Thursday, November 22, 2012

Last Minute Thanksgiving: Global Veggie Tart and Parisian Chocolate Pots de Creme

This will be quick because are some things that I want to do before I leave--Paris.  I've been here for nearly a week.  That's odd.  The trip was unexpected, impulsive, and a bit expensive.  It was a chance to see Patrick Roger's new jungle boogie solid-chocolate installation under construction, to wander around inside a building of outsider art at the Museum of Everything, and to arrive just in time for the bohemian weekly tea party at Shakespeare and Company.  But I really came for the simple reason that "we're family,"as my aunt put it, and because I'm finally feeling tired of bouncing around the planet by myself.  Of course, I had to bounce into Paris, too, but I had a comfortable bed in my cousin's apartment, a reliable wifi connection, and a scenic walk through the late-fall Parisian mist to either the Rue Cler or the Rue du Cherche-Midi for my morning croissant and chocolat.  THANKS to my cousin Melissa and my aunt Marsha for that comfortable bed, the generous invitation, and the very good company.

This is a week when Americans spend extra attention on what they're thankful for, often spending time with their families, and often eating a lot.  Most Thanksgiving meals are planned months in advance, but there must be some wanderers like me out there, deciding to head home or to invite people over at the last minute.  So either on this holiday or on some other unexpected special occasion, I invite fellow travelers to recreate the family meal that I threw together the other night in the French capital.  You can make it almost anywhere in the world.  You only need an oven, a stovetop, the most basic of kitchen tools, and a nearby greenmarket.  The whole menu serves four nicely.


Global Veggie Tart
(inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's "Very full tart," from Plenty)

1 ceramic tart dish
butter, for greasing

A few healthy glugs of olive oil, plus salt and pepper, to use along the way

1 red bell pepper
1 medium eggplant
1 medium zucchini
1 medium potato (of the waxy rather than starchy variety)
1 large onion
10 cherry tomatoes

1 package of premade pie/tart dough (or a premade pie shell in a disposable metal pan--American style--instead of the dough and the tart dish)

1/3 cup ricotta cheese
one small round of chevre (plain or dredged in herbs or black pepper--whichever you prefer)

2 eggs
1 cup heavy cream

Quickly prepare and roast the veggies: Cut a circle around the stem of the pepper then pull it out, with most of the seeds holding on tightly, and discard; use your fingers or a spoon to scrape out any remaining seeds.  Place the pepper in a small baking dish and coat it inside and out with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Place it on the top shelf of the oven.  Cut both the eggplant and the zucchini into cubes that are an inch or two on each side.  Peel the potato, cut it in half, then thinly slice it.  In a large roasting pan, toss the eggplant with another generous glug of oil, along with salt and pepper (try a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of pepper).  Add the potato after 12 minutes, and the zucchini 12 minutes later, stirring gently to combine each time.  Add more oil with each addition if the veggies seem too dry.  Leave everything in the oven for another ten minutes and then take both the mixed veggies and the roasting pepper out at the same time.  Cover the dish containing the pepper with foil.

At any point when your hands are free, while the veggies are in the oven or after, assemble the other components of the tart.

Half the onion, thinly slice it, and then saute it with some oil, salt, and pepper over low to medium heat for about 25 minutes until you have something uniformly brown and caramely.

If using a roll of premade pastry, simply unroll it, press it into your pan, and crinkle the edges.  Ideally, you should have pie weights and if you have them, drop them in and spread them across the bottom surface of the pan. If you don't have weights you can use dried beans.  If you don't have those, try to find a pot just slightly smaller than your tart pan and fit it in there, on top of the dough, weighing it down.  If none of these options are working for you, forget about it and just let the tart crust puff up while baking--who's looking anyway?  Bake your weighted (or unweighted) crust for half an hour, then remove the weights and cook it for about another 15 minutes, until everything is golden.  Then remove the crust from the oven at let it cool at least fifteen minutes longer.

Beat the eggs together with the cream and no more than a couple of pinches of salt and a dash of pepper.  Uncover the roasted red pepper, peel off the skin (this is so easy--I can't believe I never did it before!), and then tear the pepper into pieces and add them to the other roasted veggies.  Then cut the cherry tomatoes in half--you'll need these in a minute.

Add the mixed veggies to the tart pan and distribute them evenly.  Distribute both cheeses by the spoonful over the surface of the tart, and then fit the cherry tomatoes (cut side up) into the empty spaces.  Pour the eggs and cream over the top, pressing the liquid down just a bit with a spoon.

Bake the tart for 35 to 45 minutes, until everything is set and golden.

A Very Alice Waters Green Salad
(drawing on the vinaigrette recipe in The Art of Simple Food)

1 small head of lettuce, whichever variety looks best at the market
2 plum tomatoes or one larger tomato

1 teaspoon seedy mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons of your best olive oil

Cut the tomatoes into wedges.

Whisk together the mustard and the vinegar.  The mustard will help your vinaigrette emulsify beautifully. Add a pinch or two of salt, and dip your finger in to taste what you have so far.  See if the balance of salt and acidity is just right.  If not, add more salt or more vinegar.  Now gradually pour in the oil, whisking.  When you have the consistency you want, you're done (you're not required to use all of the oil).  Taste and add more salt and some pepper if you'd like.

Combine the lettuce and tomato in a serving bowl.  Add the vinaigrette when you're ready to eat.

The Simplest French Pots de Crème

1 cup heavy cream
2.5 oz (70g) Valrhona chocolate
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar

4 oven-safe ramekins or espresso cups
Any large oven-safe dish like a roasting pan or a casserole dish

Preheat the oven (or bring the temperature down) to 325F (160C).

Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place them in a medium metal bowl.  Bring the cream to a simmer over medium-low heat and then turn off the heat.  Meanwhile, whisk together the yolks and the sugar in a larger bowl.  (Save the whites to make a quick scramble with some veggies, cheese, and good olive oil tomorrow.)  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, whisking constantly, until the chocolate is melted and you have an even ganache.  Then pour the ganache over the yolks and sugar, again whisking constantly.  Now divide the custard mixture between your ramekins or cups and place them inside the larger oven-proof dish.  Create a water bath by adding a couple of inches of warm water (from the tap or the kettle) to the larger dish.  Just in case this isn't obvious--the water shouldn't touch the chocolate mixture--it should just bathe the outside of the each ramekin or cup.  Carefully move the dish with the pots de creme and the water into the oven and bake until the edges of the cups are set but the centers still jiggle when you gently shake them.  This might take about 45 minutes--check at intervals of 5 minutes starting at 40.  Be careful not to burn yourself or spill the very hot water when removing the pots de creme from the oven.  Remove them immediately from the water bath, cover them with plastic wrap, and let them cool in the fridge at least two hours (and up to 5 days).


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