We spotted two returning trumpeter swans a few days ago and I swear I heard a duck quack early this morning. Suddenly, in the light of day, all my windows badly need washing. It’s early breakup in Southcentral Alaska, a time of year that offers a particular kind of beauty.
I transition from one lodge to another this week and we begin to prepare our little cooking school outside of Homer to open on May 1. I love this time of year, not only for the natural changes unfolding but also for the renewal of our kitchen pantry. We move out of long-braised and denser cuisine to serve more a-la-minute and fresher foods. As much as we love them, we put away our favorite winter beet and potato dishes, stews, and warming hearty menus.
At my kitchen table, we pile up books and magazines, notebooks and scribbled menus from the past and we begin to assemble our new summer menu ideas. This is a particularly satisfying project, like planning a new summer garden or scrapbooking for the culinary crowd.
Each year, I select a small personal culinary theme to focus on. It’s not to say it’s all we cook, but I spend a little more time on that particular subject. Last year, I was determined to learn more about Spanish cuisine. I traveled to Spain, I hired a Spanish chef to work with me for the summer, and I read incessantly about Spanish culture and food. I even tried to teach myself a little Catalan.
I cooked paella with bomba rice and I became heavily addicted to tomato bread. I bought more saffron and smoked paprika than I bought sea salt last year, but I just couldn’t warm up to salt cod. And the names of Spanish wines and wine grapes just fly out of my head as soon as I hear them. It’s a lifelong endeavor, to understand a particular cuisine like that of Spain.
This summer, I am dedicating any snippets of free time to return to an old favorite. I am studying French regional country cuisine. I have a new edition of the red Michelin Guide in hand and I scour through regions and towns mapped out in the guide for one- and two-star restaurants that sound interesting. I ask restaurants to send us menus and I’ll hopefully narrow down a list of must-visit destinations for some future trip to France. I’ve bookmarked a collection of blog sites manned by culinary experts who live in France and I look through French magazines and periodicals that might offer inspiration.
One of my favorite French country recipes is for blue cheese and onion tart. Delicious any time of the year, I love to load up fresh herbs, mushrooms, slow caramelized onion, and tangy blue cheese onto a crispy olive oil tart.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 large yellow onions, peeled, halved and sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoons sugar
- 1 bunch green onions, sliced
- 1½ cups shredded mixed mushrooms
- 1½ cups crumbled blue cheese
- Fresh herbs, your choice (I used parsley and rosemary), minced
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl. Add in the milk, ¼ cup of the olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter into the dry ingredients.
- Mix the dough together to form a rough ball. Press the dough into a 10-inch by 13-inch baking sheet. Pierce the dough with a fork.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil into a pan over medium heat.
- Add in the onions. Cook until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.
- Season the onions with salt and pepper. Add in the sugar and continue to cook the onions over medium heat until they are caramelized and light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the onions from the pan and cool.
- Spread the onion mixture over the dough. Top with the green onions, mushrooms, and cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese has melted.
- Top the tart with fresh herbs. Cut the tart into 2-inch squares and serve.