Monday, September 12, 2011

America the plum blossoms are falling

So last year on Labor Day Jeff and I spent an entire day, maybe two, realizing my vision of the ultimate hamburger: caramelized onions, smoked gruyere, heirloom tomatoes, anise pickles, a fried egg, and garlic mayonnaise on a homemade english muffin toasted in duck fat. That's a lot of extraneous adjectives. Menu descriptions in San Francisco always seem to follow some sort of weird trochaic meter like that. Anyway, after all that work, the burger tasted... exactly like pure fat with a pickle in the middle. It was fantastic.

This year I decided to go for something no less complicated, but almost as decadent--a summer vegetable sundae. That's right. I'll give you a moment to wipe the drool off of your iPad. I was intrigued by David Lebovitz's recipe for green pea ice cream and thought it would be a fun little gastronomical pun to pair it with some carrot cake. And what better way to celebrate Labor Day, no doubt the third or fourth most American of all holidays, than with a tribute to American produce that's available at the height of summer? I got a few more ideas as I turned this concept over in my mind. What about a corn vanilla creme anglaise spooned around the carrot cake? I'd been meaning to make one of those for a while. Instead of whipped cream, what if I complemented the mint in the ice cream with the natural tang of creme fraiche?

And what is a vegetable sundae without a cherry tomato on top? I took a handful of sun gold tomatoes (best produce on Earth--God Bless America), blanched them for a three seconds in some rapidly boiling water, chilled them in an ice bath, and then peeled them. Then I made a sugar syrup and mixed some sun gold tomato puree into that. I cooked this sun gold compote until it was just about the texture I wanted, then I let it cool off slightly and poured it over the peeled tomatoes. I stuck that in the fridge overnight until the compote had suffused the tomatoes, and then dropped one of them on top of each sundae the next evening.

I served all of this at an impromptu Labor Day dinner party with Jeff, my best-health-conscious friend Mitra, and her dining companion Brucek. Really I just wanted to invite Mitra over because I think she is the only other person on Earth who would appreciate the idea of a vegetable sundae as much as I would. Overall, I personally thought that this sundae was more of a fun concept than a delicious sundae, but people pretended to enjoy it.

And anyway, the twelve pounds of tomatoes that Jeff canned over Labor Day weekend were likely a superior celebration of the bounty of our fruited plains. If you're Jeff's mom, pretend that Jeff is not cutting a tomato holding it in his hand, with the sharp knife pointed toward himself, and that he's not doing it so fast that it appears as just a motion blur in my camera.


Recipe roundup...

Green pea ice cream from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Carrot cake from a recipe also by David Lebovitz, slightly modified. I replaced the spices with cardamom, the brown butter with 50/50 olive/vegetable oil, and the raisins with walnuts. I would not recommend these substitutions; the cake came out with a nice texture but a weird off-putting flavor like a shelf-stable snack cake you'd pick up in Chinatown after it had made a two-month journey across the Pacific in a container ship. I've previously made the original recipe, as written, and it's delicious, so I know that this was just a failed experiment on my part and not a bad recipe.

Whipped creme fraiche was made by... whipping creme fraiche. One part creme fraiche and one part heavy cream, a spoonful of sugar and a cold bowl.

Corn creme anglaise adapted from this recipe for corn creme brulee. I followed the directions except I steeped a vanilla bean in the cream before starting, and instead of baking in the oven, I just cooked it on the stove until it coated the back of a spoon.

Candied sun gold tomatoes inspired by this recipe from Oliveto in Oakland, published in the San Francisco Chronicle

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