Zoë Hiking 2003, charcoal on paper, 38 x 30 inches (from a 1976 photo)
June is birthday month for us as we celebrate Bud and Zoë on the 10th and 11th. Each year we plan something special for those days. This time Zoë organized a camping trip to Hermit Park, just fifteen miles up the highway from Blue Mountain Road. We shared the cooking tasks and I brought grilled salmon, potatoes with a vinaigrette and olives, (in Lunch for an Artist), and grilled asparagus for our first evening. Zoë surprised Bud with his favorite dessert, banana cream tarts, easier to transport than a whole pie. And she brought a pint Mason jar to use to make the whipped cream topping – by shaking! It really worked, perhaps with Bud’s magic touch.
Zoë made our dinner the second night, using a box of Annie’s mac and cheese for a base. This is real camp food and we all feel some nostalgia for other camping trips when Annie’s was the easy choice for dinner. She embellished the basics with roasted red peppers, peas and basil. Perfect after a day of hiking and lounging around the campsite.
It was great to get away into the mountains, if only up the road a piece.
Meanwhile, the weeks stretch on and I look for distraction in my cooking. We often have vegetarian meals and during this stay-at-home time with limited grocery shopping, it’s what I want to cook. I have dipped into cookbooks that hadn’t been cracked open in a while and rediscovered dishes. The chard I planted last year self-seeded profusely in unexpected spots so I was pleased to find a recipe for chard gratin in Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors.
Wash, then strip the leaves of a couple bunches of chard from the stalks. Chop the leaves into 1/2 inch ribbons and the 1/2 of the stalks into 1/4 inch pieces. Chop a medium sized onion into dice and sauté in two tablespoons of butter with the chopped stalks until translucent. Add the leaves, and the water that clings to them, and cook until tender.
Make a bechamel with one tablespoon butter, one tablespoon flour, and a cup of milk. Cook for a few minutes then add a cup of grated cheese – cheddar, gruyere, goat cheese, or whatever you have and like, and a bit of parmesan. Add this to the veggies and scrap into an oiled baking dish, here a treasured piece by Betty Woodman.
In a small skillet, melt one tablespoon butter and brown one cup of panko or other bread crumbs. Stir in three tablespoons of fresh herbs – dill, parsley, chives, mint – and a finely minced clove of garlic. Strew the crumbs over the chard mixture and bake at 350° for 25 minutes until browned and bubbly.
In the New York Times I found a delicious looking recipe for asparagus and orzo with lemon. Succulent pasta, lots of tender asparagus, and again, crunchy bread crumbs.
Cook a cup of orzo in boiling water until almost tender. Drop in a pound of asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1/4 inch pieces and cook for a couple more minutes. Drain and toss with the dressing – 1/4 cup of olive oil, the zest and juice of a lemon, salt and pepper. When cool, add 1/4 cup or so of grated parmesan, and 1/2 cup chopped dill, parsley and mint. Top the salad with 1/2 cup of panko that has been browned in a tablespoon of olive oil. Serve warm or at room temperature.
And finally, a lentil salad from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I had roasted tomatoes on hand so this dish was a quicky but if your pantry does not hold them, they are easy to make and a great condiment to have on hand.
Halve largish cherry tomatoes or small Romas and place, cut side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment. I do this in the toaster oven. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, some crushed, chopped garlic and salt. Bake at 275° for an hour and a half until semi-dried but still juicy. Store in a jar, covered in a thin layer of olive oil, in the fridge.
Put 1/2 a small, thinly sliced red onion in a bowl with a big pinch of salt and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar. Let them marinate while you cook a cup of black or French green lentils. I used Rancho Gordo black caviar lentils – superb. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, then, while lentils are warm, add the onions and vinegar. When cool, stir in lots of chopped parsley, dill and chives.
On a platter or individual plates, layer the lentils and onions with roasted tomatoes and crumbled bleu cheese. I like mild Amish blue here but the original recipe calls for gorgonzola.