August 28, 2013

Lemon Pie with a Saltine Crust (AKA Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie)

Lemon Pie with a Saltine Crust (AKA Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie)

This might fall into the category of something everyone else knows about but me - crushed saltine crackers plus butter and sugar makes a slamming good pie crust! A personal information gap resulting from my limited exposure to both church basement and southern food, I guess.

This recipe is a bit of a sensation due to a piece NPR did on it a few months back. It's from a restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina called Crook's Corner. Here's link to a video of the chef/owner making it. He says that when he was growing up they ate a lot of local seafood and it was widely believed that if you ate dessert after you ate fish you would DIE (don't you love the south?), the exception being THIS pie. So, of course, every restaurant along the coast of North Carolina served it.

True or evil marketing campaign from the sweetened condensed milk company? No matter. This is a fantastic pie. Crispy, crumbly not-too-sweet cracker crust paired with a tart lemon filling, whipped cream and a sprinkle of salt. Served cold, it's one good dessert on a hot day.

The original recipe is for an 8 inch pie. I made individual pies in little spring form pans instead. You can spread whipped cream over the top like a frosting (as I did) or just a dollop on the top. The tartness of the filling is more pronounced the less whipped cream you use.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

Makes one 8 inch or three 4 inch pies

1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons sugar

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
Flaky salt (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350º

2. Break up crackers with your hands, a rolling pin or a food processor until crumbly with some bigger pieces. Add sugar and softened butter and combine with your hands or in food processor until combined.

3. Press firmly into the bottom and sides of an eight inch pie pan. The crust will be thick. Chill for 15 minutes then bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Take out of oven.

4. Make filling by whisking egg yolks, condensed milk and lemon juice together in a bowl. Pour into slightly cooled crust and bake for 15 minutes until filling is set. Make whipped cream by beating cream and sugar together until peaks form. Cool pie to room temperature, spread with whipped cream (if using as frosting) and refrigerate for a few hours until cold.  Sprinkle with salt, if using, and serve.

August 23, 2013

Wise Women and Tomato Tarte Tatin

I notice bylines. You know, the small type under the magazine or newspaper story that indicates who the author is. It probably comes from the years I worked at our local metro newspaper and would look for personal bias (surprisingly little) in the stories of reporters I knew and maybe check out what beat that cute guy in the cafeteria was covering.

So I zeroed in on Julia Reed's in a story on tomatoes in last weeks Wall Street Journal. She is a fine writer, a southern woman you want to be friends with. Not folksy "y'all come back" type but wise, witty and chic with a full embrace of her not always sophisticated southern roots. I've been reading her stuff for years, mostly in Vogue magazine, and it's made me look forward to getting older if only to be as comfortable in my skin as Julia seems to be. Ditto Nora Ephron, ditto Ruth Reichl, ditto Diane Von Furstenberg. Smart women who don't take themselves too seriously, exude warmth, dig into life and share the experience.

Now about those tomatoes. This is a riff on tarte tatin, the caramelly french upside down apple dessert. In addition to the cherry and big tomatoes weighing down your vines, you will need butter, balsamic vinegar, onions, basil, a sheet of purchased puff pastry and goat cheese. A little sweet, a little tangy, a little salty supported by a flaky crust. Easy, elegant and homey. Serve a big slice with a salad for lunch or dinner. Good reheated too.

Tomato Tarte Tatin

Adapted from Julia Reed's recipe, Wall Street Journal 8/17/13

3 large tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 pint (approx. 2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons reduced balsamic vinegar*
4 ounces goat cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

* Reduced, syrupy balsamic is ideal but straight from the bottle will work too. To reduce, simmer 1/4 cup in a pan for 20-30 minutes until it's down to about 2 tablespoons.

1. Preheat oven to 275º. 

2. Place halved cherry tomatoes on a sheet pan with garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bake in oven for about 30-40 minutes or until browned and somewhat dehydrated. Remove, set aside and increase oven temperature to 400º.

3. Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil  and butter over medium heat and add onions with a pinch of salt. Cook low and slow (reduce heat if onions are browning too quickly - they shouldn't sizzle)  until onions are soft and brown, about 30-45 minutes. 

4. Oil bottom and sides of 9 inch cake pan and cut a circle of parchment to fit in the bottom. Drizzle balsamic over bottom and sprinkle on the fresh basil. Lay in sliced tomatoes and salt and pepper them. Fit roasted cherry tomatoes in all the gaps, then spread caramelized onions over that. Sprinkle with goat cheese.

5. Roll out puff pastry on a lightly floured surface so it will fit the diameter of the pan plus an one inch overhang (you will have some pastry left over). Lay over the top of the filling and tuck in the edges. Bake for 30 minutes until crust is browned and you can see some filling bubbling up around the edges. 
Let rest for 5 minutes, invert onto large plate and serve warm or at room temperature. 

August 16, 2013

Herbed Zucchini Fritters

Herbed Zucchini Fritters

Is anyone really crazy about zucchini? How unfortunate that this low-maintenance vegetable that grows easily and abundantly in this part of the country so often ends up in the "can't give it away" category.

Low in calories with a good amount of vitamin C, zucchini, while not exactly a superfood, is a whole food, cheap and plentiful. Time to give it a chance. But I've never been excited about the flavor which, to me, has a slightly metallic edge. So I did what any sensible person does when faced with a food they don't like much...I fried it in oil. A crispy, salty brown crust forgives many culinary shortcomings and it really works with this one. I added a healthy dose of fresh basil and chives to sweeten up the zucchini and a bit of baking powder for lift (thank you Smitten Kitchen for this tip). 

These are great to make while you're catching up with your family, having a glass of wine and eating them as they come out of the pan. Delicious on their own, or with a bit of sour cream or tzatziki

Note: Don't skip the step of salting, draining and squeezing the zucchini if you want crisp fritters (you do) and use a nice heavy pan. I've tried both nonstick and cast-iron and while cast-iron has a slight edge for crust, both work well. Don't be tempted to cook these too fast - I made this mistake once and had eggy, raw centers. Also, please use olive oil. It's zucchini's buddy and the flavors are really complimentary.

Herbed Zucchini Fritters

Herbed Zucchini Fritters

Makes approx. 8 fritters (4 small fritters per zucchini)

2 zucchini
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup chopped basil or parsley
1/4 cup chopped chives or green onions
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3-4 grinds black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil 

1. Trim ends of zucchini and shred on largest holes of box grater. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt, mix and set over a bowl to drain for 20-30 minutes. Dump drained zucchini onto a clean kitchen towel, wrap up tight and squeeze over the sink. You won't believe how much water these puppies will leach. 

2. Place "dry" zucchini, chopped herbs and zest in a bowl. 

3. Mix flour and baking powder together in a small bowl and sprinkle over zucchini, adding a few grinds of black pepper. Mix gently. Beat egg in a separate bowl, add to mix and stir just until combined. 

4. Heat oil in pan over medium heat until hot. Add a heaping tablespoon of batter and gently flatten with back of spoon. Fry for about 4 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and repeat with remaining batter. You can keep these warm (or re-warm) in a hot oven, but they're best eaten immediately. 

Zucchini Fritters

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