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Two Sturdy French Soups

Cold weather hasn’t seriously clamped down yet, but there’ve been enough damp, dank, chilly days lately to push my culinary interest toward hearty, rib-sticking foods. Still trying out never-made recipes from my cookbook collection, I’ve recently discovered two excellent soups in the Cooking of Provincial France volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series: Potage Crécy and Potage Purée Soissonaise.

 

Potage Crécy – Purée of Carrot Soup
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I use a lot of carrots in my cooking – mostly as an ancillary ingredient, in the basic mix of chopped vegetables called mirepoix (French), battuto (Italian), or sofrito (Spanish). It was a nice change to have carrots play the star part in this easy recipe. My trusty mini processor made short work of mincing three cups’ worth.
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I then minced ¾ cup of onions by hand, which I softened in butter for 5 minutes in a heavy saucepan.
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Into the pan went the carrots, a quart of Tom’s homemade broth (a deliberate substitution for the recipe’s chicken stock), 2 teaspoons of tomato paste, and 2 tablespoons of raw rice.
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After simmering the soup for just 30 minutes, uncovered, I pureed the entire mixture through a food mill, returned it to the pan, and added salt, pepper, and ½ cup of heavy cream. At dinner time I brought the soup back to a simmer and stirred in a tablespoon of softened butter before serving it.
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It was, as I’ve already said, extremely good. Carrots have so much natural sugar, I’d wondered if the soup would be uncomfortably sweet, but it wasn’t. The flavor suggested a good winter squash. The carrots had totally absorbed the cream, leaving a texture just a little nubbly – quite pleasant on the tongue. This soup will be a good standby in the cold days ahead.

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Potage Purée Soissonaise – White Bean Soup
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I liked this recipe at first glance, because it calls for marrow beans. Large, plump, and richly flavorful, marrows are my all-time favorite white bean. This soup was a more elaborate production than the previous one, so I started early in the day, making half a recipe’s worth. Using bouillon cubes, I made up 1½ quarts of chicken stock, dropped in 1½ cups of beans, and gave them a 2-minute boil.
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Then the pot sat off heat for an hour, letting the beans soak, while I chopped half a carrot, half an onion, and a big leek in my large food processor. At that point I had to take exception to the recipe. It wanted the vegetables softened for 5 minutes in 1 tablespoon of butter in a 6- to 8-inch skillet. That would have been ridiculous: My half quantity generously filled a 10-inch pan and still took more than 5 minutes, beside needing more than half a tablespoon of butter.
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I went on to prepare the remaining ingredients. The recipe called for a chunk of lean salt pork, which is just about unobtainable these days. (It’s a mystery how some things, like salt pork and Bibb lettuce, just disappear from the marketplace.) At my butcher’s suggestion, I’d gone out and bought the fattiest bacon I could find, 2 ounces of which I blanched in boiling water for 10 minutes. I also made up a bouquet garni of bay leaf, parsley, and celery leaves.
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Next, I had to drain the beans, measure the liquid, and add more if needed to make it up to a quart. It took just a little. Back went the liquid into the soup pot, along with the beans, the bacon, the vegetables, and the bouquet garni.
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Now came the annoying part. I had to leave the pot uncovered and simmer the soup for two hours, or until the beans were tender. That meant almost constant attention to keep the soup from, alternatively, boiling too hard and doing nothing at all. After the first hour, almost all the liquid was gone. I had to add several doses of boiling water from a kettle, and keep the simmer going for almost an extra half hour, before the beans were ready.

Finally, it was time to drain all the solid ingredients, discard the bacon and bouquet garni, and purée the rest through a food mill. It was very dense, requiring long, hard, hand labor.
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When I returned the puree to the pot I was to add “enough of the liquid to make the soup as thick as heavy cream.” As you can see in the picture, there wasn’t very much liquid left. My puree absorbed it all, almost without noticing it.

The recipe did say I could add more stock if the soup remained too thick. That increased my annoyance with the pointless precision of measuring and adjusting the liquid to begin with and expecting it to last through two hours of uncovered cooking. I didn’t have any more stock. So I thinned it out a bit more with hot water, bringing it to a sort of porridgy density, swirled in a tablespoon of butter, and served it.

After all that, I’m glad to be able to say the soup was fabulous. All its flavors came together in a subtle, creamy, almost meaty whole – hard to describe but deeply satisfying.

I’ll definitely make this soup again, but with some adjustments. Let the beans soak for two hours, not one, at the start. Use at least half again as much liquid. Use homemade stock (the bouillon cubes were heavy on salt). Partially cover the pan for the entire two-hour simmer. Let my big food processor, not the manual food mill, purée the solids. I don’t think any of that could hurt the soup, and it will certainly ease the job of the soup maker.

Here’s a great thing: an uncomplicated dish that’s made from everyday ingredients, that sounds kind of boring, that looks very plain, but that tastes like heaven itself.

Do I exaggerate? Maybe, but that’s the way this specialty of Italy’s Puglia region struck me when I made it for the first time. The recipe I used isn’t even from an Italian cookbook, but from Kitchen Conversations, by venerable California restaurateur/chef Joyce Goldstein. She’s famous for idiosyncratic takes on many Mediterranean dishes, but in this case her delicious Pitta di Patate appears to be a very traditional version.

It starts with boiled or baked potatoes, mashed and beaten with egg, flour, grated parmigiano, salt and pepper. Plus a little milk if necessary to give it a texture like a soft dough. I was making a mere ⅓ of the recipe, so I baked two small russets and mashed them with everything else in my heavy-duty mixer.
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With the potatoes set aside, next was to make the filling. I started by sauteeing a sliced onion in a pan with olive oil for 10 minutes. I added a large diced tomato, cooked it another ten minutes, and stirred in two teaspoons of capers and two tablespoons of chopped black olives. That all got set aside too.
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As the vegetables had cooked, I’d cut two slices of good white bread into cubes and pulsed them in the mini-food processor to produce fresh breadcrumbs, to be drizzled with olive oil and baked in the oven to brown.

 

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Then the pie was ready to be assembled. I strewed some of the crumbs on the bottom of a baking dish and covered them with half the mashed potatoes. Onto that I spread the tomato-onion filling. Then the rest of the potatoes and another generous sprinkling of crumbs.
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The dish went into a 400° oven and was ready in 30 minutes.
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In its dish, the pitta looked merely like mashed potatoes, and we expected it to taste like that too, when I cut out squares of it to accompany grilled sausages on our dinner plates. But oh, that onion, tomato, caper, and olive center layer! For me it was like magic: the flavors all melted together in a symphony of deliciousness.
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Now, I can’t guarantee that if you try the dish – from either Goldstein’s recipe or one of the many versions available online – you’ll feel the same way about it. Tom liked the pitta very well, but he didn’t go into the ecstasies I did. Nor did he join me when I ate all the leftovers for lunch the next day. They were still blissfully good – that’s all I can say.

OK, Gang, here’s one for you. I know some of my regular readers get as much entertainment from my posts about recipes that don’t go well for me as about those that do. That’s fine: I learn something every time, whether the trouble comes from the recipe, my ingredients, or myself. This time, I don’t think it was me.

A recent spell of damp, chilly weather induced me to take a piece of beef brisket out of the freezer and browse my cookbooks for something new to do with it. In The Veselka Cookbook I found a recipe for boiled beef with horseradish sauce – a specialty of the iconic NYC Ukrainian restaurant – that called for brisket and was a bit different from the boiled beef I usually make. I’d try it.

To begin, the meat had to go into a heavy pot with a dose of ground allspice, water to cover, and salt and pepper “to taste.” That was a little odd: It seemed too soon to know how much salt and pepper it might want.
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I brought the pot to a boil and skimmed off all the foam that arose – which pretty much took all the pepper and allspice with it. Hmm.

The next instruction was to reduce the liquid to a simmer and add roughly chopped carrot, roughly chopped celery, and a chunk of onion.

Now, my notion of “roughly chopped” is pieces less than an inch across, and that direction intrigued me because the vegetables weren’t to be pureed at the end but simply served along with the meat. I figured they’d make a sort of vegetable hash. Tom, however, who had obligingly offered to cut them up, didn’t like that idea at all. The carrot and celery went in as good-sized chunks, since they would cook long enough to give plenty of flavor to the broth and still be of a forkable size for eating.
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The pot then had to simmer two to three hours – until the brisket was tender enough to pull apart with a fork, the recipe said. I had some difficulty keeping the pot at an even simmer, so it took about an hour more than that for me. In fact, I had to scoop out the vegetables for a while so they wouldn’t fall apart. I put them back for the final quarter hour to reheat.
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The white stuff in the little bowl you see in the photo is the horseradish sauce, which I made while the brisket cooked. That involved simply whisking together equal parts of sour cream and buttermilk and adding prepared horseradish to taste.

So here is the brisket, served:
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The meat was chewy and almost flavorless. Utterly impossible to carve in ¼-inch slices, as the recipe directed: it fell apart in uneven lumps. You might think it had given up too much of its essence to the broth in all its long cooking, but the broth was still thin and watery. So was the sauce, none of which made it onto our plates. It looked like skim milk, and the two dairy components somehow canceled each other out while also muting the horseradish’s tang. But the meat was the great disappointment: it was the sine qua non of the entire recipe, and non was what it provided.

The mashed potatoes and vegetables were OK, and fortunately I had a jar of good commercial horseradish sauce to bring on as a substitute, but all in all it was a very indifferent dinner. No respectable piece of brisket should be that flavorless, even this one, which had come from from a nearby grocery store, not from my reliable Bleecker Street butcher, Ottomanelli. I also question whether the recipe writer was playing entirely fair with the book’s readers: There’s no way this dish, made exactly as directed, could be a favorite at the restaurant.

This week, I decided it was time to use up the ageing reconstituted remnants of puff pastry dough in my freezer. Similarly, a jar of the not-very-successful apple jam I made a year ago still sat on a shelf in my pantry. Out of idle curiosity, I’d see if they could make decent apple turnovers.

I can make simple apple turnovers, but I thought a recipe might suggest ways to nudge these sow’s ears in the direction of silk purses. Found a promising one in Bernard Clayton’s The Complete Book of Pastry. Of course, it wanted the puff pastry to be made from scratch (via a separate recipe eight pages long) and the filling to be prepared from fresh apples. Just ignore those steps, Diane!
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Years ago, I used to make my own puff pastry à la Julia Child: repeatedly rolling, folding, and chilling thickly buttered dough to produce 216 layers of butter between 217 layers of dough. It took almost all day, and my pastries never rose as dramatically as they should have, so I eventually stopped trying. But now, local stores are carrying packaged sheets of classic puff pastry, which I’ve used successfully for special-occasion dishes; e.g., here and here.

When you’ve cut fresh puff pastry to the desired shapes, you’re left with scraps of dough that you can’t just ball up to reuse, as you can short-crust dough. You have to align the scraps in their original positions, overlap and paste them together with water or butter, and fold them again several times. My leftovers had been heavily worked that way.

I defrosted the densely folded dough, rolled it out, and – picking up on Clayton’s instructions – persuaded it into three rough five-inch squares.
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The next step was the filling. The recipe wanted apples to be grated and sautéed in butter with sugar, salt, pepper, and vanilla. My apple jam tasted pleasant enough; the problem was its consistency, which was more like dense applesauce than jam. For that very reason, I thought it might do all right here.

I brushed egg wash all over the pastry squares and put a tablespoon of jam in the middle of each. It seemed pretty skimpy, but the recipe insisted on limiting the filling to a level tablespoon per turnover. I obeyed.
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I folded the dough into triangles, sealed the edges with the tines of a fork, set them on a parchment-covered baking pan, brushed the tops again with egg wash, and refrigerated them for half an hour..

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When the oven was preheated, I took the baking pan out of the refrigerator, brushed the turnovers again with egg wash, picked each one up and quickly turned it over onto a plate of granulated sugar. Actually, I wondered about that additional handling: Why not just sprinkle sugar on the tops of the turnovers? But, again, I did as directed.
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The turnovers baked for 45 minutes, half the time at 400°, the rest at 350°. To my amazement, that old, long-worked pastry had risen to glorious heights. The shapes were a little clumsy, but they smelled marvelous.
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They tasted marvelous too, with all the crisp, sweet, buttery richness of puff pastry from a good artisan bakery. The egg-sugar topping had given it a little crunchy glaze. The apple filling was bright and fruity, not overly sweet, and its quantity seemed just right. I was totally surprised, and very pleased. Maybe I should make that apple jam again this year, just for use in tarts and turnovers...
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Shrimp Pierre

At the southern tip of New Jersey, between the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, lies Cape May – famous for migratory birds and seafood. After a few days’ birding there recently (first venture away from home all year), consuming all the shellfish we could hold, we brought back oysters, scallops, clam chowder, and wild jumbo shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico.

While I love shrimp, I’d never done any cooking with jumbos before, so I searched my cookbooks for an uncomplicated recipe that would bring out the best in these oxymoronic crustaceans. I picked Shrimp Pierre, from the 1961 New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne (the name perhaps reflecting his long-time relationship with Pierre Franey). In it, the shrimp are simply to be marinated and broiled.
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At about 15 to the pound, my shrimp weren’t exactly colossal, but big enough that I thought eight of them would do for a main course for two.
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The recipe told me to shell and devein them, but once shelled, the clean white flesh didn’t show a trace of black veins; so not to disfigure the shrimps with the necessary knife slashes, I left them intact.

Then I prepared their marinade, which contained chopped onion, garlic, parsley, and basil, with dry mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.
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The shrimps were to sit in the marinade at room temperature for “several hours.” Carelessly, I’d started my preparations late-ish in the afternoon, leaving them only two hours for marinating. I hoped that would be enough.
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The recipe’s first choice was to broil the shrimp over charcoal, for which I don’t have the capacity, so it had to be in the oven. I laid the shrimp on an unoiled baking sheet along with all the marinade components, shuffled the pieces around a little to moisten the pan, and broiled the shrimp four minutes on one side and two minutes on the other.
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The shrimps were very good – tender, sweet, rich in umami, and gently flavored by the marinade vegetables. In their simplicity, among the best shrimp I’ve ever eaten. Along with them on the dinner plates were surprisingly good out-of-season asparagus and excellent German Butterball heirloom potatoes, both of which went especially well with the shrimp.
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I only wish I’d given us more than four shrimp apiece!

The unusual trio of ingredients in the title of this Neapolitan dish was what drew my attention to it. I’d never encountered that combination, either in Italy or in cookbooks. The recipe, from Arthur Schwartz’s Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania, is credited to the owner of an agritourism farm near Paestum. A sensational creation, Schwartz calls the dish – always a huge success. While I tend to look with suspicion on such extremes of praise, I thought it might be worth a try.

The entire vegetable component can be prepared several hours in advance. I roasted a big red Bell pepper, peeled it, cleaned it, and cut it in quarter-inch strips. They went into a small baking dish along with half a tablespoon of capers, a minced garlic clove, a handful of chopped parsley, salt, and pepper.
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While the pasta water was coming to a boil, I sprinkled bread crumbs over the pepper dish, drizzled on a tablespoon of olive oil, and put it in a 350° oven for ten minutes. It came out looking and smelling good enough to eat, all by itself. Peppers are a wonderful vegetable.
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When the pasta (for half a recipe, I used six ounces of linguine) was nearly done, I fried a jumbo egg in olive oil, keeping it sunny side up, until the white was set. I put the drained pasta into a serving bowl and topped it with the peppers, the egg, and its frying oil.
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For tossing the mixture, the recipe says to break the egg white into pieces and let the yolk spread over the pasta, where it will become a sauce, cooking further from the heat.

Well, that didn’t exactly work for me. The yolk sank right in to the mixture, where it nearly solidified before there was a chance for it to coat the pasta. That made the dish too dry. It needed lacing with additional olive oil.
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The main problem, though was that the three main components didn’t do a thing for each other. The pasta hadn’t taken on any flavor from the peppers, the egg white was a bland nonentity, and the bits of coagulated yolk were blobs in our individual bowls. Nothing tasted bad, but this “sensational creation” just didn’t come together into a harmonious whole.

It might have been a much better dish if I’d done it differently: sautéed the peppers and their seasonings; finished the cooked pasta in the sauté pan long enough for it to absorb those flavors; and off heat, briskly stirred in a beaten raw egg, to thicken gently around the other ingredients in a silky coating, in the manner of making spaghetti carbonara. I might try that one day.

Pollo in Pepitoria

Do you know what makes a good husband? Here’s one clue: not liking chicken much himself, he’ll say “Diane, isn’t it a long time since we’ve had chicken for dinner?” Gee, what a nice fella!

Thus authorized recently, I spent an enjoyable time browsing through my cookbooks for a new chicken recipe to try. From four finalists in The Cooking of Spain and Portugal volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, I finally settled on Pollo in Pepitoria. Though its English name is Chicken Braised in White Wine with Almonds and Garlic, the ingredients that intrigued me most were hard-boiled egg yolks and saffron.

The recipe calls for a 4- to 5-pound roasting chicken. From the nearly inaccessible freezer depths of the unsatisfactory new refrigerator I’ve anathematized here before, I excavated half of a very large free-range chicken, just the right size for half a recipe.
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I cut the bird in pieces; salted, peppered, and floured them; browned them quickly in olive oil over high heat, and moved them to a heavy casserole.
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In the frying pan I softened a cup of chopped onions, spread them over the chicken pieces, added chopped parsley, a small bay leaf, half a cup of white wine, and a cup of water. All fairly routine handling so far.
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Now I entered for-me uncharted territory. While the chicken simmered, covered, for 20 minutes, I prepared the remaining flavorings of blanched almonds, saffron threads, garlic, and a hard-boiled egg yolk, to be pounded together in a mortar and pestle.

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It was supposed to become a smooth paste, but I’m not a good pounder. Best I could do was a sort of sticky crumble.
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That was OK, though, because when I added a little of the chicken’s braising liquid, the mixture became pourable. I stirred it into the casserole liquid and simmered for about 15 more minutes, until the chicken was tender. The last step was to remove the chicken pieces to a deep platter and keep them warm while boiling down the liquid to thicken and reduce it by half. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.
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This was a very good dish, with an interestingly subtle sauce. The overall effect was creamy, but somehow not in the manner of sauces made with cream or butter. We couldn’t distinguish any individual flavors of egg yolk, garlic, onion, saffron, or almonds: they’d blended into something tasting lightly exotic, an excellent complement for the bird.

The non-chicken-lover across the dinner table from me gallantly declared that he liked it. (Little does he realize there are three more interesting looking chicken recipes from that Spanish cookbook awaiting his next bout of gallantry!)

Fresh Peach Cobbler

Where did the summer go? One of the farm stands at my Greenmarket just announced it was their last week for peaches. The end of local peaches – oh, no! I hadn’t even made my peach jam for the year yet. And hardly any of my usual summer peach desserts. Time to play catch-up before it’s too late.

The first thing I made was a cobbler, using four large ripe peaches.
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Cobblers have almost all the virtues of pies and are easier to make. You can:

  • Simply put prepared fruit in a baking dish and top it with dollops of sweet biscuit dough (so the baked dish looks paved in cobblestones – possibly hence the name).
  • Or lay an extra-large sheet of rolled out pastry dough on a large baking pan, put the fruit in the center, and fold the dough roughly over the filling, for a casual, rustic look. (Here’s one I’ve done that way. )
  • Or put the fruit in a buttered dish, lay on a sheet of pastry rolled and cut to fit it, and bake it like a pot pie.
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That last is the version I just made, working with a recipe from the Fruits volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. The recipe is attributed to The Old-Fashioned Cookbook, an unknown-to-me 1975 anthology of popular American folk dishes. I’d been meaning to try the recipe for some time because of its unusual approach to slightly sweetened short-crust pastry.

As pie makers all “know,” the butter that’s cut into flour when making a pastry dough has to be hard and cold. This recipe wants its butter to be soft. Moreover, it wants you to mush the butter together with a beaten egg, using your fingers, before combining it with the dry ingredients. The gooeyness of that didn’t appeal to me, so I gave my Kitchen-Aid mixer the task.
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Which it did very neatly, producing an even, crumbly texture . . .
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. . . that needed only the tiniest bit of water to gather itself into a smooth dough, ready to be wrapped and rested in the refrigerator.

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While the dough chilled, I peeled, halved, pitted, and sliced the peaches.
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I gently mixed the slices in a bowl with lemon juice, sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon. The peaches were so sweet, I cut the recipe’s full cup of sugar to ¾ cup. And they were already juicing up so much, I slightly increased the recipe’s 3 tablespoons of flour, to encourage thickening when baked.
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Into a baking dish went the fruit, to be dotted with a tablespoon of butter bits.
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My dish was deep rather than broad, with relatively little surface on which to lay the sheet of dough. Very curious about the unusual crust, I’d cut the piece quite large, so there’d be a generous amount to taste, and tucked up the edges all around. As directed, I brushed the surface with cream. Not as directed, I forgot to cut steam vents in it. Tsk!
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The recipe expected the dish to need 25 minutes of baking at 425° to firm and lightly brown the crust. Mine took all of 45 minutes. Perhaps I hadn’t rolled the dough thin enough. Again, tsk!
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The peaches didn’t mind, though. And aside from being a little lopsided, the cobbler looked all right. Very folksy. When we tasted it, the pastry was fine: the texture was a bit like soft shortbread.
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The peaches were meltingly sweet and luscious. So much so that I could have reduced the sugar even more – but that’s hard to judge with a first-time recipe, and it also depends on the particular fruits’ natural sweetness. Still, it was a nice, simple, down-home summer treat, a creditable late celebration of the season’s fruit.

Menudo Estilo Norteño

Menudo is a Mexican tripe soup-stew, often served for hearty breakfasts and especially recommended as a hangover cure. The idea to make it came to me from my pandemic-time reading of a mystery novel series set in New Mexico. Whenever the heroine-detective is baffled and discouraged, her family always comforts her with a big pot of homemade menudo. It seemed like a good nostrum for our current troubled times.

My Mexican cookbooks have recipes for two basic kinds of menudo: one from the northern regions, which uses hominy (pozole), and one from the south, which doesn’t. I chose a northern style (estilo norteño) from Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisines of Mexico. Conveniently, I had a pound of partially cooked tripe in the freezer, enough for half a recipe’s worth, and also a quartered pig’s foot, two of whose chunks made a reasonable substitute for the recipe’s requested calf’s foot.

My only challenge then was finding pozole. After some searching, I succeeded at Kalustyan, which, though principally an Indian grocery store, carries an enormous range of international foodstuffs. (It came only in a very large can, so in the near future you may see me writing here about other recipes for hominy!) 

The first step was to assemble the tripe, cut in small squares, the pig’s foot quarters, onion, garlic, salt, black peppercorns, and red chile powder in a large earthenware pot.
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I poured on two quarts of water, and while the pot was coming to a boil, I took two roasted Hatch green chilis from the freezer, peeled and seeded them, cut them into strips, and added them to the pot.

Here I’ll confess to two further substitutions. The green chile was supposed to have been a fresh poblano pepper, and the red chile powder was supposed to have been made fresh from toasted and ground dried anchos. I used a combination of hot arbol and medium-hot anaheim chile powders from my pantry.

After about two hours of cooking uncovered, with additional boiling water as needed, the pig’s foot pieces were softened enough to be taken out and deconstructed. Minus skin and bones, there wasn’t as much meat as there would have been with a calf’s foot, but I chopped up what there was and returned it to the pot.

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I also stirred in three-quarters of a cup of rinsed and drained hominy and let the pot go on cooking for another two hours – mostly covered, this time.
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For serving, Kennedy recommends condiments of oregano, chopped chile serrano, chopped onion, and lime wedges, plus a green tomatillo sauce to put on tortillas. I chose to do some streamlining there, using only tortillas and limes.
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The menudo had a very unusual flavor profile for Tom’s and my palates. It took a little getting used to, but it grew on us very quickly: each bite tasted better than the last. Big squeezes of lime juice brightened it all up beautifully. It needed salt, too. I could see that it would have liked the additional condiments also, and I’ll definitely use them in future versions, of which I’m sure there will be some.

Finally, my menudo was really not as picante as it should have been. Tasted after the first two hours of cooking, it had been extremely spicy, but as the hominy cooked, it must have absorbed a lot of that heat. Apparently I was too stingy with my red chile powders. Well, I’ll know better next time. I’ll also use a fresh poblano and the right kind of toasted and dried hot peppers. (Don’t think I’ll spring for a whole calf’s foot, though.) Meanwhile, a dose of Cholula sauce in each bowl helped pep things up.
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Stuffed summer vegetables are quintessential warm-weather food. Eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini make fine receptacles for all manner of appetizing fillings – as well as, in many cases, delicious filling ingredients themselves. Stuffed vegetables do require having the oven on, alas, but that’s a trade-off I can accept: I’ll bear the heat to get the treat.
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Above are my two latest stuffed vegetable discoveries, one for eggplants and one for Bell peppers. The recipes, both from Le Ricette della mia Cucina Romana, call for quite simple, meatless fillings. Here are the ingredients:
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(Please ignore that onion. There’s no onion in these recipes. I must have been thinking of something else when I assembled the veg.)

For making the cases, the peppers are just halved and seeded. The eggplants take a little additional preparation: the flesh is carved out and set aside, the shells are salted and left to give up some of their moisture.
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The stuffing for the peppers is a mixture of tuna, dry breadcrumbs, chopped olives, salt, pepper, and olive oil. For the eggplants, their pulp is first chopped and sautéed briefly in olive oil, then mixed with diced fontina, salt, and pepper.
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The fontina was one thing that sparked my interest in this recipe. In my experience, this cheese from the Alps in Italy’s Val’Aosta is extremely unusual in Roman cooking. Mozzarella or caciocavallo is what one would expect. And that wasn’t the only oddity in the recipe. The ingredient list includes pomodori maturi – ripe tomatoes – but the cooking directions say not a word about tomatoes. What was I to do with them? Well, in another Roman cookbook I found a stuffed eggplant recipe in which tomatoes are turned into a sauce and spooned onto the stuffing. I had some fresh tomato sauce in the refrigerator, so I used that.
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The baking dish went into a 400° oven until the vegetable cases were tender, which took about 40 minutes. The eggplants were actually done sooner, but it didn’t harm them to stay in there long enough for the peppers to soften.

Here they are again, cooked. Note that there isn’t a lot of stuffing. In the past whenever I’ve baked vegetables like these, I’ve packed in the stuffing and heaped it high. I was a little dubious about the modest amounts here, but they worked very well, though we felt that a little more good ventresca tuna would have been welcome in the peppers.
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When the filling dominates, the effect is that the base vegetable is merely an edible container. Here, pepper and eggplant were the main components, with each one’s stuffing being mostly a flavorful condiment. They were quite rich and filling, too. We had them hot, as a main dinner course, and found they got even better as they cooled. That being the case, they could very well be cooked in the cool of the morning and served later in the day. They’d also make good lunches and dinner antipasti.