So I didn’t get around to making a batch of puff pastry last weekend… I decided that it was just too hot. Although I was able to make batches of short crust, pate sucre and galette doughs, and I’ll be making a batch of pie crust tonight, puff pastry would have just been too finicky. Plus, I just didn’t feel like dealing with four plus hours of rolling and folding. Only the French would come up with a dough as convoluted (and glorious) as puff pastry. Instead, I turned my attention to the produce I purchased this weekend.
Since the season is ending, I stocked up. Sour cherries don’t keep for very long, so I decided to try my hand at preserving them in pickles and jam. I’ve never actually tried canning before, but the process is fairly simple: sterilize some mason jars in boiling water, pour in the prepared food, seal the jars (the bands can be reused, the lids can’t) and sterilize the sealed jars in boiling water again (cover them with at least an inch of water). Keep the bands and lids in hot (not boiling) water, and dry them and the jar rims when you’re ready to seal. The jars need to be sterilized for fifteen minutes each time.
For the jam, I used David Lebovitz’s no-measurement/no-thermometer recipe. It’s pretty simple – I won’t repost it here, because he explains it much better than I can, but I will add that for each pound of fruit, you will produce about a cup of jam.
I adore charcuterie, so when I read in Chez Panisse Fruits that pickled sour cherries made an “irresistable” accompaniment to pate, my curiousity was piqued. This recipe is even simpler than the jam: Trim the stems of 2 pounds of cherries down to 1/2 inch, (do not pit them) and distribute them in sterilized jars. Boil 4 1/4 cups of white vinegar with 1 1/2 cups of white sugar, 4 cloves and 6 peppercorns for three minutes. Pour hot brine over cherries, seal and sterilize, then let them stand in a cool, dark place for two months. I have another 59 days to go before tasting, so we shall see.
A couple of side note: These recipes can be used with regular cherries, too. In general, when selecting cherries, be sure to pick unblemished fruit with the stems still attached. Mold and rot usually start at the “empty” hole.
This was one of those happy coincidence where I was flipping through a cookbook (Bouchon), and saw that I had all the components for a recipe in my fridge. I even had skate wing to serve with it. It’s pretty easy, too. Slice one or two trimmed and cored fennel bulbs into half-rings, and slice 1 medium yellow onion into sticks. Over medium heat, whisk a quarter cup of water with 6 tablespoons of butter until melted. Add the sliced fennel and onions and salt, along with a bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, then cover with a cartouche. Check and stir every 20 or 30 minutes, making sure that the liquid is reducing and the vegetables are softening, without browining. After about two hours, turn off the heat and allow to cool in its own liquid. Rewarm the confit, and stir in a quarter cup of chopped nicoise olives and 2 tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley. This is excellent with seafood – I had it with pan fried skate wing and tapenade – or on its own.
A bouquet garni is a cornerstone of French cooking. You take 2 or 3 cleaned leek greens and tuck 2 branches of Italian parsley, 6 branches of thyme, 2 bay leaves and 6 peppercorns within, tying with twine. I like to trim the top and bottom (making sure not to trim off the herbs within, though trimming to bottoms is okay) so that it’ll fit in the pot. I’ve taken to preparing a few at once, so I can use them in the days ahead.
A cartouche is a parchment paper pot lid. It traps heat and moisture while allowing liquids to reduce at a more controlled pace. Take a square piece parchment and fold into sixteenths. It should form a skinny triangle. Measure the triangle against your pot lid’s radius, and trim at the bottom. Snip a small hole at the top (apex of the triangle). Unfold et voila! You have a cartouche fitted to your pot.