Sunday, September 6, 2009

Soupe au Pistou and Basic Tart Dough

Last Monday after our extravagant turkey dinner in August, a day where we could hardly sit outside because it was so hot, the temperature suddenly dropped. I walked outside to go to work in a light summer dress only to find that outside, it was in the low 60s. I could not believe it... but it is a sign. Summer is almost over.

Husband J is thrilled. Fall is his favorite season, and he can't wait to break out sweaters, coats and scarves, and eat fall type foods like apples and sausage, roasted root vegetables, and rich braised meats.

I'm not so thrilled. Despite the oppressive humidity that characterizes D.C. summers, I really love the warm weather and the start of cold weather always makes me feel a little sad. It's time to have a last summer meal, veggie heavy, and full of the last of the best late summer produce. Soupe au pistou is definitely the best way to do that, as it is full of zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, and basil.

This weekend, Labor Day holiday weekend, was an odd one. I ended up heading home sick from work early on Friday, and stayed sick through Saturday, leading to a very low key video game playing day. Sunday I woke up feeling better and headed to the market for veggies. When I got to the stand that sells my favorite yogurt and butter, they had a big sign out front: "WE HAVE MASCARPONE!" so I couldn't resist getting a tub. That gave me an idea for a mascarpone fruit tart, so I grabbed a load of peaches and blackberries (I think those fruits go very well together). The soup and tart will be very delicious refreshments for tonight's activity--visiting neighbor C's apartment for a double feature of the second season of Tool Academy (Husband J terms it "TA2: The Reckoning").

First, the tart crust. I was hoping for a better result than the pie frankencrust from two weeks ago, which turned out dry and patchy, and not very photogenic. Tart crust is not made in the food processor, which is good, as I've decided I prefer making crusts with my own two hands. Tart crust is also softer, sweeter, and more delicate than pie crust.

I started out by sifting flour into a bowl, creaming butter and stirring it into the flour, then adding egg, sugar, and vanilla.

Crust ingredients in the sun.

I mixed all of these with a fork old-school style, and the crust came together easily. I took a taste of the raw dough, and it's just astoundingly delicious, like the sugar cookie dough my grandmother makes for her Christmas cookies, and which I can (and have) eat(en) by the handful (salmonella be damned). I wrapped it up and set it in the fridge to cool for an hour.

After the hour passed, it was time to roll the crust out. This crust was just beautiful... soft, rich, delicious tasting, and rolled out nicely in a circle. The only problem was, despite the generous flouring I gave my silicone mat and the rolling pin, the crust just did not want to transfer to the pan. First it stuck to the mat, forcing me to tear it up and re-roll it, then an attempt to transfer it into the tart pan caused it to tear in half. I ended up pressing the crust together in the pan again, creating a Frankentartcrust which ended up being a bit more photogenic than Frankenpiecrust, anyway.


While the crust baked in the oven, I made the custard, using the recipe called for in the Tart Alcasienne (apple tart), replacing the called for heavy cream with mascarpone. Only I screwed the filling up by adding the eggs before putting it on the stove, and realized my mistake before putting the whole mess on the stove to heat. I decided to try it, hoping the egg wouldn't curdle if I kept whisking. One sore forearm and a mess-o-curdle later, I dumped the pot and made another batch of custard, this time keeping the eggs separate until I boiled the cream. That seemed to work well. Once the custard was finished and cooling, I sliced the peaches, arranged the berries in the crust, and poured custard over the whole thing. Into the oven it went to set.

Time to make the soup! The canellini beans had soaked overnight, so they went into the pot for 10 minutes, 5 minutes less than their package said to cook them. While they cooked, I chopped the zucchini, onion, garlic, tomato and fennel. Onion and garlic sweat in the pot first, then I added the rest of the veggies to soften in the oil.

Gorgeous veggies!

Once the veg were soft, I added the chicken broth, a bouquet garni, the macaroni and the beans, and set the thing to simmer for half an hour.

Meanwhile I made the pistou (basically pesto, without the nuts). This involves mashing six cloves of garlic and a bunch of basil leaves into a paste with a mortar and pestle, then adding olive oil a bit at a time, mashing until smooth. "If you are criminally lazy," says Tony, "you can use a food processor." Okay, done!

Mmmm... criminal laziness....

A bit of Parmesan, salt and pepper, and the pistou was finished.

This is where the problems in the soup pot began. The macaroni started cooking nicely, and was soft and delicious in a few minutes. The beans, however, remained rock-hard and kind of disgusting. Full disclosure... I'm not the biggest fan of beans in general, since my early days when beans came in a can and were covered in slime, and I've never worked with dried beans in a dish before. Not a good day to try....the clock was ticking for Tool Academy to start, and the beans were just not cooking! Finally I decided enough was enough--the veggies and mac were turning to mush, and the broth was cooking out of the soup. I took the soup off the heat, stirred in the pistou, packed it into a tureen, and trucked it over to Neighbor C's for a night of tools and prosecco.

Despite the great cannelini bean disaster, the soup went over very well, with everyone having seconds and lapping up even the nasty beans (I warned everyone about the al dente nature of the beans, but it ended up being too much trouble to pick them up or eat around them). Everyone involved loved garlic, which is a good thing, since with the pistou the entire thing had eight big cloves. It really would have been great if the beans had cooked properly, but as it was, the taste was good, even if the texture was a bit off.

The tart was of course the hit of the night. In my opinion the fruit was the best, followed by the nice sugar cookie crust. The tarte alcasienne custard was a bit too eggy and rich for a summer fruit tart, but it didn't taste bad. Husband J opined that it was better than the usual too-sweet custards in fruit tarts, so all in all, it worked out.

I tried to arrange the peaches artistically, but it didn't quite work out...

It's almost time to start stewing and braising, which means I need to make some veal stock. Alas, no veal bones were to be had at the market today. It's kind of depressing that there are no real butchers to be found in DC, though I have a promise from one of the farmers market stands that I can e-mail them on Thursdays to see if I can find some bones at the next market. I'm not feeling too sanguine though, since veal is a spring thing, right? I'm running out of recipes that can be made without veal stock and demi glace, though, so if anyone knows where I can find some bones, please let me know...

ETA: Forgot my lessons and future plans! Here we go...

Lessons learned: Cannelini beans take for freakin' ever to cook and don't taste that good al dente. Everything tastes better with 8 cloves of garlic. Never put the eggs in the custard before you put it on the stove, they curdle no matter how fast you whisk. Mascarpone tart is ok, but there are better ways to showcase mascarpone flavor, next time just use cream. Tart crust is delicious but delicate to handle. Veal bones apparently do not exist in DC.

Next week: Possibly salad nicoise, or if I am feeling very ambitious, whole roasted fish basquaise which has the added bonus of leftover bones so I can make fumet (fish stock). The soupe au pistou used up the rest of my chicken stock, so we'll probably have to roast another chicken in the near future so I can have more bones. Who is up for a stock making party?

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