Monday, August 17, 2009

Rustic Tomato Tart

Getting back into good health is its own journey. I walk every day. Those first days out of the hospital were slow and short walks, more of a shuffle than a walk, difficult for someone who is used to striding. Still, it’s a walk, outside in beautiful summer weather, an independent action; something I have learned to value after those weeks of hospitalization and dependency.

Right now I am doing the minimum and basics. Getting well and back to where I was before is the priority. So I do short and longer walks, take naps and concentrate on building my health. That said, I consider it a forward and exciting step when I take another small move back into my old life. That would include going out to dinner with friends and then occasionally having someone over for dinner. The summer has been lost so far for summer entertaining. In late spring we got prepared for it by putting out the patio furniture and tidying up in anticipation of warm evenings and dinners with friends outside. Entertaining is aptly named; it’s sort of like putting on a production when you have guests. There is an effort necessary.

Back then, I thought that since the olive tree in the back planter is now large enough I could string a couple of strands of fairy lights around the base so I did so thinking of how charming that would look when we entertained. Because of my illness we lost June and July so there went a lot of the time when we would be enjoying the outside.

So, now its the dead of summer and hot weather and tomato season is at its peak. At the farmer’s markets everyone has them and they are cheap. That’s the sign for me. Even the heirloom tomatoes are more readily available and cheaper than usual. How best to use them? I have just the recipe; a tomato rustic tart or galette.. Because it’s so different and fresh it always feels like a cross between picnic and party food – special. Inspired I actually got up for the idea of making the effort. I decided to make that happen for a Saturday evening dinner which I felt signaled a change for the better in my health. Not just the physical part but also emotionally. And then I went one step further by deciding that as long as I was cooking something special for us why not invite friend Larry to share it. We made sure that he knew that this was my “coming out” so he wouldn’t expect a perfectly executed evening or meal.

He’s enough of a friend to be able to say that to and to understand the sentiment. And, in reality, possibly no caveat was needed. The tart and the evening went well. It was mild enough that we were able to sit outside and finally use the patio! A big step in making us feel that we were returning to our accustomed life. Obviously a highly desirable goal.

It was a simple meal with Steve providing the appetizer; asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and roasted, which went well with the tomato tart and some good bread. After dinner I begged off early since that much unaccustomed effort tired me out, but that was okay too since it gave the two guys time to talk, just the two of them.

But the tart is not that difficult to make and is very wonderful to eat. So here it is, while tomato season is still with us.

Rustic Tomato Tart with Parmesan Crust
Serves 4
Galette Dough
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted cold butter, cut into 6 pieces
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
¼ cup ice water

1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons each
Fresh basil, fresh thyme and Italian parsley, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 -8 ripe Roma tomatoes (about 1 ¼ lb.) cut into
¼ inch thick slices
1 tablespoon olive oil

To prepare pastry; in food processor fitted with metal blade combine flour, butter, salt and parmesan cheese. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, 10 - 15 seconds. With motor running, pour cold water through feeder tube in steady stream. Process for 10 -15 seconds or until dough begins to bind. Remove dough and shape into a 12 inch disk.
The dough can be used immediately or wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. When ready to use, remove dough from refrigerator and let soften at room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
On lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, paint pastry with mustard, leaving 1 – 1 ½ inch border all around. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese evenly over the mustard.
In a small bowl, combine basil, thyme, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange half the tomato slices over mustard coated pastry and sprinkle herb mixture over tomatoes. Cover with remaining tomatoes, overlapping slices if necessary.
Fold pastry border over tomatoes to enclose sides of tart, gently draping pastry over tomatoes and folding into soft pleats over few inches. Pinch any cracks to seal pastry and prevent tomato juices from running out during the baking. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes.
Bake for 20 -25 minutes or until dough is golden. Remove tart from oven and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Machengo Stuffed Pears with Prosciutto

Illness takes its toll in unexpected ways. There are the obvious things of course, depending on the specific illness. But what was a surprise for me after getting better from my surgery and getting home was the loss of muscle tone for one thing, along with weight loss. I am amazed at how quickly my muscle tone and strength deteriorated after a month in the hospital. And, despite my resolve to eat right and recuperate, loss of appetite along with a feeling of changed "taste buds" is a major issue. I have found that appetite is important not just as the desire to eat something and carry out that action. For cooking and meal preparation, appetite is necessary to propel you into seeing a recipe’s appeal enough to want to select the ingredients and go through the trouble of shopping, cooking it and then finally, doing justice to the effort expended. Visualization is the major part of the eating process.

Right now I find it much easier when I see something in the store that looks and sounds appealing and is already cooked and ready to eat. Instant gratification seems to work much better appetite-wise. Thank heavens for stores that have lovely deli case type displays –then all that is required is to heat up and dish it up, what you see is what you get – right away.

I did do a little cooking over the weekend. Our neighbors Paula and Tim gave me a gift of a box of Harry and David pears. The fruit is beautiful to look at and tastes great just as it is so requires no effort to enjoy. As it happened we have a recipe for using pears like this as an appetizer that one of us tore out of a magazine recently. I discovered it among all our loose recipes that remain unfiled until we try them and declare them worthy of going through that effort. Anyway this recipe called to me with just enough ingredients to be interesting, as a worthy way to use the pears and it sounded delicious and simple to make

The recipe calls for seckel pears which are miniature pears and while I am able to obtain them, the fact was I had pears already available to use. And, mostly the larger version is what is mostly available, so I adapted the recipe
For my use. The firmer pears such as I had, would seem to be easier for this use, rather than the yellow Bartlett, which seems to me too soft to work with. If you use the seckels they just need to be cut in half and cored as noted.
Machengo is a Spanish cheese that has a sort of a nutty, buttery flavor. My alternate choice would be gorgonzola which goes fabulous with pears but unfortunately melts much faster than the machengo, not allowing the pears time to roast quite as well I suspect. Oh well, I may have to try that next time. The prosciutto saltiness does contrast wonderfully with the cheese and the pears.

Pears with Machengo and Prosciutto
8 slices of thinly slice prosciutto
2 pears cut into quarters lengthwise if using regular size pears*
Machengo cheese- approx 2-4 oz.
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350, scoop out cores of pears with a melon baller, leave stems intact
*If using seckel pears, cut in half and core

Brush cut sides with olive oil
Place a cube of cheese in core of each pear slice, wrap each with 1 – 1 ½” wide strip of prosciutto
Place pears, cut side up on baking sheet, keeping seam under pear,
Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes until cheese begins to melt. Serve warm

I made this as an appetizer to have with a small glass of reisling while we were sitting out in the patio on the warm summer afternoon. The main course was take-out pizza since I didn’t want to push myself too much and Steve had been away at a ball game all day long.
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