LITTLE ELVES IN THE NIGHT
Who doesn’t remember the lovely Grimm Brothers’ Christmas story about the poor shoemaker? “(He) worked very hard and was very honest: but still he could not earn enough to live upon; and at last all he had in the world was gone, save just leather enough to make one pair of shoes.” He carefully cut out the leather for one last pair of shoes and lovingly laid the pieces out on his workbench before retiring for the night. “His conscience was clear and his heart light amidst all his troubles; so he went peaceably to bed, left all his cares to Heaven, and soon fell asleep. In the morning after he had said his prayers, he sat himself down to his work; when, to his great wonder, there stood the shoes all ready made, upon the table.”
Of course, one night he decides to wait up, hoping to surprise whoever was sneaking into his workshop and making the beautiful shoes in his place. And, lo and behold, he spies 2 little elves, merry as can be, rushing into the workshop, “stitching and rapping and tapping away at such a rate, that the shoemaker was all wonder, and could not take his eyes off them.” Until, just at the break of day, the shoes finished, off they bustle as quick as lightening.
Well, I have elves. They may not be naked (the shoemaker makes little clothes to thank his elves for their help), or at least I hope they are not if they are sitting on either my kitchen chairs or livingroom sofa, and they may not whip up a gorgeous pair of shoes or even a cake for me to discover the following morning, but elves they are, silent as the night, tiptoeing into the kitchen at the stroke of midnight (or later) and helping this housewife clean out her refrigerator. Yes, they devour great quantities of food, leftovers, macarons by the dozen, bowls of pasta and slices of cold pizza, even surreptitiously making bottles of wine disappear. I am sure that they feel that they are doing me a favor, and happy mother I am knowing that no little elves are going hungry, but darn if I’m not anxious to do as the poor shoemaker and his wife and stay up all night concealed behind the curtains hoping to catch our own little elves in the act of selfless gorging that they do so kindly on my behalf.
And last night was no different. I had carefully wrapped up the last slices of the delicious Zucchini Ricotta Feta Tart and placed them in the refrigerator before I took myself off to bed. This morning I awoke and straggled into the kitchen, rubbing sleep out of my eyes, and put the water for coffee on to boil. Breakfast table laid, husband joined me and we began the breakfast dance, the ritual around the morning meal, the same foods, the same gestures, sharing the first words, the first smiles, the first laughter of the day. And that was when I noticed it: the tart pan sitting alone and empty on the countertop. Tonnerre de tonnerre! It happened again! Sapristi the elves have struck again!
2 young gentlemen, architecture students both, sometimes joined by a third, spending evenings sitting at desks side by side, working on projects of paper and cardboard and glue and scissors, or clicking and clacking away on their computers, images twisting and turning and floating on screen, far into the night and often into the wee hours of the morning. Like little elves, working best in the dark quiet of night away from parental prying eyes. Growing boys, needing energy to push those brains to work long hours, needing nourishment to keep their bodies going, young men singing along to the music echoing in the night feeling a hunger sneak up and rumble low in their tummies, a hunger growing, disturbing their thoughts. A sign passes between them, a look, a nod of the head, and off they go, tiptoeing silently from one end of the house to the other, past the dog (Pray that he does not wake and, anxious to join them for a midnight snack, begin to bark!) and they slip noiselessly into the kitchen. Foraging in the refrigerator, savory or sweet or even a little of both, making no noise with the cutlery or as they slide one ceramic plate off the shelf at a time, slicing the knife through a dense slice of chocolate cake or cutting off sliver after sliver of rich Zucchini Ricotta Tart, tangy with feta and cool with mint. Silent as the shadows, they eat to their hearts’ content and, tummies full, off they skip back to their little elves’ lair to finish their own important work or, if not, simply to close their books and put away their pencils and crawl off to bed.
Now, if those little elves would only do the dishes!
Mother’s Day has once again come and gone and Son #1, whom I thought had forgotten the day, arrived in the afternoon arms filled with beautiful plants, a kitchen garden: mint and rosemary, basil and chives. Lovely, just lovely. Thank you, Clem.
I am sending this delicious tart to Ivonne of Creams Puffs in Venice for her Magazine Mondays!
ZUCCHINI RICOTTA TART with feta and mint
From June 2010 Saveurs magazine (Tarte aux Courgettes, Feta et Ricotta)
Short crust pastry for one 8- or 9-inch pie plate (recipe follows), chilled
2 medium zucchini
7 oz (200 g) ricotta (I used fresh ewe’s milk ricotta)
7 oz (200 g) feta cheese
2 large eggs
A few branches of mint (about 2 Tbs or so chopped leaves)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the short crust pastry and wrap in plastic and place in the refrigerator to chill so it will be easier to roll out.
Before preparing the filling, roll the pastry out to fit in your buttered pie tin, press it into the tin, trim and poke all over with a fork. Place back in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Wash and trim the zucchini. Slice into ¼-inch coins. Sauté the zucchini, one layer at a time, in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Lightly brown each batch on one side, flip the slices, salt and pepper and continue cooking for a few minutes until lightly browned on the bottom and the zucchini is tender. Continue until all of the zucchini is golden and tender. Allow to drain on paper towels.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the ricotta using a whisk or a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the eggs and continue whisking or beating until well blended and smooth. Chop the feta until small cubes and add to the bowl, beating in until part of the feta has dissolved into the mixture and is creamy and part are left in small chunks. Finely chop or scissor cut the mint in a glass. Add to the cheese mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the pie shell from the refrigerator. Line the bottom of the shell with about half or a bit less of the zucchini slices. Pour the ricotta, feta, mint mixture in the shell and spread evenly. Place the rest of the zucchini slices all over the top of the cheese mixture, slightly overlapping.
Bake in the preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes. The filling should be slightly puffed up and firm to the touch (like a quiche) and golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly, allowing the tart to settle.
Serve with a mixed green salad or fresh, ripe, sweet tomatoes with a tart vinaigrette. And a glass of wine.
SHORT CRUST PASTRY perfect for savory tarts and quiches
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking (by you know who, of course)
5 oz (150 g) flour
Scant ½ tsp salt
Big pinch of sugar
4 oz (120 g) unsalted butter, cubed
4 – 4 ½ Tbs cold water
Place the flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the cubes of butter, tossing to coat with flour so they don’t stick together. Using the tips of your fingers and thumbs, rub the butter and flour together rapidly as if pushing the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly and it resembles oatmeal. Do not overwork this mixture as the butter will melt and start to clump; it will be blended better later.
Add about 3 tablespoons of the cold water and blend very quickly with a fork. Add more water, as much as needed, onto the dry flour and continue to stir up from the bottom until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough begins pulling together.
Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface. With the heel of one hand, rapidly smear and push the dough onto the surface and away from you, about a tablespoon of dough at a time, smearing it onto the work surface. This will complete the blending of the butter and the flour.
Scrape the dough up and gather it into a ball. Knead gently and briefly just enough to make a smooth, homogenous ball of dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm enough to roll out easily.