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.
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.
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.
Multi-Seed Crispbreads with Tomato Tapenade
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.