Monday, March 15, 2010

changing seasons (for the better)

I'm excited about daylight savings time.  An extra hour of daylight means spring, which means that summer isn't far behind.  Last week, it was chilly in San Francisco—in the 50s—and raining every other day.  This week is supposed to be mostly sunny and almost 70 every day.  I might get to actually wear some of my short-sleeved shirts without having to put a sweater over top of them.
But I'm also looking forward to some of my favorite foods coming back into season soon.  Around this time last year, I was eagerly awaiting the return of zucchini and summer squash for Jamie Oliver's courgette carbonara.
Summer of 2008 was the first time Steve made this recipe from Jamie at Home.  I enjoyed it then, but I could almost take it or leave it.  By last summer, I started to crave it: penne pasta, pieces of yellow and green squash, bits of salty pork, the creamy sauce from the egg yolks and parmesan, and thyme to top it all off.  A perfect summer lunch—or dinner.

And then there are tomatoes....  A lot of heirloom tomatoes don't really show up at the farmer's markets until mid- to late-summer, and some of them stick around until mid-October.  They're great in a simple caprese salad, but my favorite way to eat them is on a pizza margherita.  (Excuse the nearly three year-old picture.  At least I re-edited it a little.)

This pizza is actually based on an old recipe that Bethany and I "developed" nearly ten years ago when I was at her place in Princeton for a summer.  Steve and I have refined it a bit since then.  I used to buy pre-made pizza dough when I was in college, but now Steve makes it for us.  There's no tomato sauce on this pizza, which makes it quick and easy to assemble.  

Simply brush the crust with olive oil, apply sliced mozzarella, add basil leaves and then tomatoes, and finally grate parmesan and pecorino cheeses on top.  Steve bakes it on the pizza stone in our oven at around 500 degrees (I think), rotating it once partway through, and taking it out when the top and bottom are nicely browned.  In the last year or so, we've also started putting a little goat cheese on top for extra tang.
We mustn't forget strawberries either.  They're my favorite thing to eat on waffles, which are the perfect weekend morning breakfast.  This shot is from Memorial Day last year.
I/we got a Belgian waffle maker from Steve's parents at my bridal shower, and unlike many couples, we use ours somewhat regularly.  The resulting leftover waffles keep well in the freezer and can be reheated in the oven.  They're good with just powdered sugar or syrup (or coconut syrup) on top, but strawberries are the best.  The one thing to be careful of, however, is that you cut the strawberries on a different cutting board than the one you use for things like say... garlic.  I've had a couple bites with some curious extra flavors.  Strawberries seem to pick up those flavors pretty easily.
My absolute favorite summer foods, however, are stone fruits.  Nectarines are my choice to eat plain, but we have recipes with peaches and plums in them as well.  New to us last summer was another recipe from Jamie at Home: Grilled Peach Salad with Prosciutto and a Creamy Dressing.
This salad features a few of my favorite foods: peaches, goat cheese, and prosciutto.  (The original recipe suggests bresaola, but prosciutto is easier to have on hand or pick up at the corner store.)  It makes a wonderful dinner for those evenings when our house is around 80 or 90 degrees with the windows open.  The peaches are herbed and grilled, which adds extra flavor, and they're still warm, but not hot.  The rest of the salad is cooler to contrast.  Just watch out for the bits of tarragon; they're a little intense.
And what better way to finish one's summer dinner than a stone fruit crumble?  If you've been following my food pictures on Flickr lately, you've probably noticed that the inspiration for a lot of Steve's recent projects has come from things we've had in restaurants.  It usually works like this: we eat something we like at a restaurant, I take a picture of the dish and hopefully of its description on the menu, I mention that Steve should try making something like it, Steve looks in his cookbooks and online for similar recipes, and then he makes something based on those recipes and what we remember about the dish.
We had a plum and blackberry crumble at Range in October of 2008, which was served with nectarine ice cream.  Last June, we decided it was time to try to replicate it, since the fruit was finally back in season.
That first time, Steve used plums, blackberries, and peaches.  For the ice cream, he used David Lebovitz's recipe for peach ice cream, using white peaches.  It was good, but not quite perfect.  Some of the fruit in the crumble was a little too tart, and the white peach ice cream didn't have quite the same flavor intensity as the nectarine ice cream Steve had made in the past.  The crumble topping itself, however, was perfect.  I insisted on including oats, as the Range dessert did.  The oats make the whole thing seem a little more wholesome and natural.  It just feels like a healthier dessert.
Steve made crumbles a few more times between June and September of last year, including one for our Fourth of July dinner.  It was especially good that time: nectarines, plums, and cherries, with nectarine ice cream.  (He made the crumble a day before, which gave the flavors time to "party" a little.)  In August our crumble had nectarines and plums, with nectarine-bourbon ice cream.  And in September when his parents were visiting, there were peaches and plums, with peach-bourbon ice cream.  Sadly, nectarines were out of season by then, but the yellow peaches stood up well to the bourbon in the ice cream.  They were quite pretty too.
While some of these foods won't be available for another few months, at least daylight savings time will start to benefit me right away.  One of the best parts of summer is the light.  It's so much easier to take good pictures, both at home and at restaurants, when it stays lighter out longer.  
I'm looking forward to our next dinner at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Contigo—maybe tomorrow?—when we can sit outside and it shouldn't get dark until after dessert has arrived.  Pictures will be taken, good food will be eaten, and the arrival of spring will be celebrated. 

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