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We had a birthday here at the Koontz-Bostow household! My wife, Raquelle, turned 25. Surprising, I know. Though she has the grace, wisdom, and patience of an older soul, she’s been here on Earth for a mere quarter-century. You would guess correctly if you imagined that all kinds of incredible eats played a starring role in the celebration.

On Thursday night, we hopped over to Mas Tacos Por Favor (my vote for the most satisfying restaurant in Nashville!). With a super-chilled bottle of Rosé we brought from home, we shared crispy fish tacos with crunchy-sweet cabbage, spicy red onions, and dill crema. Not to be forgotten was a bowl of the smokiest black beans with sweet caramelized plaintains. With stomachs full, we drove back home for presents.

Aside from a few more functional gifts (a hair dryer, a raincoat), the rest were food-focused: a bottle of shochu (a japanese spirit distilled from barley), a bottle of Ricard (an anise-flavored liqueur from the south of France), and various utensils for at-home sushi making (a bamboo mat, roasted seaweed, hardwood chopsticks, and handmade shochu glasses from Japan). We stayed up late, making David Lebovitz’s Absinthe Cake.

The following night we had reservations for Husk, Sean Brock’s oft-mentioned, southern-inspired restaurant. By 7:00, we were seated and placing our drink order. Raquelle began with the Spanish cava, and I the Rittenhouse rye.  I ordered the crispy chicken skins served with a smoky white BBQ sauce. They were surprisingly light, like a richly satisfying potato chip, the perfect bar food. Dinner itself, however, was a let-down. The vegetable plate, at $25, was fine. For such common flavors, I half-expected that the entire dish would be showered in a chiffonade of crisp dollar bills in order to warrant the high price tag. The catfish I ordered, a fish so commonly accused of being a muddy bottom-feeder, did not shed its bad reputation. Instead, it was served alongside an insipid eggplant puree and topped with an excessive amount of what appeared to be green onions.

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Let me say that I was not at all upset by the experience. Any food outing is a gamble. In truth, I appreciate Sean Brock’s regard for local foods. The service was warm, the whisky was cool, and if I’d only been served a big plate of the pillowy-soft sesame seed rolls with butter, I’m sure I might try this place again. Most importantly, Raquelle’s birthday was filled with smiles, and laughter, and joy.

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As Raquelle and I were busy celebrating, it’s clear that my tomatoes were not at all threatened by last week’s post, when hordes of their brethren were roasted and then hastily consumed in a french-inspired tarte . Instead, as if to taunt me further, they have continued to thrive, some so plump with sweetness that the weight of their own goodness pulls them to the ground. But what to do with them? I swore off gazpacho. And not because it isn’t delicious and perfectly satisfying for these hot and muggy days, but because it’s been done before.

As a rule, any time I have way too much of one ingredient on hand, I consider how that flavor could be concentrated. And that often means roasting or slow-cooking. I considered the matter over a sip of pastis, the anise-flavored liqueur of Aix-en-Provence. My mind was awash with memories of its endless cobblestone streets, one leading to the market, another la boucherie, le fromager, et le reste. I was reminded of a tomato tapenade sold there, an incredibly savory flavor bomb that is as perfect on a cracker as it is on a bed of pasta. I quickly cranked the oven to 425 and stepped into the garden to reap the bountiful harvest.

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Multi-Seed Crispbreads with Tomato Tapenade

Ingredients

For the crispbread:

200 grams wheat flour

300 grams white flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon yeast

About 1 1/2 cups water, room temperature

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1 tbsp crushed fennel seeds

For the tapenade:

1 pound cherry tomatoes, whole

handful of fresh oregano

handful of fresh basil

1/2 cup grated parmesan

5 anchovy fillets, in olive oil

1 head of garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper

To make the crispbread, mix the first four dry ingredients and then stir in the water. Mix until no dry bits of flour remain. Let stand, covered, for 12 to 18 hours at room temperature. When ready, pour the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Flour the surface, gently shape it into a rectangle and slice it evenly. Each piece of dough should be about the size of an unleavened biscuit.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and prepare a baking sheet line with parchment paper. Roll out each piece of dough, one at a time. When you think it can’t be rolled any thinner, drape it gently over your hands, allow it to stretch further. The dough should be translucent. Don’t worry about it tearing. These large rounds of cracker will eventually broken by hand at the table. Once thin, spread it on the baking sheet, and brush it lightly with water. This will help the seeds to adhere. Cover it generously with the sesame, pumpkin seeds, and fennel. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden and crisp. If you don’t want to cook them all off at once, the dough can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to a week.

For the tapenade, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and cover it with the tomatoes. Oil them lightly. Let them cook for 1 hour or until they’ve become soft, wrinkled, and richly sweet. In the last 30 minutes, wrap the head of garlic in some foil with a little oil and let it roast in the oven.

Once cooked, place the tomatoes in a food processor. Carefully squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin into the food processor. Put all remaining ingredients in the food processor and pulse until smooth. And there you have it. Serve this with a glass of cold red wine.. You’ll thank me.

Enjoy! 

 

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We have moved yet again. After two months of house-sitting in an urban oasis, we packed up our things and said our goodbyes. We took the dog out for one more walk. We cooked one more dinner. We slept one more night. And then we left.

The next morning, our belongings were jammed into a U-Haul and shoved into storage. We found ourselves in domestic limbo. Thank the universe for the kindness and goodwill of friends, for without them, we would’ve likely filled up a cooler and pitched a tent somewhere in Centennial Park. Instead, for one week, we had the great fortune of staying in our friends’ guest room. They opened up their kitchen to us without judgment of our homemade and highly aromatic kimchi or the bubbling bread starter left out on the kitchen counter. We played board games, had a fish fry, built a bonfire. 

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But we couldn’t stay there forever. After a week, we traveled north to our heimat. Welcomed by rolling hills of bluegrass and thick, hearty green forests filled with birdsong, we saw family once more before summer’s end.

And so begins our next assignment. Four months in a charming home in Sylvan Park. Built in 1918, with original hardwood, the floor plan seems almost labrynthine, each room like a reverie that leads to the next. Outside the house, the plants seem to wander and thrive just as the rooms. Tomato plants climb 12 feet up into the trees, some bearing bright yellow, sweet fruit. Others recline rangily, spreading themselves across the lawn. The harvest has been so fruitful, in fact, that each day yields a heaping bowlful of plump, red fruit. And as I have had my fair share of gazpacho and herbaceous tomato salads, I searched for another route. I first considered cooking them down and making a homemade pasta sauce with lots of garlic, fresh oregano, and anchovy. But I found myself wandering out of Italy and into France, which led me to this classic tomato tarte.

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It starts with an ultra-buttery dough, the kind perfect for quiche or quite literally any pie you can dream up. But to make it even more comforting, I added a small amount of wheat flour to the dough. The result is an intensely rich, flaky crust with the warm flavors of toasted wheat. As for the filling, it began with deeply caramelized onions and dijon mustard, covered with a layer of blistered, sweet cherry tomatoes and fresh thyme. Served with a green salad and a glass of good red wine, it’s hard to beat.

Classic French Tomato Tarte

For the dough:

1 1/2 cups white flour

1/2 cup wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks VERY COLD butter (225 grams), diced

1/4 cup ice water

1 egg yolk (for egg wash)

For the filling:

1 pound cherry tomatoes, whole

2 yellow onions, sliced in rounds

3 tbsp dijon mustard

neutral oil, canola is fine

salt and pepper

To make the dough, dice the butter and allow it to chill in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Meantime, in a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Add the butter to the flour and, with a pastry cutter (or another fancy device like a stand mixer), mix until the butter is incorporated into the flour. The butter should break into small pieces about the size of mustard seeds, but should not be any smaller. These pea-sized bits of butter will melt luxuriously into the dough when it cooks for great effect. Add the ice water, a little at a time, until the dough just comes together. Form it into a rough disk, wrap it in plastic, and let it chill in the freezer for 45 minutes to an hour.

As the dough chills, heat a large pan on medium heat with a bit of oil. Slice the onions and let them cook for about 5 minutes without stirring them. The idea is to allow them to sit so they caramelize. Give them a stir and repeat the process. Over time, you’ll notice that the onions will begin to turn a rich golden brown. They should not burn. They should, however, reduce considerably over the course of an hour.

As the onions cook, heat another pan on medium-high heat with a bit of oil. Wash the tomatoes and throw them in the pan. Let them sizzle, blister, and burst. Every once in a while, give the pan a little shake to move them about.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Once the onions have caramelized deeply, add the 3 tbsps of dijon mustard. Stir to mix and then taste. If your dijon mustard is considerably salty enough, don’t add any more. Otherwise, add salt as needed. Likewise, season the tomatoes with salt and fresh black pepper.

Remove the dough from the freezer and place it onto a clean, floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll it out to a circle about 18” in diameter. It will initially be difficult to roll out, but will become easier as it warms up. Be sure to flour it as you go so that it doesn’t stick. Once rolled out, place the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. 

Spread the onion-mustard mixture over the dough. Leave about 2 inches at the edge to be rolled over as the crust. On top of the onion mixture, pour the tomatoes. Fold the edges of the dough over to form a crust. With your thumb and index finger, crimp the dough where it folds over upon itself.

Bake it for 1 1/2 hours, or until the crust has brown. In the last 10 minutes, rub the outer edges of dough with the beaten egg yolk. Let cook until it has a burnished sheen.

Enjoy.