America’s Summertime Abundance

Entertaining, Markets, Pastry, Recipe, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington DC

IMG_0027While I’m more than content to trot around the globe during most of the year, in fact like nothing more than to see new places and experience the new, to my mind, summer should always take place in the US. Surely this affinity was formed during all those years we spent overseas, moving from place to place, vacations hither and yon, but summers always, always in Decatur, Illinois with family. There’s something uniquely American about the humid heat, mosquito bites, the smells of cut grass and chlorine on tanned skin, the hum of cicadas, afternoon thunderstorms, the ping-pong of tennis balls being smashed on a racquet, and grilled blistered meat.

Now, during summer trips to visit my parents in the DC suburbs, I find I want to cook differently, eat differently.  I crave the flavors of those happy childhood summers, nothing too fancy or precious: heirloom tomatoes, corn on the cob, steak and hotdogs, ice cream, pies of all kinds, fresh seafood, potato salad.  I love that I can find all of the ingredients I want so easily, that I have a car to haul my groceries around in and can drop in on farmstands willy nilly.  I can spend afternoons at the local pool and come home and throw something on the grill. Essentially I’m 10 years old again. So as I spend the next few weeks in the DC area, I’m going to focus on the recipes I’m whipping up in the kitchen that recreate that feeling of nostalgic childhood contentedness and the sense of security that came along with it.

Yesterday I struck out early to investigate the Olney farmers’ market that happens each Sunday on a shady knoll. It was already bustling and the air smelled of warm, musky fruit and vegetables, and since this is on the edge of horse country, several patrons were striding around in their jodhpurs and riding boots after an early morning ride. Mixed in with the food vendors were lots of artists stalls and a smattering of prepared food-sellers, but I was most keen to see what the farmers had to offer.  I found it odd that there was only one stand offering meat, although they did have rabbit and duck, both of which are otherwise tricky to find.  There were no fishmongers at all even though we aren’t all that far from the Atlantic and crab is a Maryland delicacy.  Also, curiously, there was only one dairy stand and the sheep milk cheeses she had weren’t all that great.

What was fantastic was the variety of tomatoes and eggplant and peppers and corn and beans and lettuces and basil. Not much in the way of fruit, but the first of the season’s peaches graced many stalls. I asked if I could sample their fruit and one guy explained to me that because of the many guidelines set forth by the local health department (bleach water, special surfaces, toothpicks, special knives and proceedures) they don’t offer up tastes any more.  Get over yourselves health department! I’ve eaten fruit and veggies cut by the grubbiest of hands and the most suspect of knives and lived to tell the tale. Overzealousness like this detracts from one of the great pleasures of food market shopping – deciding which vendor is going to get your business based on their products (I bought some peaches anyway).

IMG_0100Inspired by what was on offer, I decided to make a galette much like the cherry and blueberry ones I made for the 4th of July.  That recipe was originally on the Smitten Kitchen website and I loved how she used ricotta in the dough. I decided to do the same in my savory heirloom tomato version, plus add some cornmeal and pureed corn kernels to the dough to create a richer, crisper crust and fontina cheese and basil to give it that classic summer taste. Alongside it, a flank steak, because I adore them, they’re readily available at every supermarket here (I have to special order them from a butcher in London), my dad has a gas grill which makes cooking outdoors simple, and I felt the need to redeem myself after my dinner party from hell last month. Below is based on a Rachel Ray recipe….and I detest most things about her…..but this is a good, quick marinade, it hurts me to say.  I score the meat in a criss-cross pattern before adding it to the marinade just to allow the flavors to penetrate the meat more, tweaked the proportions in the marinade, and I suggest marinating a little longer than Rachel does – but then it wouldn’t be one of her 30 minute meals then, would it?

Heirloom Tomato Galette
serves 8

3 pounds heirloom tomatoes, similar in diameterIMG_0036
sea salt
2 ears of sweet corn, kernels cut off
juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons ricotta
1 1/2 cups plain flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (polenta), plus more for dusting
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fontina cheese, shredded
fresh ground pepper

Remove the core from each tomato and slice them into 1/4 inch slices. Lay them all out on a paper towel, sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for 20 minutes.   While they are sittingpreheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Make the crust by blending together the ricotta, corn kernels, and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper. In a large bowl mix together the flour, and cornmeal and cut the butter into it until the mixture looks like couscous. Now add the corn/ricotta mixture, stirring first with a spatula and then bringing together with your hands until a wet, smooth dough comes together.Overlap two pieces of plastic wrap to create at least a 14 inch surface, place the dough in the middle (pat it into a disc shape) and then overlap two more pieces of plastic wrap on top of the dough.  Now you can quite easily roll out the wet-ish dough into a 14 inch circle. Once you’ve done that, place the dough (still encased in plastic) on a sheet tray and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes.   While that is happening, mix together thefontina andbasil (keep 2 tablespoons of the basil aside for garnish).

To assemble put a dusting of cornmeal on the baking sheet you’ll be using. Remove the plastic from the dough and gently place it on the baking tray. Now spread all of the cheese/basil mixture on the dough, sprinkle with a little bit of flour, and then arrange 1/2 of the tomatoes on top. You should allow about an inch to inch and a half border. Sprinkle a little more flour on that first layer of tomatoes and then place the remaining tomatoes on top. Now carefully fold the dough border up over the tomatoes, creasing as needed.  Sprinkle pepper over the top and bake for about 35 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Garnish with the leftover basil and allow to cool slightly before moving or cutting.

Marinated Flank SteakIMG_0040
serves 6

2 pounds flank steak, trimmed of fat and scored
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon grill seasoning mix
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
3 teaspoons tabasco
2 tablespoons worcestershire
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a non-reactive dish and allow the flank steak to marinate at least 30 minutes at room temperature, turning half-way through. While it’s marinating, heat your grill.  Throw the steak on the searing hot grill and cook for 4 minutes on each side (for medium rare).  Allow the steak to rest for 4 minutes before slicing thinly AGAINST the grain.

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