It is time to take advantage of the remaining warm summer nights and enjoy an evening with friends, sparkling wine, and charcuterie. Entertaining does not get any easier than this. There is no cooking unless you want to make the pâté or a spread. Just assemble and relax. What you place on your charcuterie platter is up to you, but you want to keep in mind how many people you are entertaining, variety in texture and flavor, plus add your personal stamp to the meal. A charcuterie platter is a perfect meal for hot summer nights when it is too hot to cook, or just enjoying a sunset from your deck with friends.
But what is a charcuterie platter? By definition, charcuterie is a French name for a deli, or market, that sells cured meats, especially pork. Charcuterie also means the products that are sold in a charcuterie. With that understanding, a charcuterie platter is a platter or tray layered with smoked and cured meats and other specialty food items, like cheese and pickles.
Traditionally, a charcuterie platter is very meat focused and consists of a variety of cured meats like prosciutto, soppressata, and pâtés, with add-ins like pickles, spicy mustard, bread, or crackers. However, for my platter, and because I believe it is still in the realm of the definition of a charcuterie platter, I added cheeses, fruits, and vegetables.
How to Build a Charcuterie Platter
How does one put together all those different foods so that it looks appealing and covers all the bases of complementary tastes and contrasting textures? First, organize all your ingredients in groups, then arrange all of the ingredients in a decorative yet easy to reach manner.
Start with the meats. A good rule to follow is 2 oz of meat per person. Charcuterie platters contain very rich foods, so you do not want to overdo it. Pick three types of cured meat with different flavors and textures. The meats pictured on my charcuterie platter are soppressata, prosciutto, and bresaola. These three types of cured meats offer a variety in texture and flavor, although a subtle one. A common rule is, have meat that you slice like the soppressata, one meat that comes sliced, like prosciutto, and meat that you spread like pâté.
Other meats you buy sliced are Guanciale or Mortadella.
Meats for spreading are smooth or chunky pâtés or terrines.
What is missing on my charcuterie board is pâté because my family does not care for it. Smoked fish or gravlax is also a nice alternative and an option for people who do not like pork or beef. Keep in mind you want to make something that you know you and your guests will enjoy.
Similar to the cured meats, it is nice to have 3 different types of cheese on your charcuterie board as well. Although, if you want this to be charcuterie platter that is more meat-focused, one selection of cheese is fine.
Like the meats, your cheeses should have different textures and flavors. I usually follow this rule for building a cheese board, one soft rind triple cream cheese, one hard or sharp-tasting cheese, and one blue cheese. The possibilities are endless. If you do not like blue cheese swap in a soft goat cheese.
Other cheese selections are:
This is where you can get creative and add your personal spin to a charcuterie platter. Yet, keep in mind the additional accoutrements have a purpose other than tasting great and looking pretty. The add-ins provide a break from the rich meats and cheeses, provide textural contrast, and clear the palate.
Fill your platter with a wide selection of any of these foods.
Fruits like figs, grapes, berries or dried fruits like apricots or figs are nice selections.
Pickles like cornichons are a must, but you can use other pickled vegetables like carrots, fennel, and chilies.
Briny olives like Kalamata or good green olives.
Fresh vegetables like fennel, cucumber, radishes, or carrots add an important textural contrast with their crisp crunch and are very refreshing.
Mustard is also an important ingredient to a charcuterie platter as they complement the cured meat wonderfully.
Spreads like hummus and tapenade taste great with charcuterie.
Nuts. Any nut like walnuts, almonds or pistachios you can’t go wrong. Just make sure there are no nut allergies before you add them to your platter.
The list is long, but choose a selection of three fruits and/or vegetables, with a couple of specialty items. Don’t be redundant. If you have olive tapenade, do not put out olives. If you have fig jam don’t put out fresh figs, pick another fruit instead. Although, when in season fresh figs are delicious with charcuterie.
Just remember one thing, do not forget the mustard, sweet or spicy or both, it doesn’t matter. In France, it is sacrilegious to serve charcuterie without mustard.
It is nice to arrange everything on one platter and serve with bread or crispy crackers. You can also arrange your charcuterie selection on more than one platter. This is especially important if some of your guests eat a plant-based diet. They might not want their selections mixed in with the meats or cheeses. By the middle of the evening, the charcuterie platter will get messy, so it is thoughtful of you to keep the foods separate. Serving the charcuterie selections on multiple platters works well for larger parties when you will have more meats to arrange on your board.
Toasted French baguette makes a more substantial selection and looks nice when sliced thin on the diagonal. I especially like to serve charcuterie with bread when I want my charcuterie platter to be a meal. Thin crispy plain crackers work well with the cheese and meats too. Also, I found people really enjoy breadsticks as well.
Serve your charcuterie platter at room temperature. You will need to slice the meats and cheeses when they are cold, but everything tastes better when they are at room temperature.
Chilled sparkling wines like a Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco, Lambrusco, or a dry rosé are perfect for this type of meal, especially on hot summer nights. Some dry reds that are not too heavy pair nicely as well. Dry sparkling wines help cut the richness of the cheese and meats and clear the palate so you can keep on sampling.
Beer is another good beverage of choice, but I would not do anything too rich. I really enjoyed the pairing of a red ale with my Irish Cheese Platter, so I imagine it works with charcuterie as well.
My son Andrew recommends Saisons because they are dry and spicy, or a good Pilsner. These types of beer will help clear the palate. He also loves Lambic, a Belgium Sour, with charcuterie. Low alcohol beers work nicely because they do not fill you up and you can easily snack on your charcuterie.
For a non-alcohol beverage, seltzer is perfect. Mixed in with lime, or lemon and/or cucumber is very refreshing and helps clear the palate. Anything bubbly that is not sweet. Stay away from soda. You won’t taste the charcuterie if you are drinking a coke.
I hope you enjoy the remains of summer and the ease of the season with charcuterie and friends.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a nice alternative to the more traditional Caprese Salad. Both have their place as an exceptional first course or appetizer and both feature ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella nicely as the star ingredients. Yet creamy tomato and mozzarella salad have an element of surprise with heat from the jalapeño chilies, a slight brininess from the capers, and a bright lemony creaminess from the dressing.
To make this mozzarella salad sing like the opening act of an all-star concert, be very particular about the ingredients you use.
First and foremost, only use perfectly ripe tomatoes and locally grown tomatoes if you can get them. This mozzarella salad is at its best when the tomatoes are in season and bursting with sweet sun-ripened flavor. Out of season tomatoes just won’t do the salad justice. The juices from ripe tomatoes will blend into the dressing creating a sauce perfect for soaking up with good crusty bread. If you must make this salad before or after tomato season, use cherry or grape tomatoes as you can get a good tasting and ripe, hydroponically grown grape tomatoes during the year.
Also, use any variety of tomato, as long as the tomatoes are ripe. If you like to mix things up, use a variety of tomatoes with different shapes, sizes, and color. Yellow tomatoes are especially nice in this mozzarella salad as they have less acid than the red variety.
Second, use only fresh mozzarella. The vacuum sealed mozzarella you find in the dairy section of the store is no substitute. Even the brand that looks like it is fresh mozzarella. If it is vacuumed sealed it is not fresh. Don’t even think about it. That cheese works nicely on a pizza but not in a salad. Fortunately, several markets make their own mozzarella, so it is not hard to come by. Often the mozzarella is kept in water, or just freshly wrapped in plastic wrap and sold the day it is made. Buffalo mozzarella is another alternative if you can find it.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Third, use the best tasting extra virgin olive oil you can afford. Don’t use the generic extra virgin olive oil that is really a blend of oils, but real extra virgin olive oil with a fruity and peppery note and body. You do not need to buy the most expensive one, just a good one that you like.
More tomato recipes
By using the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is hard to resist. It is immensely satisfying as only food made with fresh quality ingredients is. Both tomatoes and fresh mozzarella taste best when they are at room temperature, so serve the mozzarella salad at room temperature. Though, it is easier to slice mozzarella when it is cold and right out of the refrigerator. I recommend making the salad no more than an hour before you want to serve it. Unfortunately, mozzarella salad is not a make-ahead meal.
Additionally, I recommend slicing the mozzarella and tomatoes into reasonable size slices. My yellow tomato was very large, so I cut each slice into quarters. It was a lot more manageable that way. Also, I cut each mozzarella slice in half, especially the middle slices.
If you wish, you can rip large bite-size pieces of the mozzarella and scatter the pieces over the tomatoes instead of layering each slice. This looks especially nice when you have different varieties of tomatoes in your salad and you arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella in a random pattern.
Mozzarella Salad makes a delicious first course or an appetizer with slices of grilled crusty bread like a baguette. You are going to want something to soak up the delicious juices from the tomatoes and dressing. Either way, this tomato and mozzarella salad is a fine addition to your salad repertoire.
August and September are the best months to enjoy ripe tomatoes so go get some before they are gone.
This recipe is adapted from Marinated Mozzarella with Crème Fraîche and Lemon and Marjoram by Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, Happy Days with the Naked Chef, and Lemon Cream from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden.
My Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe is part of a social media collaborative project featuring tomatoes. Below the recipe is a list of all the talented Instagramers and food bloggers who are participating in the #wesaytomatoes collaboration. Please check out their tomato recipes for more tomato inspiration
Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a wonderful change from the traditional Caprese Salad. Like a Caprese salad, creamy tomato and mozzarella salad showcase both the tomatoes and mozzarella as the stars of the meal. Yet in this salad, the fresh mozzarella and sun-ripened tomatoes get a subtle yet complimentary embellishment from the lemon cream, minced jalapeño chilis, and fresh herbs. The layer of heat from the chili pairs nicely with the fresh cheese and creamy dressing and adds a crisp bite within this yielding salad. I like adding a subtle but briny tang to the salad, so I added capers for some extra lift.
This is one of those salads that you don't really need to follow the recipe ingredients amounts exactly. Use this recipe as a guideline and adjust the ingredients to suit your taste. The food pairings are lovely, but how much jalapeño, fresh herbs, capers, and dressing is best determined by your taste. If you use the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is a winner no matter how much jalapeño you add. When adjusting the ingredients to your taste, remember to start with less as you can always add more. It is much harder to take away.
If you can find fresh marjoram substitute it for the oregano. This dish benefits from the flavor of fresh herbs, so do not use dried herbs. If you are not a fan of oregano, substitute it with fresh thyme, lemon thyme or rosemary.
This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Marinated Mozzarella in Crème Fraiche with Lemon and Marjoram from his book, Happy Days. The Creamy dressing is adapted from Joshua McFadden’s Lemon Cream, in his book, Six Seasons
Best eaten at room temperature and the day it is made.
- 2 lbs (1 kg) ripe tomatoes any variety or color
- 1 lb (500 g) fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella
- Kosher Salt and Fresh Black pepper to taste
- Lemon Dressing
- 1 lemon
- ½ - 1 jalapeño chili
- 1 TB capers
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Fresh oregano or marjoram to taste about 2 teaspoons or more
- ¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and smashed remove green germ
- Pinch Kosher Salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- ½ tsp of lemon zest
- 1 TB (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1 TB (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Make the lemon dressing
In a small bowl add the garlic and heavy cream and allow to infuse for a couple of hours in the refrigerator. This gives you a nice garlic flavor without the bracing bite from garlic.
After 2 hours, fish out the garlic cloves from the heavy cream and add the Kosher salt and several rounds of freshly ground black pepper, and lemon zest.
Using a wire whisk, whisk the cream by hand until the cream just starts to thicken. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk until airy but pourable. This won’t get thick like fully whipped cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Cover the bowl and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Best if used the same day it is made.
Assemble the Salad
Slice the tomatoes a shy 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick and spread out in a single layer on a tray or cutting board. Lightly sprinkle the slices with flaky sea salt and fresh black pepper. Slice the mozzarella in ¼ inch (.5cm) slices.
Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella slices around a platter by alternating slices of tomatoes with slices of mozzarella.
Slice the jalapeño pepper in half and remove the stem, white pith and seeds. The white pith and seeds carry most of the heat in the chili so if you want it a little spicier, leave some of the white pith intact. However, make sure you remove all of the seeds as they would look unappealing in this dish. Mince the jalapeño chili and sprinkle it over the tomatoes and mozzarella. You may only need about half of the jalapeño chili, but use as much as you want.
Sprinkle some of the fresh oregano, and capers over the salad. Pretend like you are Jackson Pollock and paint the tomatoes and mozzarella arrangement with the lemon cream. Depending on how thick the lemon cream is, I find it works best if you wave a spoon back and forth, filled with the dressing above the salad. You will get a random pattern of the creamy dressing but not a heavy and gloppy looking one. You will not use all the dressing. Serve extra dressing on the side for those who want more.
Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the salad and extra herbs, capers and minced jalapeño, flaky sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Serve room temperature as a salad or first course. Or serve as an appetizer with crusty bread or grilled bread.
This is best eaten the day it is made. If you have some leftovers, store in the refrigerator and eat up the next day.
Check Out What The #WESAYTOMAOTES Participants Made
Whatannieseating Sun Gold Tomato + Calabrian Chili Pizza
SquareMealRoundTable Heirloom Tomato, Shallot and Thyme Focaccia
Well_fedsoul Heirloom Tomato Galette with Basil Honey Ricotta
Katie_clova Roasted Summer Vegetable Quiche Thewoodandspoon.com/roasted-summer-vegetable-quiche
MangiaWithMichele Pesto Trapanese (Sicilian Fresh Tomato & Almond Pesto)
Fufuinthekitchen Middle Eastern Tomato & Beef Skillet Dish
Floursinyourhair Tomato & Roasted Garlic Mini Galettes
Aforkfulofyum Fried Green Tomato Caprese Salad
Joyosity Tomato and Eggs over Rice
Moodyloonbakehouse Tomato Juice Spheres on Goat Cheese and Fillo
Jessiesheehanbakes Everything cream-cheese biscuits with roasted tomatoes
Wildflourchi Heirloom tomato tart
Alwayseatdessert Heirloom Tomato Salad with Burrata and Grilled Bread
Worthypause Paleo Tomato-Basil Cauliflower Rice
Moreicingthancake Roasted tomato & malt vinegar slaw
ShortgirlTallorder Roasted Heirloom Tomato & Vegan Pesto Toasts
Champagneandcookies Heirloom Cherry Tomato Italian Potato Salad with Basil & Gorgonzola
Whatshouldimakefor Tomato “Shortcake” with Whipped Ricotta
Smartinthekitchen Indian spiced marinated tomatoes
Lepetitchefsb Cherry Tomato & Walnut Tart (vegan)
Sixsnippets Heirloom Tomato and Salted Egg Salad
Rezelkealoha Tomato Pesto Pasta Salad
Saltnpepperhere Shrimp + Tomato Salad
Wellseasonedstudio Sunday Supper Sugo (slow roasted pork shoulder pasta sauce)
Playswellwithbutter Summer Caprese Salad Cheese Board
Thatpassionatefoodie Cold curried tomato soup with heirloom tomato tart
Kaaliberti Tomato-ricotta galette in herbed crust
Amodestfeast Turkish Eggs With Garlic Yogurt and Tomatoes
Mariannes_kitchen Eggplant Bruschetta
Bakingthegoods Heirloom Tomato & Pimento Cheese Cornmeal Tart
Thecookbooknerd BLT Salad
Marenkiersti Tomato Toast with Homemade Mayo
Appetiteforhumanity Classic tomato sandwich on homemade focaccia
EatChoFood Stewed Tomato Noodle Soup
Katiebirdbakes Heirloom Tomato Tart with Burrata
Thehealthysins Roasted Tomatoes and Feta Quiche
Justaddsalt_ Heirloom Tomato Tart
Pieceoflovepastries Upside down tomato cake w basil sugar
Flottelottehaan Tomato and Avocado Salsa
Whatskarencooking Puttanesca Open-Faced Slab Pie
FarmandCoastCookery Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
Bappygirl Beef and Tomatoes with Egg
Khabakom Onion and Tomato Tarte Tatin
Thebutterywhisk Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes & Asparagus with Fresh Pasta
Sugarsalted Summer tomato salad w/ balsamic red onion
Simpleandsweetfood Pan con Tomato (Rustic Spanish Style Tomato Bread)
Easyanddelish Tomato Basil Caipirinha
Piegirlbakes Tomato Ricotta Galette
KatherineinBrooklyn Easy Tomato Tart
JustDateSyrup Tomato + Stone Fruit Burrata Salad JustDateSyrup.com
Dukkah_queen Spicy tomato chutney with curry leaves
Cleanplateclb Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Calabrian Chili Oil & Fresh Ricotta
Mamaclarkskitchen Gazpacho cocktail
Ritualsofthekitchen Tomato Fatoosh Salad
Miminew Za’atar tomato tartine
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Out of curiosity I wanted to know just how much pizza Americans eat. The information is a couple of years old, but according to an article in Food Network Dish, Americans eat over 6,000 slices of pizza over the course of their lifetime (Reiter, Amy FN Dish, News, 2015). 6,000 slices of pizza is difficult to imagine, but for some odd reason I thought it was more, Yet the other surprise is, according to The Pizza Joint, a pizza trivia website, pepperoni is America’s favorite pizza. I would have put money down that the Americans favorite pizza is cheese pizza, especially with extra cheese.
Four Cheese Pizza
In our household, if I bought pepperoni, my sons would devour every crumb of pepperoni pizza, so I should not be surprised at that statistic. Their next favorite is cheese pizza, especially our homemade Four Cheese Pizza. Globs of melted cheese oozing off pizza slices appeals to everyone’s inner cravings. I can just see the scramble to grab the first slice of cheese pizza hot out of the oven with the strings of melted cheese stretching away from the pizza pie. Ah, don’t you just want to scoop up all those stings of melted cheese and layer it on top of your slice?
I made this recipe with a blend of mozzarella cheese, Italian Fontina cheese, Asiago Cheese, and Romano Cheese. It is a nice blend of creamy good melting cheeses with harder sharp tasting cheeses for contrast. The mozzarella and fontina cheese get mixed together, then sprinkle a layer of grated Asiago over the top so it stands out. Once the pizza is done baking, I sprinkle finely grated Romano cheese over the top and watch it melt as it hits the hot cheesy surface.
The reason I add the Romano cheese after the pizza is done, is to prevent the Romano cheese from burning. Those crispy burnt layers of cheese taste great in a lasagna, but people like crispy pizza crust, not crispy cheese with their slice.
Putting it together
Just like my post for Pesto Shrimp Pizza, I did not include a pizza dough recipe. If you want to try your hand at making pizza dough, try Jim Lahey’s No Kneed Pizza Dough. Or, try this pizza dough recipe from The Kitchn. I have yet to test this recipe so please let me know how you like it.
The down side to making pizza dough is, it requires advance planning in order for it to get done in time. Yet there is a reasonable alternative, buy a store made pizza dough. This makes Friday night pizza more doable.
The cheese pizza recipe has a quick tomato sauce with lots of garlic and fresh basil. It is easy to make while you are waiting for the oven to preheat and the dough to come up to room temperature. All that is left to do is grate the cheese. For more detailed information about making pizza and special equipment please read my post for Pesto Shrimp Pizza, (linked above).
Four Cheese Pizza
A delicious cheese pizza made with a blend of mozzarella, Italian Fontina, Asiago, and Romano cheeses. The mozzarella and Fontina cheeses have a creamy base and are good melting cheeses, while the Asiago and Romano cheese provide a sharp contrast and make all the cheeses pop.
Garnish with fresh basil and red pepper flakes.
Makes one 10-inch (25.5 cm) pizza. For a larger pizza adjust the ingredient proportions as needed.
- 1 14.5 oz (411 g) can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 TB olive oil
- 2-3 cloves garlic minced
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- Pinch of Kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp of granulated sugar
- 6 leaves basil chiffonade sliced
- 1 7 oz (200 g) Pizza Dough
- 3 TB (45 ml) Tomato Sauce
- 3 oz (75 g) grated low moisture mozzarella
- 2 oz (50 g) grated Italian Fontina cheese
- 1 oz (25 g) grated Asiago cheese
- ½ oz (15 g) grated Romano cheese
- Fresh Basil leaves for garnish
One hour before you want to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 500°F 250°C/ Gas mark 8
If you are using a pizza steel or stone, place it on a rack according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Place the pizza dough on the counter and rest for one hour before baking.
Mix together the grated mozzarella and Fontina cheese and set aside. Keep the Asiago and Romano cheeses separate.
Make the tomato sauce
Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds and remove the core over the strainer. Place the tomato halves into another bowl. Press out the juices from the seeds and core pieces in the strainer. Pour the tomato juice in the bowl with the tomatoes and blend with an immersion blender or add to a blender. Process until smooth.
In a 2 quart sauce pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil and heat until shy of smoking. Add the minced garlic to the sauce pan, aiming away from the hot spot in your pan. Cook for a minute then add the puréed tomatoes. Turn down the heat to medium low and simmer for one two minutes. Add the salt sugar and half the basil then simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the remaining fresh basil. This can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for two days.
Assemble the pizza
When it is time to bake your pizza, sprinkle some flour over a pizza peel and set aside. Or, place a piece of parchment paper over a rimmed sheet pan large enough to hold a 10-inch (25.5 cm) pizza. Lightly spay with cooking oil on the parchment paper.
Flour your work surface and your hands and pour the pizza dough onto your surface. Press down on the dough with your fingertips and shape into a circle. Drape the dough over the tops of both hands, shaped in a loose fist. Let gravity and your thumbs stretch out the pizza dough to a 10-inch (25.5 cm) circle. Use your thumbs to stretch out the edge and rotate the dough around. Do not pull out from the center of the dough.
Place the dough on the prepared pizza peel or sheet pan. Check to make sure the pizza is not sticking to the peel by shaking the peel back and forth. If it is sticking add more flour to the peel. If you have any holes, patch them up so the topping does not ooze out while baking.
Spread the tomato sauce in an even layer over the pizza dough, leaving an inch border around the pizza. Check to make sure the pizza is not sticking to the peel. Sprinkle all the cheeses, except the Romano cheese, over the tomato sauce in an even layer. Shake the peel back and forth to make sure it is not sticking to the peel.
Bring the pizza on the peel over to the oven and aim toward the back of the baking stone or steel. (If you are using a sheet pan, just place it on the rack and bake). Slide the peel towards you and shake off the pizza so it slides onto the baking stone or steel.
Bake for 6 minutes, or until the pizza is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. Half way through baking, turn the pizza from front to back for even baking.
Remove the pizza from the oven by using a spatula to slide it onto a pizza peel. Slide the pizza onto a cutting board or pizza pan. Sprinkle the Romano cheese and remaining fresh basil leaves over the pizza and serve immediately.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
For the past few months, my ideas and inspiration for making new meals gravitated towards baking. Either sweet or savory, it did not matter as long as my hands are touching dough or mixing batter. My excuse is the winter weather and the need to feel warmth even if it comes from a 350-degree oven. But the truth is I love to bake. I can’t lay it all on the winter chill. Whether it is savory, like my beef empanadas, or something sweet like lemon syrup saffron cake, I get immense satisfaction stirring, whipping, kneading and baking. Now, all I want to do is bake bread and make this irresistible onion tart.
For the past month or so, I put this savory tart on the back burner. Actually, I waffled between making French onion soup, a classic French flatbread Pissialadière, and a creamy onion tart. Every time I saw a photo of caramelized onions topping a savory crust or custard on social media my hunger resurfaced. Clearly, I craved the taste of slowly browned and fragrant onions. It was time to give in.
I have Mom’s recipe for Quiche Loraine that I have made for years, but I wanted to try something a little different. With the premise of testing a new recipe from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Vegetable Literacy, I forged ahead. It is a big tease looking through a vegetable cookbook in the middle of February. All these tantalizing photos of bright spring and summer vegetables dancing off the pages as I look out my window and feel the chill of the snow-covered landscape. Yet, in between my daydreams of freshly harvested greens and succulent sweet tomatoes, I kept returning to the chapter on onions and this fragrant onion tart made quite an impression.
Pastry Crust for an Onion Tart
There were two things that caught my attention, the first one being she makes a 100% whole wheat pastry crust. Often, I add some whole wheat pastry flour to my flour mix when I make pie dough. It adds a nutty flavor and more texture. It is my experience, a pie crust made with nothing but whole wheat flour is often dry and heavy. In all my years of testing Deborah Madison’s recipes, I never experienced a heavy or dry recipe. Her cooking is not the vegetarian cooking of the 70’s, it is much more refined. Though I am sure her whole wheat pie crust is a good one, I did change the recipe slightly by substituting some whole wheat pastry flour with the whole wheat flour. There is less gluten in pastry flour, so I knew it would help create a lighter crust.
Fillings in Onion Tart
Additionally, I was surprised that she uses white onions in the tart not sweet onions like Vidalia onions. The only times I see white onions in a recipe is for Mexican food. White onions are less sharp than yellow onions, therefore your eyes will not sting as much when you mince them. That makes a big difference when you must dice 3 large onions. A good sharp knife helps as well because it makes a cleaner cut.
The onions are diced and cooked in butter until light brown. This process takes some time but be patient. It won’t take as long as caramelizing onions. The subtle difference between browned and caramelized onions is noticeable here with a light onion flavor that is delightfully sweet. I love caramelized onions, but I have never tasted onions so sweet before. Also, the sweet browned onions are very fragrant which compliments the onion tart nicely.
Instead of bacon, I quickly fried sliced prosciutto and added it to the filling. The smokiness of bacon tastes great with cheese and eggs, but I wanted to keep the flavor on the delicate side to compliment the sweet onion flavor of the tart. If you ever have more prosciutto than you need, this is the perfect recipe to help use up a couple of slices.
Onion Tart for Days
After making this onion tart I still crave that luscious sweetness and fragrance of slowly cooked browned onions. It is just too good to eat once in a while. Fragrant, sweet, and irresistible onion tart is perfect for a light supper, luncheon, brunch or appetizer. Additionally, it is a great choice for cocktail party food when portioned into small bites. This is a meal for any season or any time of day and a real crowd pleaser.
Irresistible Onion Tart
Fragrant and sweet browned onions are the foundation of this savory custard tart. It may have rich ingredients, but it won't make you feel heavy. I love how aged or smoked Gouda adds some extra depth of flavor to the tart, but Gruyère or Comte are good substitutes. If you do not have whole wheat pastry flour you can use all whole wheat flour instead. You can make the pastry dough and cook the onions a day ahead. The pastry dough will keep in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap for 3 days. Or, freeze it for up to 3 months. The onions are best eaten within 24 hours of making them. Onion tart is perfect for brunch, lunch, a light supper or as an appetizer for a cocktail party. It is a very versatile food you can make all year long. Special equipment: 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. You can use any shape, square, circle or an 11 x 8.5-inch ( 28.5 x 20 cm) rectangle tart pan. Stand mixer (optional) Rimmed sheet pan large enough to hold your tart pan. This recipe is slightly adapted from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison.
- ¾ cup plus 2 Tb (123 g) Whole wheat flour
- ¼ cup (38 g) whole wheat pastry flour
- 6 TB (106 g) cold butter, cut into small pieces
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 3 TB ice water
Onion Tart filling
- 1 TB olive oil for frying the prosciutto
- 2 thin slices of prosciutto or 2 pieces of bacon (optional)
- 2 TB (7 g) butter
- 1½ lbs (725 g) white onions, diced
- 2 tsp fresh thyme or rosemary minced
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup (125 ml) milk
- ½ cup (125 ml) crème fraîche or heavy cream
- 1 cup (70 g) aged or smoked Gouda cheese, grated using the large holes on a box grater
Make the pie dough
Make the dough by hand or use a stand mixer.
By hand: Add the two types of flour and Kosher salt to a large bowl. Add the butter and mix the butter and flour with your hands. Press down on the butter between your thumbs and fingers to break up the pieces and press into the flour. Continue to do this until the butter and flour are mixed together and looks like pebbles.
Add the water and mix together with your hands. Add more water if it looks and feels dry, about a teaspoon at a time.
Gather the dough and turn it out onto the counter. Press together and form a flat disc in the shape of your tart pan, about an inch (2.5 cm) thick. A circle, square or rectangle shape.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or more. The tart dough can be made 3 days in advance and kept wrapped in the refrigerator.
By stand mixer: Add the flour to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the pieces of butter and mix the butter and flour on low until the flour looks like pebbles. Add the water and stir on low speed until just mixed together. Add more water if the pastry dough looks dry. Be careful not to over-mix the dough. Turn the dough onto a counter and shape into a flat disc into the shape of your tart pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or more.
Make the tart filling
Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. If you have a baking stone place it in your oven on the middle rack. For a crispy bottom crust, you want to heat the stone in the oven for an hour before baking.
If using the prosciutto, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to a skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Slice the prosciutto into strips, about a 1/2-inch (1 cm) wide and not longer than 2-inches (5 cm) long. When the skillet is hot, add the sliced prosciutto and cook until the strips are brown and crispy. Stir occasionally to prevent the strips from sticking and burning. About 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and spoon the prosciutto slices on a plate. Set aside.
If you are using bacon add the two pieces of bacon to a hot and dry skillet and cook the bacon until they are brown and crisp. Turn the pieces over every now and then for even browning. Remove the bacon from the pan onto a plate lined with paper towels and pat dry. When the bacon is cool, crumble them into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Turn the heat to medium and add the butter. When the butter is melted and stops sizzling, add the diced onions. Stir to coat the onions with butter. Add the thyme, a pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grounds of fresh black pepper. Stir to mix.
Cook the onions on medium to medium-low until they are very soft and lightly browned, not caramelized, but starting to go in that direction. This is a slow process, about 25 minutes. The onions will be very soft and translucent with an even light brown color. While cooking, occasionally stir the onions for even browning and prevent them from sticking and burning. Taste for seasoning and add more thyme, Kosher salt or black pepper if needed. Turn off the heat and cool.
Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and let it rest on a lightly floured work surface for 10 minutes. Pound the dough with your rolling pin a few times to relax and shape the dough. Roll the dough in the shape of your tart pan to about a ¼-inch (.5 cm) thickness, and large enough to fit the shape of your tart pan with a slight overhang. For a 9-inch (23 cm) round tart pan the diameter should be around 12-inches (30 cm).
Drape the dough into your tart pan and trim the edges to an inch (2.5 cm) overhang. Fold the edge of the dough inward and press along the sides and bottom of the pastry to fit the dough into the pan. The height of the tart is equal to the height of the pan. Place the tart pan on a rimmed sheet pan and loosely cover the tart with plastic wrap. Chill the tart in the refrigerator for 15 - 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and crème fraîche.
When the onions are cool and just before you want to assemble the tart, add the grated cheese, onions, and prosciutto if using, to the egg mixture. Stir to mix.
Remove the tart from the refrigerator and add the egg mixture. Even out the filling and place in the oven. Bake until the tart is golden brown and set in the middle, about 45-50 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Remove the side of the tart pan by resting the tart on top of a large can, (like canned tomatoes), and slide the side rim down. Make sure the crust is not sticking anywhere along the rim before you slide it off.
Serve warm or room temperature.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Who doesn’t love nachos? All that melty cheese, warm beans, salsa, avocado, and crispy chips just taste so good together. Unfortunately, when I order nachos in a restaurant the chips are soggy with rubbery cheese, and half the chips are naked. What is the point of getting nachos when most of the food on the plate are plain chips? It is like ordering a cheese burger and getting one partially covered with cold cheese.
There is an easy solution. When I make nachos, I spread the chips in an even layer on a rimmed sheet pan, then cover each chip with bean spread (or refried beans), avocado, pickled jalapeño, and grated cheese. Once assembled, they bake in the oven until the cheese thoroughly melts. Why bother with this nacho assembly? Because it is just not a pretty sight, watching your family and friends wrestle and compete over the nachos covered in all that Tex-Mex goodness. With this process, no one gets stuck eating naked chips when they wanted the works.
There are several ways you can put these nachos together. One, buy the chips, bean dip or refried beans, and salsa already made, along with a couple of blocks of cheese and a ripe avocado. The only thing left to do is assemble and bake the nachos. Second, you can use a combo of homemade and store-bought items to make these nachos. The third option is, you can go all out and make everything from scratch.
My version is the second option. I made chips from store-bought tortillas and made the salsa verde. Everything else I bought. If you make everything from scratch, your nachos will have more nuance in flavor, especially the beans. However, these days it is easy to source good quality store-bought salsas, beans and chips. Why not take advantage of your resources? Whichever method you choose, buy the best quality ingredients you can afford.
Suggestions for making Nachos:
For my recipe testing, I discovered getting tortilla chips with a deep corn flavor depends on the tortillas you use. If possible, buy freshly made tortillas from a market or restaurant, and make the chips at home. Or, buy chips from a Mexican restaurant. Both options produce the best tasting chips. Nachos require thick chips that won’t break easily and not too salty. Thicker chips hold up better. If you don’t have a Mexican market or restaurant in your area the store brand I had success with is, Simply Organic Yellow Corn Chips by Tostitos. However, the other corn chips by Tostitos are too thin.
Making your own chips requires some cooking skill, special equipment and deep-frying in 375° F (190°C) oil. You need an instant read thermometer, a 10-inch (25 cm)cast iron skillet, or Dutch Oven, or wok, and a spider strainer. If you do not have all the equipment, please don’t make the chips. Deep frying is tricky business and buying chips a lot safer.
I also provided a recipe for a raw salsa verde made with tomatillos, serrano chilies, onion, garlic and cilantro. The recipe is from Tacos by Alex Stupak, but my method is different. (You can read my cookbook review on Tacos, here.) Instead of using a mortar and pestle, I made the salsa with an immersion blender. It was a breeze and finished in fifteen minutes. Sometimes, tomatillos are hard to find. I found tomatillos at my local Asian vegetable market, but I also saw them at Whole Foods. If you can’t find them substitute with your favorite store-bought salsa verde or red salsa.
Traditionally, nachos are made with refried beans. I used a black bean dip instead. Feel free to use what you like. The beans should be thick and somewhat smooth, so it stays put on each chip. The store brand I used was Newman’s Own Black Bean and Corn Salsa. It was a little too thin, but it still worked. Look for a black bean spread or dip. If you prefer using refried beans, just remember refried beans are made with lard, so if you are serving vegetarians or vegans, find or make a vegetarian one. Here are links for home-made refried beans, and vegan refried beans from Serious Eats.
Helpful Tips Serving Nachos:
- Serve nachos immediately. If you are entertaining, have all your ingredients made and prepared. After all your guests arrive and settled down, assemble the nachos then bake in the oven. It takes about 5 minutes to assemble and 4 minutes to bake. Serve right away. This isn’t an appetizer which is placed on an hors d’oeuvres table and forgotten about.
- Pass these appetizers around, or place in the center of a coffee table where everyone is sitting. Nachos are best eaten immediately. The longer they sit the soggier they become.
- Make sure you grab a couple of nachos for yourself before they disappear. Maybe this is because I am more familiar with the eating habits of teenage boys, college co-eds, and athletes, but appetizers like nachos quickly disappear.
- For a small cocktail party make one tray at a time. If you want more for later, make another tray just before you want to serve them. My sheet pan fit 24 chips.
- Don’t forget the pickled jalapeño . A slice of pickled jalapeño on each nacho makes all the difference between good nachos and great nachos. They add some heat, and the acid brightens all the other ingredients.
- 3 cups (675 ml) canola or vegetable oil
- 6 fresh corn tortillas or thick cut, restaurant style store- bought tortilla chips
- Kosher salt
- 4 oz (125 g) cheddar cheese
- 4 oz (125 g) pepper jack cheese
- 24 tortilla chips homemade or store bought
- 16 oz 453 g jar bean dip or refried beans
- 1-2 ripe avocados
- 24 - 48 slices of pickled jalapeno peppers
- Creme fraiche plus some milk for thinning
- Salsa verde
Salsa Verde (or store-bought salsa verde)
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 3-4 tomatillos about 5 oz (150 g)
- 2 serrano chilies
- ½ white onion minced
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 handful of cilantro minced
In a cast iron skillet, Dutch Oven, or wok, add the oil and heat until the oil temperature reaches 375°F (190°C). Stack the tortilla chips and cut them into quarters. When the oil is hot, add a few chips to the oil and cook until starting to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Turn the chips over to the other side and finish cooking. Use a mesh spoon, or spider and remove the chips from the oil and place on paper towels to dry. Sprinkle a small pinch of Kosher salt over the chips while they are warm. Continue until all chips are fried.
Pre heat the oven to 425°F ( 218°C) with the rack in the middle position. Line a large rimmed sheet pan (18" x 13" / 46 cm x 33 cm) with aluminum foil. Set aside.
Prepare your garnishes of creme fraiche and salsa verde
Add the creme fraiche, or sour cream, to a small bowl and add the milk a tablespoon at a time and stir. Continue to add just enough milk so the creme fraiche will easily drizzle over the nachos. You do not want it too diluted, but the creme fraiche drizzles easier when it is slightly thinned out. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until ready.
If you are making the tomatillo salsa do so now before you bake the nachos. See recipe below.
Grate the cheeses using the large holes of a box grater, or food processor. Place the grated cheese in a medium size mixing bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
Arrange the tortilla chips in a single layer on a sheet pan.
Spoon a tablespoon of bean dip over the center of each chip, spread it out into an even layer.
Slice an avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Thinly slice each avocado half lengthwise and scoop out the slices with a spoon. Arrange one slice of avocado over each chip covered with the beans. Depending on the size of your avocado, you might need to cut each slice in half to fit on the chips. I was able to get enough slices from one avocado.
Place one slice of pickled jalapeno on each chip, then cover them with grated cheese .
Place the sheet pan with the chips in the oven and bake until all the cheese has fully melted, about 4 minutes.
Immediately place the nachos on a serving platter and serve with the creme fraiche and salsa verde. You can drizzle the salsa verde and creme fraiche over the nachos and sprinkle with some chopped cilantro, or you can serve the creme fraiche and salsa verde on the side.
Peel and mince the garlic. Sprinkle the garlic with the salt and use the side of your chef's knife to make a pulp with the garlic. Move the knife back and forth pressing the side of the blade on the garlic and salt until the garlic turns into a smooth pulpy consistency. Add the garlic pulp to the bowl of a food processor, blender, or immersion blender.
Husk, wash and dice the tomatillos. Place the tomatillos in the bowl with the garlic.
Add the minced onion.
Cut the Serrano peppers in half lengthwise and cut off the stem. If you want a milder salsa, remove the seeds and the white pith. They contain most of the heat, especially the pith. Mince the serrano chilies and add them to the bowl with the tomatillos. Add the honey and process all the ingredients until you get a smooth salsa, or to your desired consistency. Stir in the minced cilantro and pour the salsa into a small serving bowl.
Serve immediately or cover with a tight fitting lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Homemade salsa is best used the same day it is made. If several hours pass before serving, hold off from adding the cilantro until just before serving.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.