Peach and Plum Crostata

I never get tired of making crostatas (also sometimes called galettes). They're basically pies... except they're free-form, less dense, and require no blind baking or much fuss.

Due to the warm and dry winter, stone fruit season arrived early in Southern California. I want to take full advantage of everything peach, plum, pluot, apricot and cherry while the season is still here. Of course, the fruit is perfect to eat just as it is... but somehow when I use stone fruit for baking I feel like I'm really doing the season justice.

This recipe makes really flaky not too sweet pastry. The fruit is great, but honestly the crust is my favorite part of the dessert (but I am a pastry and baked-good fiend). I don't like my filling too sweet, but if you prefer a sweeter fruit you can add 1/4 cup of sugar instead of 2-3 tablespoons. Also, taste your fruit. Some stone fruit is sweeter, some is pretty tart. Mine were on the sour side, and I don't mind that too much, but next time I want a slightly sweeter fruit to start with. The natural flavor of the fruit can't be masked when it is baked: a sweet fruit will be sweeter, and a sour fruit will stay pretty tart. Also, if you find that you have those dry mealy flavorless peaches and plums they won't really get much better when they are baked. This is a simple dish so each ingredient should be the best it can be.

This is the perfect sweet thing to serve on a day when summer is coming, but it's still not too hot to bake. Or... suffer the heat, just make sure to serve yourself a slice with a big scoop of cold vanilla ice cream.

Peach and Plum Crostata
makes 2 crostatas
recipe can be halved - each crostata serves 6-8 (depending on slice size preference)

for the crust-
2½ cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks), very cold diced into cubes
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, very cold

4-6 tablespoons ice water
1 egg yolk
1 splash of water

for the fruit filling-

1½ lbs. (about 9-10 small) plums or pluots, pitted and cut into equal sized slices
1 lb. peaches (about 4 medium) peaches, pitted and cut into equal sized sliced
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar plus more for garnish, depending on preference and how sweet the fruit is
1 tablespoon honey, plus more for garnish
zest of 1 organic lemon (if you're using the zest, organic is important)
juice of ½ a lemon

2 tablespoons butter, divided

for the crust-

In a food processor or using a whisk and a bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar together. To the dry ingredients add the cubed butter, pulse until pea-sized pieces of dough are formed. Or, use a pastry cutter and combine the butter and flour mixture until the same pea-sized pieces of dough are formed.

To the dough, add the apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water at a time. Pulse in the food processor, or mix with your hands, until the dough comes together but is not too wet. It should look kind of crumbly but will easily stick together between your fingers when squeezed. Transfer the dough onto a lightly flour dusted clean flat surface. Divide the dough in half. Form the dough into two equal-sized disks (flatter disks are easier to roll out than balls of dough). Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour (two to three hours is ideal). 

for the filling-

Slice the stone fruit so that they are all roughly the same thickness. Transfer the fruit to a large bowl and add the flour, sugar, honey, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Lightly toss the mixture; be careful not to break the fruit.

assemble and bake-

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the racks on the top and bottom third parts of the oven.

Place parchment paper on a flat surface and lightly dust it with flour (the parchment paper will help you transfer the dough onto a baking sheet - I usually do this and forgot this time and it was fine just trickier). Roll out one of your disks into a large circle about 13-14 inches in diameter, and about 1/2 an inch thick. The edges do not have to be perfectly round. It can actually be prettier if the edges are slightly broken and uneven.

Fill the center of the rolled out dough with half of the fruit filling mixture. Dot the top of the fruit mixture with little bits of butter (about 1 tablespoon per crostata). Leave a 2-3 inch border of dough around the fruit.

Fold the border of dough over the fruit (see below). Again, this doesn't have to be perfect... you just want the dough to fold over and cover part of the fruit. Transfer the finished crostata onto a baking sheet (line with parchment paper if you didn't roll the dough out onto to begin with). Repeat the process with the second disc of dough, and the rest of the fruit filling. Transfer the crostata onto a second baking sheet.

Make an egg wash by beating together 1 large egg yolk with a splash of water. Brush the egg yolk onto the dough. Sprinkle more turbinado sugar (or any coarse sugar) onto the the brushed dough.

Place both sheet pans into the oven. After 20 minutes, rotate and switch the sheet pans so the top crostata moves to the bottom and the bottom crostata bakes at the top. Bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the crostatas are golden brown and the fruit is tender. If the crust starts to brown too much before the fruit is cooked, cover the the exposed crust with foil. 

Once baked, drizzle a little honey over the fruit-exposed part of the hot crostata. Slice and serve warm or at room temp.

Summer Rolls

At some point in my summer roll making practice, I decided to deviate from tradition. It took awhile, but after years of making them, it dawned on me that summer rolls are a vehicle that can be filled with whatever I want (i.e. rice paper wrappers are to summer rolls what flour tortillas are to burritos). Sometimes I add a protein, sometimes I add classic vermicelli noodles, and sometimes I add whatever ingredients I'm in the mood for that sound like they'd be good wrapped up together.

I made these as an appetizer for a potluck dinner on a recent hot late summer day (or middle summer day, as LA summers last until nearly Thanksgiving). These are basically salad in summer roll form. They should really be called salad rolls. I filled them with big meaty slices of avocado, fresh herbs and other veggies. You can fill these with your favorite vegetables. You could throw in some protein for a more substantial app. You could go out of left field and fill them with smoked salmon cream cheese, capers, and the other fixins' that usually go on a bagel. Have fun with it. You can make these hours before (or even the night before) you intend to serve them, which is an added bonus to the dish. 

I served these with a peanut sauce, but you could even serve this with your favorite salad dressing, or even plain soy sauce.

You get the point, the recipe is versatile.

I love these on summer days, when all you want to do is sit back with something ice-cold, talk to your friends, share something light to eat, and hang out on a porch in the slowly cooling night air. 

Salad Rolls
Serves 6-8

for the rolls-
1/2 a red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 an English cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 Hass avocado, sliced
1/2 a lemon
3 radishes, cut thin 
2-3 cups baby kale/greens (or your favorite lettuce)
fresh mint
fresh cilantro
fresh basil

for the peanut sauce-
1/3 cup creamy natural peanut butter (unsweetened is best, but you can definitely use regular peanut butter, just add less sweetener to the sauce)
2-3 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons light soy sauce (or to taste)
juice of half a lime 
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or to taste, you can sub sugar for maple syrup or omit entirely)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced or grated fine
1 inch ginger root, minced or grated fine
pinch of dried chili flake

for the rolls-
Start by prepping all of your veggie. I make a station for myself on a large cutting board:
I cut the veggies (I used a mandolin for the radish), I squeeze lemon juice over the avocado (to keep it green and for added flavor), I remove the herbs from their stems, and I put everything into their own separate piles.

Next, I heat some water, and get a big 9 x 13 baking dish that I can pour a few inches of water into. You could also use a big bowl.

Then I take the rice paper wrappers (spring roll wrapper rice paper). You can find the wrappers in Asian markets, and they are also often in the Asian section of your grocery store. I have found them at Whole Foods, Gelson's and other big chain markets. You dip the wrapper into the warm water until it just starts to soften (about 10-20 seconds depending on the temp of the water). You don't want the wrapper to get too soft, or it will break apart. You just want it to become pliable. It will continue to absorb the water and soften when you place it on the cutting board.

Place the softened wrapper onto the cutting board, and begin adding your filling to it.
You can layer these however you like. I started with herbs. Next, I added my cut veggies.
Then I added my greens. At this point, you're ready to roll. You can basically wrap these like you would a burrito.

Fold over the sides first. Don't worry about perfection, just worry about making sure everything gets wrapped up tightly and is secure.
Next wrap the bottom part of the wrapper over the vegetables, and make sure the wrapper is tightly securing everything.
Roll the wrapper up tight, and your roll is finished. Don't worry if it doesn't feel like the wrapper is perfectly stuck on, it will get stickier as it sits.

And there you have it. You can now keep making the rolls until you have used up all of the veggies. The amounts given should give you about 8 rolls.
Slice the rolls in half diagonally, and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

for the peanut sauce-
In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter with a little warm water to loosen it. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and whisk together. Taste and adjust the flavors according to your liking. You can add more water if you like your sauce thinner, or you can add more peanut butter if you like it thicker. 

Big Colorful Summer Salad

My dad is visiting from Jerusalem, and inspired by the salads that he loves to eat on a daily basis, I whipped this up as a main component for a light summer dinner. Along with the salad, I served smoked salmon and turmeric spiced basmati rice. The cool bright vegetables were a perfect compliment to the smoky salmon and aromatic rice.

I don't want to be misleading. This isn't an Israeli salad. For one, most Israeli salads are made up of a combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and olive oil. Traditionally, these salads don't have lettuce, but in this case, I had a beautiful head of red leaf lettuce, and I wanted to include it to make the salad a more substantial dinnertime dish. Also, dressing for Israeli salads are super simple, and this salad includes a Dijon based vinaigrette. This salad is inspired-by, not in-the-tradition-of.

Those bright magenta things are thin slices of watermelon radish. Watermelon radish tastes similar to regular radish, but has a subtle sweetness to it. They are delicious and gorgeous and I love when they are in season. I found these at my local supermarket, but usually I spot them at the Hollywood Farmers' Market. 

The point is, for this salad you can throw in all kinds of chopped veggies on top of crisp lettuce. Think: big, colorful, and well-dressed.

Big Colorful Summer Salad
Serves 4-6

for the salad-
1 medium head red leaf lettuce, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 small persian cucumbers, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
3-4 red radishes, sliced thin
1 watermelon radish, peeled and sliced thin
2-3 scallions, sliced thin
1 generous bunch of dill, roughly chopped

for the dressing-
2 heaping teaspoons good quality Dijon
juice of 1/2 a large lemon (or a whole lemon depending on its size)
1 small garlic clove, finely minced (or you can use a press)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Drop of honey
pinch of salt and pepper

Wash and dice all of your veggies and herbs. Add them to a large salad bowl.

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients (or put them in a mason jar with a tight lid and shake it up). Taste the dressing. Add more lemon, dijon, honey, oil or salt. Dressings are all about finding the balance YOU like. Ingredients differ in terms of flavor, and proportions may have to be adjusted. Dip a piece of lettuce into the dressing if you need a better idea of how it will taste on the salad. 

Right before serving, sprinkle salt over the salad and toss. Then add the dressing to the salad. Toss until all the components are evenly coated. 

You can add crumbled feta or grilled chicken to make a meal out of the salad itself.