Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.
~Jane Austen

Apple season draws nigh, and so does that pie. The pomaceous and biblically forbidden fruit of the apple tree, species Malus domestica, has been transformed into a scrumptious icon of motherhood—apple pie—an almost strangely ironic culinary image of Americana. Over centuries, the apple has historically become a symbol for temptation, seduction and outright sin. In Latin, the words in singular for “apple” (malus) and “evil” (malum) are strikingly similar, and they are even identical in the plural form. So it follows that by eating the malus from the tree of knowledge, Eve contracted malum.

The protusion at the front of the human throat has been called an “Adam’s Apple” simply because the forbidden fruit became lodged in Adam’s throat. Right.

Paris gave the golden apple of Eris (goddess of discord and strife) to Aphrodite after being bribed by her with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. In so doing, he incurred the wrath of Hera and Athena who also coveted the fruit. So, this pome pass ultimately caused the epic Trojan war.

The “fruit of the poisonous tree” is a metaphorically oriented legal doctrine that describes evidence gathered with the aid of information obtained illegally. That is, if the source of evidence (the “tree”) is tainted, then anything gained from it (the “fruit”) is as well and therefore inadmissible. An extension of the now rapidly eroding exclusionary rule, the “fruit of the poisonous tree” became precedent in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920). Even though it has legal underpinnings, the phrase has biblical origins in the gospel of Matthew which goes something like this:

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Matthew 7:17-20

Given the negative implications, dark origins and sin appended to the apple, how did that hackneyed simile “As American as Mom and Apple Pie” make it into our jargon as an unassailable expression of national ethos? A pledge of allegiance of sorts. Some world views even have insisted that words like “God” and “Baseball” be included in the slogan which makes it a real mouthful, intellectually and syllabically.

Best guess? “For Mom and apple pie” was supposedly a stock answer given by American GI’s entering World War II whenever asked why they were going to war. But, don’t quote me.

By the way, my mom was not terribly fond of making homemade apple pies (cherry was her forte). That did not detract in the least from her innate skills as a mother or cook.

APPLE PIE

Dough (Pâte Fine Sucrée)
2 egg yolks
6 T ice water

2 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
3 T granulated white sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1″ bits

Filling
6 large tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced about 1/4″ thick
1/2 C granulated white sugar
1/4 C light brown sugar
1 lemon, zested
1 T lemon juice
3/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t sea salt
2 T flour

2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 egg, beaten with 1 T water (egg wash)

Gently whisk the yolk with the water until it is well blended.

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10-15 seconds. Pour water and yolk mixture through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Knead the dough for less than one minute and your work surface and then gather into a ball.

(Alternatively, place the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl and combine. Add the butter and work with your hands, mashing it through your fingers to have everything blend together. It will form into small lumps or a cornmeal like consistency after 1 or 2 minutes. Pour the yolk mixture into the bowl and mix vigorously with your fingers until all the ingredients are assembled together into a ball.)

Divide the dough in half, flattening each half into a thick disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour.

After chilling, unwrap and place one dough on a floured surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour too. Roll the pastry with light pressure, from the center out. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, add some flour and keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll from the center of the pastry outwards. Turn the dough over once or twice during the rolling process until it is about 11″ in diameter and less than 1/4″ thick. Fold the dough in half and gently transfer to a 9″ pie pan by draping it over the rolling pin, then moving it onto the plate and unrolling it. Once in the plate, press the dough firmly into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the excess dough to about 1/2″ all around the dish, then tuck it under itself around the edge of the plate. Brush off any excess flour and trim the edges of the pastry to fit the pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.

Then, remove the second dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a 12″ circle. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

In a large bowl combine the sliced apples, sugars, lemon juice, zest, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and flour.

Remove the crusts from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for a few minutes so they can become pliable. Pour the apple filling into the chilled bottom pie crust. Strew the butter pieces over the apple filling. Moisten the edges of the pie shell with a little water and then place the top crust over the apples. Tuck any excess pastry under the bottom crust and then crimp or flute the edges using your fingers. Brush the top with the egg wash and cut slits from the center of the pie out towards the edge of the pie to allow steam to escape. You may wish to cover edge with 2″ strip of foil to prevent excessive browning. Cover the pie with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill while you preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 425 F

Place the oven rack at the lowest level and place a baking stone or sheet pan on the rack while it preheats.

Set the pie on the stone or pan. Bake until the crust is brown, juices start to bubble through the slits and the apples feel tender when a sharp knife is inserted through one of the slits—about 45 to 55 minutes.

Remove the pie from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 3 hours before slicing. Resist cutting the pie immediately. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

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I live on good soup, not on fine words.
~Molière, stage name of the prolific playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin—author of such timeless pieces as Le misanthrope (The Misanthrope), L’école des femmes (The School for Wives), Tartuffe ou L’Imposteur, (Tartuffe or the Hypocrite), L’Avare ou L’École du mensonge (The Miser), Le Malade imaginaire (The Hypochondriac), Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman), and Le Médecin malgré lui (The Doctor in Spite of Himself).

A satirist nearly unmatched in wit. In bowing reverence to one of the greatest dramatists of all time, I will forego my unworthy words today and move right to the soup.

ROASTED HEIRLOOM TOMATO SOUP

3 lbs ripe local heirloom tomatoes, washed, cored, seeded and halved
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled

3 C chicken stock
1/4 t sugar
2 sprigs each basil, parsley, and thyme, tied together with twine
2 bay leaves
4 T unsalted butter, cut into pads
Sea salt and freshly ground white or black pepper

1 C heavy whipping cream

Croutons:
Baguette or ciabatta slices
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled
2 T extra virgin olive oil

Ribboned basil leaves

Croutons:
Cut bread slices up into small cubes. Crush the garlic cloves with the flat of a chef’s knife, sprinkle on 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and mince well. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil on the garlic and mash again with the knife, rubbing and pressing to make a soft purée. If necessary, use a mortar and pestle.

Scrape the garlic purée into a heavy skillet, add another tablespoon of oil, and warm over medium low heat. Add the croutons and toss for a few minutes to crisp and brown them, then remove from the heat. Set aside.

Soup:
In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over moderate heat. When shimmering, add the tomatoes, cut side down. Do not crowd, so you may have to cook in batches. Sear the tomatoes until not quite caramelized, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cook remaining tomatoes in the same fashion. Transfer the tomatoes, cooked side up, to a large baking dish and add the onions and garlic. Pour the juices from the skillet over the tomatoes, onions and garlic evenly, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake, uncovered, until just lightly caramelized, about 20-30 minutes.

Remove roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Add the chicken stock, sugar, basil, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until soup is thick and liquid has reduced by a third, about 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Remove and discard basil, parsley, thyme and bay leaves.

Using an immersion blender, or in batches in a food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Strain through a medium sieve.

Return strained soup to pot over low heat, and add cream, stirring frequently. If necessary, adjust consistency with additional chicken stock. Garnish with slivered basil and garlic croutons.

Chile Oil

September 11, 2009

Sort of a pantry sleeper…think marinades, vinaigrettes, grilled meats and fish, with spinach or broccolini, roasted potatoes, sautéed or grilled fruit, grilled or toasted breads, drizzled over asparagus or cauliflower, and for the true ovum slag (like yours truly)—with eggs in whatever form.

Chiles are the fruit ( or pod) of a plant in the genus Capsicum. They come in fresh and dry forms and can range from sweet to intensely ER trip torrid. Ancho, meaning “wide,” is a dried poblano chile which is wrinkled, fleshy and fullbodied with a mild fruit flavor and a hint of coffee. Guajillo, which means “little gourd,” is a thin skinned, complex flavored chile which also has a slight berry flavor with a nutty finish. Both chiles are burgundy in color when dry and range from mild to medium in heat.

DRIED RED CHILE OIL

3 dried chiles anchos, whole, stemmed and seeded
3 dried chiles guajillos, whole, stemmed and seeded
1/2 C canola oil
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1 t cumin seeds, roasted and ground
1/2 t sea salt

Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over dry medium high to high heat. Add the chiles and toast until they crackle, change color and release their natural aroma, about 30 seconds on each side. If they begin to smoke, the chiles have toasted too long or the heat is too high, and they will burn and become bitter. Remove, let cool slightly and coarsely chop.

Combine chiles, canola oil, olive oil, cumin and salt in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Strain into a bowl, then strain again into a glass container preferably with a spout. In the refrigerator, this should store for 2-3 weeks.

Gaul is subdued.
~Julius Caesar writing the Roman Senate on his victory over Vercingetorix

A sumptuous stick-to-the-ribs speciality of the Auvergne region in south central France, a bucolic land of abrupt volcanic plateaus, plunging cascades, verdant meadows (and carbo-loading potato dishes). Audrey Tautou, who played the winsome and waifish Amélie Poulain in the acclaimed film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie), was born and raised in Auvergne. In France, many consider her as the typical Occitan Auvergnate.

Auvergne was also home to Vercingetorix, the renowned chieftain of the Arverni who united otherwise diverse Gallic tribes in a relentless revolt against Roman armies during the last phase of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. An astute warrior, he defeated Caesar in several skirmishes including the battle of Gergovia and adopted a scorched earth policy—retreating to heavy, natural fortifications while burning hamlets behind to prevent Roman soldiers from using their abandonded lands and shelter. Vastly outnumbered though, Vercingetorix finally relented and surrendered to Caesar after being defeated at the famed, lengthy siege of Alesia (near present day Dijon) in 51 B.C. He was imprisoned and tortured in the Tullianum for five miserable years, was paraded through the streets of Rome and then summarily executed.

Millennia later, shamefully brutal rituals still perservere in some self proclaimed noble and civilized societies. Profoundly sad to say.

Vercingetorix is often hailed as a notable progenitor of French pride, passion, resilience and resolve.

Suit your mood…the first aligote version is a touch more rustic and textural, the second elegant and smooth. Yet both have that celestial courtship of earthy potatoes and nutty, buttery cheese with a salaciously molten finish.

SMASHED POTATOES ALIGOTE

3 lbs russet potatoes, halfway peeled and quartered
Sea salt, for water

2 T sea salt
2 T freshly ground pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 t white pepper
1 stick+ (8 T) butter, room temperature

3/4 C heavy cream
1/2 C milk

12 ozs Tomme, Gruyère, Cantal or Comté cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Chives, minced (optional)

Warm cream and milk either in microwave or in a pan on the stove.

Put potatoes into a pot with liberally salted cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat some and gently boil about 15-20 minutes, or until tender—a fork should easily pierce the kids. Undercooked potatoes do not mash properly. Drain water from potatoes in a colander and return to still warm pot. The additional time in the pot dries them a bit so they absorb the fats better.

In stages, add cream and milk, butter, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and white pepper. Use a potato masher to smash the potatoes, and then a strong spoon or dough hook to beat further, adding more milk and cream if necessary to achieve a coarse consistency, being careful to leave in some lumps. Whether coarsely smashed or mashed smooth, do not overzealously beat the potatoes or they will become like glue or paste.

Remove from the heat, add the cheese, and stir until it melts (if the cheese is not especially ripe, you might have to return the pan to the stove over very low heat). Season to taste and serve.

Top with minced chives, should you so please.

PUREED POTATOES ALIGOTE

3 lbs Russet potatoes, washed and scrubbed
1 1/2 to 2 C whole milk
3 to 4 (24-32 T) sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pads
Sea salt
Freshly ground white and black peppers

12 ozs Tomme, Gruyère, Cantal or Compté cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Place the potatoes in a large heavy pot of salted water. Simmer over medium high heat until a fork easily pierces them, around 30 minutes. Drain in a colander.

In a heavy saucepan, heat milk until just about to boil. Remove from stove.

Peel the potatoes, then pass them through a finely gridded food mill. Place the potatoes in a large, heavy saucepan over low heat. With a wooden spoon, stir the potatoes thoroughly in order to dry them some. Add the butter, a couple of tablespoons at a time, still stirring vigorously, until butter is entirely incorporated. Slowly add most of the milk while stirring, reserving some for later if needed.

Again pass through the finest grid of the food mill into another large, heavy saucepan. Stir vigorously throughout, adjust the amounts of milk and butter to your preferrence. The texture should be smooth and creamy.

Remove from the heat, add the cheese, and stir until it melts (if the cheese is not especially ripe, you might have to return the pan to the stove over very low heat). Season to taste and serve.

Bread Pudding & Alchemy

September 7, 2009

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. By a small sample we may judge of the whole piece.
~Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Not for the cardiopathic or even faint of heart, bread pudding had its genesis in 13th century England. Known as “poor man’s pudding” it was created as a means of salvaging stale bread. Before it was baked, the bread was soaked in water, and then sugar, butter, fruit, and spices were added. The luscious, decadent modern version has been traced back to antebellum America when cooks began thickening custard based desserts with either powder or cornstarch and then flavoring them with vanilla, chocolate, nuts, or fruits. The powder and cornstarch were later replaced by bread.

Bain Marie (Mary’s bath) refers to the method of placing a pan of food in another pan with hot water in it to stabilize the heat reaching the food. Bain maries are rooted in the practice of alchemy as a means to heat materials slowly and gently. The term purportedly derived from the Italian bagno maria, named after a legendary medieval alchemist, Maria de’Cleofa, who developed the technique in Firenze in the 16th century. She was the reputed author of Tradtor della Distillazone (About Medicine, Magic, and Cookery). This thermodynamic concept was soon introduced to the French court’s kitchens by the cooks of Catherine de’ Medici. It has also been asserted that the process was named after Mary the Jewess (or Maria Prophetissima), an esteemed yet more ancient alchemist who was said to have discovered hydrochloric acid. Some have equated her to Moses’ sister Miriam—a chronologically disputed claim.

There are almost endless possibilities of added flavors and textures—chopped nuts, chocolate, citrus zest, brandy or rum, dried or fresh fruits. My weapons of choice for bread are brioche, boules, challah, or even croissants or buttermilk scones (Scones, May 23, 2009 post). To rachet up the richness, serve with crème anglaise (March 27, 2009 post).

BREAD PUDDING

10 C bread cubes, crusts removed, cut into 1″ cubes
4 large eggs
4 egg yolks
1 C granulated white sugar
1 1/2 t pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t freshly grated nutmeg
4 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 C heavy whipping cream
2 C whole milk
3/4 C black currants, plumped in hot water, then drained
3/4 C walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 300 F

Lightly butter a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.

With an electric mixer or whisk beat the eggs, yolks and sugar until thick, ribboned and lemon colored. Beat in the vanilla extract, ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Then beat in the milk and cream.

Toss the bread cubes with the melted butter in the baking dish and strew the raisins and nuts over the bread. Gently pour the prepared custard over the bread cubes until completely covered. Press down the bread cubes some so they are covered with the custard.

Prepare a bain marie. Place the filled baking dish into a larger pan, such as a roasting pan. Carefully pour in enough hot water in the larger pan so that the water is halfway up sides of the baking pan. Bake until the custard sets, about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove and cool slightly before serving.

Life is like an onion: You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.
~Carl Sandburg

Underrated, undervalued, undersold. These tender orbs are a breeze to prepare and serve as a dexterous side dish—with daubes, stews, fricassées, grilled meats, accompanying other vegetables or simply by their lonesome in a corner of your plate worth visiting.

PETITS OIGNONS GLACÉS (BRAISED ONIONS)

18-24 small white onions about 1″-1 1/2″ in diameter, peeled
2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C chicken stock
1/4 C dry white wine or water
Pinch of sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herb bouquet: 2 parsley sprigs, 1 thyme sprig, and 1 bay leaf tied in twine or cheesecloth

In a large, heavy saucepan, bring the butter and olive oil to a gentle simmer. Add the onions, bring to a boil and sauté at a simmer over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, turning them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Take care not to break or tear the skins.

Add the stock, wine, sugar, salt, pepper, and herb bouquet. Cover and simmer very slowly, occasionally rolling the onions in the saucepan, until tender, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove herb bouquet and serve.

Broccolini (A Cross Breed)

September 3, 2009

Forgive me this rare wholesome moment with visions of nutriments dancing in my head.

Baby broccoli it is not. Rather, broccolini is a hybrid between broccoli and gai lan, also known as Chinese chard. With long stalks topped by dainty buds, the delicate flavor and texture is reminiscent of asparagus with a broccoli finish. Chocked with vitamin C, potassium, iron, fiber, and vitamin A, broccolini is a nutritious beast.

When cooking broccolini, brevity is the pursuit.

BROCCOLINI WITH LEMON & CAPERS

2 lbs fresh broccolini
Sea salt

3 T unsalted butter
1/2 lemon, zested
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
2 T capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 T balsamic vinegar (a mere splash)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the broccolini in a large pot of vigorously boiling salted water for about 2 minutes. Drain immediately and immerse in a bowl of ice water to retain green. Remove from water and drain on paper towels so the broccolini does not become soggy.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy sauté pan. Add the garlic and sauté until just lightly browned. Add the drained broccolini to the garlic and butter and cook until warm, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, capers and balsamic vinegar; season to taste with salt and the pepper, and toss before serving.