Laurent’s Pantry

For anyone who’s read the Maggie Newberry Mystery books, it should be clear that food, the preparation of it, and the consuming of it, is a big deal to me. Not surprisingly, my culinary leaning is toward the French side, specifically, Mediterranean, and uncomplicated as opposed to multi-step, multi-layered recipes. I hope you find something here to try. I promise you it will be delicious, good for you, and easy to whip up. What more can you ask from food?

Tomato Tart
I love this tomato tart. First, it’s easy to make but, even better, the tomatoes don’t have to be stellar. I have a million recipes for tomato dishes and since the season isn’t all that long, I have to improvise. This is an improvisation that does not taste like a compromise. C’est simplement:

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a 9-inch springform pan, toss 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs with 1/4-cup olive oil and press into bottom to form the crust. In a bowl, whisk 1-cup whole milk ricotta (don’t use skim, live a little) with 1/2-cup grated Parmesan, 2 large eggs and 2-TBs chopped fresh basil. Salt and pepper it all and spread this batter over the crust. On top, arrange 1-1/2 lbs thinly sliced tomatoes. Brush with olive oil and bake until tomatoes are nearly dry, about 40 min. Let it cool, unmold. Serve warm or room temperature.

Tomato Eggplant Gratin

My family is addicted to this dish and I make it ALL the time. I make it so much because you don’t need great tomatoes to make it work, because you can use it as a relish on any kind of meat or fish or as the hero on all-veggie plate and because it’s good for you. Oh. Did I mention it’s so delicious you’ll weep with pleasure? Well, that too.

Here we go…a little more time-intensive than anything else I do but worth it. Make a bunch so you can eat it all week long on everything. You’ll need:
Eggplants
Tomatoes
Garlic
Parmesan cheese
First. Slice a large (or two) eggplant diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Salt them and leave them to sweat. Thirty minutes later, rinse and blot with a paper towel. Set up two large frying pans (you can use one but learn from my many years of doing this–have two pans going at once so you’re not in the kitchen all afternoon.) Coat the bottoms of the hot pans with olive oil and fry up your eggplant slices. You want them golden so watch ’em closely and turn with tongs. Meanwhile, combine 1/2-cup grated Parmesan, 2 tsps fresh oregano, 4 minced garlic cloves (I use about ten but my family’s mad for garlic) and set aside. Slice up tomatoes (you can use plum tomatoes if you want) in about 1/4-inch slices. Once the eggplant is done (you’ll be removing the done ones to a pan or paper towel as you go along), arrange the eggplant and tomato slices in alternating rows in a gratin that’s been coated with cooking spray. Spoon the garlic cheese mixture between the slices and bake covered for an hour at 375 degrees. Pull off the cover and bake an additional 10 minutes. Then, get ready to die happy.

Aioli
Okay, now I fear I’m coming very close to being considered a veritable font of hyperbole and exaggeration so I worry that you won’t believe me when I tell you that the addition of this one single side dish to your life will absolutely change you and your world for the better. Guaranteed. Irrevocably. Aioli is rivaled only by truffles and foie gras for being the most exquisite thing you can put in your mouth (and nobody has to die from an exploding liver in the process. Win win.) It has only three ingredients: olive oil, garlic and an egg. It is so sublime in its simplicity that you will be shocked to discover it is extremely difficult to make. I, for one, have never mastered it. My husband, thankfully, has. Either learn how to do it or marry you someone who can do it. It’s important. Aioli is magic on anything. The French dollop it on toasted bread and float it in their soups. They drop it on fish, veggies, meat, egg dishes–you name it, it makes everything better. If all this weren’t enough, it has healing powers. I kid you not. In our house, if someone has a sore throat coming on, my husband drags out the mortar and pestle and begins the process of making them well (and delighting the rest of us in the bargain.) Whether it’s the garlic or the wonderful taste, I can’t say (my husband says it’s the garlic), but it works, I swear and you can ask anyone I almost hardly ever, like never, swear, normally. Ever.

To try to make it yourself, take a room-temperature egg and set aside. Using the mortar and pestle, pound 3 peeled garlic cloves to mush. Add in the egg yolk (NOT the white) and then the olive oil–drop by drop–until the stuff emulsifies. At this point, my husband switches to a food processor, scraping it into the processor and drop-drop-drop-dropping the oil thru the little funnel thingy. You can go a little faster at this point in the oil-pouring but be forewarned: pour too much oil in and the whole thing “breaks” and you’re left with watery eggy oil. I’m told it can still be rescued at this point if it does break but it usually involves another egg yolk (you did bring two out, didn’t you?) and more tedious drop by dropping. Mind you, it’s worth it. Or, you could just go to YouTube and watch the videos of the masters do it. It didn’t help me but hopefully it will with you.
Trust me, if you can get it to work–it’s life-changing in its awesomeness.

Caprese Salad
Obviously I must have a thing for tomatoes. I never realized before how large they figure in so many of my favorite dishes! This dish is, like the others, amazingly simple and also very delicious. And beautiful. My recipe is more an assembly than an actual recipe. Arrange the ingredients as you like and serve. Voila! Use only ripe, perfect big red tomatoes. A ball of mozzarella, sliced in thickness to match how you slice the tomatoes. Lettuce or greenery of some kind for it all to sit on. Salsa verdeto drizzle over the top and dot a few capers on, too.

Salsa verde: blend  coarsely chopped cilantro and parsley (no stems!) Pulse in processor, add a cup or so  of extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste. I actually use salsa verde instead of mayonnaise when I’m making tomato/bacon sandwiches. Experiment with it. Very fresh tasting. Very lush.

Nigella’s Killer Brownies
No way Maggie could live without chocolate! And Laurent understands that, of course. These are the ultimate brownies. The recipe is Nigella Lawson’s. They are so rich, you’ll only be able to make them once every year or so, but the memory and new heights of your culinary fame will reach far beyond your lifetime.

  • 3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces best-quality bittersweet chocolate
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups superfine sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate buttons, chips, or morsels
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate buttons, chips or morsels
  • Approximately 2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
  • Special equipment: Baking tin (approximately 11 1/4 inches by 9 inches by 2 inches), sides and base lined with baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
Melt the butter and dark chocolate together in a large heavy based pan over a low heat.
In a bowl or large measuring jug, beat the eggs together with the superfine sugar and vanilla extract.
Allow the chocolate mixture to cool a little, then add the egg and sugar mixture and beat well. Fold in the flour and salt. Then stir in the white chocolate buttons or chips, and the semisweet chocolate buttons or chips. Beat to combine then scrape and pour the brownie mixture into the prepared tin.
Bake for about 25 minutes. You can see when the brownies are ready because the top dries to a slightly paler brown speckle, while the middle remains dark, dense and gooey. Even with such a big batch you do need to keep checking on it: the difference between gooey brownies and dry ones is only a few minutes. Remember, too, that they will continue to cook as they cool.
To serve, cut into squares while still warm and pile up on a large plate, sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar pushed with a teaspoon through a small sieve.

Note: I call ’em “Killer” because they are seriously chocolatey and dense–not cakey, not fudgy. My twelve year-old son once ate one and claimed his throat started to close up. So. Let the kiddies have the Duncan Hines. These are seriously grown up brownies for serious chocolate-lovers.

Laurent’s other recipes include:

Eggs

Custard Tart

Stuffed peppers or légumes farcis

Beef stew

Perfect omelet

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