Technically it is fall, but not quite so – the summer of 2015 is refusing to leave the area. This Indian summer makes me immensely happy, it makes me feel glorious, and fresh, and happy to be wearing silk dresses and flip flops still, and sleeping with the windows open, and baking pies with peaches and plums instead of pumpkins, and not having to carry umbrella, and cheating on fall and winter and dark rainy days. If you, like me are a creature wildly addicted to Game of Thrones, you’ll recall how in every single episode they say “winter is coming”, “winter is coming” at least half a dozen of times, and they say it with that grave voice and that scared look on their faces. Well, that about describes how I feel about winter. The White Walkers and the wild beasts and all the scary creatures and scary things that live outside the Wall, and that never-ending frost, almost as icy as the cold day on the North East -- that is EXACTLY how I feel about winter.
Summer is refusing to leave the area, I am refusing to let it go, and the market is cooperating. Over the course of last week I scouted the New York City markets several times and scored a bounty most beautiful, the sweetest and most fragrant produce imaginable. All the colors of the rainbow gathered in my basket: red, orange, yellow, green, purple and blue, yes even blue, and you know how difficult it is to find blue foods. And by that I mean naturally blue and appealing looking foods, the kind of foods one actually would like to eat.
Indian summer is a whole new level of Zen. Sitting next to an open window, right at the gates of October, bursting with warmth and sunshine, enjoying the last breaths of summer beauty, knowing that they are about to disappear. But, for this brief moment, summer is still around, lingering in the corners of my apartment, playing hide and seek with raindrops and cold winds, and I will breath with it, breathe its last breaths, enjoying them to the fullest, because in a day or so, it will be over. As far I am concerned, summer is still around and pumpkins will have to wait.
White Peach, Cornmeal and Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Verbena Glaze
This cake is a variation on a recipe for Plum Cake, which my good friend Vlada, a great chef and co-owner of a New York based catering company Appetite, baked for our Indian summer picnic last year.
for the cake
* 3 large white peaches or nectarines
* 1 cup self rising flour, plus more for the pan (if using all purpose flour instead of self rising, add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder to it)
* 1/2 cup coarsely ground cornmeal
* 1 cup sugar
* 3 eggs
* 3 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
* 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan
* finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
* 1 tsp orange blossom water (I use Cortes)
* 1/2 tsp cardamom (optional)
* 2 tbsp Limoncello (optional)
* 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
* 3/4-1 cup lemon verbena simple syrup (see recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 325F convection (350F regular). Oil and flour 11” round pie pan.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar and cardamom. Mix well.
In a smaller bowl, whisk eggs. Add orange juice, Limoncello, vanilla extract, oil and lemon zest, and incorporate into the flour mix. Mix gently and try not to overmix the batter. Pour the batter into the pan.
Wash the peaches, halve lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch thin slices. Layer the peach slices on top of the batter, radiating from the center of the pan.
Bake the cake on the middle rack of the oven, for about 30-40 minutes. The cake should be golden, and pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and poor warm lemon verbena syrup all over. Serve slightly warm, or at room temperature.
Lemon Verbena Simple Syrup
* 1 cup water
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 cup fresh lemon verbena leaves
Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Boil until sugar is completely disolved. Add lemon verbena. Reduce heat to minimum, so that the syrup is barely simmering, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the syrup and let it stand for another 15 minutes. Strain, discarding lemon verbena. (The syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one month.)
Thai Eggplant Curry with Onion Paste
for the curry
* 2 lb Kermits (Thai eggplants), cut into 3/4-inch cubes
* 1 small yellow onion (about 4 oz), minced
* 1 small red onion (about 4 oz), minced
* 1 can (14 oz) of coconut milk
* 2 tbsp sunflower oil, plus more for roasting the eggplant
* salt and pepper
* 1 tsp curry powder
* 1 tsp cumin powder
* 1 tsp cardamom powder
* 1/2 tsp mustard powder
* 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
* 8 curry leaves
* one two-inch cinnamon stick, split in half crosswise
for the paste
* one medium yellow onion (about 6 oz), cut in chunks
* 3 garlic cloves
* zest of one lime
* juice of 1/2 lime
* 2 tsp fresh oregano
* 2 kafir lime leaves
* a handful of Thai basil leaves
* a piece of ginger, about 2 oz in weight
Preheat the oven to 350F convection (375F regular). Drizzle the eggplant cubes with oil, so that they are coated nicely, sprinkle with salt, and roast in the oven until they are nicely charred and begin to soften. Be careful not to over-roast the eggplants, they should not be falling apart.
While the eggplants are in the oven, make the paste. In a blender or food processor, mix all the ingredients and pulse until smooth paste forms. If needed to get the blades going, add a drop or two of water.
In a medium pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat, add the onion and sweat for about 15 minutes, until the onions are very soft and almost falling apart. Be careful not to brown the onions. Add all the spices and simmer for another minute or two until the spices are very fragrant. Add the paste and simmer with the spices for another five minutes. Add the eggplants and the coconut milk and continue to simmer for another five to ten minutes, until the eggplants become tender. Serve.