Sunday, July 30, 2006

a tiny, unexpected feast: part 1

When I first started cooking — around late 1999 or early 2000, suddenly and without much prior interest in it — I would find recipes that I wanted to try first and then buy all the ingredients. This led to some interesting discoveries (walnut oil is good!), and occasionally to low-grade confusion (will I really want to put Thai dried shrimp paste in anything else ever again?).

Now that I have a bit more experience — and now that I've come to love NYC greenmarkets, which turned 30 the same week I did — I tend to buy whatever looks good, and then find a recipe. Doubtlessly seasonal eating is preferable, and at this point I know which ingredients to always keep on hand (good Parmigiano-Reggiano, for example) to make a meal out of my purchases.

The only problem with this approach is that I have trouble remembering, when I shop, that I may not have any time or any need for the stuff later. This is why I ended up making a plum tart over the weekend that the entire Tiny Banquet Committee is still eating rather than cleaning my apartment.

I really wasn't planning on cooking much and there were plenty of provisions to use up at home, so I went to the Union Square greenmarket intending to buy only herbs. I bought bundles of oregano, spearmint and savory — plus some puntarelle, a leafy green I'd never tried — and with rare discipline, I did not leave the market with enough produce to feed my whole block.

I then stopped at Whole Foods for dried pasta for a recipe I want to try later this week . . . and could not leave without a box of adorable little New York State sugar plums.

Sugar Plums

So, we were going to have dessert.

This recipe had been on my mind for a while (in spite of its corny name) because I had almond paste that needed to be used up, but I didn't have puff pastry. I ate one of the plums and it was wonderfully tart, so a sweetened pastry dough would be best. I settled on the recipe for pasta frolla, a sweet Italian pie dough, from Julia Child and Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia. It only takes a few minutes to make in the food processor and I was pleased with the results.

pasta frolla

The pasta frolla before kneading.

Pasta Frolla

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar [I used an organic sugar with big, crunchy crystals, similar to demerara sugar]
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, or lard, cut into 8 pieces
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor until blended; then add the butter and pulse until the mixture has the texture of fine cornmeal. [If this texture eludes you, it's much better to leave the dough slightly under-worked rather than over-process it]. With the machine running, add the eggs. Process until the dough forms a ball, about 1 minute.

Remove the dough and knead until smooth. [As you can see in the photo, I like to do this on a sheet of wax paper, in a futile effort to keep my kitchen clean].

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until needed. [If less than thirty minutes, I think you can leave it out on the counter with no harm].

The recipe yields enough dough for a 9-inch pie with a lattice top; I didn't want to bother with the lattice so I lopped off one-third of the dough, wrapped it well in plastic wrap and a freezer bag, and froze it. The recipe says it will keep up to three days in the refrigerator or one month in the freezer.

It's counter-intuitive, but I find that baking often takes a lot less time and effort than other, supposedly-simple kitchen tasks. I'm pretty sure I spent less time making the tart than I did washing and chopping herbs and greens and prepping other ingredients for the fritatta I made later that day.

While the dough chilled, I sliced and pitted the plums, and snipped some lavender from Tiny Banquet Farm (i.e., the fire escape).


A typical pastoral view.

I rolled out the crust, grated 100 grams of almond paste onto it, arranged the plums on top (cut-side up), and sprinkled them with 2 tablespoons of sugar and about 1 tablespoon of chopped lavender.

grated almond paste

Grated almond paste.

plum tart before

The tart before going into the oven.

I baked the tart for about an hour at 375° F. Whoever has my round metal tart pan at their house should feel free to leave a comment thusly indicating their intention to return it soon, please! The Emile Henry dish is prettier but after using it twice now I think it significantly increases the baking time.

While the tart was baking I wanted to make some sort of salad with the one summer squash I had. I'd been meaning to try this Mario Batali recipe for a while, and it was easy enough to scale down the recipe to 1/4 of the original:

Zucchine Marinate (Marinated Zucchini in the Style of Naples)

1 medium zucchini or summer squash
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced [I used a small red onion instead, because I have a lot of them rolling around in my kitchen]
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves [I used slightly less fresh oregano]
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

Wash and dry the zucchini. Cut lengthwise into slices 1/3-inch thick. Place the zucchini slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt and set aside to drain for 2 hours. [I let my squash drain for only 20-30 minutes and the finished salad was not watery, but if making the original recipe — which calls for 1 1/2 pounds zucchini — I'd try to be patient and follow Mario's instructions].

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Place the drained zucchini slices in the pan and cook gently until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side, being careful not to burn the slices. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil over high heat. Add a pinch of pepper flakes and a pinch of salt.

Place the zucchini slices flat in a shallow bowl, with the garlic [or onion] slices and the herbs scattered throughout. Pour the vinegar over the zucchini slices and let marinate, covered, for at least 24 hours before serving.


Fresh oregano.

zucchini and onion marinating

The squash in its marinade.

To be continued later today!


  1. oh YUM!
    thats like, basically, pickles zucchini!
    wow.... this i have GOT to make!

  2. Hi Ann - If you try the zucchini let me know how it goes! I was very pleased with it, although I am not much of a zucchini/summer squash fan at all. I especially don't like it under-cooked, so I think sauteing it in olive oil and then marinating it may really be the way to go for me.