“Summer’s here!” proclaimed my youngest daughter several years ago as she climbed into bed full of satisfaction that she was without the need to set her alarm in preparation for another day of school. The time for formal education had come to a close for the year. The structure and the rhythm of a school year released into the dreamier, looser days of summer, opening up the unstructured, but no less important, time of summer discovery and adventure.
At least that’s what we think summer should be – one big adventure. My memories of summer, on the other hand, are like a jigsaw puzzle of moments of boredom interspersed with swimming, reading, and capture the flag which then circled back around to boredom. I lost myself in books time and time again, then would leave that imaginary world for another by the creek or in the swimming pool and then onward to a game of capture the flag. Back to listless ennui and the cycle repeated itself.
As I look back on my childhood and compare a similar rhythm to my own children’s summer days, I don’t regret that boredom. From those moments of lethargy came inspiration and imagination. As my girls grew, I was privileged to witness the same transformation in them. And what came after boredom was always full of creativity and fun.
Just as the schedule of summer loosens and becomes more elastic and flexible, what we eat and how we prepare it does too. The structure of recipes and needing meals to be on time and planned around family schedules relaxes. The found treasures of the farmer’s markets turn into impromptu salads, pastas, pizzas, grilled anything or… tartlets.
This is the time of year to be playful and creative with your time and your meals. Enjoy both!
Prosciutto, Chèvre, Fennel, and Red Bell Pepper Tartlet
While this dish is delicious with the fennel and red pepper, the sky is really the limit when it comes to the meat, cheese, and vegetables that you use. Substitute some Genoa salami, an aged cheddar, spinach, and spring onions OR bacon, Parmesan, zucchini, and tomatoes OR grilled chicken, mozzarella, and pea shoots OR strips of salmon, farmer’s cheese, fresh corn, and cherry tomatoes…. Play with what you find from the farmer’s market or what you have leftover in the refrigerator from another meal.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick, plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon ice cold water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced fennel; about 1/2 bulb
2 cups thinly sliced red bell pepper, seeded and cored; about 1 pepper
1 cup thinly sliced onion; about 1 small onion
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
several grinds fresh black pepper
4 ounces crumbled chèvre; about 1 cup
3 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese; about ¼ cup lightly packed
In a food processor pulse flour, salt, and butter. Add the egg yolk and water and pulse until combined. If the mixture is too dry, add more water 1 teaspoon at a time until it forms a ball. Remove from processor, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. When ready, dust the surface of the counter with flour and roll out to 1/4-inch thick. Press into an 11-inch tart pan. Cover with parchment paper and beans or pie beads and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden brown. Meanwhile prepare the filling. When the crust is done, remove from oven, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, and add the filling mixtures beginning with the fennel and then the chèvre. Lay the prosciutto slices on top and sprinkle with thyme leaves and Parmesan cheese.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and then the fennel, peppers, onions, salt, and pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are soft and pliable, about 7 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, mash the chèvre with a fork and add the eggs one at a time incorporating each time until there are few if any lumps in the mixture. Add the half and half and mix well.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the center is just barely cooked and still wiggly. Serve hot or room temperature.
Get bored, then get creative