heirloom tomato + watermelon salad

Three weeks have passed since the start of culinary school. In some ways the time has flown — some days I wake up feeling as though I have yet to begin, until I flex my feet against the steady ache that I can’t seem to shake, and realize that I already have. Other times, especially when I’m in the kitchen, I feel as though I’ve been there forever, so far removed from the massive uncertainty and apprehension that I felt in the beginning.

It has been quite the experience so far, and we have learned more than I could have ever anticipated learning in a few short weeks. We’ve made stocks, gallons of stocks, from veal to fish fumet and everything in between, and have learned the power they hold in elevating a sauce from something good, to something truly exceptional. We’ve made the mother sauces — béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato — and many of their variations. We’ve made mayonnaises and sabayons, soups and consommés, perserved lemons and cured salmon. We’ve fileted fish, butchered chickens and ducks, stuffed quail until they were plump and roasted them until browned and juicy. We’ve shucked oysters and clams, carefully shelled lobster, and sauteéd mussels until they released their salty brine. We’ve made the most succulent duck confit of my life in a rondeau that I’m pretty sure weighed more than I do, and braised duck legs in a rich brown veal stock until tender and rich with flavor. We’ve made more variations of potatoes than I thought possible, including a gratin dauphinois that consisted of not much more than cream, gruyere, and potatoes, but that blew my mind. My knife is starting to feel more like an appendage than a tool, and the red, raw spot that I formed on the inside of my index finger from days and nights filled with slicing, cutting and shaping has already formed a hard callous. I still come home exhausted, and my feet ache from all of the hours standing, but I’m sure that adjustment will come too, with time.

Of course going into this, I had an idea of the happiness I would feel doing what I love every day. What I was unaware of, though, was how profound that sense of fulfillment would be. The boundless joy I feel in the kitchen — the sharp, methodical swishing of knives being sharpened, the clanking of pans hitting the stove top, the first, welcomed smells of sizzling onions, sauces erupting into balloons of fire with a splash of brandy — it’s all so surreal. The satisfaction I feel to get home [soreness, exhaustion, and all] after accomplishing a day of hard-earned work is unlike any I’ve ever felt. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention my classmates: my classmates who come from different continents, speak different languages, and span in age by almost 30 years. So many of us couldn’t be more dissimilar, but we are all bound by the same passion, and a drive to pursue what we love. How fitting it feels to spend my days with them.

Of course amid all of my joy, there are hard moments — like having to cancel on time with my friends, including one visiting from Wyoming, because of an all-consuming, show-stopping migraine from a hot, dehydrating day in the kitchen, or times when I question what I want to do with this when it’s all over, or if I’ll ever make enough money in this industry to justify this expense. Even still, I find myself waking up excited to start each of my days, and going to sleep knowing that I’ve made the most of them. If that is not exactly what we should reach for in life, I’m not sure what is.

It feels unfair and a bit cheap to share a dish that requires no recipe, nor cooking, after boasting about how much I’ve learned in the kitchen. But, for all the joy that a day at the stove brings me, there’s also something to be said for taking a rest every now and again. Cooking or not, I promise this dish is worth sharing.


heirloom tomato + watermelon salad

There is no real recipe to this salad, just a loose, yet beautiful combination of contrasting flavors. Salty, crumbly feta cheese is mellowed by the sugary watermelon and summer-ripened tomatoes, both bursting with juices. Fragrant basil and a drizzle floral olive oil complements everything, and brings it all together. 

 

ingredients:

4 – 5 small heirloom tomatoes, sliced or cubed

a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes

a few handfuls of ground cherries, husked

1 small or 1/4 large watermelon, cubed

4 oz full fat feta cheese, sliced or crumbled

5 – 7 basil leaves, chiffonade

extra virgin olive oil

coarse sea salt

 

In a large bowl, gently toss the tomatoes, ground cherries, watermelon, and feta. Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle the basil leaves over top, drizzle with olive oil, and season with coarse sea salt to taste.

Serves 4 – 6 as a side dish


tomato + ricotta tart

Respond to every call that excites your spirit.

– Rumi

I’m feeling it all right now: nervousness, excitement, anticipation. In two days, what has long been nothing more than a vision will become my reality. In two days, I will be donning my chef whites and stepping into the kitchens of culinary school.

It’s a huge step, and a decision that I (nor Henry) made lightly. As much as I’d like to portray a romantic image of me leaving my job without hesitation and blindly pursuing my passion, it wouldn’t be honest. It took a lot of self-reflection and contemplation. It took long nights of conversation, of financial planning, and preparation. We made sacrifices, and will continue to make sacrifices for a while to come. But, in the end, it’s all worth it.  

We made this decision, together. Henry believes in me – believes in my passion and what I am capable of. But, more importantly, I believe in myself. I’m proud to say that I am acting on the sentiment I so often share here: I’m casting aside my fear and hesitations and letting my ambition and passion take the driver’s seat. I have a choice, and I’m choosing to be brave.

It’s a new path, and one that I’m sure will have its fair share of bumps and unexpected turns. I’m really not even sure where the path will end up. All I know is that it points in the right direction. I hope you’ll stick along for the ride.


tomato + ricotta tart

A crisp, buttery crust, a melt-in-your-mouth rich filling, and bursting, sweet summer tomatoes — does it get any better than that? This tart would be delicious served with eggs for brunch, with lightly dressed greens for dinner, or even packed up for a picnic lunch.

 

ingredients

prepared pastry dough

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 egg, separated

1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh oregano leaves, plus more for garnish

1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pound tomatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces [I used cherry tomatoes, but any tomato would do well here]

splash of milk

 

First, prepare the pastry dough

and place in the refrigerator to chill.

After the dough has chilled for at least an hour, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into an 11-inch x 15-inch rectangle (approximately). Roll the dough around the rolling pin and unroll onto a baker’s quarter sheet pan (9-inch x 13-inch) so that the dough is falling over the edges on all sides. If you don’t have a quarter sheet pan, you can use a half sheet and use a folded up piece of aluminum foil to create a false side in the middle of the long edge so that the pan measures 9-inches x 13-inches. Trim the overhanging excess dough, so that the crust reaches just to the top of the edges of the pan [see note below for a fun use for the excess dough]. Cover the pan lightly in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to chill.

While the dough chills, prepare the ricotta mixture: in a medium bowl add the ricotta, egg white [reserve the yolk for the egg wash later on], oregano, thyme, garlic, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Mix to thoroughly combine.

Remove the chilled prepared dough from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the middle of the tart and use a spatula to spread it evenly over the bottom. Arrange the tomato slices over top of the ricotta and garnish the tart with more oregano leaves and flaked or coarse salt.

In a ramekin or small bowl, beat together the reserved egg yolk and splash of milk. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the exposed parts of the crust.

Transfer the tart to the preheated oven and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting into squares to serve. [The tart is delicious served either warm or at room temperature, garnished with more fresh oregano and thyme leaves].

 

for the pastry dough:

2 cups all purpose flour

pinch of salt

12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons ice water

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter, and using your hands, work it into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal [the butter pieces should be about the size of large peas]. Add the water and mix until the dough just comes together. Flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before using.

 

*Note: Don’t throw away your pastry dough scraps! Collect and reform them into a disc, and roll out on your floured work surface until about 1/4-inch in thickness. Cut into pieces [triangles, squares, circles, whatever!] and place about 1 – 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the pieces with cinnamon and sugar and transfer to a preheated 400 degree F oven [you can bake them at the same time as the tomato tart]! Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, and cool on wire racks before serving. These are delicious eaten as cookies, or served as a garnish to a bowl of ice cream.

chilled corn + fennel soup with crab

chilled corn + fennel soup with crab

This soup highlights the sweetness of fresh summer corn, with a subtle anise flavor from fresh fennel. All of the scraps from the vegetables in this recipe are used to make an easy, and flavorful, homemade vegetable stock — so you don’t have to feel badly about wasting a thing. The recipe is a bit loose, and the consistency of the soup will depend on how much corn your 6 cobs produce — luckily, it is easy to adjust by just adding more vegetable stock at the end. You can also omit the crab if you do not have access to fresh crab meat or would like to make this soup vegetarian.

 

for the vegetable stock + soup:

6 fresh corn cobs

1 leek

1 fennel bulb (stalks and fronds still attached)

5 cloves of garlic [4 smashed and peeled, 1 peeled and minced]

2 bay leaves

2 large handfuls of roughly chopped fresh chives

2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

 

for the crab:

1 cup fresh lump crab meat

1 tablespoon chopped fresh fennel fronds

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter

 

First, prepare the vegetables and vegetable stock:

Corn: shuck the corn, and cut the kernels from the cobs. Place the kernels in a medium bowl and using the back of your knife, scrape the milk from the cobs into the bowl with the kernels. Set corn kernels and milk aside. Add the empty cobs to a large stock pot.

Leek: Fill a small to medium-sized bowl with cold water. Cut the dark green part of the leek from the white and light green portion. Slice the white and light green portion in half lengthwise and chop into thin half-moons [should measure about 1 cup of chopped leek]. Transfer the chopped leek to the bowl of water, using your hands to separate the pieces and allowing all the grit to sink to the bottom of the water. Once clean, remove leeks from the water and drain on paper towels. Set aside. Chop the dark green part of the leek into large pieces and add to the stock pot with the corn cobs.

Fennel: Remove the fennel stalks from the bulb. Reserve a few of the fronds for the crab and garnish, and chop the rest of the stalks into 3 – 4-inch pieces and add to the stock pot. Core the bulb and dice [I used a mandolin to slice a couple of pieces from the bulb before coring for garnish, but this is optional]. Measure 1 cup of diced fennel and set aside [this should be about 3/4 of the bulb, depending on the size of your fennel]. Add any remaining fennel to the stock pot. 

To the stock pot, add the 4 cloves of peeled + smashed garlic, bay leaves, chives, peppercorns, 2 teaspoons of the salt, and 9 cups of water. Set over high heat, uncovered, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and keep at a fast simmer, uncovered, for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Drain the stock into another stock pot or large bowl and discard all solids. Set stock aside to cool.

While stock is cooling, prepare the soup: to a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup of the reserved diced fennel, the chopped and washed white and light green parts of the leek, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute, stirring frequently, until leek and fennel soften and start to caramelize, about 20 – 25 minutes. Add the remaining 1 minced clove of garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add reserved corn kernels and milk, and 2 tablespoons of butter. Saute, stirring until butter has just melted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 3 cups of the reserved vegetable stock.

Working in batches, blend the corn mixture until smooth [making sure to only cover the blender with a kitchen towel so that steam can escape]. Depending on your preference, at this point you can adjust the consistency of the soup with more vegetable stock [remember to just add a little at a time — you can always add more — and also remember the the soup with thicken slightly as it cools]. Once your desired consistency is reached, pour the soup into a large bowl or stock pot, cover, and transfer to the refrigerator to chill until cold, at least 2 hours.

Once soup has chilled, prepare the crab: in a small bowl, combine lump crab meat, fresh fennel fronds, lemon juice, and melted butter. Ladle soup into bowls and spoon crab over top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and garnish with flaked salt, fennel fronds and fresh chives if desired.

serves 4

plum + almond tart


plum + almond tart

Sweet, tart plums and toasted almonds are enveloped in a rich, buttery crust in this take on a summer classic. I can see this as the perfect end to a grill night or summer picnic. This recipe makes a smaller tart (serves 2 – 4), so make sure to make multiple if you are hosting a party.

for the pastry crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water

 

for the filling:

6 small plums (I used a mixture of mirabelles and santa rosas)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

4 tablespoons sugar

1/2 of a vanilla bean

confectioner’s sugar, for serving

First, prepare the pastry crust: in a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the cold butter pieces, and using your hands or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles very coarse meal (there should be larger and smaller of pieces of butter incorporated throughout). Add the ice water and mix until the mixture just begins to form a dough, being careful not to over mix). Form the dough into a thin disc and wrap in a piece of plastic wrap, again being careful not to overwork the dough. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least an hour. 

Once dough has chilled, transfer to a work surface that is lightly dusted with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll dough into a circle that is about 1/8 of an inch in thickness. Drape rolled dough into a 6″ pie pan, with a removable bottom, and 1 1/2 – 2 inch deep sides. Without stretching the dough, press it into the pan so that it completely covers the bottom and sides. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the pan to trim the scraps (the dough should just come to the top of the walls of the pan). Cover pan and dough with plastic wrap and transfer to the freezer to chill as you prepare the filling. 

While dough is chilling in the freezer, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and prepare the filling: halve the plums by cutting in a circular motion around their pits (like you would an avocado) and twist. Remove pits and discard. Set halved and pitted plums aside.

Split the 1/2 vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into a small bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and using your hands, work the seeds into the sugar until completely incorporated. Meanwhile, add slivered almonds to a small sauté pan over medium-low heat. Toast, shaking pan occasionally, until almonds are fragrant and lightly brown. Remove 1 tablespoon of the almonds and set aside for garnish. Add the remaining almonds and vanilla sugar mixture to a mortar and pestle and grind into a coarse meal (you can also use a food processor for this step, but I like the rustic consistency that a mortar and pestle provides). 

Remove the chilled dough from the freezer (it should be super cold and firm at this point, if not allow it chill a bit longer). Sprinkle the almond and sugar mixture over the bottom and arrange the plum halves over top of the sugar, cut sides down. Sprinkle with reserved 1 tablespoon of toasted almonds and the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Place tart on top of a small baking pan (with raised sides) to catch any juices that may leak while baking, and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake until crust is golden and tops of plums are lightly browned, 40-45 minutes. 

Remove tart from oven and allow to cool in pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes (this step is important, as the tart would be a watery mess if cut into before having a chance to cool). After the tart has cooled, carefully remove the sides of the pan and transfer to a serving platter. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and cut into wedges to serve.  

serves 2 – 4