Talented son has finalized the design plans, yet to build it ourselves or not to build it ourselves, that is the question. Cabinets and worktop have been selected from that great Swedish warehouse in the sky while our neighborhood cuisinista, kitchen design studio, is luring us with a second design and the heavenly promise of shouldering the hard labor and assuming all responsibility. Each appliance has been mulled over, advantages weighed out and finally selected. Yet each day as we step over the threshold, as our bodies are enveloped and consumed by a fine white dust, as we breath in the heady scent of stripping solution and plaster, all thoughts of a shiny new kitchen, a cozy home flooded with sunlight fall away.
What to cook in my future kitchen, you ask? Shall I have images of bottles of Champagne nestled and chilling inside a shiny refrigerator in my head? Can I see myself sliding gooey layers of chocolate cake out of an oven as thick, creamy ganache cools on my beautiful new countertop? As I stand in the middle of an empty room, surrounded by broken chunks of woodwork, the hideous floor strewn with hammers, scrapers, crowbars and bulging plastic bags overflowing with bits and pieces of electric wiring, plaster and gravel, do shiny, cream-colored cabinets filled with china and glassware, pots and pans take shape in my mind? Does my excitement at standing behind stovetop, window thrown open, the breeze tickling the back of my neck as I chop and stir block out the mess at my feet or soothe the sores on my hands? Can I feel the weight and heft of a tray laden with choice delicacies, oysters on ice chips, glistening olives, crystal goblets of wine each time I slip on a grimy yellow work glove and curve my aching fingers around the handle of the scraper? At the pain of disappointing, I must admit that the answer would be no.
Therefore, I answer my friends who press me for my dream menu that I just cannot think about it at this time and place. In normal times, I am much more invigorated to cook and bake in the winter when the weather is cool than in the slow, stagnant, lazy days of summer when my mind is a blank stretch of road winding into the flat, hazy distance. I lie on the sofa, drowsily mumbling lists of items I should be picking up at the market and murmuring lists of dishes I could be cooking for this meal or that. Yet the energy eludes me and I remain sprawled in the same position, leaving my family to fend for themselves. And this summer more than ever, what with Clem out of town, only drifting in on the odd weekend, Simon slipping out with his friends or simply not hungry at the same time that we are and JP and I just flat out lethargic, drained from the renovations. We prefer the simple, the cool and fresh, stopping by the market on the way back from a morning’s renovation to pick up fruit and a head of lettuce, cold cuts and cheese, a baguette or two. We may, in our attempt to put together a complete and balanced meal, boil pasta and eggs, slice tomatoes and toss it all together with a can of corn and another of white beans for a * ta da * pasta salad! But the cooking and baking bug has surely left on a long vacation.
(Here I must do justice, give credit where credit is due at the expense of my story and say that JP does indeed make much more of an effort to cook real meals during the summer than I do and we often eat scrumptious dishes much to my delight and our satiation.)
But once in a while, the urge and excitement to cook or bake wash over me, invigorating and refreshing like dashing into the sea. Maybe it’s the weather, cooler now, like the early days of autumn, my favorite season. Maybe it is something along the lines of the old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder”; when days and weeks flow by and I’ve had neither the time nor the energy nor the desire to bake, it all catches up to me like a cavalcade in pursuit of the bad guys. And then I will spend a full day or two kneading dough, rolling out puff pastry, slicing and chopping seasonal vegetables and tossing fresh fruit into whipped cream. This past weekend, as the men made runs to the dump and to the hardware store, I made both a sweet and a savory tart with my homemade puff pastry. Fresh peaches, the sweetest we have found them in years, were sliced and layered onto a French Peach Tart. And summer’s local tomates nantaises were sliced and layered atop a tangle of caramelized onions and fresh goat cheese, dotted with salty olives and baked, served warm for a dinner for four that was consumed in joy and in record time. Both tarts, the sweet and the savory, were gobbled down by three hungry men, the persnickety, the finicky and the hungry husband and proud, little old me, both tarts loved by one and all.
At the end of a trying, physically exhausting, yet satisfying day, nothing beats a wonderful, homemade meal.
CARAMELIZED ONION AND TOMATO TART
The idea for this came from the July-August 2012 issue of French Saveurs, the twists and turns are my own.
For the tart you need:
Dough (I used puff pastry about 14 oz/400 g), the original recipe called for bread dough (about 14 oz/400 g) or you could simply use a quiche dough for a 10-inch tart. The puff pastry dough needs to be rolled out, line a lightly oiled 10-inch (25 cm) tart dish, pricked and refrigerated for about 30 minutes while you make the filling. The bread dough, if using, needs to stay out at room temp for 30 minutes once you have rolled it out and lined the oiled tart dish.
For my homemade Puff Pastry, follow the recipe here and the step by step directions here (adding the butter to the détrempe).
Roll out the dough (even the puff pastry) so when you line the tart/pie dish the dough comes up the sides to make an edge just to the top of the dish.
For the filling you need:
3 yellow onions - peeled, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic chopped or minced (not too too finely)
Fresh or dried thyme and basil (I used dried), salt and pepper
About 6 medium (maybe 2 - 3 inches across) ripe tomatoes **
A small handful tiny olives, such as Niçoise olives or Greek olives
A bit of fresh goat cheese or feta, optional
** you can use about 400 g (14 oz) cherry tomatoes, sliced in half. Instead of brushing the cherry tomato halves with olive oil before baking, toss in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil before placing the halves in concentric circles, close together, on top of the caramelized onions.
While the dough is resting, caramelize the thinly sliced onions in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. After about 5 minutes, when the onions become translucent and just start to color, add the garlic, salt and pepper and the herbs and continue to cook over medium or medium-low heat until the onions caramelized a golden brown. This usually takes about 10 minutes total. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
Spread the onions in the tart shell. If using goat cheese or feta crumble or lay slices over the onions, as much or as little as you like but only one thin layer. Cut off and discard the ends of the tomatoes and slice tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick and lay on top of onions/cheese in concentric circles, pressing the slices closely together in one tight, single layer. Lightly brush the top of each tomato with olive oil, salt and pepper again, a bit of basil and the olives, as many or as few as you like. Bake until the edges of the crust are golden brown about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool just a bit before serving in slices. This tart makes a wonderful meal with only a green salad, bread and a cheese platter and a bottle of wine.