My parents gave us our kitchen table. Or maybe it's a loan. We've never worked out the details.

Either way, it is a table that's been around since I was a kid. The seat of one of the chairs bears scratches from the dog we had when I was in university. It's been in the home of my parents, my brother, and now my own.

Our table shows its age. The finish is waxy here, worn down there. When the humidity is high, the surface feels tacky. Over the summer, the boys and I were making a birthday card, and there was glitter. Since then, in spite of the newspaper we'd laid out in protection, the tabletop has boasted a random patina of tiny sparkles. I've scrubbed, but the shining scatter remains, a glimmering finish of silver and gold, shot through with turquoise. Subtle at times, and a flashing metallic at the right angle. 

Around here, peanut butter toast is presented with a disco ball backdrop. Granola gets sequins.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

A week-and-a-half ago, when I shared the news of my book, I was sitting at that table. And, dear readers, you shone with such light. Your response outshone everything. You were the shiniest part of my day. 

That evening, I made my mother's minestrone.  

I should say, traditional or not, Mum's is the version against which I judge all minestrones. Hers has a tomato base, and a bit of beef, then it's bulky with vegetables. When I was growing up, she'd use what was around, maybe corn and peas, always beans and carrots, and different shapes of pasta. What tied it together was oregano. The combination of oregano and tomato, the sweetness of the vegetables and the underlying savoriness of the beef, made it one of my favourite suppers. I'd blanket my bowl with a heap of grated Parmesan and enough black pepper to make me sneeze, and go to town. 

I still love how the cheese slumps into the soup, both creamy and salty, turning into chewy strands.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

We had it again for dinner on Sunday. I'd craved it since there were no leftovers from that last batch. 

The butcher had short ribs on Saturday. Those became the foundation of my minestrone. Braised simply in a tomato and vegetable broth, the meat goes tender, the fat melting into the cooking liquid. The ribs were left overnight, then turned to soup the next afternoon. A quick base of onions, celery and zucchini was cooked with olive oil, dried oregano and garlic, then in went the braising liquid, broth and carrots. The vegetables were given time, cooked to the point they lost some colour but gained all the richness of the broth; the squash especially, as I wanted nothing of the woolliness often found and its centre. The short ribs followed into that mix, accompanied by two types of beans. After another simmer, everything was done, meeting up with bowls of pasta and greens at the table, vinegar for dripping, deeply green splotches of oregano oil, and the aforementioned cheese. 

Think of that oregano oil as a rough-and-ready cheat's take on an Italian salsa verde. It takes seconds to make, yet the almost aggressive hit of fresh herbs, garlic and chili is what lends moxie to the mellowed, stewy goodness of the soup. It is enthusiastically edgy. And on the topic of the pasta, I like a short, fat variety, think tubetti or macaroni, a kind that has a comforting chew, a sense of substance against the yield of the meat, beans and vegetables. 

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

I like this soup for many reasons, for how it feeds a crowd, and for how it can be stretched even further to feed more; for its changeability and adaptability dependant upon season and circumstance;  how it can use up leftovers, or made from scratch without fuss. I like that it is a soup I've known for as long as I can remember, for as long as we've had our kitchen table, and for the fact I get to introduce it to you.

Thanks again for that. 

SHORT RIB MINESTRONE

While there’s quite a list of ingredients here, and the preparation starts the day ahead, the active time is modest and the effort is blessedly easy on the cook. It’s a case of a lot of things stirred into a pot, twice over. Neither the braising ribs or the simmering soup require babysitting, which is to say, for its length, this recipe fits suits a lazy mood surprisingly well. 

 It is hard to pin down an exact measurement on the vegetable stock, but if you have 1 1/2 quarts to use between the ribs and the soup, that should be enough. Keeping both the pasta and greens separate from the minestrone means that with leftovers the noodles won't get mushy and the greens won't overpower or discolour the broth. Speaking of which, I use vegetable broth instead of beef because Mum's minestrone was very much a vegetable soup with beef, rather than the other way around. 

FOR THE SHORT RIBS

  • 2 1/2 pounds bone-in short ribs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and quartered through the root end
  • 1 carrot, cut into chunks
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, bruised but left whole
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or a slosh of red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried

FOR THE SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, medium dice
  • 1 celery stalk, small dice
  • 2 small zucchini, medium dice
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 2  carrots, medium dice, or left larger if skinny 
  • 2 cups cooked borlotti or cannellini beans
  • Approximately 6 ounces, a few handfuls, yellow wax or green beans, finely sliced

TO FINISH

  • 4 ounces tubetti, cooked al dente (check package instruction), then tossed with a glug of olive oil while hot
  • Baby spinach, Tuscan kale or Swiss chard leaves, in shreds
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Oregano oil (see note)

 

 

METHOD

The day before serving, season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, then remove ribs from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Preheat an oven to 350°F / 175°C. 

Heat the olive oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the short ribs well on all sides. Transfer to a rimmed plate, then pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pot. Reduce the heat to medium.

Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the pot, and cook, stirring often, until properly golden and starting to catch in places, around 6 to 8 minutes. Clear the vegetables to the sides of the pot. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste is caramelized, maybe 2 minutes. Stir vegetables into paste and cook for 1 minute more. Splash in the vinegar to deglaze, scraping and stirring up any sticky bits. Add the short ribs back to the pot, along with any accumulated juices, then the tomatoes and their liquid. Tamp down the tomatoes, giving them a bit of a prod and squish. Pour in enough vegetable broth or water so that the ribs are halfway submerged. Tuck in the bay leaf. Bring the pot to the boil, cover, and pop into the oven.

Cook until the ribs are tender, approximately 2 1/2 hours. Skim the liquid of any impurities, then move ribs to a large bowl. Strain liquid over the meat through a fine-meshed sieve, pushing the vegetables through. Let cool completely to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

About 2 hours before you want to eat, spoon any fat from the surface of the short ribs and cooking liquid. Leave the the pot at room temperature to lose its chill, say around an hour, then remove the short ribs on a rimmed plate. Set aside the liquid.

To make the soup, heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and zucchini. Season with salt, pepper and oregano, then cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to take on colour, maybe 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring the entire time. Strain the short rib liquid into 8-cup measure, add enough stock to bring to 8 cups. Add the liquid and the carrots to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the soup bubble for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove the bones from the short ribs, shred and/or chop the meat into irregularly bite-sized pieces and add to the pot, as well as all the beans. Cook until vegetables tender, 15 minutes or thereabouts. Check for seasoning, and add more broth or water if the soup has become too thick.

To serve, spoon a mound of pasta into each bowl, then greens. Ladle on the hot soup. Place the cheese, vinegar and herb oil on the table, letting folks help themselves.

Enough for 6 to 8.   

Note:

  • To make the oregano oil, use a food processor to pulse together 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil with 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, 1 tablespoon flat-leafed parsley, a few pinches dried chili flakes, salt and freshly-ground black pepper, until finely chopped.
  • The ribs can be doubled, though you're going to need a bigger pot. Store those extra for another day, with the all braising veg and some of the cooking liquid. Serve over soft polenta.
  • This can be made leftover meat instead. Simply skip the braising steps and go straight to the soup section, adding tomatoes and a bay leaf to the broth. It can also be vegetarian by following a similar tactic, and doubling the beans (chickpeas are particularly good) instead.  

 

 

 

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I had not intended this humble walnut cake to be a topic of discussion. It was the fulfillment of a request of something simple to end a mid-week lunch ten whole days ago. No bells or whistles or sugarplum fairies required. No ballyhoo to be had, nothing to talk about here.

And good gracious, it was yet another walnut recipe. And not only that, it also represents not one, but another two recipes from Gourmet magazine, the apparent alpha and omega of my kitchen exploits. I assumed that my fancy, and our conversation, would move on to other things.

Silly, silly me. Despite the days that have passed the charm of that uncomplicated cake is still peerless in my estimation.

The preparation was as simple as can be. It all came together in a food processor, where toasted walnuts are left with butter and sugar to whir on their own for a while. Once smooth, they become what I can only imagine akin to what peanut butter wants to be when it grows up - a smooth blend of butter and nuts, intensely flavoured and sharply aromatic. Next it's just eggs, flour, baking soda and salt, and it's done, off to the oven.

What emerges is a cake that's fairly thin and mostly flat, with the gentlest of swells at its middle. Medium brown with darker flecks throughout, it is resolute in its plainness and yet exceedingly appealing. For the sake of fuss I improvised a frosting of one part cream cheese to equal parts soft, unripened goats cheese and butter, with enough icing sugar to sweeten and a splash of vanilla to round out the flavour. But the gilding was hardly necessary; the cake itself was memorable, moist with a tender, springy crumb.

I offered an Apple-Fig Compote at its side, fruity and jammy and tart to counter the resonant nuttiness of the cake. The combination was gorgeous.

So gorgeous in fact, I'll probably still be talking about 10 days from now. Maybe more.

WALNUT CAKE WITH APPLE + FIG COMPOTE
 

Recipes

Walnut Cake (omit the topping)

Apple-Fig Compote (see note below)

Notes:

• For the compote, I omitted the lemon juice and zest, and used maple syrup in place of the sugar. I popped a 1x1/4-inch piece of peeled ginger into the pot while simmering the fruit, removing it before cooling.

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Today is Monday dressed up in Thursday's clothing. Of this, I am certain.

Unexpected company for the last two days led to Tuesday and Wednesday's schedules taking on the traits of Saturday and Sunday respectively, with a weekend-ish pace to boot. But that didn't mean we were exempt from the requirements of midweek days, so that was packed in too.

Today is back to its usual routine, behaving decidedly like the start of the week rather than the end.

But the calendar says it is Thursday, and the fourth Thursday of November at that, which makes it American Thanksgiving. But then, all the chatter about turkeys and pies and pumpkins conjures memories of the Canadian holiday of the same name, which we celebrated in October. On the second Monday of the month to be precise.

Here we are, back to Monday. On Thursday. I'm not sure if I should be coming or going, getting ready to face a new week or eager to bid goodbye one.

Thank goodness that on this Monday-ish Thursday there is still some kale around. Kale might not sound like a consolation, but when your mind is awhirl, a plate of kale is as good as a spot as any to choose to settle gently. In fact, I would say that on a rainy fall evening that nothing is more soothing than sitting someplace comfy, tucking your feet up, and scooping up your supper by the emerald forkful.

This kale is roughly torn, with some of the bitterness blanched out of its leaves before it slumps into a pile of soft onions and garlic. As it hits the heat, the resulting steam is savourily-aromatic, damp and dense with the vegetal essence of sturdy greens. After cooking the kale softens to supple leatheriness, its sinewy leaves still hale and hearty but more relaxed. Fleshy crowns of walnuts add autumnal bulk, and cranberries give both a tempered sweetness and an appreciated touch of acidity.

The final effect is one of Rudolph among the evergreens, complete with the white flecks of a light snowfall; and as this Thursday is the last before December, it might be perfect timing.

KALE WITH WALNUTS AND CRANBERRIES

A interpretation of recipes from Gourmet, available here and here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound kale, washed well, trimmed of tough ribs and torn into large pieces
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

METHOD

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Boil the kale until bright green and just tender, about 5 minutes. Immediately plunge the greens into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Once cooled, drain well but do not squeeze.

In the same pot over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occassionally, until the onion is fragrant and beginning to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Tumble in the walnuts, tossing to coat well with the butter/oil. Continue to cook until the nuts are golden and lightly toasted, around 2 minutes. Stir in the cranberries.

Using your hands or tongs, separate the kale as best as you can and add to the pot. Stir to combine, and continue to turn the leaves through the onion and walnut mixture until they are warmed through and softened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

November. It's been here for twelve days already, and I've yet to give it the appropriate welcome.

You'll find it standing just outside my door, arms laden with luggage full of fallen leaves most likely, softly tap-tap-tapping its foot as its waits with reserved impatience. Inside I'm running around frantically, with my hair in rollers and dirty dishes in the sink, not yet ready for its visit.

Those dirty dishes were for good reason I assure you, I've been making apple tartlets. Not just sweet but savoury-ish, with a mound of goat's cheese the tuffet for thin slices of apple, enamelled bronze by thyme-infused honey. They are mostly a task of assemblage, with little to do but cut, stack, brush and bake, but the opportunity to get out a rolling pin makes it seems as though you've done a some cooking. A fine dusting of flour across the hands always makes me feel I've been productive.

The tartlets came from the oven raised grandly at the edges, such is the miracle that is puff pastry. The layers of apple were curled and tanned lightly at their tips, finally adorned with ivory petals of Grana Padano. Though I'd intended something autumnal in spirit, this was almost downright festive. November, consider yourself greeted.

We tucked into these for a mid-afternoon snack, as is, full stop. Nothing more was needed. But if you were so moved, a crunchy pile of lightly-dressed bitter greens would be suggested my addition alongside.

But then, that would mean more dishes.

APPLE AND GOAT'S CHEESE TARTS WITH HONEY

A more savoury spin on a recipe from Bon Appetit. Even though I have scaled back the original quantities of honey and butter, I still had more than enough - in fact, there was an excess. If I had to offer a guess, I would think that 1/3 cup of honey and 1 tablespoon of butter would suffice, but I have included generous quantities below in the case of the desire of a more luscious result.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry (2 blocks or 2 sheets), thawed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup dark honey, divided
  • 2-3 small thyme sprigs, plus more for garnish
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (around 4 ounces) fresh goat's cheese at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or white balsamic
  • 3 small Empire apples
  • shaved Grana Padano to serve

METHOD

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. If not ready-rolled, roll out the puff pastry block to a 9-inch square on a lightly-floured work surface. Use a 4-inch cookie cutter or ring to cut 4 rounds and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the second block, cutting 8 rounds total. Using the blunt end of a 3-inch cutter firmly press into each round, without going through, to form a border. Freeze for at least 30 minutes to firm up.

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). In a small saucepan over low heat, start to melt the butter. Once it's about halfway there, add 1/2 of the honey, the thyme sprigs and a pinch of salt. Stir gently until all the butter has melted and the honey is warm. Remove from the heat and leave the honey to steep while you get everything else ready.

In a small bowl, stir together the goat's cheese and the vinegar, seasoning again with a pinch of salt. Peel, halve and core the apples, then cut into 1/8-inch slices. Remove the chilled pastry from the freezer and use an offset spatula to spread a scant 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture within the demarcated border. Top the cheese with a stack of apple slices. Brush the honey butter mixture over the apples and sparingly on pastry edge.

Bake in the preheated oven until the apples are soft and the pastry is golden and puffed, around 30 minutes. To serve, drizzle the tartlets with the reserved honey, the shaved Grana Padano, and some picked thyme leaves. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8.

Notes:

• In the photograph, I toasted a meager 4 or 5 pecans and (as my Grandmother would say) "bashed the blazes out of them" for a final, crunchy flourish. They're not essential, but make a fine addition. Walnuts would be tasty too. If you have them on hand, bash away.

• Although I have not tried it, I am tempted to substitute a blue cheese for the goat's cheese, omitting the vinegar.

Every year, without fail, there is a certain door in our house that becomes stuck. It's only one door, and it's not irrevocably jammed, only enough to make its presence known. And not for all that long, only a week or two tops, when the combination of heat and humidity comes together in such a way that either the floor heaves or the door swells - we're not exactly sure which.

That particular circumstance occurred in the middle of September this time around, when we had cool mornings but summery afternoons. That week the socks we put on with a shiver before breakfast were discarded with a huff by noon.

Said door got stuck halfway between open and closed, leaving you with the option to either give it a solid hip-check into obedience or turn your body such that you can scoot your way through. Being resistant when it comes to confrontation, I choose the latter approach - meaning that for the last few days I have found myself ambling sideways through the front hall with embarssing regularity.

This morning the door swung open freely, in a swift unencumbered arc. October was a month we'd face head on. Howdy to you. And you too, Autumn.

We had our first dalliance with comely autumn and all of its trappings a few days earlier; last Saturday we went slightly mad with autumnal cliché. There were orchards with the first leaves scattered between rows, and apple picking and cider too. And then an Apple Almond Cake followed soon after. But it was only yesterday that I faced the season squarely.

I made soup. And since the colour will soon be scarce around here I made a soup that was patently green.

Our big, enameled cast iron pot took its place on the stove, squat and welcoming. Zucchini and onions into a bath of olive oil and butter, shallots and garlic arriving at the last minute. The rest is pretty much a call of everybody into the pool, when broccoli joins the party and bubbles away until tender. A leafy tumble of spinach wilts into the soft vegetables, and then its all buzzed until smooth. With austerity most certainly against my nature, a spiky dollop of crème fraîche blended with horseradish was the final flourish.

And if you were to say, smear some of that crème fraîche upon some golden toast soldiers for dipping, I would not bat a lash. In fact, I might just think that you're exactly my kind of person.

ZUCCHINI + BROCCOLI SOUP WITH HORSERADISH CRÈME FRAÎCHE

With some inspiration from Molly. The cream is a variation on this mayonnaise, and it is its sinus-clearing intensity that acts as a foil for the sweet subtlety of the soup. The broccoli should be cut into smallish chunks so that the vegetables only take the briefest amount of time to cook, thereby preserving as much of their colour as possible.

FOR THE SOUP

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pound zucchini, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound broccoli, stems and crowns, cut into chunks
  • 4-5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • Rind from a piece of Parmesan cheese, mine was about 3x2 inches
  • 2 cups baby spinach, lightly packed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

FOR THE HORSERADISH CRÈME FRAÎCHE

  • 1 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot melt the butter into the olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini and onion and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender but without colour, around 10 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir the broccoli through the other vegetables.

Pour in around 4 to 4 1/2 cups of stock, just enough to submerge the vegetables. Tuck in the Parmesan rind. Raise the heat to bring to the boil then reduce to maintain a simmer, leaving partially covered to cook for 10 minutes or until the broccoli is tender.

Meanwhile, stir together the ingredients for the horseradish crème fraîche in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Remove the Parmesan rind. Stir in the spinach and once it's wilted, purée the soup with an immersion blender, adding some of the reserved stock if necessary to achieve your preferred consistency. Check for seasoning and serve with crème fraîche alongside.

Serves 6-8.

Notes:

• Although I have not included specifics, I try to layer flavours here, seasoning with salt and pepper throughout the cooking process (while sautéeing the vegetables, upon adding the stock, and then to finish). It is hard to pinpoint exact amounts, but taste often and season as you go. A light touch is best; you can always add more at the end.

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Dearest Gnocchi;

I hate it when we argue. You get huffy and difficult, I call for delivery. Neither of us ends up happy.

I said some things I didn't mean. I was upset and I was being rash. I wasn't thinking straight. I was hungry.

I am sorry.

I insinuated that you were uncooperative, and that was unkind. You've never been shy to express your preference for a coaxing hand over an impatient one, and I should have kept that in mind.

It was cruel of me to mention your flabby midsection. (And please don't think that unintentional rhyme makes my sentiment any less sincere.) You were having an off day. I see that now.

Grant me this, please - you were being somewhat, completely impossible to work with, no? We can each shoulder some of the blame I should think, don't you?

Alright then, I'll settle to call it even. After your return performance the other night, I'm in a forgiving mood.

That night you behaved beautifully; your character was beguiling, delicate. You were the ideal dinner guest. Your company was so delicious that our earlier spat was the furthest thing from my mind.

Let's never fight again.

SWEET POTATO GNOOCHI WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS

I should start by saying that this is not the recipe that gave me such troubles last week. The gnocchi by Melissa Roberts by way of Gourmet are a treat, and the recipe together quickly enough as to reassure the harried cook of their competence.

The combination of sweet potato and sprout is a new one to me, as I threw them together on a whim, but their shared earthiness makes them a match for the ages, with the sweetness of one subduing the slight bitterness of the other. Then we introduce some meaty walnuts for texture, a moment of crunch amongst the softness. Fine, salty threads of Parmesan round out the group, bringing along just enough nuttiness to repeat that same note found in its platemates. Fast friends, to be sure.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved and steamed until just tender
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • Half recipe Sweet Potato Gnocchi (uncooked pasta only, not sauce)
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

METHOD

In a large well-seasoned or nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter into the olive oil. Cook until the butter begins to brown, around 1-2 minutes. Working quickly, add the Brussels sprouts to the pan, cut sides down. Let them sizzle just long enough to pick up some colour, then toss to coat with the butter and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the gnocchi for around 3 minutes, or from the moment they float to the surface wait a minute more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the still-warm skillet with the sprouts and half of the toasted walnuts. Gently fold to combine, then check again for seasoning.

Remove to a serving dish, sprinkle with the reserved walnuts and top with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4 as a first course or 6 as a generous side.

Note: The ever-charming Kelly, who has had her own dumpling issues in the past, was also beguiled by the Sweet Potato Gnocchi and wrote about it here.

I know that I am a bit early for our usual Thursday chat, but I made this tart last night and liked it so much that I couldn't wait five whole days to tell you about it.

As with so many happy accidents, I came about this success without paying much attention. It is the improvised partnership of recipes from others I admire, brought together by the downright-unglamorous need to clean out the fridge on Friday night before Saturday's trip to the market.

Heidi's Lasagna Tart was an instant favourite in our kitchen, first made within days of her kindly sharing the recipe. The barely-cooked sauce and the raw zucchini keep the flavour remarkably fresh and light even after baking, while the ricotta layer brings creamy relief to all that acidity. I have used the olive oil crust she provided, as well as the Parmesan variation she suggests. Both to great acclaim.

I had never made Rachel's Tomato and Zucchini Tart before, but is a recipe that piqued my interest. Instead of sauce hers has tomato slices, roasted briefly along with the summer squash to concentrate and sweeten their flavours. And her cobblestoned topping of fresh mozzarella is far from a bad thing.

Since yesterday brought rain and temperatures that bespoke the quick arrival of fall, I chose to take elements from each. I wanted a dish that brought some comfort, but didn't ignore that fact that it is still August. What follows is what I think I did, written without formality and with only my best estimates of quantities and timing.

I had not intended this tart as anything greater than our evening's meal. And so, to be safe, let me emphasize the essential parts of my hastily-scribbled instructions; sticky caramelized onions line a butter-laden crust, profoundly rich and yet well-matched by a smear of sharp, young cheese. Atop that are tiles of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, softening into each other, lush with their juices.

The final effect is one of substance without brawn, something so good that I had to share.

Happy weekend.

LATE SUMMER VEGETABLE TART

My adaptation of recipes from Rachel and Heidi, with thanks. The amounts and particulars below for the filling are a non-specific guideline. I was working with what we had on hand, but feel free to make omissions and substitutions to best suit your tastes (and contents of your fridge).

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves picked from their stems, plus more for garnish
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices, I used a mix of varieties and sizes
  • 4 ounces herbed unripened goat's cheese
  • Parmesan cheese (an ounce or so)
  • Fresh mozzarella (around 1/2 a large ball)
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 9-inch pastry shell of your choice, partially baked (see note)

METHOD

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

Take the eggplant and zucchini slices and toss in a large bowl with a generous sprinkling of salt. Transfer the slices to a colander and leave to drain.

In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, cook the onions and shallots in bit of olive oil, stirring occasionally. After about 20 minutes, or when the onions and shallots are lightly-caramelized and starting to catch in places, add the garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes more, so that the garlic has chance to mellow and soften. Pour in the vinegar to deglaze the pan, scraping and the bottom of the skillet with your spoon to pick up any brown bits. Cook for a minute or so, until most of the vinegar has evaporated. Remove the vegetables from the heat and stir in the thyme. Set aside.

Pat dry the eggplant and zucchini on a (non-terrycloth) kitchen towel. Coat the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes in olive oil lay them out in a single layer on baking sheets. Season all with pepper, the tomatoes with salt too. Roast vegetables in the preheated oven, working in batches, until the vegetables are just beginning to brown in spots, around 20 minutes. Although the tomatoes were too delicate for such a procedure, I flipped the eggplant and zucchini over halfway through roasting. You want them tender, but not falling apart.

When the vegetables are done, remove from the oven and turn down the temperature to 350°F (175°C).

Beat the goat's cheese in a small bowl, with a drizzle of olive oil if needed, until creamy. With an offset spatula, spread the cheese over the parbaked pastry crust. Layer in the caramelized onions, then the eggplant, next the zucchini, and finally the tomatoes. Tear the fresh mozzarella into rough chunks over all. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few large, thin shards of Parmesan on top.

Bake in the preheated over for 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving, with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves to finish.

Makes 1 9-inch tart.

Notes:

• Yesterday I used an all-butter pâte brisée from Martha Stewart, making the full recipe and sending a second tart off to loved ones. I did make one change, using 1 tablespoon of vinegar (in this case white balsamic, usually apple cider vinegar) in place of an equal amount of ice water. I also make this crust with 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour instead of using all white.

• This was especially good the next day, gently warmed and served with a soft-yolked fried egg for brunch.