My market is one of the only markets in the area that continues beyond September. I mentioned that to a coworker yesterday and he seemed surprised, not that more towns weren’t still holding markets but that mine was. “What do they even have?,” he asked. In addition to this stuff, there were pumpkins and squash and all sorts of leafy greens, tomatoes (yes, still!), mushrooms, broccoli, a dozen varieties of apples, and rutabagas the size of your head. I’m not sure what one does with a rutabaga the size of a human head, which is why I didn’t buy one. (As it turns out, ancient Celts carved scary faces in them and used them as lanterns to ward off evil spirits at Samhain. Duh.)
This week, with carrot greens and leek tops, it was tough to take a photograph that didn’t include at least part of a very portly little cat. She swatted at me when I took the leeks away and followed me to the refrigerator meowing. Which was not nearly as amusing as the time she got her head stuck in a bag of Twizzlers.
I don’t have a picture of that. Here are some leeks and carrots instead.
My brother texted me yesterday to tell me he’d just eaten the best apple of his life. It was a Honeycrisp. This year everyone’s all about the Sweetango but I find they have little to offer other than overwhelming sweetness. Plus, it’s hard to take yourself seriously when you’re eating something called a sweetango.
The Bartletts need a bit of time to ripen, and I need to figure out what type of plums those are. Italian prune plums, I think, in which case they’re going to become a tart. Or this delicious-looking thing. Probably both. There’s plenty of plums.
From my boss, the Obi Wan Kenobi of fruit: “No mystery. . .they are Stanley prune plums, the most commonly grown plum in Michigan.” And evidently you can just eat them. I tried one. It was pretty, um, common.
I’m not exactly sure where September went. It was here, all crisp and vivid with Indian summer sunlight, and then the light softened and the air grew chill and it was October, a month squarely on the other side of summer. I spent September at work writing a holiday catalog, which may not sound particularly taxing, but is. Like, really. At night, after all the writing, I’d come home ravenous and addle-brained and stand in front of a refrigerator stocked with little more than a handful of fancy cheeses and—honestly—six kinds of homemade pickles. These are not the sort of ingredients with which one can reasonably cobble together the only meal of the day.
Instead, I lived on tomatoes. (And wine. Lots and lots of wine.) There are a handful of things that I make for dinner when I can’t be bothered to figure out what to make for dinner, but this cherry tomato gratin is by far the best of my default dinners. You toss a pint of cherry tomatoes in a shallow baking dish and scatter a handful of breadcrumbs, fresh herbs and Parmesan over them, leaving just a hint of round redness peeking out here and there. Then you slip the dish into a hot oven until the bread is crisp and golden and fragrant and the tomatoes have just begun to go all slumpy and warm. With each bite you get the hefty crunch of cheesy toasted bread, the vivacious freshness of summer herbs, and the exhilarating burst of intensely sweet roasted tomatoes. Which is exactly the sort of thing you need when you’re feeling all sapped and addle-brained and like whoever invented sentences is a real jerk.
I don’t know if tomatoes are still in season where you live, but we have another week or so here along the 45th parallel. That’s at least five nights of cherry tomato gratin— spooned over thick slices of fresh mozzarella or grilled eggplant, tossed with capellini, or served alongside roast chicken. On the other few nights, I think we’ll just go back to September and serve it simply with wine. Lots and lots of wine.
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 oz. ciabatta or rustic Italian bread, torn into coarse crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
kosher salt and ground white pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a medium bowl, combine bread, Parmesan cheese, thyme, and garlic; drizzle with olive oil and toss to combine. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper.
Place cherry tomatoes in a shallow baking dish; scatter bread crumb mixture over tomatoes. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for five minutes. Remove foil and bake until crust is golden and crisp and tomatoes are soft, 10 minutes more.
Serve over fresh mozzarella, grilled eggplant, pasta, grilled fish or roast chicken.
Whenever I’m called upon to feed a crowd my thoughts turn to slaw. Truth be told, my thoughts turn to slaw — with its delightful crispy, crunchy freshness — far more frequently than any social engagements require, but the point here is that slaw is the perfect thing to take along to a picnic or a potluck or any sort of food-related festivity. It’s easy, inexpensive, and it can be made from whatever vegetables happen to be in season. Although it’s a great do-ahead dish because the longer it sits (within reason) the more the flavors blend, it can just as easily be thrown together at the last minute for an impromptu gathering without sacrificing a great deal of yumminess. Plus slaw looks pretty, tastes fabulous, and is a hell of a lot better for you than pigs in a blanket. In fact, I whipped some up earlier in anticipation of Academy Awards revelry.
You know those furrowed-brow-type people you see in the grocery store picking up packages of this or that, frowning at labels and then returning the offending products to the shelf with a disgusted little shake of their heads? I am one of those people. I like to think I’m not the only one of those people, but it stands to reason that if there were more of us the labels wouldn’t be quite so full of unpronounceable bullshit. Which brings me to the puff pastry.
Unless you live near a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods (I don’t) and are comfortable spending six or seven dollars on a sixteen ounce package of crap-free frozen puff pastry (I’m not), your choices are limited: Pepperidge Farm in all of its partially hydrogenated glory or nothing at all. I’ve generally gone with the nothing at all option, but after years of rejecting scads of perfectly delicious-sounding tart recipes, I had a puff pastry epiphany. “How hard can it be?” I thought, and set about gathering the necessary ingredients.