Fall. Pumpkin. Leaves. Fall! Pumpkin Spice! Leaves! FALL. PUMPKIN SPICE….I get it. I really do. Fall is my absolute, unequivocal favorite season and I have been more than happy to pull on sweaters while daydreaming about the not-so-far-off time that the crisp weather that accompanies me on morning walk will last all day long. Yes, I am excited for fall.
Here’s the deal. It isn’t fall quiteyet. We are still hitting 70’s here, with strong sunlight that keep our afternoons warm (downright hot, if you couldn’t resist a sweater while getting dressed this morning. Thank goodness for chilly offices). And, while decorative gourds and sweet potatoes are showing up at the farmer’s market, the tomatoes, peaches, and melons are still overflowing. Even if I am wearing a sweater, I am not ready to kiss “summer food” goodbye. Braising and stews and soups can wait. I’m going to go eat a peach.
As well as my resistance to fall, another odd change has occurred. I’ve never been a fruit-on-salad kind of person. While I’m sure I’ve had one or two very delicious salads with strawberries in my life, and I will jump at the chance to add dried cranberries into salads; the thought of fresh fruit mixed among greens and vegetables has been less than appetizing. Occasionally, I will get a hankering for mandarin oranges on an Asian-style salad, but only with a lot of sesame dressing, tender chicken, and crunchy seeds. I have realized, however, is if the greens and lettuces are decreased and the more weighty vegetables are increased, I tend to love the fruit+vegetable combo. Add a bit of cheese and I am totally sold. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to come to this realization. I’ve been pairing fruit in meat dishes for ages: apples and pork, pineapple in asian dishes, lemons and oranges with chicken. I love the sweet+savoury profile. With this new expanse of fruit and vegetable dishes to explore, I have been happily pairing and partnering any fresh produce I can get my hands on. I have been keeping the produce raw, cold, and fresh–still distinctly in the summer season for these dishes.
On Labor Day weekend, M and I had our mothers over to catch up after
ignoring being unable to see much of them during the camp season. It was only a day after we returned from North Carolina, and after a weekend of trying new restaurants, pizza, ice cream, and road trip snacks, all I wanted was vegetables. While M took care of the short ribs, I mixed up kale salad, potatoes with mojo verde sauce, a ton of grilled veggies, and the crowning glory: this Balsamic-Peach Caprese salad. Adding peach to caprese is certainly not a new idea, but one I had avoided for a long time, given my thoughts on fruit and vegetables intermingling. But I saw it (and did not order it) on the menu at the Saxapahaw General Store and it struck a chord with me. I am so happy that I made that salad. I only had the chance to take one photo before everyone in attendance devoured it, but I will continue to make this as long as I can get my hands on peaches and tomatoes.
Caprese is one of the simplest salads to put together, yet it looks beautiful and special. Yes, I am well aware that true Caprese means tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and just a touch of salt and olive oil. But I also love the little zing that a bit of balsamic vinegar and black pepper can add to that mix. These also compliment the peaches sweetness perfectly. Ripe peaches have the texture of the perfect tomato: where the flesh is firm and there isn’t too much of the seeds to squish and get slimy. Between the texture and the sweetness, peaches are the perfect addition to the already perfect Caprese.
A couple of slices, a sprinkle of salt, and a little drizzle of olive oil are all that separate you from this fresh, delicious salad. Be sure to use the highest quality ingredients that you can find–in such a simple salad, every ingredient shines.
Balsamic-Peach Caprese Salad
Serves: 4 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: N/A
- 4 oz fresh mozzarella
- 3-4 small or 1-2 large, firm tomatoes (I used campari)
- 1 large, ripe peach
- 1 handful of fresh basil leaves
- 2 Tbsp. high-quality olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- Black Pepper
Thinly slice the mozzarella. I usually get an 8 oz ball and cut it in half, then slice from there. The smaller pieces of cheese are more on scale with my small campari tomatoes. (Typically, I count the slice of cheese that I end up with, so I can cut the peaches and tomatoes accordingly). Slice the tomatoes, then the peach into slightly thicker slices. Add the peaches slices to a bowl, pour the balsamic vinegar over the peaches and mix gently to coat. (This spreads the balsamic flavor through the whole dish, and, unlike drizzling the vinegar over everything, keeps the cheese white, rather than staining it brown). Layer a piece of cheese, a basil leaf, a tomato slice, and a peach slice. Repeat until all slices are organized into the pattern on the plate(s). Drizzle olive oil over the dish, then sprinkle salt and pepper. Serve cold or at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
One of my mother’s favorite tales to tell is the phase when E and I were quite young and we wanted waffles and (canned) green beans for breakfast every day. Usually, this story was told during my later childhood and teenage years when I abandoned the green beans for a pickier palate. While E, S, and I were not anywhere close to the picky eaters in parent’s horror stories, by the time the three of us were in elementary school, food choices were limited. Carrots, corn, and fried potatoes (definitely not mashed) made regular appearances at dinner, plus the occasional salad with the tomatoes left on the plate and a few celery slices if I was feeling generous. Cucumber if I was forced. Gravy was definitely not on my plate for many years, and that also knocked off any sort of stew as well. Tuna out of a can was accepted, but only in a tuna salad sandwich, tuna mac & cheese, or tuna fish on toast. Macaroni and cheese, while we’re on the subject, was something I could only eat fresh off the stove, refusing to wait until my family came to the table–any sort of thickening of the sauce as the dish cooled made it unpalatable. Most meats were okay, depending on their preparation, and all three of us devoured fruit. At restaurants, the pickiness returned full force. When my sister and I were young, we often felt ill after eating away from home. For a while, we thought it was lactose intolerance, but it was never truly consistent. To this day, we are not entirely sure, but I suspect that it was mostly a nervous stomach, but perhaps even a reaction to gluten early on. I don’t remember feeling unwell after eating gluten-filled food at home (be it homemade, or take-out). E has always reacted worse than I did, and even now, doesn’t seem to respond as I have to a gluten-free diet. But whatever the reason, this meant that E and I almost exclusively ate chicken tenders with honey mustard at every restaurant we frequented.
In high school, for whatever reason, I made myself try and begin to enjoy shrimp (only in the form of cold shrimp cocktail or alfredo pasta) and tomato basil soup (the first soup I ever remember eating). When I finally ate the chili mac that my mother made for dinner, I realized that chili was actually tasty. One night I decide to add a single sliver of pepper and onion from my fajitas to the chicken, cheese, and sour cream in my tortilla. Trying new foods in my teenaged years was the start a long slow process of exploring food that I still continue today. College, in particular, worked its wonders. I distinctly remember that day in my freshman year, when, unenthused with the dining halls choices, I picked a baked sweet potato. It was the first sweet potato I have ever tried…and it was delicious! In my junior year, I finally returned to green beans–fresh, instead of from a can–and managed to enjoy the green vegetable with a squeeze of lime juice and cracked black pepper. I discovered pomegranates, figs, persimmons, asparagus, beets, goat cheese, broccoli, spinach, fennel, and lamb, just to name a few.
Many other foods fell into my range of “delicious and acceptable” over the years of college, and even now, I’m continuing to try new things. It helps that M will try anything and everything. His willingness instills a much needed dose of bravery in me. With M, I’ve tried oxtail, curries, oysters, paté, crab, chestnuts, banana peppers, several types of fish, and many others. As I found cooking and baking to be such a joy, reading and researching through cookbooks and blogs has inspired me to try even more foods, and use the ones I am familiar with in whole new ways. Now, I am excited to purchase my first tomatillos, even if I am not quite sure, at that moment, what I will be doing with them. I am eagerly continuing my quest to find a preparation and flavoring for cooked greens that will make me like them as much as M (he is happily eating his and my portion of the ‘failures’ along the way). I am saving the seeds I spoon out of squash to roast the next day, craving freshly steamed artichokes, and cooking beans and lentils from scratch. I’m making the list of foods I’ve yet to try (jicama, eggplant, swiss chard…) and figuring out just how to try them. I’m making zucchini lasagna. I am mixing butternut squash into flour and eggs to make my own gnocchi on a Thursday night, while planning when I can attempt making bone broth from scratch. I even let my macaroni and cheese cool and thicken as I stir in tuna and peas on the nights when I am especially lazy with dinner.
Last night, M and I went out to dinner with his mum, as a late celebration of my birthday. She was tied loosely to a community event, so we chose the indian restaurant in the plaza where her group was performing. I didn’t have anything as daring as you might expect to have inspired this post–the lamb kebab and the seafood sampler–but I reminisced about the first time I had ever eaten indian food (M all but forced food court butter chicken into my hands one rehearsal when he found out I hadn’t eaten dinner–it was delicious, though it might have been the hunger talking). When M admitted that he ate just about anything, even as a child, he made me think about how little I actually ate, and, subsequently, how far I’ve come. I still have a ways to go, especially with some strange palate and texture preferences, but I’d like to think I’m making progress. I can, on occasion, drink soup out of a cup or thermos, nowadays (is it weird for anyone else to drink something savory, instead of using a spoon? This is the same reason that I can’t stomach bloody marys–if somewhere served them in a little bowl, I think I’d do just fine). As much as I am learning new techniques and recipes in the kitchen; I am learning even more about the actual foods that make up those recipes.
Today I am sharing a recipe that is far from revolutionary and, ironically, is made with ingredients that I would have readily eaten as a child. But, it is slightly updated to be entirely grain-free and significantly less sweet than my high-school self would have expected. Peaches are everywhere this summer, like every other summer, and I am sure that, by now, every food blog has some recipe for peaches with pastry. This recipe was thrown together one morning a week after seeing Shauna post an instagram photo of the birthday tart her friend made for her. Peaches, blueberries, and marscarpone, resting lightly on a crumbly tart shell. It looked delicious. So I thought about the tart as I bought peaches and marscapone, and I thought about it more over the next few days, until I had the morning off. M and I were preparing to visit my mother’s house, then go to Ikea (for my first visit ever!) to look for a new mattress and bedframe. And the peaches were ripe, and the little note on the marscarpone was needling at me (“marscarpone is a delicate sweet cheese, blah blah, enjoyed as soon as possible after purchase, blah blah blah”). Since I hadn’t yet worked out how to bake the tart with the peaches without turning the marscarpone into a puddle that doomed my tart crust…I decided to make a breakfast tart and leave the fruit uncooked. I didn’t want anything too sweet, but I did want the added benefit of a little more protein than the marscarpone could provide. And I had coconut flour in the back of my fridge and almond flour in my pantry. With a few more ingredients, I pressed a crumbly crust into my tart pans and baked it off while I sliced my peaches. After a layer of marscarpone and a spread of fruit, this tart became a perfect light breakfast. I even took a little into a mini-tart pan to bring Mom breakfast! Also, the lovely printed tea towels in these photos are a birthday present from E and A. Isn’t the heart print the perfect background for this tart? They got me a stack of linen-type thin towels in all sorts of fun, vintage-type prints. I love these thin towels for covering rising bread, rolling summer rolls, and–obviously–photographing dishes, and have been at a total loss with the thick kitchen towels that I have at the new house. Now I have plenty (though I couldn’t resist grabbing one more at Ikea).
Peach & Marscarpone Coconut Tart
Serves: 6-8 | Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes
For the Tart Crust:
Adapted from Elana’s Pantry
- 1 3/4 c. almond flour
- 1/4 c. coconut flour
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 c. shredded coconut
- 1 Tbsp. coconut butter
- 2Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1 egg
- up to 3 Tbsp. sugar (optional)
For the Filling
- 8 oz. marscarpone cheese
- 2-3 medium peaches
- 1 tsp cinnamon + 1 tsp sugar (optional)
Set the marscarpone on the counter to come to room temperature/slightly soften. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt together coconut butter and coconut oil in ramekin. Cool. Combine almond flour, coconut flour, salt, cinnamon, and shredded coconut in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. Add beaten egg and coconut oil/butter mixture and mix well with spoon or hands until the dough is crumbly, but sticks together when pressed between fingers. Press dough into a tart pan. Prick bottom with fork in a few place. Bake tart crust for 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
While crust is baking, thinly slice peaches. Remove crust from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes. Spread marscarpone gently over crust (it’ll be a little crumbly) before completely cool. If using cinnamon-sugar, sprinkle over marscarpone before spreading peaches over top. Serve cold or room temperature for a barely-sweet breakfast or dessert.