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for making memories | eggplant rounds with summer toppings

for making memories | eggplant rounds with summer toppings

Eggplant Rounds | Delightful Crumb Eggplant Rounds | Delightful CrumbThis summer, I’ve been equal part enamored with this region in which I live and incredibly nostalgic. More than ever before, I’m overwhelmed with all of the memories I have of my childhood summers in Michigan. These were the months when I ran around the front yard in the pleasant rain of the sprinkler, played an elaborate game of clothespin dolls with my sister and next-door neighbor in the length of lawn between our houses, watched my dad get as excited as I was for vacation, spent most of my time barefoot. We’d go to the farmers market each Saturday, from which I’d emerge with a child’s reward of a honey stick. I’d later sit with my mom on the front steps to shuck the cobs of corn we’d brought home. The silky strings stuck to my bare feet when I stood, but the sweet, golden corn we’d soon be eating made the mess worthwhile. We picked strawberries, then blueberries, and we grew a smattering of things ourselves in our backyard garden. My mom baked delicious crisps and cobblers from fresh Michigan blueberries and peaches, which we’d top with generous scoops of ice cream for the culmination of long, lingering dinners on the deck behind our house. I remember when we discovered bruschetta, promptly crowned the glorious king of simple summer eating. We ate well in the summertime, as it so often goes.

I’m astounded, these days, by how good I had it. It was easy to be happy, with a family like that and summer’s glory on top. Ben teases me about our many rituals and routines, but if anything, my family knows how to celebrate and to revel and to do it all with intention. It’s something I’m proud of, and glad to carry on.

Summer’s also when I think most about my extended family back in South Dakota and the long trips we took to visit each and every summer. My parents’ hometown of Rapid City was so different from the one we inhabited, with its hills and dry heat and men boasting huge belt buckles and cowboy hats. We would take the long drive across the country, a trip my sister and I loved. We’d usually stop to see my mom’s brother and his family in Chicago, catching fireflies at dusk with my cousin and having some kind of wonderful adventure in the city. We’d continue through to stay with my great aunt in the very tiny town of Howard, South Dakota. She’d show us the ceramics she was working on in the basement, make hearty meals and wake at dawn, banging around in the kitchen as though she wanted us to hurry out of bed to greet the day and join her. She had a bathtub, no shower, and crocheted blankets everywhere. Her little town wooed me with its cozy charm and strangers waving from their pickup trucks.

Once we reached our destination, Rapid City, we’d stay with my grandparents in the tiny house where they had raised seven children, my dad among them. My sister and I slept in the bedroom in the back of the house, decorated with my grandmother’s quilts and Precious Moments. We’d crack the sliding door open at night to let in the breeze and the sound of the wind chimes on the back porch, then curl up in the big bed, a sleepover every night. My dad’s family would descend upon his parents’ home most evenings, filling the house with laughter and noise and chaos. My grandma would make pies—always plural—and plenty of delicious food. On one late morning, we’d drive up to visit my mother’s aunt, at her house with its view of the hills. Max would make cookies and lemonade, and we’d sit and talk with her and her husband, Harry, for hours. When my grandfather, Max’s brother, was gone, I felt on every visit that she was sweeping me under her wing.

Traipsing around the city, we’d beg for stories of my parents’ childhood and teenage years as we drove past their old haunts. We’d play cards with our uncles and make friendship bracelets with our cousins and play video games with my grandpa and look at old photos and read books curled up on the couch. We would take a trip up into the hills, where we’d circle Custer State Park to admire the buffalo and antelope and prairie dogs, the hills and the big, beautiful pines. We made chains from wildflowers, walked for miles, built fires to brighten the dark nights. The Black Hills got into my bones, and I can still hear the rustle of the aspen leaves as the wind blows through them, rustling as though they’re cheering, like a million tiny pairs of hands clapping just for you.

I know I’m forming now the same sorts of memories, and I can already look back on the two years Ben and I have been married, and here, with some of the same nostalgia. We moved to Oakland at the end of the summer of 2012, freshly married. We settled in with tomato galette and heaps of salad eaten fashionably on paper plates as we sat on the floor before our dishes and furniture arrived. That summer, we gaped at the abundance of the farmers market, ate our way through as much of the Bay Area as we could afford, dreamed about our future as newlyweds do, felt overwhelmed by the newness of what was suddenly our life. These two summers since have boasted plenty of homemade ice cream, dozens of visitors, bike rides through Oakland, splurges on good cheese to pair with juicy heirloom tomatoes and plump figs, visits to wine country, cocktails with friends and big bowls of strawberry crisp to follow. We’re young and hopeful—this is the kind of thing that one looks back on with fondness, is it not?

For whatever reason, summer is a time for making memories. And all I hope is that I can keep on living a life that evokes this kind of nostalgia in later days, that I’ll look back and find that I created a beautiful, thoughtful life, as my parents did, with an open home and kitchen and heart like the loved ones I admire, adventuring through with this sweet man by my side.

Eggplant Rounds | Delightful CrumbEggplant Rounds | Delightful Crumb

Eggplant Rounds with Summer Toppings

Eggplant preparation adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food II

This dish is an great appetizer or party snack, easy to prepare ahead of time, still delicious at room temperature and gluten free. I wrote it without measurements or quantities so that you can make however much you like, with one topping or a whole host of them depending on the crowd and your mood. I’ve given two ideas for the toppings, but the possibilities are endless! Finally, note that Japanese and Chinese eggplants make small, evenly sized rounds ideal for the party route, which the squatter Italian eggplant or the oval Calliope will give you a variety of sizes of circles, perhaps including some larger ones for hungry eaters.

FOR THE EGGPLANTS

Several medium eggplants

Olive oil, for brushing

Fine sea salt

TOPPING OPTION 1

Sheep’s milk ricotta

Juice and zest of a lemon

Red pepper flakes

Good olive oil, for drizzling

Micro greens or sprouts

Flaky sea salt (I like Maldon best)

Freshly cracked black pepper

TOPPING OPTION 2

Tomatoes

Nectarines

Basil or another bright-tasting herb

Balsamic vinegar

Good olive oil

Flaky sea salt (I like Maldon best)

Freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds and arrange them in a single layer on the baking sheet. Brush both sides generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned. Flip the rounds over and continue roasting for about 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the eggplant to cool on the pan.

For the ricotta topping, whisk the ricotta with a bit of lemon juice and zest, a pinch of red pepper flakes and a dash of sea salt until smooth and well combined. Top eggplant rounds with a spoonful of ricotta, then drizzle with olive oil. Finish with micro greens, flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.

For the tomato and nectarine topping, begin by chopping the tomatoes and nectarines into a small dice. Chiffonade the basil. Mix together the tomato, nectarine and most of the basil, then add generous splashes of balsamic vinegar and olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the mixture onto the eggplant rounds and finish with the reserved basil.

Ocean Beach sunset | Delightful Crumb

the showstoppers | new potato & tomato tatin

the showstoppers | new potato & tomato tatin

New Potato & Tomato Tatin | Delightful CrumbOh, summertime! It’s all tomatoes with good olive oil and bike rides and afternoon beers over here, and I hope you’ve got the same. I struggle, always, with the whole fear-of-missing-out thing, afraid I’ll not take full advantage of one thing or another. The condition is particularly heightened during these months. Have I eaten enough peaches? Am I spending my weekends appropriately? Has enough rosé graced my table? What will I miss when winter’s arrived? Etc. But I am doing my best, and I’m certainly enjoying myself. That’s probably sufficient.

There are, of course, a few things I am, indeed, missing out on. Which is okay! These I’m admiring from a distance. For example, someone in our neighborhood is really honing their grilling skills this summer. It smells amazing every night, at the hour just before we start on dinner. I’m a bit nostalgic for the hot summer nights of the Midwest, too, and for those thunderstorms we never get here. (I know, I know—everything is in season earlier in California, and no polar vortexes here. But Michigan, I swear that your blueberries are better.)

What with all of the summer goodness to soak up, we eat simply most evenings. Plus, what’s better than this season’s gorgeous produce all on its own? Sautéed corn with herbs, tomato and nectarine salads, sliced avocado with cucumber and a pile of sprouts: this is enough to keep me very happy. But I still pull out the showstoppers from time to time, when I’m feeling particularly inspired and/or having company for dinner. And this dish right here fits that bill, with a few of those summertime stars and just enough decadence to feel celebratory.

The recipe comes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty, which I’ve been enjoying anew this summer. There’s a striking photo of this dish, which Ottolenghi calls “Surprise Tatin,” in the cookbook, only a short way in. The bold circles of potato and blackened leaves of oregano always caught my eye, puff pastry peaking out from underneath and parchment paper stained golden like caramel. All this time I’ve been eyeing it, especially once I had a potato-and-tomato loving man in my life who I knew would appreciate it thoroughly. Yet only this summer did I get around to making it. And holy cow, is this thing delicious. I made it once for us a couple of weeks ago, with the first of the new potatoes and sungold tomatoes, and then again for Ben’s parents when they visited last week. It’s a stunner, perfect with a summery green salad (corn and avocado are a nice addition there, or peaches and toasted almonds) and a glass of crisp white wine. Summertime perfection!

New Potato & Tomato Tatin | Delightful Crumb New Potato & Tomato Tatin | Delightful Crumb

New Potato & Tomato Tatin

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

For the cheese, I recommend something flavorful like a gouda. It’s nice to have that added dimension in the mix of a few milder flavors. For the puff pastry, I recommend an all butter variety. Dufour is my favorite.

Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 heaped cups cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional

Sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

1 pound small new potatoes, preferably fingerlings

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons cane sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 to 5 fresh oregano sprigs

5 ounces firm, aged cheese, sliced

1 puff pastry sheet, defrosted

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Halve the tomatoes and place them cut-side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven to dry for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 25 minutes. Drain and let cool. Once cool, trim a bit off the top and bottom of each potato, then cut into 1-inch-thick discs.

Sauté the onion with the oil and some salt for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Once you’ve prepared all of the vegetables, brush a 9-inch cake pan with oil and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. In a small pan, cook the sugar and butter on high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, to get a semi-dark caramel. Right away, pour the caramel carefully into the cake pan. Tilt it to spread the caramel evenly over the parchment. Pick the oregano leaves, tearing any large ones in half, and scatter atop the caramel.

Lay the potato slices close together, cut-side down, on the bottom of the pan. Gently press onion and tomato into the gaps and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Spread the slices of cheese evenly over the potatoes.

Roll out the puff pastry slightly. Then, cut a disc that is 1 inch larger in diameter than the pan. Lay the pastry lid over the tart filling and gently tuck the edges down around the potatoes inside the pan. (At this point, you can chill the tart for up to 24 hours.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the tart for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 15 minutes, or until the pastry is sufficiently cooked. Remove from the oven and let rest for just 2 minutes. Then, hold an inverted plate (or a cutting board) firmly on top of the pan and carefully but briskly turn them over together, then gently lift off the pan. Serve the tart hot or warm.

summer in the city

summer in the city

vibrant food | Delightful Crumbpie ranch | Delightful CrumbEarliest of summer, yes, but summer nonetheless! It’s officially here now, inviting us to fling ourselves outdoors, soak in the warmth and sunshine, eat our weight in summer berries and rainbow-colored produce. I think there’s something inside all of us that recalls what it’s like to be a child on summer vacation, and the early days of June flip the switch. I feel more free, despite the fact that nothing has changed.

It’s a grand moment, this one, and I am all in. Here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to. How about you?

socks & view | Delightful Crumb wine country clouds | Delightful Crumb good eggs spread | Delightful Crumb

Reading

-My friend Kimberley‘s cookbook, Vibrant Food, is now out in the world! She celebrated with a beautiful launch party (lead photo) and is now touring around for all sorts of wonderful events. I heartily recommend that you snatch up a copy of the book, then try to meet her if she’s coming your way.

-Summer reading recommendation number one: Delancey, from the always eloquent and charming Molly Wizenberg.

-my name is yeh: A fantastically spirited, beautiful and new-to-me blog. After only a few weeks of reading, I got to meet Molly at Kimberley’s party, and she’s as lovely as I’d imagined.

Eating / Drinking

-Fruit with cheese (and also herbs): Watermelon and salty feta with mint, figs and goat cheese, tomatoes and mozzarella marinated with oregano, tomatoes and nectarines with parmesan and basil—you get the idea.

-Sautéed dates with flaky sea salt (!), via the aforementioned Delancey.

-When I’m lucky, dinner at Bistro Ordinaire, invention of my favorite wine bar, Ordinaire, and the talented Chris Kronner.

-Farmers Jane Field Rosé, the best rosé I’ve had this summer.

-2013 Wind Gap Trousseau Gris, equally perfect on a warm night.

Listening

-Radio Cherry Bombe with Julia Turshen on Heritage Radio Network. I particularly loved this excellent interview with Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, a company with which I am obsessed.

-This Sylvan Esso song, on repeat.

-And this one by Rhye, which I’ve long loved.

Adventuring

-Toluma Farms in Marin, home to Tomales Farmstead Creamery. Baby goats! Amazing cheese! Etc.!

-Healdsburg, my favorite part of wine country, for a dreamy day away. Finally visited Shed, where I ate an amazing whole wheat fig scone and drank lemon-ginger kefir water, and drank wine at Preston, Copain and current favorite VML.

summer eating | Delightful Crumb picnic | Delightful Crumb

fleeting | marinated favas with ricotta & toast

fleeting | marinated favas with ricotta & toast

Marinated Favas with Ricotta & Toast | Delightful CrumbSpring and summer propel me toward urgency. Everything at the market is fleeting, here for only an instant before disappearing for another year. Shelling peas, fava beans, sour cherries, rhubarb, figs: these are the worst offenders. So too with balmy weather and vacation and those weekends that are just made for camping. Look at it another way, and it’s rare and precious, sure. But I must admit that it stresses me out.

I lie in bed thinking about how there are only so many days to make the recipe floating about in my imagination, test it, perfect it and share it with you with enough time that you also can snatch up the produce in question to replicate it in your kitchen. And as soon as I manage to do all of that, I know there will be another gorgeous specimen in the market to consider.

Also common for me is wondering whether or not I sufficiently appreciated, say, the asparagus this year. I’m not sure if I did! I think, alarmed. I fill a bag with the newest arrival to the market—cherries, this time—my anxiety renewed. I want to gobble up the ruby red fruits by the handful, and my head is filled with favorites from seasons past, new ideas, inspiration found in cookbooks, on blogs and out on the town. How to fit it all in?

Yet all of this is exactly the opposite of the other thing that summer suggests, namely, living in the moment—forgoing responsibilities on a sunny Sunday afternoon, lying in the grass for hours, drinking one more cocktail because, why not? I’d rather fill my life with lighthearted delight than with stress. There’s enough in the world encouraging us to be anxious, and I don’t need to make it worse.

And so, I do my best. Exhibit A: this recipe involving fava beans, which you may or may not have time to make, what with the lateness in the season. It’s simple, if that helps, less a recipe than an idea. It also happens to be exactly what I want to be eating these days: light, easy and absolutely scrumptious, the sort of thing that leaving us with plenty of time to lounge around in the summer sun.

Marinated Favas with Ricotta & Toast | Delightful Crumb Marinated Favas with Ricotta & Toast | Delightful Crumb

Marinated Favas with Ricotta & Toast

There are endless variations one could try with this recipe: use another herb if you like, add some parmesan to the marinade or swap the lemon for red wine vinegar. As for the cheese, my current favorite is this one, from Bellwether Farms.

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds favas, shelled

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Pinch red pepper flakes

Freshly cracked black pepper

1 small bunch of mint, leaves plucked and coarsely chopped

Sheep’s milk ricotta, for serving

Toasted bread or crackers, for serving

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Toss in the fava beans and blanch for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water and allow to cool slightly. Remove the outer skins by pressing each bean, one by one, between your thumb and forefinger. Discard the skins.

Whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt, red pepper flakes and a generous amount of pepper. Toss with the beans and mint, reserving some mint for garnish. Allow to marinate for about 30 minutes.

Serve the marinated fava beans topped with more mint and alongside sheep’s milk ricotta and toast or crackers. You can assemble the toasts for serving, or put out all of the ingredients for folks to build crostini—or just scoop away!—on their own. Make sure to mop up any marinade left in the bowl with a crusty piece of bread.

Marinated Favas with Ricotta & Toast | Delightful Crumb

magic itself

magic itself

Rhubarb Polenta Cake | Delightful CrumbRhubarb Polenta Cake | Delightful Crumb I was sure I’d already mentioned my rhubarb theory here, but it turns out I have not. I’ve talked about rhubarb, yes: how nicely it plays in a coffee cake (plus a poem, there, for good measure), how lovely it is roasted, how to tuck it underneath a crumble. But I’ve not mentioned my most profound thought on this glorious vegetable disguised as a fruit.

Last spring was my first in the Bay Area, and I was so puzzled by how difficult it was to find rhubarb at the market, and by how nonchalant everybody was about it. I was the opposite of nonchalant. I was giddy, desperate to fill every sort of baked good with rhubarb and roast it and stash it in my freezer for the days following its fleeting season. I couldn’t understand why everyone else didn’t feel the same. But then I realized: the markets were already overflowing with berries, stone fruits fast on their heels. We had fava beans and baby carrots and fresh herbs and artichokes and every sort of lettuce you could imagine. There were plenty of things to keep us occupied in the early weeks of spring.

Rhubarb Polenta Cake | Delightful CrumbThat’s not what I recall from my many Michigan springtimes. Though summer comes with an abundance of beautiful produce at the markets, spring’s approach is slow, with many dreary days tucked between the sunny ones. Summer in Michigan is so incredibly good, but man, it makes you wait. So the first things that enter the market are a miracle of sorts. After months of root vegetables and greenhouse-grown hearty greens, there, suddenly, is rhubarb, with its slender stalks and pretty pink hues, and next to it, asparagus, in bunches of bright spring green.

And that’s it! But it is enough. After all of that winter drudgery, it is magic itself. When one has spent months waiting for a hint of warmth and for fresh produce to enjoy once again, rhubarb is a precious thing. It’s hard to feel the same when you’ve been gorging on ripe avocados and gorgeous citrus all winter long.

This is one of the things I miss about my home, I have to say, and a feeling I don’t want to lose. There’s something special that you learn when you’ve had to struggle through cold and snow to get to the warmth of summer. There’s something about not having that makes you endlessly grateful for everything you get. And when you get rhubarb, during my childhood at least, you put it into quick bread with a rich brown sugar crumble that makes everyone feel spoiled at breakfast (where cake is not typically allowed), and you make pies—one with a top crust, one without—and you revel in the abundance, and you are reminded why it was not foolish to be hopeful after all.

And so I shall keep on waving the Midwestern rhubarb flag, with gusto. But if you make this cake, I think there’s a good chance you’ll be ready to do the same.

Rhubarb Polenta Cake | Delightful Crumb Rhubarb Polenta Cake | Delightful Crumb

Rhubarb Polenta Cake

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe

Nigel Slater, again—I know! But it’s the season for this cookbook, and I tell you, the man knows how to prepare fruit. This cake is exactly my style, with a jammy rhubarb layer tucked between a crumbling cornmeal crust. It’s somewhere between cake, pie and cobbler, and it is divine. The rhubarb syrup is a really lovely touch, too.

FOR THE FILLING

1 pound rhubarb, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup natural cane sugar

1/4 cup water

FOR THE CRUST

3/4 cup coarse polenta or cornmeal

1 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon natural cane sugar

Zest of 1 small lemon

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional for the pan

1 egg

2 – 4 tablespoons almond milk (or use cow’s milk)

1 tablespoon coarse sugar, such as demerara

Lightly butter an 8-inch cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pt a baking sheet in it to get hot as the oven heats.

Put the rhubarb in a baking dish. Scatter over the sugar and water. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft but still retains its shape. Put the rhubarb in a colander to drain, reserving the juice to serve with the cake.

Combine the polenta, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar in a food processor. Add the lemon zest and butter. Blitz for a few seconds, until you have something that resembles breadcrumbs.

Break the egg into a small bowl and mix with 2 tablespoons of milk, then blend into the crumble mix, either in the food processor or by hand. Take care not to overmix—stop as soon as the dry ingredients and liquid have come together to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. If it isn’t a little sticky, add a touch more milk.

Press about two-thirds of the mixture into the cake pan, pushing it about 3/4 inch up the sides of the pan.Make sure that there are no holes or large cracks. Place the drained rhubarb on top, leaving a small rim around the edge. Crumble lumps of the remaining polenta mixture over the fruit with your fingertips, and don’t worry if the rhubarb isn’t entirely covered. Scatter the coarse sugar over top.

Place the pan on the hot baking sheet and bake for about 50 minutes, then cool slightly before attempting to slice or remove from the pan. Serve in slices, with the reserved rhubarb juice.