I like relatively unstructured summers. Even though I’m no longer in school or have anyone in my family in school, my whole frame of mind changes when Memorial Day arrives. Summer feels like a lazier time than the rest of the year.
I wait all year for August, a solid month of perfect tomatoes. Meal preparation becomes conflicting. I’m torn between the simplicity of enjoying the tomatoes sliced and raw and the desire to transform them into something more. Caprese salad, Panzanella, tomato tarts of many forms, sauce, salsa. The list goes on and on.
Insert into my tomato frenzy, recipes for Cook the Book Fridays. I’ll be honest that I haven’t been inspired. I did cook the two recipes selected so far for August, but in the heat of the dog day afternoons, sitting at the computer is not high on my list of activities. I’d rather be gardening or playing with tomatoes. This afternoon is rainy, so I’ve managed to sit myself in my chair and start to write.
The first assignment for August was Stuffed Vegetables. David Lebovitz suggested stuffing zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. Given that Howard doesn’t eat zucchini or eggplant, and even if I were filling a tomato, that filling contained the dreaded zucchini and eggplant, I had to get creative. Actually I wasn’t that creative. My solution was to scale back and stuff one zucchini just for me. The filling was delicious! Ground beef was extended with diced zucchini, eggplant and tomato along sautéed onion and garlic and lots of herbs. An egg binds the mixture together. I filled both halves of a single zucchini for two satisfying lunches for myself. The filling would be delicious in stuffed pepper, though I’d have to keep quiet about the full list of ingredients…
The second recipe assigned in August was Kirsch Babas with Pineapple Cherries. Howard wasn’t excited about this one. I wasn’t either. Despite the tropical fruit, babas seemed much more like a winter dessert. And what’s a baba anyway? It’s an eggy yeasty cake doused in alcoholic syrup. See, doesn’t that sound like something you’d enjoy around the holidays?
Knowing I was the only eater, I halved the recipe. What I set aside for the first rise was much more like batter than dough. I didn’t know if that was a result of halving the recipe or some other mistake. It did rise, and once the softened butter was whipped in, it miraculously transformed into a soft, sticky dough. The little cakes rose again, quickly (less than an hour). My kitchen in the summer is a very warm place.
The finished cakes are soaked in a light simple syrup spiked with alcohol. In my case, it was a mixture of kirsch and rum (I ran out of kirsch). I’ve never soaked cakes in this way before. They were like edible sponges.
These babas were meant to be accompanied by sautéed pineapple, however, the kirsch (cherry brandy) inspired me to substitute cherries that I already had on hand. In the end, I thought the babas were interesting though unremarkable and certainly more work than they were worth, even if it had been winter.
If either of these recipes interest you, they can be found in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. Stuffed Vegetables is on page 160 and the Babas on page 279. Follow the respective links for my friends’ impressions of Stuffed Vegetables or Kirsch Babas.
And for those of you I’m not connected with on Facebook, I want to share the sad news that on the last day of July, we said an unexpected farewell to our beloved dog Bella. Her distinct personality filled our life with love and joy and, of course, exercise. In our grief, I know that she adored us as much as we did her (though maybe she preferred Howard more than me), and her life, at least since we rescued her 9 years ago, was a good one.
It seems like the weather on the first day of September is always cool and crisp. It’s technically still summer, but it’s as if autumn pops its head up to say “Hi! Missed me? I’m coming soon!” A taste of autumn for a day or two, then summer resumes its place for the duration.
Produce-wise, it’s the peak of summer vegetables. Tomatoes, corn, zucchini abound. It’s one of my favorite times of year for eating.
This week’s recipe for Cook the Book Fridays fit right into the “peak of summer” theme. Baked Provençal Vegetables aka Tian was the order of the day. Sautéed onions and garlic for the bed for an arrangement of thinly sliced zucchini (home grown!), eggplant, and tomatoes sprinkled with thyme and handful of Gruyère cheese. The ingredients resemble those ratatouille, but the technique, baking instead of simmering stovetop, makes a tian so much easier to prepare.
I served the meltingly tender vegetables atop leftover spaghetti. It was delicious. What’s not to like? Well, that assumes you’re a fan of zucchini and eggplant, which Howard is not. Obviously, I was solo for dinner the night I made this.
If you’d like the recipe, you’ll find it on page 226 of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. This recipe from Saveur is also very similar. You can also find the reviews of my Cook the Book Fridays friends here.