summer. It’s hard to believe that something so simple and quick to assemble can produce such fantastic results. With good quality ingredients, there is really no need for bells and whistles, for sautéing or grilling or braising. And perhaps that is the real allure of tartare and Carpaccio, meatless or otherwise.

Zucchini Carpaccio

adapted from Tyler Florence’s Eat This Book

Ingredients

2 zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced into paper-thin rounds

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used dill, chives, and parsley)

1 young leek, white part only, sliced paper-thin

1/2 cup ricotta cheese (optional)

Layer the zucchini slices on a platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then drizzle with a 3-count of olive oil and the lemon juice. Scatter the herbs and leek over. Place in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to give the flavors a chance to get into the zucchini. If using the ricotta, place in a small bowl, sprinkle with lots of fresh cracked pepper and a teaspoon of lemon zest. Stir to combine and spoon small dollops over zucchini.

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Pop the bubbly

It’s official. Summer has arrived, and I couldn’t be happier.  In celebration of the long days, balmy nights, and a kitchen full of tomatoes! corn! strawberries! apricots! that awaits me (yes, they all deserved individual exclamation points), I thought it would only be appropriate to celebrate with something cold and bubbly. Prosecco and champagne normally come to mind, but I was inspired by some comical children I ran into this weekend to make something kid friendly that gives a nod to the summer abandon that can only truly be enjoyed in childhood.  You know what I’m talking about.

Hot and tired on my way back from a long, lazy stroll on Sunday, I caught sight of twin blondie boys strapped into a dual stroller.  They must have worn themselves out in a water fountain, as they were slumped over, shirtless and shoe-less, with matching shorts and wet heads, and identical looks of exhaustion on their faces.  They weren’t whining or crying as that would have expended more energy than they had left in their tiny bodies, but their expressions and body language were so clear: I’m hot. I’m cranky. I want to go home.  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

A few blocks south, a little girl caught my attention immediately.  She really was a doll, in her lacy sundress and tiny strappy sandals, a pouf of tight ringlets adorning her head. But it was her repeated cries—“I so ‘cited, I so ‘cited, Daddy!” in combination with her frantic little feet pounding the pavement in glee that really captured my  attention.  I have no idea where they were going or what they were about to do—I was headed south, they headed north, although my curiosity almost got the best of me when I contemplated for a moment, a mere moment, to change directions and follow the pitter patter of anxious, dancing toddler feet to the unknown and the very exciting.

Doesn’t it just kill you how children are so unknowingly honest and uninhibited?  I love that. Given my own excitement upon the very first day of summer, I too, wanted to dance around in a pretty sundress screaming “I’m so excited! I’m so excited!” Being the mature adult that I am, I refrained from doing so. At least until I was in the safety of my own curtain-drawn apartment.

And so these scratch-made sodas are dedicated to all those adults who really just want to be a kid again. The marvelous thing about homemade soda is that you really can’t mess it up and you can use just about any fruit, herb, or other addition you can think of.  All you need is some sugar, water, and your flavoring agent of choice to make the simple syrup and some bubbly water to make it soda.  I chose to use up what I had in my refrigerator: rhubarb and a pint of blueberries.  But feel free to be inventive.  The simple syrup ratio is usually one-to-one: one cup of sugar, one cup of water.  A quick simmer until the sugar dissolves and your fruit permeates the liquid is all it takes to make the syrup.

The rhubarb syrup I made was a no-brainer and turned out such a beautiful watercolor pink.  Because rhubarb is so tart, it makes an excellent, not-too-sweet soda that is very refreshing for summertime.  And because blueberries are so sweet, adding something to counter that flavor is the way to go.  I thought of basil but upon seeing my empty herb bin, decided to go with ginger instead.  That ginger; it’s a sneaky one.  When I first tasted my gorgeous blueberry syrup, I couldn’t detect the ginger.  And then it hit me, slowly, stealthily igniting my palate with sweet spice.  This made for an intriguing and yummy drink, but I also think it would make an excellent addition to pancakes or waffles, or you know, rum or vodka, if that’s your thing.

On second thought, perhaps being an adult isn’t so bad after all.  Cheers to that, and to the glorious summer ahead.

Spicy Blueberry Soda

1 pint blueberries

1  1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated

1 c sugar

1 c water

sparkling water of your choice

ICE

Combine water, sugar, blueberries, and ginger in a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer until sugar is completely dissolved and blueberries begin to break down.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the syrup into a glass bottle or container, discarding the blueberry and ginger or repurposing it for something else.

Here is where your personal preference comes in.  Add syrup to a glass of sparkling water to taste.  I prefer less sweet, myself, so I didn’t use much syrup per serving.  Mix lightly with a spoon to combine, add ice, and enjoy.  

 

Rhubarb Soda

2 cups rhubarb (cut into pieces)

1 c sugar

1 c water

sparkling water of your choice

lemon wedge (optional)

ICE

Combine water, sugar, and rhubarb in a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmering and stir until sugar is  completely dissolved and rhubarb has broken down.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the syrup  into a glass bottle or container, discarding the cooked rhubarb or repurposing for something else (ice cream topping, anyone?)

Again, here is where your personal preference comes in.  Add syrup to a glass of sparkling water to taste.  I also enjoyed a squeeze of lemon in mine! Mix lightly with a spoon to combine, add ice, and enjoy.

TIP: Once syrup cools, it can be stored in the refrigerator in a glass container for a couple of weeks.  Plain simple syrup (strictly sugar and water) will last somewhere close to infinity. I like to use bottles made for dispensing oil and vinegar as they come with pour spouts and allow you to better control the amount of syrup with no mess.

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Happy Distractions

Well, April and May have come and gone, and along with it, the chance to document the firsts of the spring season.  But I’m OK with that. Much has happened, both in the great wide world and in my own little world to distract me, though little, if any of it has been going on in my kitchen. It’s easy to get mesmerized—consumed even—with the news headlines, to dwell on the catastrophes and the threats, to get so caught up in the ways of the world that we miss out on what is going on in our own.  So for the moment, I want to focus on the beautiful things that have been happening in mine.

My unfortunate blog famine can be attributed mostly to the fact that I started a new gig at the end of March. While I attempt to figure out a better schedule that allows me to take food photos in the daylight (seriously this is a problem), and allows me to write when I still have coherent thoughts for the day, I will relish in my days at the new job.  A quick walk through my neighborhood park filled with flowers and trees, a bubbling fountain, and for the moment, this peaceful sculpture, takes me to a cozy loft-y office, sunlit and full of art and books and hardwood floors. It’s really quite a lovely place to spend 8 hours of my day.
Though it seems like ages ago now, two amazing people that I know tied the knot in a personal, heartfelt ceremony that left most of the guests in tears.  Or at least it seemed that way to me behind my own bleary eyes.  Best friends falling in love makes for one sweet love story and one beautiful wedding.  In adherence to their personalities, the reception was full of laughter and fun, some yummy food, and countless first-rate dance moves (really, I was so entertained by the mother/son dance, I almost fell off my chair!).  I feel lucky to have been a part of their day and luckier still to call them my friends. Cheers to Liz and Colin!
Strangely enough, on that very same day, my sister and brother-in-law made me an auntie and godmother by way of the sweetest baby boy, an 8lb–now 12 lb!–bundle of unruly golden hair and silky skin, a tangle of scrawny limbs, tiny footies, and comical faces. Even in the first few days and weeks when he slept through most of the day, I couldn’t get enough of him.  I would watch his heavy eyelids as he struggled and failed to stay awake and I’d wonder what that precious little one was dreaming of.  These days he is much more alert, full of heart-melting drooly smiles, and although it seems impossible, he is even cuter than he was before.  He is healthy and strong and beautiful.  And for that I am so grateful.
*Photo by bellababyphotography.com
Between everything that has been going on, I feel like I’ve spent more of my weekends en route to somewhere that I have in my own home.  But since last week, it’s been rather quiet here, and my little greenmarket has been ever so patient with me.  I suppose it’s about time I got back in the kitchen.  Until next week, then:  Happy Weekend.  Happy Summer.

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