Southern Snacks Cookbook

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

French Apple Hazelnut Loaf with Quatre Épices

French Apple Hazelnut Loaf

Some years ago, on a cooking trip to France, I bought every manner of French ingredient I could fit in my suitcase (removing the dirty clothes to an extra folded bag that came with me for this exact purpose). I visited gourmet markets, specialty traiteurs and big box grocery chains. It was marvelous. I tucked in jars of fine herbes, herbes de provence and a jar of quatre épices, to make sure I had covered all my seasoning bases. Quatre épices is a classic French seasoning of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg with bite from black or white pepper. It is used in all manner of ways – traditionally in pates and terrines, but also in pain d’épices, a traditional spice bread I had tasted in a food tour in Paris. I made a version of pain d’épices for every occasion I could, and sprinkled it in daubes and on braised vegetables. Eventually, what was left lost its flavor and scent and I moved on to other things. But I recently stopped in a lovely spice shop on a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, and was thrilled to stumble across quatre épices on the shelf. I tucked a little bag in my suitcase (it’s a thing with me) and couldn’t wait to get home and use it.  I, of course, planned to make some pain d’ épices, but the first weekend home found me with some apples from the farmers market. As I pondered the best way to combine the two, it immediately came to me to incorporate my newest obsession, hazelnut flour, which I find at better grocery stores.

This loaf is homey and nutty and perfect for fall. Your house will smell wonderful while its baking. It’s a lightly sweet and spice treat – the elusive warmth of pepper adds a real difference. I love the sprinkling of rough textured demerara sugar to give a crackly topping. This loaf is perfect for a chilly autumn breakfast or as a lovely afternoon snack. It is the perfect companion to a mug of warm apple cider.

Make you own quatre épices and store the leftovers in a jar. You’ll want to come back to this recipe, but try it sprinkled over roasting sweet potatoes or to make spiced nuts.

French Apple Hazelnut Loaf with Quatre Épices

1 ½ cups hazelnut flour

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup tightly packed light brown sugar

3 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons quatre épices

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

¾ cup canola oil

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large apples

1 Tablespoon chopped hazelnuts

1 Tablespoon demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 8 ½ inch loaf pan with baking spray.

Mix the hazelnut flour, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, quatre épicesand salt together in a large mixing bowl, breaking up any lumps. Measure the buttermilk and oil in a 4-cup measuring jug, then break in the eggs and add the vanilla and beat together. Add to the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix until just moist. Grate the unpeeled apples into the batter using the large holes of a box grater. I like to grate one side to the core, then turn to the next until I have grated the flesh from the whole apple and am left with the core. Quickly stir the apples into the batter until evenly distributed and there is no trace of dry ingredients visible. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle over the chopped hazelnuts, then the demerara sugar.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes put clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Quatre Épices

1 tablespoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoons finely ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Put all the ingredients into a small jar and tighten the lid. Shake until thoroughly and evenly combined. Store in the jar for a few months.

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Salted Honey Chess Pie

Salted Honey Chess Pie

I have been on a quest for some time now to create a dessert that really tastes of honey. I make amny desserts that have honey as a sweetener, but the rich, earthy taste of honey is often masked by other ingredients. I mastered the honey flavored cake with my  Honey Raspberry Cake, but then I tasted this amazing, almost creamy, honey tart at an afternoon tea in London. It was just one of several pastries on the lovely display. At first I thought it might just be whipped honey in a pastry case, but the server assured me it was a baked tart, but she had no recipe to give. When I returned to my kitchen, I googled around and found a number or English and Welsh honey tart recipes and got to work. But none of them had the potent hit of honey I was looking for. I experimented until I came on what I wanted – basically circling back to home to make a pie that tastes of honey with the texture of a classic chess. And I must say, I even impressed myself with this one.

With all things honey related, I use a locally sourced honey for purity of flavor. And there are lots of local sources of honey at farmers markets and local groceries. This pie is rich with honey, and I felt kind of genius when I added a dose of sea salt to cut through the sweetness and highlight the complexities of the honey. I love sprinkling the top with big flakes of sea salt, like Falk brand, but any flaky salt will do. I think this is best all on its own, but you could certainly add a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. Anything else will be too sweet and disrupt the beautiful salt-sweet balance.

I make my own pie crust – usually – but am not averse to using the ready-made rolls of crust. A removeable bottom tin works best here, but I sometimes fit the crust into a springform pan for an elegant straight sided look.

Salted Honey Chess Pie

For the crust:

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces

2 to 4 Tablespoons ice water

For the Filling:

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted

¾ cup honey

¾ cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 eggs

3 Tablespoons cornmeal

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup heavy cream

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

Flaky salt for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix.  Drop in the small pieces of cold butter and pulse several times until the mixture is crumbly, but some minute pieces of butter are still visible.  Sprinkle the water over, a tablespoon at a time, and pulse to combine.  When the pastry just comes together, dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a disk about ¾ inch thick. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour before rolling.

When ready to roll, place the disk on a lightly floured surface and using a floured rolling pin, roll out the pastry to a round about 14 inches in diameter, to fit a nine inch removable bottom tart pan.  Carefully drape the pastry over the rolling pin and transfer to the pie dish.  Gently fit into the bottom and sides of the dish.  Trim any overhanging pastry. Line the crust with parchment paper, then fill the paper with baking weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes until then remove from the oven, cool and remove the paper and weights.

For the Pie:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, honey and brown sugar until pale and shiny, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, cornmeal, flour and salt, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary, until thoroughly combined. Beat in the cream and lemon juice, scraping the bowl, until incorporated and smooth. Pour the filling into the prepared crust and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until the filling is puffed and golden brown and not jiggly in the center. Cool completely, then chill, covered, in the fridge until firm, up to one day. Sprinkle the top with flaky sea salt before serving.

I find it easiest to slice the pie right out of the fridge, but best served with the chill off.

Serves 6

Green Tomato Vanilla Cake

Green Tomato Vanilla Cake

Over the years, I have seen a number of recipes in old school Southern community cookbooks for green tomato cake. The idea intrigued me – it sounds so old fashioned and resourceful to me. I could just imagine a cook making the most of everything in the garden to create something special, or I like to imagine that this cake is born of scarcity, a recipe that uses what’s on hand rather than expensive or hard to come by fruit. I don’t actually know the origin. I marked those pages with little sticky flags and for a long time, never went back to them. The truth is, I’ve never really known what to do with green tomatoes, so I don’t usually have any to hand. Of course, fried green tomatoes (and there is a great recipe in my book Pimento Cheese the Cookbook) and once I made a fantastic green tomato marmalade, but I lost the recipe and can’t seem to find anything similar. So those little sticky flags languished and curled on the cookbook shelf. Until the day I bought a basket of green tomatoes at the farmers market to make some fried slices, but the dinner got cancelled, I didn’t want to do it just for myself etc etc, which left me stuck with some green tomatoes. I remembered those marked recipes and started to work. It took me many tries to land where I wanted. That the first attempt may not have been right, but there was something there to make me keep trying.

Some of those original recipes were of the old-fashioned kind that assume a lot of existing knowledge. One actually said to chop tomatoes fine and stir into a tube cake batter. Add cinnamon and nuts.  That’s the entire recipe. I searched the internet and found a few examples to try. There are sheet cake and Bundt cake ideas, but I like the dense beauty of a Bundt. Most of the recipes had nuts and/or raisins and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg or apple pie spice. I liked those, but they really just seemed like spice cake with a stunt ingredient, not a special flavor all its own. I wanted more interest from the green tomatoes. So I stripped it back. Instead of beating butter and sugar, I went for a flavorless oil not to distract and to help keep things moist. A little lemon juice brightens it up and the vanilla is mellow and complimentary. This cake doesn’t shout green tomato, there is just this lovely, earthy mysterious background note.

I turn to green tomatoes from the farmers market at the end of the full, red juicy tomato season. They offer one last gasp of tomato as we move into Fall. This is one of those cakes that could be a dessert or a breakfast or an afternoon snack. You could try a simple glaze on top or drizzle it with honey or serve it with ice cream. It’s tender on the inside and with a wonderfully sweet crust.

Green Tomato Vanilla Cake

2 medium sized green tomatoes (a little less than 1 pound total)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup canola oil

4 large eggs

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Cut the tomatoes into rough chunks and place in the bowl of a small food processor. Pulse until the tomatoes are finely chopped – do not puree, just break them up into small pieces (you can also do this by hand). Scrape the tomato into a strainer and sprinkle over the salt. Leave the tomatoes to drain, stirring and pressing down a few times, for 15 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Put the flour, both sugars, baking powder and soda in the bowl of a stand mixer and turn it on low speed to stir together until combined and any clumps of brown sugar are broken up. Add the oil and beat to combine, then add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating in each egg before adding the next. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla until combined. Add the chopped tomatoes and beat for a few seconds, then use a spatula to evenly distribute the tomatoes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 – 50 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn the cake out on a wire rack to cool completely.

The cake will keep tightly covered for a day.

Serves 10

Honey Mustard Potato Salad

Honey Mustard Potato Salad

I am generally a planner – I like to think about menu ideas and recipes for a while before I entertain. But I am getting better at loosening things up and learning to go with the flow.

Case in point, I ran into a friend on the Friday of a holiday weekend and we realized we had not major plans so decided to get together to cook burgers and hot dogs. A trip to the farmers market provided some easy, late summer produce, but as I ran through the grocery to grab the extra bits in pieces, I snagged a bag of baby potatoes thinking that everyone likes potatoes with their meat. But I didn’t really have a plan. Sometimes, as a recipe developer, I get caught up in always trying to innovate – to add to recipes, give them a new twist. And I pondered those potatoes, knowing I wanted to do a potato salad. But the celery in the fridge had gone limp, I’d earmarked the onions for other things, I had no sour cream, there was bacon in another dish. So this recipe came together out of what I had on hand. And you know what, sometimes simple is better. Just a little shallot and some herbs with lovely potatoes and an American classic dressing. No bells, no whistles. Just a good, solid potato salad.

Roasting the potatoes adds an extra layer of flavor to this simple salad – but you want to be sure to roast the potatoes very crispy, so don’t let any oil pool on the roasting pan. Same with the dressing – just coat the potatoes, don’t drown them.

Honey Mustard Potato Salad

2 pounds small yellow potatoes, or a combination of yellow and red

1 shallot

¼ cup finely minced Italian parsley

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons whole grain mustard

2 Tablespoons honey

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces of roughly the same size for even cooking. Put the potato pieces in a ziptop bag and pour over the olive oil. Toss the potatoes around until they are evenly coated in oil, then lift them out of the bag and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet (you can line it with foil for easy cleanup). You just want a light coating of oil with none pooling on the baking sheet, so it is better not to just pour them out of the bag. Sprinkle very liberally with salt and pepper and roast for 25 – 30 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown and crispy and a knife inserted in a piece slides smoothly in. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Whisk the mayo, mustard, honey and oil in a small bowl. Toss the cooled potatoes with the chopped shallot and the parsley, then pour over the dressing and gently toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but overnight is great.

Serves 8

Slow Roasted Zucchini with Fennel and Tomatoes

Slow Roasted Zucchini

I am always so intrigued by the adorable little baby zucchini I see in the farmers market, but I’ve never been sure about what to do with them that preserves their sweet size. I’ve cut them long ways and grilled the halves, but it always seems a shame to just slice them as you would a full size version. A few years ago, I read in a magazine about slow roasting these babies and I was dubious but willing to try. And it’s a doozy – a totally different experience from those crisp grilled or sautéed rounds or the casserole route. The whole zucchini become meltingly tender and sweet, and the aromatic vegetable ragout underneath gently flavors them and adds a lovely topping. I love the bright bight of fennel that adds a lovely sort of Mediterranean touch with a hint of oregano.

Look for the baby zucchini – about 4 inches long and an inch around. 1 zucchini with some vegetables spooned over the top will serve a person as a perfect side to a summer meal. Create a thin bed of fennel and shallot, not to deep but the zucchini shouldn’t touch the bottom of the pan.

Slow Roasted Zucchini

1 small bulb of fennel, very thinly sliced (or ½ of a small bulb)

1 shallot, very thinly sliced

4 ounces of small cherry tomatoes

4 – 5 stalks of oregano

½ cup vermouth

2 Tablespoons olive oil

5- 6 small zucchini, about 4 inches long

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°. Pour 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish – the zucchini should fit without touching each other. Spread the fennel and shallots on a layer on the dish and add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Toss around with your hands to coat with the oil, then spread in a thin layer. Prick the zucchini all over with a thin, sharp knife, then place the on top, tuck the oregano sprigs around the zucchini, then drizzle over the remaining 1 Tablespoon oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Cover the dish tightly with foil and roast for 1 ½ – 2 hours, carefully turning the zucchini over half way through cooking, until the zucchini is very soft. Remove the foil and cook for a further five minutes.

To serve, gently place a zucchini on a plate and spoon over some of the fennel, shallots and tomatoes.

Serves 6

Fresh Corn Risotto with Roasted Tomato Jam

Fresh Corn Risotto with Roasted Tomato Jam

Risotto has become a very favorite staple for me, once I learned how easy it is to create and how flexible it can be. I make it all year round, in my Carrot and Dill version, or my Squash Blossom recipe when I find the flowers. I’ve been known to make a simple risotto in summer and toss in my leftover farmers market vegetables. The possibilities are endless. The base of the recipe was the simple result of having some excess corn after a busy weekend on the kitchen with my farmers market finds and not enough energy. I have made it since many times, stirring in fresh herbs or different cheeses. The I topped a batch with some quickly sautéed cherry tomatoes and realized I was really on to something, combining the quintessential summer flavors. That idea turned to spooning a little of my summer canning staple Tomato Butter that wouldn’t fit in the jars on top. I adored the combination, so I set out to create something similar, in a smaller batch, that wouldn’t add to much prep to the whole. The rich, creamy risotto just bursting with corn flavor, with juicy little pops of kernel with a sweet and savory tomato jam on top sings of summer. I admit, I am pretty pleased with myself on this one.

Making the corn cob stock is very easy, and really ups the corn flavor. I highly recommend doing it. But in a pinch, you could use a light colored vegetable broth. Start the tomato jam and the corn stock at the same time and then move on to other things, just giving a quick look every once in while. I like to garnish the beautiful bowls with some sliced green onion tops for color, a little extra grated cheese and some striking large sea salt flakes, like Falk brand salt.

Fresh Corn Risotto with Roasted Tomato Jam

For the Jam:

1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes

¾ cup cane sugar

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Very genoerus grindings of balck pepper

¼ cup cider vinegar

For the Corn Stock:

4 ears of corn, 

5 – 6 large green onion tops

2 garlic cloves

For the Risotto:

The kernels from 4 ears of corn

5 – 6 large green onions, white and light green parts

1 garlic clove

¼ cup unsalted butter, divided

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 cup arborio rice

½ cup white wine

5 – 6 cups corn stock

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Sea salt

For the Jam:

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a 9 by 13 inch glass baking dish completely with non-stick foil.

Quarter the plum tomatoes and place them on the lined dish. Sprinkle over the sugar, salt, and spices, the pour over the vinegar. Use your hands to gently toss everything together, coating the tomatoes as much as possible. There will be liquid pooling in the dish. Roast for 2 hours, stirring well every half hour and breaking up the tomatoes. Remove from the oven and stir to mix well and break up any larger pieces of tomato. For the first two times, it may look like it is never going to become jam, but the liquid will concentrate.

Serve immediately, or cool, cover and refrigerate for up to a week. Before serving with the risotto, gently heat the jam over low heat in saucepan with a little water.

For the Corn Cob Stock:

Cut the corn roughly off the cobs into a bowl – don’t be too precise, some kernels left behind are good, and there will be plenty left for the finished dish. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Break the cobs in half and put them in a large pot with the green tops of the green onions and 2 garlic cloves. Add about 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt, then pour over 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover. Cook for 2 hours until the stock is flavorful – and corny! Strain the stock through a colander lined with wet paper towels. The stock can be made ahead, but be aware that the kernels will only be fresh for about 12 hours. You can make corn cob stock any time you have cobs then freeze it for later use. In fact, you can freeze stripped corn cobs in a ziptop bag until you have enough to make a pot of stock.

For the Risotto:

Place 1 cup of corn stock and 1 cup of corn kernel in a blender and blend until smooth. Heat 2 Tablespoons of butter and the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Finely dice the remaining white and light green parts of the green onions and sauté in the oil and butter until soft and wilted. Put the remaining garlic clove through a press (or very finely mince it) and add the pan and cook for one minute. Do not brown. Raise the heat to medium high and add the rice.  Stir to coat well in the butter and oil and cook until the rice grains are translucent around the edges, about 4 minutes.  Add the wine and cook, stirring, until it is completely absorbed.

Pour in the blended corn liquid cook until it is absorbed, stirring frequently.  Add the corn stock, ¾ cup at a time, cooking and stirring until each addition is absorbed and incorporated.  Add a pinch of sea salt with each addition. Continue cooking the risotto until all the liquid is absorbed and the risotto is creamy, about 20 – 25 minutes. Stir the remining corn kernels through the rice with the last addition of liquid. You may not need all the stock, simply taste the risotto and add liquid until it is al dente.  Stir in the last of the parmesan cheese and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and season with salt to taste. Cover the pot and let rest for 5 minutes.

Serve the Risotto in big bowls with a hearty spoonful of the tomato jam in the center.

Serves 4

Salmorejo (Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil

Salmorejo (Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil

Salmorejo is gazpacho’s simpler cousin.  It’s a fresh, chilled tomato soup without the added peppers, cucumbers and other business found in gazpacho.  I’m not a huge fan of gazpacho, because it varies so wildly and people seem to put all kinds of crazy ingredients in it.  You never know what you are going to get. But Salmorejo is right up my alley.  I first tasted Salmorejo in its homeland of Andalucia in Southern Spain but forgot the exact name of the dish and didn’t do much research when I came home.  But a few years ago, I was staying with friends near the beach close to Valencia, Spain and on a trip to the grocery store, I saw cartons of chilled Salmorejo (next to the cartons of gazpacho) and suddenly remembered the lovely soup from my earlier trip.  We grabbed a couple of cartons and served them for lunch.  Unfortunately, the first carton tasted a little off… So we opened the next carton and it exploded all over the patio.  I think it had fermented.  I was kind of embarrassed that I had insisted on buying it.  Oddly, I took this as a challenge and decided when I came home, I had to explore the recipe.

I read many, many recipes and most simply blend the ingredients, chill and serve.  But this method for soaking the ingredients mellows the soup, cutting the bite of the onions and garlic and softening the tomato skins.  The soaked bread is a simple thickener often found in Mediterranean dishes.  Use half a crusty baguette and serve the rest with the soup, or use up some older, slightly dried leftover crusty bread.

I saw a picture of a chilled soup with olive oil ice cubes floating in the bowl in a magazine years and years ago and it stuck in my head waiting for the right application.  I don’t generally recommend buying specialty kitchen equipment, but I found some little round ice cube trays at a dollar store, so seek them out, they are pretty inexpensive.  You can always use them for plain ice cubes.  If you don’t have a small ice cube tray, drizzle the soup with a fruity, quality olive oil.  Salmorejo is traditionally served with whisper thin pieces of jamon Serrano and sometimes boiled eggs.  You could also serve the parsley picada from this wonderful White Gazpacho recipe.

Salmorejo (Spanish Chilled Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. ¼ cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
  2. ½ small yellow onion
  3. 1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes
  4. 8 ounces baguette
  5. 2 cloves garlic
  6. 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  7. ½ cup olive oil
  8. 2 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
  9. salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Divide the ¼ cup olive oil between the cubes of an small ice cube tray (about 2 teaspoons a cube). Freeze until firm, 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Slice the onion and place in a large bowl. Half or quarter the tomatoes (depending on size) and place in the bowl. Tear the bread into large chunks and add to the bowl with the crushed garlic cloves and the salt. Pour over enough boiling water to cover and leave to soak for an hour.
  3. Drain the tomato and bread mixture over a bowl, reserving the soaking liquid. Pick out the tomatoes, onions and garlic as best you can and place in a blender. Add the ½ cup olive oil and the vinegar and a little of the soaking liquid and blend to a rough puree. Use your hands and the back of a spatula to press as much liquid as possible out of the bread and add it to the blender. Turn on the blender and puree, drizzling in some of the soaking liquid, until you have a smooth, creamy soup. If you would like a silky soup, pour it through a strainer into a bowl, pushing all the liquid through. Let the soup cool, then cover and chill for several hours or overnight.
  4. Serve the soup cold with frozen olive oil floating in each bowl.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Creamy Fresh Corn Pasta Sauce

Creamy Fresh Corn Pasta Sauce

I adore fresh corn in the summer, but for most of my life, I never imaginged it paired with pasta until one of my favorite local restaurants had a summer special of fresh tortelloni filled with corn and ricotta. I loved that dish and it really got me thinking, though I knew I would never make my own stuffed pasta. Toothsome pasta with sweet pops of fresh local corn make for an excitingly simple summer supper that is unique but not too complicated. I love that this incredibly flavor full dish basically has five ingredients, but utilized in different ways, they create layers of flavor. The slightly smoky charred corn is a simple step but a beautifully complex layer. Fresh kernels softened in milk and set off by gently tangy green onion, with some bright fresh onion tops on top to add color and zest.

I have at times added a little thyme or marjoram to the milk and corn, but it is a little bit of gilding the lily when you want the corn flavor to really shine. I’ve also used half and half for a richer sauce, but milk is delightfully creamy. Pecorino gives a great salty hit without overpowering, which parmesan tends to do. I am partial to a sweet yellow corn, but a mix of yellow and white works well – only the color of your sauce will change. Orecchiette, or “little ears,” are perfect for this dish because they cradle the lovely little charred kernels in a pool of sauce. Shells or a mezze rigatoni could do the same thing.

Fresh Corn Pasta Sauce

Creamy Fresh Corn Pasta Sauce

4 ears corn, shucked

6 green onions, white and light green parts, with some green tops saved for topping

2 Tablespoons butter

1 cup whole milk

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 ounces orecchiette pasta

½ cup finely grated pecorino cheese

Char one cob of corn, either directly over the flame of a gas stove or under the broiler in the oven, turning the cob several times to get nice charred kernels. It will make some popping noises! Set the charred corn aside until cool enough to handle, then cut the kernels from the cob and separate.

Cut the kernels from 3 ears of corn and finely dice the green onions. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the green onions. Sauté until soft and pale, about 5 minutes, then add the corn kernels and cook for a further 2- 3 minutes. Pour in the milk and bring to a bubble – don’t let it boil or the milk will curdle, just heat it through and cook for a few minutes to soften the corn. Season well with salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Transfer to the carafe of a blender. Remove the vent from the lid and it down with a tea towel. Blend until the sauce is completely smooth. Pour the sauce through a sieve back into the wiped-out skillet while you cook the pasta.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, then add the orchiette and cook according to the package instructions until al dente. Scoop out about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.

Heat the sauce over medium heat until hot through. Add the pasta and stir to coat, adding a little of the reserved pasta water to thin it out if needed. Taste again and season well – use lots of black pepper. Toss the charred corn kernels through the pasta and serve topped with the grated pecorino and thin slivers of green onion top.

Serves 4

Fresh Fig Flaugnarde

Fresh Fig Flaugnarde

Flaugnarde is a regional variation of the classic French clafouti, and similar to a more American Dutch baby. A simple vanilla and nutmeg batter surrounds the seasonal fruit and comes out of the oven puffed and golden, but settles into a lovely custard-y base for the juicy figs. And let’s face it fig flaugnarde is fun to say (it’s pronounced Flo-nyard). Nutmeg highlights the honeyed richness of the figs without detracting from their flavor. I love the speckled look of vanilla beans, and paste is a simple way to get the falvor and effect, but you can certainly scrape the seeds from a full bean, or just use a healthy dose of extract.

This could not be easier to make. Slice up some figs, swirl the batter in the blender and bake. It’s the perfect treat when you are surprised by the first figs at the market or on your tree – the ingredients are staples that come together in a flash. Flaugnarde is a dessert in the French tradition – not sugary sweet, just enough to bring out the flavor of the fruit. So that makes this perfect for dessert, but it is also a lovely breakfast. You can drizzle a little honey over the top, serve it with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, or leave it as is.

Fresh Fig Flaugnarde

8 – 10 fresh figs

2 eggs

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of salt

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup half-and-half

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray a 9-inch ceramic pie plate or baking dish with cooking spray.

Snip the stems from the figs and slice into about four vertical slices, around ¼ inch thick. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of fig slices, not overlapping.

Place the eggs, sugar, vanilla paste, nutmeg and a pinch of salt in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth. Add the flour and half and half and blend until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed. Pour the batter over the figs in the dish, then bake for 30 minutes, until the edges are puffed and golden and the center is set.

Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioners sugar.

Serves 6

Pavlova with Peach Curd, Fresh Peaches and Blackberries

Pavlova is a dinner party secret weapon. It is easy to make, can be done ahead in stages, is incredibly versatile and never fails to impress. Crisp on the outside, pillowy on the inside topped whatever delicious ideas you choose. I dreamed up this combination for a casual evening with friends inspired by an overabundance of summer fruit. I needed to use a lot of peaches, so adding a delicious layer of curd under some fresh slices upped the peach factor. When I served this, everyone oohed and aahed and took a small piece, but we ended up digging our forks into the slab right off the platter set in the center of the table.

The curd can be made several days ahead (just remember not to keep dipping into it too much while you wait!) and if there is any leftover it is wonderful on toast or swirled through yogurt. I like to make my pavlova the night before and leave it in the oven until ready use.  Humidity is not the friend of meringue and the oven is a nice, sealed storage unit. If you need the oven, transfer the pavlova to an airtight container. Assemble the whole right before serving or the pavlova will lose its lovely structure.

A note on the shape of your pavlova: Round is traditional, and you can certainly go that route. I like this rectangular version as well because it makes lots of space for the lovely toppings and is easy to slice and serve. Whichever way you go, pick out a serving platter and trace an outline on the parchment paper so that the finished product will fit. I used a 9 by 13 pan for this one or make about a 9-inch circle. Place the parchment paper on a baking sheet with the ink side down to use as guide to form the meringue. I like to use rimmed baking sheet flipped over so the parchment just slides right off without a risk of damaging the pavlova. You can spray a little cooking spray on the baking sheet to adhere the paper.

Pavlova with Peach Curd, Fresh Peaches and Blackberries

For the Peach Curd

2 peaches (about 14 ounces)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

4 egg yolks

2/3 cup granulated sugar

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

For the Pavlova:

4 egg white

A pinch of salt

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Assembly:

2 cups whipping cream

3 fresh peaches

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 cups fresh blackberries

For the Curd:

Put a strainer over a medium bowl and set by the stove.

Peel the peaches. For just two peaches, I use a vegetable peeler and leave a little bit of skin on to add color to the final product. Pit the peaches cut into rough chunks and puree in a blender with the lemon juice until smooth. Add the egg yolks and sugar and blend until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the curd thickens. When you pull a spatula through the mixture, it should not run back together immediately. Dip a metal spoon in the mixture and when you run your finger through the clinging curd, the two sides should stay totally separate.  Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter a couple of pieces at a time, waiting until one addition is melted until adding more. When all the butter is incorporated, pour the curd through the waiting strainer, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and transfer to the fridge. The curd will keep in the fridge for 5 days.

For the Pavlova:

Preheat the oven to 250°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (see the note above) and set aside. 

Put the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium until the whites are foamy, then sprinkle over the cream of tartar. Beat at medium high until the whites hold soft peaks. While beating at medium high, slowly stream in the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times, until the whites are really shiny and stiff. Beat until really stiff peaks form – run a spoon or a spatula through the mixture and the peaks should stand straight up and not flop over. The sugar should also dissolve. Take a pinck of the meringue between your fingers and when you rub then together there should be no grittiness. When the egg whites are stiff, sprinkle over the cornstarch and fold it in gently, making sure not to deflate your meringue. Add the vanilla and fold it in.

Scoop dollops of the meringue onto the prepared parchment paper, staying within the lines. Use an offset spatula to spread the meringue to fill your desired shape. Use the spatula to make a bit of an indention on the top of the pavlova to hold your fillings. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the pavlova in for 4- 5 hours at least, but overnight is best.

Assembly:

Put the lemon juice in a bowl and add some water. Slice the peaches (leave the skin on) and drop into the water. Stir to coat, then drain the peaches. This will keep them from browning. (the peaches can be treated, drained and kept in covered bowl for about an hour).  

Right before you are ready to serve, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks in the stand mixer with the whisk. Carefully transfer the pavlova to a serving platter. Gently spread a generous layer of peach curd over the top of the pavlova, then spread the whipped cream over that. Top with the sliced peaches and blackberries.

Slice and serve.

Serves 8