Bacon fried and rendered in butter, leeks softened in the richly aromatic fat, wine and clam juice added until it becomes a syrup finished with heavy cream and tender clams–these warm flavors fill the kitchen at home before being baked into a crisp and charred pizza. This is a comforting thought. I believe thoughts such as these will be a balm, a grey flannel blanket to wrap ourselves in for the days ahead when winter just feels like a bit too much.
A recipe brings an order of tasks to complete one at a time–chop, fry, render, combine, simmer…In this piece especially, I read your words and hear the rhythm of your voice. It will be okay. It will be okay. All will be okay.
Because, yes, Mr. Sifton, Cooking is a practice, a kind of devotion, a form of mindfulness.
And now more than ever, we must
Practice with our hands, so that the beating of our hearts remain steady.
Last June I interviewed writer, chef, cookbook author, past restaurant critic for The New York Times, and past editor-in-chief of the sorely missed Gourmet magazine, Ruth Reichl (http://www.channel3000.com/madison-magazine/dining-drink/meeting-ruth-reichl/33385840). I believe I promised to only take 40 minutes of her time. At the end of those agreed upon minutes, she offered to continue our conversation as we had gotten on the subject of fresh apricots and how they signal the beginning of summer and how now it was time to bake them into a pie.
Oh just slice them in half, Reichl began, remove their pits, but leave the skin on and lay them in a pie crust. Make a streusel topping, pour it over them and bake.
Just like that? Voila?
But how do I make a streusel topping I wondered later when reviewing my notes. How long should the pie bake for?
Spring came and went, summer too, fall, winter–all without a trace of apricot pie. And then, not too long ago, Reichl actually re-posted a recipe for her apricot pie on her blog: http://ruthreichl.com/ and it happens to also appear in her book, Comfort Me With Apples, which although I’ve read, I missed. I made it and my baking repertoire has since expanded to include this method for just about any stone fruits coming into their season this summer.
And it couldn’t be easier..
2 pounds of apricots (Trust me, get more. When ripe, they are irresistible eaten out-of-hand.)
1 stick of butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
pinch of salt
grating of fresh nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Roll out your pie crust, or use the frozen kind (Hey, it’s summer and life should be easy, right?). Place crust in a 9-inch pie plate, then pop it into the freezer for 15-30 minutes. Remove from the freezer. Using your fingers, break the apricots in half (this is rustic living, y’all), remove pits, and lay them down all snug-like.
On the stove top, over medium-low heat, melt the butter, then combine the brown sugar, flour, salt and nutmeg. Spoon this all over the apricots (Oh my…is right).
Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 375° and bake for another hour or so, until the fruit is bubbling and the top is nicely browned. Remove pie and allow to cool for at least an hour.
Serve with fresh cream drizzled on top.
By the way, in the summer 2016 issue of Saveur magazine which just arrived in the mail yesterday, there is an encouraging article (Sweet Slice of Summer) about making pies as a way of preserving the bounty of the summer harvest. Authors Mitchell Davis and Laurent Gras give such nurturing instructions as “A good rule of thumb when making pie dough: Stop working it sooner than you think.”
The Hubbas thinks I’m crazy. I just showed him what I go through when I come across a recipe that interests me. I research many of the ingredients, sometimes spending an entire afternoon going off on tangents. I never thought to include the flurry of articles that educate me in my posts until today.
Maybe he’s right. I might be nuts…which makes me think of hazelnuts and how toasted hazelnuts could be used in place of the pancetta…and when is the season for hazelnuts anyway? And is Italy a major exporter? How again do you say hazelnut in Italian? Oh yes, nocciola… And biscotti! I’ve never made biscotti before. How is that possible….?
Rounding third base and back to home she comes…
Around this time of year in Madison I can get a hold of some sweet locally grown carrots from Tipi Produce, Evansville, WI. For me, other than eating them right out of the refrigerator, the next best thing would be to roast them. I’ve been hanging on to a recipe for roasted carrot soup by Elizabeth Minchilli, who lives in Rome and writes about delicious things in Italy, for quite some time now.
A somewhat thick soup, it has so many of my favorite flavors: caramelly sweet carrots, pancetta and balsamic vinegar. This is the perfect meal for which to transition from winter to spring.
Let’s make it together…
Roasted Carrot Soup
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
*I used a Sauvignon Blanc for its crispness and acidity and found this explanation helpful Dry White Wine. If you’d rather use dry Vermouth because it will last a lot longer in the refrigerator than an opened and corked bottle of wine and it can be more cost effective, here’s an article that educated me on the classic aperitif Vermouth 101 and this one on brands 3 Dry Vermouths.
1/2 cup cubed pancetta ( short-cut: I found a package of pancetta already cubed in the grocery store.)
Place carrots in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Use your hands and toss the carrots well.
Onto a sheet pan, arrange the carrots in a single layer and tuck the rosemary sprigs in between. Drizzle any extra oil from the bowl over all.
Roast the carrots until they are soft and the edges begin to darken. You may have to flip them over half way through to get color on both sides. Pay attention to the aroma in your kitchen. Make sure it stays pleasant. We don’t want the carrots to burn.
In the meantime, put the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the butter in a large pot (I used my Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the leeks, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Cook until the leeks are completely softened–do not let brown. This should take about 30 minutes. Keep it cooking slow. Your kitchen will begin to grow warm and delicious.
Add the white wine or vermouth (whichever you’ve decided on) and let bubble for a minute or so.
Take the carrots out of the oven and remove the rosemary sprigs. Add the carrots to the pot, stir and add enough water to the pot to cover the carrots by an inch and a half.
Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. Let it all cool down and using a food processor, puree until smooth. You will most likely have to do this in a couple of batches. Be careful it’s not too hot. Using a potato masher would probably work well too although the soup might not be quite as smooth. I prefer the rustic texture of a few bites of carrots.
The soup can be thinned a bit with a little warm water, broth or milk (cream would make it decadent for sure).
Heat a small frying pan and add the pancetta, cooking it until it’s browned and crispy. This is where I would bet toasting some hazelnuts and roughly chopping them would taste delicious and would make this soup a vegetarian choice.
Now to serve: Ladle a little soup into a bowl, sprinkle pancetta on top (along with as much pork fat as your conscience will allow) and finish with a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Ms. Minchilli recommends this balsamic on her website La Vecchia Dispensa and in my opinion, would make a nice gift. Seriously, a little of this on a hunk of parmiggiano reggiano, or lightly drizzled over vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries…