Friday, July 27, 2012

Blueberry Pie

You know, even though it’s unbearably hot, sometimes you just have to turn on the oven. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and endure the extra heat in the kitchen. The entire summer cannot go on without any baking (even if it does go on without any cooling off.) People like me have to make ourselves sweat. It’s in our nature. Besides, how else are you going to get a blueberry pie?

I had a large box of delicious, Midwestern-grown fresh blueberries, and I really wanted to make a lot of lovely desserts and muffins and the like. Well, my time and energy got me a batch of blueberry pancakes, and a few blueberries sprinkled on my cold cereal, but also, happily, a wonderful blueberry pie.

This open-faced blueberry pie recipe is from Rose Levy-Beranbaum’s The Pie and Pastry Bible. It consists of a blind baked crust (there’s some more on techniques for that in this post) filled with a simple mixture of a small amount of cooked blueberries and a lot of fresh blueberries. That’s right, the filling doesn’t need to be baked. So, you only need to run the oven long enough to bake the crust, not the hour or so it would take to bake a double-crusted or lattice-crusted pie. That’s summer baking I can live with! 

And it tastes absolutely delicious! Mostly because it tastes like real blueberries because that’s mostly what it is. Of the four cups of blueberries in the pie, one cup is cooked with a little water, then sweetened with sugar and thickened with cornstarch. The rest of the blueberries are stirred into that mixture to finish the filling. It’s really, really easy, but the quality is entirely dependent upon your blueberries. I was fortunate enough to have some delicious berries and so I had a delicious pie. The blueberries are gently sweetened and are allowed to speak for themselves. The filling even holds together pretty well when the pie is sliced.

In the original recipe, Levy-Beranbaum uses one of the crust recipes that is also in the book, but I threw together one that I know works for me, basically half of the recipe in this post. The crust is brushed with egg white just after it bakes which supposedly keeps the crust from getting too soggy. I have to say that my crust stayed pretty nice for a day or two. In this heat, however, I would recommend storing any leftover pie in the refrigerator, which might cause the crust to soften.

Yes, one must heat the oven to make this blueberry pie, but it’s only for a little while. If you can get some really good fresh blueberries, it’s worth sweating it out for that short time to make this wonderful pie. I for one am hoping all the good blueberries aren’t gone from the markets yet. I want to make more pie!

Open Face Blueberry Pie
Adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy-Beranbaum

Pastry for a single crust pie, rolled out to fit a 9-inch pie pan
about 1 tablespoon egg white, lightly beaten
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons water, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups fresh blueberries, divided
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
pinch salt
lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving, optional but highly recommended

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Loosely fit the pastry into a 9-inch pie pan being careful not to stretch it. Line the pastry with parchment paper or foil, folding the parchment to fit where needed. Fill the parchment with pie weights (or beans or rice if you prefer). Bake at 425 F for 20 minutes.

2. Remove from the oven and carefully lift out the parchment and weights. Prick the crust bottom and sides gently with a fork. Return to the oven and bake 5-10 minutes more or until pale golden-brown.

3. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for about 3 minutes. Brush with the egg white and set aside.

4. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons cornstarch and water. Stir to combine well. Set aside

5. To prepare the filling, place 1 cup blueberries in a medium-size saucepan with the remaining ½ cup water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes or until the blueberries burst and the mixture begins to thicken.

6. Stir the cornstarch mixture, sugar, lemon juice and salt into the blueberry mixture. Simmer for about 1 minute, or until the mixture becomes thick and shiny. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 3 cups blueberries.

7. Spoon the blueberry mixture into the baked pie crust. Let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Serve slices with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

Makes about 8 servings. Keep leftovers for about a day at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator. The crust may soften in the refrigerator.

One year ago: Cola Brined Chicken

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pasta with Zucchini, Corn and Mint

You can see the pattern. I know you can. Whatever the season, I manage to make pasta tossed with vegetables and a bit of cream (or half and half), often flavored with lemon. In the spring I made this version with asparagus and sugar snap peas and shortly before that it was caramelized onions and arugula (and red wine vinegar instead of lemon). In the winter it was roasted orange and prosciutto and in another summer, it was corn, yellow summer squash and bacon (again, no lemon).

My most recent variation on this theme included shredded zucchini (‘tis the season after all), fresh corn and fresh mint. I like to shred zucchini for pasta dishes, especially if I’m going to use a long pasta like spaghetti. It cooks down quickly to create a smooth texture that blends in well with the noodles. The addition of cream makes that texture even more luscious and since zucchini doesn’t have a particularly assertive flavor of its own, it picks up the other flavors in the dish, namely the lemon and mint.

The lemon juice and zest give the creamy sauce a nice bit of citrusy brightness and the sweet corn balances that flavor. The fresh mint, which is growing in proliferation in my own backyard, is a wonderful addition. I think there are many herbs that would do in its place, especially basil and possibly oregano, or you could just stir in a couple dollops of pesto if you have some on hand. There are other vegetables you could add as well, such as thinly sliced bell peppers (cook them with the onions) or shredded carrots (cook a little longer than the zucchini).

Well, as you can guess from my tendency to fall back on this style of dish for quick weeknight cooking, I could go on forever about variations, omissions, inclusions and flavor combinations. This is a basic idea that works really well and no matter what vegetables and herbs are in season, they could probably be featured in a pasta dish with citrus (or vinegar) and cream somehow. So, go forth and vary this theme to your own desire!

Pasta with Zucchini, Corn, and Fresh Mint
You could use half and half in place of the cream.

8 ounces dry spaghetti or other long pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)
kernels from 1 ear fresh corn (about 1 cup)
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon lemon zest
juice of ½ lemon
a few grinds black pepper
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to serve

1. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and just beginning to brown, about 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds more.

3. Add the zucchini, corn, water and salt. Cook, stirring often, until the zucchini is soft, about 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and pepper.

4. Add the cooked pasta, heavy cream and mint.  Toss to coat the pasta and cook until the mint is wilted. Stir in the ¼ cup Parmesan. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Makes about 4 servings.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Versatile Sweet Asian Dressing

Something I don’t do as often as I should is keep a bowl, jar, or bottle of homemade salad dressing in the refrigerator for quick salads loaded with whatever is ripe in the garden or at the farmer’s market. This sweet dressing with Asian flavors is a good one to have on hand and lasts a long time in the refrigerator. It’s quick to put together, too, although, since it requires a step at the stove, it does need to be made in advance if you want a cold salad.

This is as simple as combining vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and a few other flavors and boiling them to dissolve the sugar. I spiced my version up just a bit with some chile garlic sauce, but if you like things milder, you could leave it out. The vinegar balances the sweet ingredients so the dressing isn’t cloying or sugary, but the sugar does make for a slightly more syrupy dressing than a simple vinaigrette.

This dressing was originally for a Napa cabbage salad with broken-up Ramen noodles, but I find that it goes well in other places too. While I did recently pour it over a cabbage salad with yellow carrots and onions, I also like it on a green salad with whatever is ripe and ready. I’ve even poured it over a stir fry at the last minute of cooking, and it was good there as well.

There is enough dressing in this recipe to make a couple of 4-serving cabbage salads, or to pour on green salads for the better part of a week. It also will keep well for that week in the refrigerator, since it doesn’t contain any perishable ingredients and gets a good boiling besides. Right now, I’m really happy to have something to make once and enjoy for a few days during which I can avoid any hot and sweaty efforts. Hope you’re staying cooler than I am!

Sweet Asian Salad Dressing
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

1/3 cup rice vinegar
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
¼ teaspoon chile garlic sauce

1. Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Boil 1 minute, adjusting the heat to keep the mixture from boiling over. Cool then chill. Stir well before dressing salads or vegetables.

Makes about ¾ cup. Keep refrigerated for a week or more.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cherry Dessert Soup

A cold fruit soup for dessert on a blistering hot day? Count me in! I made this one with nice, sweet Bing cherries, the ones that I kept buying because the price was so nice, then let sit in the refrigerator, almost forgotten (but not quite.) This ends up kind of like a fruit smoothie, and it’s probably healthy enough that one could serve it for breakfast with an adjustment or two. For example, you might want to leave out the alcohol.

Yes, I spiked this soup just a bit with some bright red cherry liqueur. In the original recipe, the soup was flavored with sweet wine instead. I didn’t have any (my wine rack is empty), but I have had a bottle of cherry liqueur for some time. (I got it to make cherry-flavored hot chocolate, but it curdles hot milk.) It turned out to be a really nice addition. I’m not into lacing recipes with alcohol, but this small amount of liqueur flavored the soup nicely without making it boozy. You could replace it with wine or perhaps almond liqueur, or with fruit juice if you want to make this for breakfast or for children. (Kids might also like it just a bit sweeter.)

The ginger and allspice in this recipe are a bit of a surprise, but they don’t stand out awkwardly in flavor. They just give the tangy cherry puree a little something, a warmth, richness and sophistication that I found quite welcome.

This dessert soup is really delicious and satisfying on a hot evening. Since we’ve had plenty of those, it has gone over quite well in my house. The leftovers are just fine the following evening, although the top surface of the soup tends to oxidize and turn slightly brown (even if I place a piece of plastic wrap right on it.) No worries, though. Just a bit of stirring brings the pretty dark burgundy color back and all is well.

This is very easy to make and doesn’t involve the oven, which is a bonus for a summer dessert. It does involve pitting two pounds of cherries, however, which is a bit of a labor of love. I don’t have a fancy pitter, so I tend to just cut the cherry flesh away from the stone with a paring knife. Oh, the things we do for dessert. Of course, if you start with frozen pitted cherries, you could have dessert done even faster, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Cold Sweet Cherry Soup
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine.

You could replace the cherry liqueur with sweet wine or fruit juice if desired.

2 pounds sweet cherries (I used Bing cherries)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sour cream
½ cup vanilla yogurt
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ cup cherry liqueur (see above for options)

1. Clean, pit and coarsely chop the cherries. Place them in the bowl of a food processor or a blender jar.

2. Add the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, sour cream, yogurt, ginger, and allspice. Process until very smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the liqueur. Cover and chill.

Makes about 5-6 servings. When stored, the soup may darken in color on the surface. Just stir to bring up the brighter colored soup before serving. Keep refrigerated for a few days.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pasta with Sausage and Kale

Okay, I admit it: my new job is kicking my blog’s butt.  Until my time management skills are up to par, it’s going to be difficult to organize new recipes, shop for their special ingredients, prepare and photograph new dishes, and write something about them to post to The Messy Apron.

Luckily, there are lovely green things growing in my garden (and other people’s gardens) that make it relatively simple to squeeze in a fresh and simple pasta dish for a late supper after working all weekend.  The star of this dish is a nice bundle of Red Russian kale, which, despite its reputation as a cold weather plant, has been growing quite nicely in my backyard, even in the 100+ degree heat. I paired it with spicy Italian turkey sausage and flavored it with garlic and fresh basil and oregano.

I was amazed at the bright, tangy flavor of the kale in this dish. I thought for sure it would have grown especially bitter in the heat (like me). You could do this whole thing your own way, of course, but I went heavier on the kale than on the sausage, though the sausage did add plenty of richness and spice. This is really about using what you have and making what you have time for.

…and enjoying a few quiet moments in the garden, then in the kitchen, then at the table. Even if you end up sitting down to dinner in front of the TV at 9 pm when the light isn’t so good for photographs.

I hope to be posting more regularly soon.

Pasta with Sausage, Kale and Fresh Herbs

6-8 ounces dry short-cut pasta
8 ounces spicy Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 tablespoon olive oil, optional
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
large bunch kale, stems removed, chopped (about 8 cups)
¼ teaspoon salt
a few grinds of black pepper
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving

1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just a little firmer than you like to eat it. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.

2. Meanwhile, place the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until just browned, breaking the sausage apart to brown evenly. If the sausage is lean, add the olive oil to the pan to keep it from sticking.

3. Add the garlic to the pan and cook about 1 minute, stirring frequently.

4. Add the kale, salt, pepper and about ½ cup reserved pasta cooking water.  Increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is well wilted and the sausage is cooked through, about 5-8 minutes. Add the basil and oregano. Cook and stir about 1 minute more.

5. Add the cooked pasta to the pan and stir to combine. If the pan seems dry, add some more of the pasta cooking water. Cook just long enough to heat through. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

 Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Pasta with Kale, Summer Squash,Olives and Feta Cheese; Penne with Chicken Sausage, Olives and Walnut Sauce