Monday, August 23, 2010

Less Lazy Friday, or What We Ate For Dinner

So, this time I'm only a few days behind. This was written on Friday, but it took me until today to get the pictures from my phone to my computer to Blogger.

When I got back to Portland from the East Coast, I was in a French food rut. This frequently happens; I become fixated on the cuisine of a certain area and for some length of time, turn to ingredients of that region when improvising recipes. For example, I'll get into Central Asian cooking ruts where everything seems to need sumac powder, tahini is my oil of choice, and pomegranate molasses becomes not another condiment taking up space on the fridge door but something I can't imagine getting sick of &mdash I wonder, why don't I always keep a bottle in the fridge? And then I burn out and move on to something else, before coming back, sometimes when the weather or time of year is the same, to za'atar and pomegranate molasses.

The beginning of summer makes me think of France &mdash outdoor aperitif, homemade mayonnaise, tomato and onion tart. The end of summer, with its abundance of homegrown tomatoes, shallots, and basil, makes me come back to France, but turning south to Provence.

This is how I ended up making pissaladière, with a bag of Jersey tomatoes that survived the plane trip to Portland, two nights in a row. I don't know if this could properly be called a "pizza" or a "tart." It was made with an olive oil dough, not a yeast dough, and there was no cheese. The topping was fried onion and tomato, anchovies, black olives, and basil.

The second night, with yellow squash from a friend's community garden in New Jersey, I made a white pissaladière based on this recipe. The "sauce" was chevre and ricotta blended with olive oil, plus black pepper, long pepper, garlic, sea salt, and shallot.

I just couldn't wait for a quick photo before devouring half the pie. I was starving.

Thursday night, I made a French meal for more of my friends, which included (appropriately) red wine. Pissaladière was not on the menu for a change; instead I made pasta with tetragon. Again, anchovies were involved. It seemed I was beginning to develop an ingredient fixation!

What is tetragon, you might ask? It was labeled as Malabar spinach at my farmers' market, but I think the farmer actually meant, "New Zealand spinach." Malabar spinach is Basella alba (Basellaceae) and looks very different from Tetragonia tetragonoides (Aizoaceae), which is what the greens I bought look like. However, recipes and writings about one seem to always reference the other.

(I didn't take this picture. It's from the US Geological Survey and Wikimedia Commons, much prettier than anything my camera phone could take of cooked greens on a plate.)

Anyway, neither of these are actually spinach or even a close relative. When I first read about it on Chocolate and Zucchini, I thought, "Well, there's a recipe I'll never get to make with a vegetable I'll never get to try." Weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong by my new favorite farmstand. They also sell a variety of reasonably-priced local flours. I'll write more about this farmer another time.

As an accompaniment to the pasta, we had crackers with aioli.

The test for good homemade mayonnaise is that a spoon with stand unsupported in the middle of the bowl. This usually doesn't work when olive oil is used, so aioli gets a pass. However, this is the second time I've made aioli strong enough to support a spoon. I think the Whole Foods brand dijon mustard is responsible for this. It's surprisingly great mayonnaise-making mustard. I'd also like to note that there were no whisks in the house where I made this aioli, so I had to use a fork. My wrists hurt, but it was worth it.

Finally, on Friday night, I made a new, exciting sandwich discovery.

More on this later. I'll leave you with this picture of a crucial step in the sandwich-making process.

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