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I've stopped in with some chickpeas today, along with a recipe that has me acting like a crazy person.

How so? Well, let's read the ingredients. You will surely recognize the usual suspects, robust olive oil, our old friend garlic, aromatic leeks and of course the chickpeas. Then there's twangy lemon and woodsy rosemary, adding height and depth to the mix. Last, the salt. Can't forget that, the universal leveler, the thing that amplifies individual flavours while miraculously creating overall harmony.

But no pepper.

Who have I become? It's unlike me to bring Salt along without it's bosom buddy Pepper. And often I go one step further, with dried chili flakes, cayenne or Kashmiri chili thrown in for kicks. But in this case, (deep breath) I have decided I don't want pepper anywhere near this meal.

Let me give you some sense of this tumble of stewy leeks and chickpeas; they cook up in a way that is gratifyingly substantial, as is our need in these January days. But they are just cooked, without a trace of sludginess, still firm and springy-centered. Silken leeks curl around their goldeness, the pale jadeite strands are floral and sweet. The rosemary and lemon are noticed to be sure, but their forms are blurred at the edges, melting into and carrying forth the flavours of the others in equal measure.

The full effect is something akin to what it would be like to read the collected poems of e.e. cummings by spoon rather than by eye. While there is a variation in tone from bite to bite, there are no full stops or pesky uppercase letters to interrupt the rhythm we've got going here. Pepper would break up that essential mellowness, its wham! bang! personality, although a virtue elsewhere, would be too much for the delicate structure of this dish to bear.

We can't have that. So, I've banished the pepper. Scandalous behaviour, on my part.

Secondly, I'm mad for this stuff. Straight out of the pan it is terribly good, with some wilted bitter greens or steamed broccoli rabe nearby to swirl into the herby, lemony, garlic-infused olive oil left behind. Or, pour in few glugs of stock (chicken or vegetable, please) and suddenly there's soup. It can be eaten as is, with perhaps some Parmesan, or blitzed into a purée (but take the rosemary sprigs out before bringing out the heavy machinery).

Whatever way, in mine at least, hold the pepper.

CHICKPEAS WITH LEEKS AND LEMON

I was heavy-handed with the olive oil, as I knew I wanted that excess to dress the greens served alongside. For a lighter dish, or if your intended result is soup, reduce the oil to 2 tablespoons. Adding the rosemary back to the pan at the end gives a final hit of herbal steam. The twig, and the clove of garlic, can be removed before serving if desired.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, bruised but whole
  • 1 6-inch branch fresh rosemary, broken in two
  • 4 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and with the white and light green parts sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1/2 lemon

METHOD

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic and rosemary over medium heat. Once the garlic turns fragrant and the rosemary begins to sizzle, remove the rosemary but reserve for later.

 

Add the leeks to the pan, along with a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the leeks are soft and sweet but still brightly green, around 5 minutes. Tip in the chickpeas, and continue to cook for a 5 minutes more, at which point the chickpeas should have darkened slightly in colour.

Using a microplane or zester, add a few scrapes of lemon zest to the pan, along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir gently to combine. Check for seasoning, adding more juice, zest or salt as needed. Return the reserved rosemary sprigs to the pan, and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

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.

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I will never be a great Indian cook.

I've been set up to fall short of that goal by being born into a family of great Indian cooks. (If I could, I would double underline the word great right there and surround it with a beatific halo of twinkling, sparkling lights, just to give you an approximation of my conviction to that belief.)

As a result of this fortunate misfortune, the Indian meals that come to being under my hands, in my own estimation at least, will never, ever measure up to the meals of my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles.

Theirs are just so much better. They've absolutely ruined me for anyone else's Indian cooking, even my own.

I do try. The trouble is, even if I meticulously weigh and measure and take note of every single flick of the wrist and dash of spice and cooking time down to the millesecond, I cannot replicate the magic of the food that is served from my parents' kitchen.

I am respectably proficient in the recipes I consider essential to the recreation of childhood meals, and I might even be so bold to call myself good at cooking them. But honestly, if it came down to a bowlful of my channa masala (spiced chickpeas) or a spoonful of Mum's, I would most assuredly pick the latter.

Frustrated and hungry, I branched out on my own. My immediate and extended family is of a diverse enough background that a variety of Indian cuisines are often represented at our table. I took that thought and ran with it - seeking out recipes that had no particular tie to my family but had a general place in the geography of our heritage.

The practice has been a successful one. The dishes have been familiar enough to have an emotional resonance for me, which really, is such an essential part of the way we cook and eat, but yet their unfamiliarity saves them from comparison or prejudice.

I'm not giving up on those family recipes, my word no. But while I'm learning, it's a start.

I fry chopped bindis (okra) among onion and tomatoes, and can stir up a thick gravy for kofta (meatball) curry. I have served generous bowls of peppery Mulligatawny, puréed until velvety smooth (an utter departure from my family's recipe). Then there are recipes like this cauliflower, that isn't classically Indian at all, but retrains enough of that spirit that it feels comfortable to have around. It feels like something I've been eating for years.

When making dal, the ubiquitous stewed lentils that are found throughout India, the dish is usually finished by tempering - a process called tarka (that's the way we pronounce it, but it can also be spelled tadka). It is a last-minute seasoning of the lentils with roasted spices cooked in ghee (clarified butter) or oil (often mustard). Here the aromatic butter is poured over roasted cauliflower, for an unexpected vegetable.

The cauliflower is presented in thick slabs, like a coral specimen from the mysterious deep, pressed under glass with it's spindly-limbs artfully arranged just so. After roasting, even the fibrous stalk looses its tenacity as everything goes soft and sweet. Hot from the oven, the cauliflower gets bathed in butter thick with spice and succulent nuggets of onion. It's taste is so reassuringly that of home to me that I get woozy with nostalgia just thinking about it.

And see in the photographs where the sauce collects and pools? I'll let you know now that you'll want to drag your cauliflower through those collected juices so that every crenulated tip is filled with the piquant liquor.

One swipe, and you'll thank me. Scratch that, no thanks necessary. Just be sure to save me a piece.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH CUMIN AND CORIANDER BUTTER

The spice blend is called garam masala, from the Hindi words "warm" and "spice"; with masala suggesting a combination of spices rather than a singular. It is without a standard recipe, with each household seemingly with its own version, but the basic components of coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom, along with chilies are fairly universal.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium cauliflower, leaves removed and cut into 3/4-inch vertical slices
  • neutral oil for drizzling
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1-2 dried red chilies, stemmed and broken in two
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 2 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee)
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 450°F (230°C), with rack on the lower third.

Drizzle a rimmed baking sheet, lightly with oil. Lay out the cauliflower on the tray and season both sides well with salt and pepper. Roast, turning once, until tender and golden, around 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium high heat, dry roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom and chili until fragrant, tossing or stirring often. They might darken, but you do not want to see smoke or for the spices to catch. Watch them closely. Remove the spices to a spice grinder and allow to cool. Once warm but not hot, process the spices to a fine grind.

In the same skillet, warm the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until translucent and sweet but without colour. Add some of the spice mix (see note below) and turmeric stirring them thoroughly into the butter. Continue to cook the onions and spices for another minute.

When the cauliflower is finished roasting, spoon the butter and onion mixture over. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Notes:

• If you prefer, the cauliflower can be cut into florets and then tossed through the butter. Adjust the cooking time accordingly.

• Use as much or as little of the spice blend as suits your taste, a teaspoon or so would be a good starting point. The onion mixture should be well-spiced and pungent, to season the mild vegetable. Any leftover spices can be stored in a sealed container for a week or so.

• If you have a favourite garam masala recipe of your own, feel free to use it here.

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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.

When Sean and I were considering menus for this weekend, I gave him the declaration of "I feel like something Labour Day-ish" as my input into the proceedings. I always try to be helpful.

My description may have been cryptic, but it was the best that I could do. It is the last long weekend of summer, and no matter how we'd felt the week preceding, I wanted to take full advantage. I wanted summer sent on its merry way with every bit of its deserved fanfare.

And so we're laden with corn to be husked, peaches for pies and tomatoes (from our garden!) for jam. We're thinking of burgers and coleslaw and drinks so cold that they send shivers down your spine.

But even hours before a grill was lit, our celebrations were well underway.

You see, my Monday through Friday breakfast is merrily unvaried. Lately, with the day starting cooler, I chat with the boys over a bowl of steel cut oats, drowned with extra milk, finished with a palmful each of granola, pepitas and blueberries. It's filling and simple, and I like it that way.

However yesterday morning, instead of reaching for the oats I built towers of buttermilk pancakes. And then to begin today, we made something equally special.

Clearly, I define Labour Day weekend not by barbecues, but by breakfasts.

I am wary to christen these early meals brunch, for all its connotations of rubberized omelets and Hollandaise gone awry. But Saturday or Sunday breakfast, enjoyed with leisure, now there is a meal I can get enthusiastic about.Without the hustle to get everyone ready or out the door, we have the luxury of moving without haste. A long weekend's hours before noon, why, that's the time to revel inactivity.

Before I continue, I know what you're thinking. "Hold up here. Your discourse is all well and good, but that photo looks like Brussels sprouts. For breakfast? And this is supposed to be festive?"

I promise you, these sprouts feel fancy. And I'd be happy with them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Elevenses and tea, too.

These are not those grayed-out and useless Brussels sprouts, boiled within a moment of their lives and then left in their misery on cafeteria steam trays. These were shredded whisper-thin, jade and emerald strands wilted only barely by a warm slurry of bacon and sweet shallots. A slice of country bread charred in black tiger stripes by a grill pan, was tucked under the salad - but not before a smear of blue cheese had its opportunity to melt into its cragged surface.

The crowning touch to the plate was a simple egg, fried in butter and with frizzled, brown tips, its yolk still soft and lazy. Broken open, the yellowness provided sauce for all, its fat the vehicle for the aromatic notes of the cheese and opposition to the twang of vinegar.

Tomorrow morning is the last morning of the last long weekend of summer, and I'm planning my finale. I'm might even break out the water goblets.

Good times.

EGGS WITH SHAVED BRUSSELS SPROUT SALAD

Once the Brussels sprouts are in the pan, the cooking should take only 2-3 minutes to prepare - at most. The sprouts are treated as a warm salad rather than a cooked vegetable; their raw edge is tempered, but their crunch should not be completely lost.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cleaned of their tough outer leaves
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons Gorgonzola Dolce, at room temperature
  • 4 thick slices peasant bread
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • Butter or oil for frying eggs

METHOD

Using a mandoline or the slicing blade of a food processor, slice the Brussels sprouts finely. Toss through with fingers to separate into strands.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp - but not terminally so. You want crunch, but not bacon bits. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Reserve around 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the pan, discarding any excess.

With the pan still on medium heat, sauté the shallots for 30 seconds or so, stirring constantly. You want them translucent, but not scorched. Add the prepared sprouts, tossing them through the shallots and bacon drippings. Season sparingly with salt and pepper. Once coated, it should only take a few seconds, deglaze the pan with the vinegar, scraping up any sticky brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Continue tossing the sprouts until they are brightly coloured and barely cooked. Remove from the pan immediately, stir in the reserved bacon, and check for seasoning. Set aside.

Meanwhile, toast the bread slices on a grill pan or toaster. Spread 1 tablespoon of Gorgonzola on each. Top with 1/4 of the Brussels sprouts.

Fry the eggs at the last minute to your liking, my suggestion is with the whites set and the yolks still quite soft. (Season with salt and pepper while cooking.)

Top the salad with the eggs and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Notes:

• The sherry vinegar can be substituted with white balsamic. For those wary of blue cheeses, Gorgonzola is on the milder side of the spectrum. If you would like an even more subtle blue cheese, I would recommend Cambozola, a cross between a Camembert and Gorgozonla - it also sometimes known as Blue Brie.

• If you prefer your Brussels sprouts softer, add a tablespoon or two of water (or chicken stock) to the pan with the vinegar to give them a quick steam. Keep stirring the vegetables until the additional liquid has evaporated.

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.