Mirepoix -- From the French, a mix of aromatics that provide the savory foundation of a recipe. From The City Cook, a periodic report on things that have been collecting on my desk.
About two weeks ago I received an unexpected UPS delivery. It was a medium-sized box that was a bit heavy and postmarked California. The package was from a friend of mine who had recently lost her mother, whose name was Mary O'Toole. Mary had been a woman that embodied the best of the 20th Century: she was beautiful, warm, intrepid and intelligent, she was steely when needed, and a pussycat the rest of the time. She was also a fearless home cook who would travel to Alaska to catch and gut her own salmon, and in her Southern California backyard grow peppers that she'd turn into an irresistible sweet-and-hot jam, the kind you'd pour over a block of cream cheese, leaving some behind in the jar so to eat by the spoonful.
She also grew Meyer lemon, orange, and avocado trees, producing more fruit than you could ever use. As this California spring arrived on her block and Mary's trees became heavy with citrus, her daughter filled a box with Meyer lemons, each carefully wrapped and some as big as the navel oranges sold at my local NYC market, and shipped it to me cross-country. What to do with this unexpected treasure, I thought, seeing how the bright yellow fruit was ripe and ready. I knew I could freeze their juice, but a little more research encouraged me to instead freeze them whole after reading that low temperatures can help extract even more of the juice once the lemons are defrosted. You can't get post-freeze zest because the skin will have softened, but the tangy juices should flow.
I'll know if I made the right choice in a couple of days when I will honor the woman whose lemon trees gave shade and flavor to her home by making a Meyer lemon tart for Easter, a holiday she loved. As food is often as much to connect and remember as it is to nourish, what better a tribute for someone as special as Mary O'Toole.
Meyer Lemon Tart
For the Crust
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon finely grated Meyer lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 to 6 tablespoons iced water, plus extra as needed
For the Lemon Curd
4 large eggs, plus 4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar (if you're using regular lemons, increase this to 1 cup)
2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon zest
2/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice (about 4 to 5 lemons)
Pinch of salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- Preheat oven to 375° F degrees.
- Make the crust: Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and the lemon zest in a large bowl or the basket of a food processor. Using a pastry cutter, food processor, or your fingers, blend the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. If you've used a food processor, transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl. (Adding the water to the mixture by hand will give you more control over the right amount to add.)
- Sprinkle 3 tablespoons iced water onto the mixture, quickly stirring it with a fork until the dough forms and sticks together. Add more iced water, a tablespoon at a time, if needed. Shape dough into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Roll dough into a 12-inch circle and gently place it into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, using your fingers to position the dough into place. Trim any excess dough with a knife or scissors so to have a clean edge.
- Use the tynes of a fork to lightly prick the bottom of the tart. Place a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil into the tart shell and fill it with pie weights or dry beans. This weighs down the pastry and prevents it from puffing up while baking.
- Bake tart shell until its edges show that it's begun to have a pale golden color and looks dry, about 25 minutes. Remove the liner and weights and return the shell to the oven to bake until deep golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the lemon curd: In a medium saucepan whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt until smooth. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time until all the butter melts.
- Immediately pour the curd through a fine-mesh sieve into the cooled crust. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate tart until filling is firm, 2 to 3 hours.
- Remove the tart from its pan before serving. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve with berries or else top with dollops of sweetened whipped cream.
Time For CSAs
Here in New York spring is staggering towards its arrival at a slow pace, making it a bit tricky to always know what to make for dinner. I'm sure I'm not the only one uninspired by the thought of another serving of roasted cauliflower or a salad of romaine lettuce. But last week at my neighborhood year-round Greenmarket, the sole vegetable farmer who braves the winter along with one bakery, one turkey farmer, one grass-fed beef producer, and the steady presence of Ronnybrook Dairy, actually had a small stack of local scallions and another of slim stalks of spring garlic.
Besides being a harbinger of summer produce, these first green offerings reminded me that it's time to be signing up for this year's CSAs. If you've never been a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) member, it's a uniquely satisfying way to be a part of a farmer's growing season because you pay for a share of a crop in advance and then collect its bounty all season long. If you're a CSA veteran, you know that now is when our farmers need our commitments and our checks to get ready for plantings and harvests. Need more information about CSAs and where to join? Visit Just Food, a treasure of an organization committed to making New York a healthier place to live and eat.
If a CSA doesn't work for you but you'd like to know what's coming into our local Greenmarkets and farmers' markets, visit Lucy's Greenmarket Report or her blog at GreenmarketStuff. Lucy Wollin has been making frequent early morning visits to the mega-Greenmarket at Manhattan's Union Square since 2008 and she posts what the farmers are bringing to market. If it's in Union Square, we can expect to see it at most of our Greenmarkets, even if in a reduced way.
Local Merchant News
Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks has found a new home and opened for business. Find her at 28 East Second Street, telephone 212-989-8962.
Candlelight Wines & Spirits, on Broadway on the Upper West Side for nearly 20 years, has closed.
Schatzie the Butcher, who moved from East to West 87th Street a few years ago is moving next week further uptown to 2665 Broadway, at 101st Street.
Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger now has six NYC locations with its latest at 2161 Broadway at West 76th Street. Telephone 212-873-5900. Two more locations are due to open this summer, in Tribeca and the West Village. Probably the best baguette in the City.
Le District, a French Eataly-styled food hall, has opened at 225 Liberty Street in downtown Manhattan near the Financial District. Both cafés and restaurants and food merchants.
Steve Jenkins, an original member of the team that created Fairway and the person responsible for its cheese department and imported products, has retired from the company. What a loss. But maybe there's so much cheese in his blood that he'll surface somewhere else and wouldn't that be great for the rest of us.
In the northeast, at least in New York City, the first sign of spring produce is the arrival of mangoes. I always thought this was an odd seasonal kick-off as mangoes aren't exactly a local fruit. But still, as the sidewalk fruit vendors start stacking their carts with piles of increasingly cheap mangoes, I know that winter is over and next up will be treats like spring onions, ramps,and of course, asparagus.
In my local markets, the asparagus is still coming from Mexico. But it shouldn't be long before those green stalks start arriving from Long Island and New Jersey farms. And what to do with them? Here's a short list, in case you've forgotten what a fresh, local vegetable can taste like:
- Asparagus soup. Cold or hot.
- Blanched and served at room temperature with lemon vinaigrette.
- Roasted until tender and the tips caramelize.
- Dusted with breadcrumbs and fried, as per Marcella Hazan.
- Steamed and coated with a slick of hollandaise.
- Asparagus risotto.
- Shredded onto pizza.
- Steamed and served with spaghetti, topped with an egg.
- Topped with breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan.
- Wrapped with pancetta and roasted.
- Added to quiche or a frittata.
- Puréed into asparagus pesto.
- Added to tabbouleh.
Just search any recipe database (Food & Wine, Martha Stewart, Epicurious, Fine Cooking) for asparagus and you'll find countless ideas and cooking methods. Local spring asparagus is such a treat so let's enjoy it while we can.
Do you love to bake? You might want to take a look at SIFT, the new gorgeous magazine from the folks at King Arthur Flour. Three issues are planned for this year and the premiere one was published about three weeks ago; later in 2015 there will be an issue about fall cooking and another for the year-end holidays. We were able to share a couple of the recipes from this premiere issue, for Gluten-Free Pizza Crust and just in time for Easter, Easy Hot Cross Buns.
I'll close with a bit of news. The City Cook was launched eight years ago, when food websites and blogs were still novelties, words like locavore needed definitions, and a mobile device was a bicycle. Things change. But since 2007 we've kept to our mission to give inspiration and help to urban home cooks and we're so grateful that many of you have made this journey with us. But most things need a periodic refresh including The City Cook. So we're giving it a bit of a facelift, making it easier to visit us on your phone or tablet and also to showcase the photos that are now de rigueur to anything food. We've got a few more weeks of work to get ready for our launch but it's coming so stay tuned.
Happy Passover and Happy Easter!