Monthly Archives: July 2010

Sum- Sum- Summertime: Juicy Fruits

If I had to hang my hat on one theme about which I’ve written the most in my (ahem) nearly 2 decades of food writing, it’s Northwest ingredients. Celebration of foods that are grown in my backyard, that have been part of my life since I was a little kid, it’s a thrill when your backyard is one so bounteous as this one. Some items are pretty famously linked to the region, things like salmon, apples, oysters, foods that get a lot of attention when the national spotlight is shown on the Northwest by way of cookbooks and articles. Others are less so. Which is why in my Northwest Homegrown Cookbook series I kicked off with Crab, followed by Stone Fruit. Instead of Salmon (which came later in the series) followed by Berries (which hasn’t happened, yet).

I figured that if you asked even a Seattleite to list the key foods for which Washington state is a top grower nationally, I figured it might be a while before they got to “peaches” or “cherries.” But I didn’t want to write a book just about either peaches or cherries. They and their other pitted brethren–apricots, nectarines, plums–share common heritage, sweetness, form and other characteristics that make them a delightful and delicious group to consider as a whole.

Then came naming the book. Stone Fruits is by no means a title so enchanting the books nearly jump into the hands of customers. It doesn’t elicit the kind of visceral response that, say, words like “chocolate,” “cupcakes” or “bacon” might. Stone, of course, refers to the fact that the fruits all have a similar pit–called a “stone” in Anglo parlance. I could have called the cookbook “Drupes,” another term that references the fruits’ slightly larger family, which includes almonds. But that certainly wasn’t a consumer-ready improvement. “Soft fruits” is another term used in the industry, to readily contrast these fruits with firmer apples and pears. We joked about titles the likes of “Juicy Fruits” and “Sexy Fruits,” to no avail.

I didn’t want to call it “Peaches (and those other fruits).” Nor just offer the laundry list of the five types.

So Stone Fruits it is. And perhaps it’s little surprise that of the four books in that series, Stone Fruits is the slower seller of them all. It’s kind of like the blonde, cute, generous girl that everyone likes having the name Gladys. A most unfortunately example of judging a book by its title. A stone fruit cobbler mixing up plums, peaches and apricots is a mighty delicious proposition. But it probably would be easily oversold by a classic cherry cobbler.

Give that charming girl named Gladys a chance. When you see “stone fruits” on a menu, don’t think “stone soup.” These are the fruits that will burst in your mouth and drip down your chin. Fruits that make pies and other treats so good they make you cry. Not only because they’re so delicious. But because they’re also so fleeting. Tree-ripened, honestly seasonal fruits in this chummy group don’t stick around for long. Indulge while you can.

I had the good fortune of coming home from a talk a couple of weeks ago with a couple pounds of wonderful Northwest cherries. Tim Mar was there, had brought them for us to snack on and there was a good bit left over. Tim’s co-owner of ChefShop.com, known for its amazing world pantry of spices/chocolates/nuts, etc. But also venturing into the realm of fresh seasonal foods on special occasions. Occasions as special as the local cherry season, during which they ship off boxes of the fruit to all corners of the globe. It was quite a treat to have this bounty. After nibbling more than a few handfuls, I set to showcasing them in a simple dessert. Cherry cobbler won the coin toss.

I don’t necessarily have a favorite go-to recipe for cobbler. To be perfectly honest, we just don’t eat dessert around here very often. So I headed over to www.epicurious.com and found a recipe that lead me to this incarnation. Tasty. And to fully embrace the joys of all stone fruits, I’d happily recreate this recipe using a mix of them all, pitted and chopped to relatively equal sized pieces meeting that 6-cup quantity.

Stone Fruit Cobbler

Filling
6 cups pitted and halved cherries and/or pitted and chopped peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste (if the fruits are on the tart side add more)
2 tablespoons tapioca
2 tablespoons Frangelico, Amaretto or Grand Marnier

Biscuit Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons fine cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Stir together the stone fruits in a large bowl. Sprinkle the sugar, tapioca, and liqueur over and stir well to mix. Set the bowl aside for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the fruit mixture (with its juices) to a 2-quart baking dish.

Combine the flour, butter, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor and pulse until the butter is finely chopped and the mixture has a coarse sandy texture. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the milk and vanilla, stirring just until the dough is cohesive. Top the fruit with randomly placed spoonfuls of the dough, leaving some open spots where the fruit is exposed.

Set the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet just in case there are any drips that need catching. Bake until the biscuit topping is nicely browned and the fruit juices are bubbling up around the edge of the dish, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside to cool to, or near, room temperature before serving.

Makes about 8 servings.

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A Seattle Gem Turns 25: Le Gourmand

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the passage of time. You’d think I’d get used to it at some point, but I never do. I often joke in an overdue email reply to someone that “I blinked twice and a week went by!” Honestly, it does feel that way sometimes.

Last week my husband and I were talking about something that happened in 2000 and I was stunned by the realization that the turn of the millenium was over ten years ago already! Remember when Y2K seemed to be the thing that was going to bring the world to its knees? It seems like such a simplistic, naive concern now.

So I shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that I was surprised to hear that Le Gourmand is celebrating its 25th year. Chef and owner Bruce Naftaly called recently to share the news with me. Twenty five years in that charming, nondescript brick building that everyone rushes by making their way down the hill from Fremont into Ballard. It’s like a century in restaurant-years. And it’s a milestone made only more notable because of the oddly low profile Le Gourmand has held in town. Bruce is happiest in the kitchen. Though he surely enjoys making the rounds in the dining room to chat with guests but even then he seems a tad out of his element. He rarely makes appearances at the usual chef-o-rama grazing events. I was thrilled when he agreed to be one of the chefs that joined the celebration of the 2001 release of the Best Places Seattle Cookbook I did with Kathy Casey. He contributed a few recipes to the book, including my introduction to cooking with shiso leaves by way of his Savory Nectarine and Shiso Soup.

Bruce only launched the restaurant’s web site in this past year or so, and sheepishly admitted that he’d recently gotten himself a cell phone. He certainly doesn’t blog or tweet or otherwise go out of his way to trumpet his restaurant. Every year or so I get a phone call from him with some bit of news he’d like to share. It’s his very understated way of keeping me–and surely some other writers in town–in the loop and keep Le Gourmand on their minds.

All that to say that you kind of have to seek out Le Gourmand. It employs the “whisper” method of making itself known. I imagine many people know it as “that restaurant alongside Sambar,” the wonderful cocktail destination that Bruce and his wife Sara added about six years ago. Which is maybe not a bad thing! Hopefully some of them will slip through that doorway and treat themselves to the riches of dinner at Le Gourmand one day.

Maybe  just the motivation they–and anyone who hasn’t been to Le Gourmand, or hasn’t been recently–need is the 25th anniversary menu that’s available now. And based on what Bruce told me, should be available at least through the summer. For the first-timers, the menu is a great introduction to the restaurant, offering as it does dishes from the LG hall of fame, some of which were on the menu in the first year. Dishes that have been foundations of the restaurant over the years. Rabbit liver pâté (which he used to serve with housemade poppy seed crackers, the seeds collected from garden poppies). Blintzes filled with Sally Jackson sheep’s milk cheese. Boeuf à la ficelle with cabernet-pressings sauce. And of course, ending with the salade in true French style, mixed lettuces with a colorful scattering of edible flowers in a pitch-perfect vinaigrette.

Bruce’s call was inspiration enough to get me and my husband back there for dinner last week. Though we couldn’t limit ourselves to the 3 courses of that anniversary selection, instead opting for the seasonal 7-course tasting menu. Which means returning another time for the Whidbey Island mussels with lovage and steelhead with gooseberry and dill sauce. Instead, we sipped at a fascinating and delicious radish and rose soup. Tucked into seared foie gras with aprium and yuzu leaf sauce. Relished a ragout of morels and asparagus. Devoured steelhead wrapped in fig leaf (from their garden) in a vin de noix sauce. And, heaven help us (a generous menu!), beef tenderloin with housemade jowl bacon, cèpes, and crispy spaetzle. The latter course served, in quintessential Le Gourmand style, with a pretty side dish of buttery baby red potatoes, kale, and cabbage. Salad was all the dessert we needed after that feast. Delicious.

I suppose it’s pretty obvious by now. I love Le Gourmand. Enough so that I deemed it to be worthy of nod as the “millenial Seattle restaurant” that I covered in the December 1999 issue of Seattle Magazine, an honor I got to bestow not long after starting my stretch there as food editor. A couple small changes since then. Where once a garden plot rested at the south edge of the restaurant, that’s now where contented cocktailers sip their Vespers and Sangue Amaros on the garden patio of Sambar. And the once French-garden colorscape of pinks and greens of Le Gourmand’s interior has given way to bold white walls and whimsical marionettes.

Otherwise Le Gourmand is the same gem is has always been. Ridden the waves of booms and busts and restaurant trends that come and go. “Naftaly has every reason to be proud of what he creates at Le Gourmand,” I wrote back in 1999, “and the significant role he has played in defining what it means to eat locally and eat well in Seattle.” With another ten years under his belt, to me that still very much holds true. As does Bruce hold true to what matters to him most. His kitchen, his garden, seasonal foods, local producers. His family, his customers. His cooking.

Le Gourmand Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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