Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Old Man and The Dill

    Lots 'O Dill

Our neighbor across the street shows up around this time every year with tons of Dill.  His Dad (The Old Man) maintained a pretty nice vegetable garden in the lot behind their house for nearly 50 years, and the Dill always comes back in droves.   For awhile after the Old Man's passing, other things came back too.  The Son would bring us enormous zucchini - we all know that they are pretty useless, but I never had the heart to tell him that he may want to look for them a tad earlier.  And, for awhile, he'd bring us a few cucumbers or a volunteer tomato.  The Son is not interested in gardening and actually shows disdain for it.  I think because his Dad devoted so much spare time to it, but that's just my hunch.

The Old Man has been gone for nearly 10 years now. We still miss him sitting out on his stoop, telling us all sorts of tales of the "old neighborhood" and neighbors long gone. I have stored away every story I can. I treasure those kinds of chats with the folks who were here in those old South Philly days.

And so, the Dill delivery every year continues. However, this year - for the first time ever - the son pulled the Dill out by the roots!  I usually get a big bunch of cut branches, which make no mistake, I am thrilled to get.  We have used the Old Man's Dill in our pickles for years.  But for some reason, when I went to the door this year, there he was with huge stalks of Dill with big fat root systems intact. 

His usual question:  "Can you use this?".  My usual answer:  "You bet!". 

I sat outside this morning, cleaning the branches of the dill.  Some I will freeze, some I will dry - as usual.  I kept coming back to three good sized stalks with really nice, well established root systems, and I kept talking myself out of planting one more thing, of setting up one more garden "experiment" to fret over.  Too late.  The Old Man won.  So here are the three stalks which I have trimmed and planted.  I have also for the first time decided to harvest some seeds.

    The Dill Experiment

Maybe he's been sending me messages all of these years.  Or maybe there is just something inherently wonderful about growing dill from his long ago loved plants here, across the street, in our garden.  Maybe someone else will do the same in the years to come.  Who knows?  Everything happens for a reason, right?  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Best Asparagus Cheese Tart Ever

Ok, I've been bombed with requests for the recipe for the Asparagus Tart.  Thanks All!   This is one of those recipes that seems relatively complicated and gets easier over repeated making.  And you will be making it a lot if you love asparagus.  There are rarely leftovers, even for two the tart only lasts about two days in our house.  It is also a great breakfast dish!  If you have questions, please ask.  As I said, the more you make it, the easier it will be to make it.  A good thing!  So, here it is.

Recipe:  Asparagus and Gruyere Tart

Note:  The work in this recipe is with the pastry dough.  Of course that is what makes it so delicious!

"Black Pepper and Sour Cream Pastry Dough"

Ingredients for a 13 inch tart shell

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper - or more, if you like a peppery dough.  I use at least a teaspoon.
3/4 teaspoon of sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) of cold, unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/3 cup of cold shortening
3 tablespoons of sour cream
3 tablespoons of ice water

Technique for making the tart shell

Blend together the flour, salt, pepper. sugar, butter and shortening with your fingertips or a pastry blender until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal with the remainder in small (roughly pea sized) lumps.

Stir together the sour cream and the ice water, then stir the mixture into the dough until it is incorporated.

Gather the dough into a ball.

Lightly flour your board and flatten the dough ball into a 6 inch square.  Then roll the dough out into a roughly 18 by 6 inch rectangle and fold the dough into thirds - this is like the way you would fold a letter to put it into an envelope (when we used to write letters, that is).

Turn the dough so an open ended side is nearest you, then roll the dough out again into an 18 by 6 inch rectangle.  Fold into thirds again.

**Remember to keep dusting your board with flour.  This is a rich dough.**

Repeat rolling and folding one more time - for a total of three times; wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.  We have chilled it overnight and it's fine.

Roll out the chilled dough onto a floured surface into a 15 1/2 inch round.  Transfer the dough to your tart pan (or pizza pan, I use a large tart pan).

Trim the edge enough to make it even all around and then pinch to form a 1/2 inch high, double thick side.  Prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork (called "docking") and chill again until firm - at least 30 minutes.  

Note:  the leftover dough from the edges can be rolled out and cut into small squares, sprinkled with some salt and more pepper if you want (I do!).  Bake until they are slightly crispy and then take them out and let them sit for a few minutes.  They are wonderful, tasty crackers!  I am thinking about just making the dough soon so that I can make a big batch of crackers.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Take your chilled dough out of the refrigerator and line the shell with foil.
Fill the foil lined shell with pie weights or beans or rice or whatever you use.  Don't forget the foil!  I did that once - it's not pretty picking all of those beans out of that semi - cooked dough!

Bake the shell until the sides are firm, about 20 minutes. 
Remove the foil and the weights and bake about 10 minutes more, until you get a golden color.
Remove the shell from the oven and let it cool.  

While the shell is cooling, you can prepare the filling.

Ingredients for Tart Filling

3 pounds of asparagus trimmed to about 5 1/2 inches and peeled
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, plus additional for sprinkling
1 cup of heavy cream
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 - 1 1/2 cups of finely grated Gruyere (depends on how cheesy you like it; we like it cheesy!)

Technique for making the filling

I put the asparagus in a large flat pan of salted, boiling water for just about 30 seconds  - until you see a nice green color.  

As soon as you have the color you want, get them IMMEDIATELY into another pan of ice water.

Drain the asparagus well and pat dry.

Whisk together the cream, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the nutmeg.
Season the mixture with freshly ground black pepper

Note:  If you use a Tart pan, I suggest that you put the pan on a cookie sheet.  Tart pans have removable bottoms and sometimes you get some seepage of the filling before it starts cooking and coming together.

Pour the custart mixture evenly into the tart shell.
Sprinkle the custard with two thirds of the grated cheese, then arrange the asparagus spears in the custart, tips out like the spokes of a wheel.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Bake until the custard is set - about 20 minutes.
When the custard is set, Broil the tart about 2 - 3 inches from the heat until golden.  About 1 - 2 minutes.