The Last Hurrah

Rich heard the clanging and crashing from the back room and came running. My guess is he was worried that a plate had fallen to the floor, or maybe a pot had slipped from its hook off the rack on the wall. The noise turned out to be the sound of a serving spoon scraping the last bits of the buttermilk dressing off the serving dish directly into my mouth.

“Oof. Yuuwersppdtuseethif,” I said by way of explanation. (For those of you who don’t ordinarily deal with people talking with serving spoons and platters in their mouths, what I said was “Oops. You weren’t supposed to see this.”) I swallowed, licked the spoon, and put the dish back on the table.

I couldn’t help myself. Really, I couldn’t. I saw this dinner as a final farewell for my tomatoes and peaches. Sure, I knew there’d be a few more to come in next week’s CSA box, but something had happened overnight in Boston. As soon as we’d turned the page on Labor Day, the sky grew dark, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, and a near-constant rain started to fall. Summer, the clouds seemed to say, is definitely over.  All I had left to remind me of the season were some ripe tomatoes and peaches. These needed to be treated with utmost respect; something special for their last hurrah.

I’m not sure if it was the storm or a dream, but the night before I sat straight up in bed and whispered “buttermilk,” which had taken on a kind of reverence that perhaps someone’s childhood sled name whispered by a fireside might. The thought of buttermilk haunted me the next day, its creaminess, its twang. I wanted it to bathe my tomatoes in it. And, if I was lucky and found the right recipe, my peaches could enjoy a buttermilk treatment as well.

I found the dressing recipe I was looking for via Deb, who found hers via Gourmet. I changed mine up a little bit, using a summer sweet Vidalia onion instead of a shallot. I have leftovers of the dressing, and I plan on drizzling it on top of every vegetable in my crisper, then perhaps going out to the market and buying a plain old head of iceberg lettuce to continue the dressing-fest.

The peach cake came via the food community Food52, which was founded by Amanda Hesser, a food writer for the New York Times, and Merrill Stubs, a freelance food writer and recipe tester. The site’s first project was a crowd-sourced cookbook, and this recipe was one of their first contests winners: You submit a recipe, readers vote, and each week the winning recipe makes it into a cookbook, hence the name Food52. I think the tasting notes on this one sum it up:

The cake is chock full of juicy summer peaches, and the addition of ground almonds sets it apart from other simple butter cakes. It’s luscious and a bit custardy in the areas surrounding the peaches — a texture that works when the cake is either warm or at room temperature. Don’t be alarmed if the batter seems to curdle when you add the buttermilk, as it will come together again once you mix in the dry ingredients.

If you’re on the fence about purchasing an entire bottle of buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk. In five minutes, you’ll have enough buttermilk for both these recipes.

Buttermilk Dressing

Ingredients

1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons minced Vidalia onion

1 Tablespoon sugar

3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives

Directions

Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, onion, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until sugar has dissolved, then whisk in chives.

Simple Summer Peach Cake

Ingredients

3 ripe peaches

3/4 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

1 cup sugar

6 Tablespoons softened unsalted butter

1 large egg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Turbinado sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Cut the peaches into bite sized pieces. Toss the peaches with nutmeg and 2 tablespoons sugar. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and remaining sugar with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the egg, buttermilk and extracts, and stir to combine.

Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this flour mixture to the butter mixture, mix until smooth (some lumps may remain). Pour into the prepared pan.

Press the peaches into the top of the cake. They can be nicely arranged, but it made more sense to cram as many peaches as possible into the cake. Sprinkle Turbinado sugar over the top.

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Almond Joy

This past December, my friend Rachel and her roommate hosted a small Chanukah dinner party at their apartment. They roasted a chicken, fried latkes, tossed together a salad of mesclun and goat cheese. And then there were the green beans.

I must admit that until this point in my life, most of the green beans almondine I’d had were by way of Bird’s Eye: out of the freezer, into microwave. The foil-wrapped almonds don’t usually make it into the toaster oven and are treated as an optional addition at the table.

But the green beans almondine at this Chanukah party, wow! I may have had two servings of them, then I may have loitered in the kitchen until it was decided that there weren’t quite enough left over to dig around for a small Tupperware. And then maybe, just maybe, I greedily ate the rest of the beans and golden almonds directly from the serving dish. I can’t quite remember if I used a fork for that final mini-serving, or just gobbled them up with my fingers.

There are a few things working together for this dish. One, I think, is to toast the almonds in the saute pan at the beginning and all the way through the making of the dish, rather than separately in a toaster oven or small pan. The second is the mix of butter and olive oil. I’ve actually tried this dish with a bit more butter, making it two tablespoons or so, and it was too buttery. (No, really, there can be such a thing.) Definitely stick with just a tablespoon of each fat.  And there’s the fresh sage, a small but impactful last-minute addition that really ties the beans, nuts and garlic altogether. Finally, and please don’t cringe when I say this, remember to salt liberally every step of the way. The nuts get a little salty because of it, but the beans are just right, and let’s face it: salty nuts are delicious.

I happened to have both green beans and sage in the house this week. The slivered almonds I always have on hand; I store them in the freezer to keep them from spoiling.

Green Beans Almondine

Ingredients

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb. of green beans, cleaned, ends trimmed

About five cloves of garlic (yes, really) chopped

1/4 to 1/3 cup slivered almonds

Two leaves sage, julienned very thin

Salt

Water

Directions

Melt butter in a saute pan that has a lid on a medium heat. When melted, add the olive oil; it should take no more than 20 seconds for them to make friends. Add the garlic, almonds and a pinch of salt to the melted butter and oil. Stir everything together for about a minute and a half, but make sure your garlic doesn’t brown. You might want to turn the flame down a little bit to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Add the green beans and a pinch of salt. Stir everything together for another minute. Add about 3/4 cup of water, lower heat to medium low and cover pan with lid.

It should take about 20 minutes for the green beans to soften. They will no longer be the bright green they turned when you added the water, but shouldn’t look too dulled, either. About 10 minutes in, do a quality-control bite. Most likely you’ll add another pinch of salt to continue to draw out the beans’ flavor. The nuts will have turned a bit more golden. There should be enough water to steam them the rest of the way, but if you’re scared they’re going to burn, add a few more tablespoons of water. Recover pan. About 10 minutes later, do another check. Chances are the beans will be cooked all the way through. Taste them again. Do they need more salt? If the beans are now soft, stir in the fresh sage and let everything cook together for about two minutes more. If the beans aren’t yet soft enough, cover the lid and cook them for about five minutes or until soft, taste, then add the sage.

Try not to eat too many with your fingers as you cook them.