The New Englander within

AriCooks, dessert, Savory pies and quiches, Summer, Tips and Tricks, vegetarian

It’s always been like this. When you grow up in two places you develop a split (or “dual” if you’re feeling magnanimous) identity. When Jeff and I returned to the States in ’99, I was on a mission to embrace the American in me (the New Englander, especially) with a new and almost fanatical conviction. Done with feeling rootless, I embraced Boston and all it had to offer. My Israeli past became a footnote in conversation with new friends and acquaintances and over time I was able to avoid talking about it all together. Although I had many unresolved feelings and attachments towards the country where I had spent nearly a third of my pre-adult life, I tried to channel them all into my cooking, and spent little time thinking about or discussing Israel outside of the culinary sphere.

I did that for eleven years. Then one day, I looked at my little girl and realized that if I did not act, she might never have an Israeli identity (however fraught) of her own. Petrified by the thought, I began to reconsider my own position on the matter. Although both Jeff and I had benefited enormously from the experiences and connections we had made in Boston, if we stayed too much longer, leaving would be almost impossible professionally. Other repressed feelings began to well up and, feeling that we were at a crossroads, we decided to return despite the cries of shock from nearly everyone we knew. When you try to ignore a lost love for so long, and fool everyone else even half as well as you’ve fooled yourself, there will be some explaining to do.

All that being said, eleven years was the longest  time I ever spent outside Israel and I did succeed in becoming that American I wanted so badly to be. The New Englander within surprises me with her expectations and sometimes prudishness (shyness?). In a society where manners are at the bottom of most people’s priorities, my inner-Bostonian balks at behavior I would not have noticed at 19. I need an inch or two more personal space than most people and I don’t like touching anyone except my closest friends and family. I imagine these things will lessen over time, but other things, like my love of cranberry season, apple picking, and cider donuts, may not. That I love Maine summers and orange blossoms equally helps illustrate the crux of my problem. Destined to be a New Englander in Israel and an Israeli in New England, trying to figure out how to be at home in the world is my greatest challenge.

Friday Night Quiche and a Saturday Fruit Salad

Vegetable Quiche

SInce it’s July in Israel I suppose it goes without saying that stew was not on the menu last night. Coming up with filling (but not heavy) summer meals is my main culinary challenge right now. Cold noodle and grain salads have been our main courses for weeks and it was time for something else. I decided to capitalize on my challah’s baking time and do quiche simultaneously, a dish we enjoy cold as well as warm. 

For the dough:

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

8 Tbs cold Butter

2 Tbs cold shortening (I use the vegan margarine for this – you can also just use 2 more Tbs of butter)

1 egg yolk

ice water

Have all ingredients very cold (you can even mix the dry ingredients and put them in the fridge for a little while to chill them).

Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor and add the butter and shortening (cut in Tbs-size chunks) and pulse a few times until butter and shortening are pea-size. Add yolk and a couple Tbs of cold water and pulse a few times until dough starts to come together it should not form a ball in your processor, but rather hold together in a clump, when squeezed. Add more cold water if necessary, just a little at a time, until you have a dough that you can squeeze into a ball. Turn it out onto a counter and gather together and press into a disk (handle as little as possible, so that your butter stays cold).

If you do this by hand, you must work very quickly, cutting the butter into the flour and salt with a pastry cutter or 2 knives. Add the egg and ice water and continue to “cut” it in — not mixing or heating the dough up with your hands.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

For the filling:

4-5 yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 large red bell peppers, roasted (see below)

I bunch of swiss chard, washed well, stems removed and chopped separately

1/3 cup goat/sheep feta

1/3-1/2 cup grated pecorino

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

olive oil

salt and pepper

caramelize the onions like this.

While the onions are caramelizing, roast the peppers:

Place an oven rack about 6 inches from the heating element and preheat the broiler. Place the peppers on a sheet pan lined with foil and slide them under the broiler. Let the skins of the peppers char on one side, then use tongs to turn each pepper 90 degrees. Repeat until the peppers are evenly charred on all sides and have collapsed.

Place them in a bag or covered bowl and allow the skins to steam off for 15 minutes.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them and slice thinly.

Add some olive oil to a wide saute pan (you can use the one you cooked the onions in) and saute the chopped chard stems with salt and pepper until they are soft, then add the chard leaves and cover the pot until they have cooked down, 5-7 minutes.

Roll out your pie dough — you will need to allow it to soften for 10 minutes out of the fridge. Dust a counter top and the surface of the dough with flour and roll out into a 1/3 inch-thick round. Transfer it to an ungreased pie plate and crimp the edges.

Parbake the crust for 10 minutes at 350°F/180°C, then remove from the oven.

Thinly slice the feta and spread it over the bottom of the shell. Next add 1/2 the onions and the peppers.

Spread the cooked chard (with stems) onto the pepper-onions layer, then add remaining onions and roasted peppers.

Beat 5-6 eggs with 1/2 the grated pecorino plus salt and pepper to taste and a 1/4 cup of milk or soy milk.

Pour the egg mixture into the shell and sprinkle parsley and the remaining pecorino over the top.

Bake at 350°F/180°C, for 35-45 minutes, until it is no longer wobbly in the center.

Summer Fruit Salad

Since I am a dessert show-off, my inner pastry-artist feels a bit stifled when I am asked to bring fruit to a gathering. In an effort to express myself fully while still honoring the hostess’s wishes, I got out my pastry cutter and went to work on this simple 3-fruit salad. 

1/4 watermelon

2 cups rainier cherries

3-4 large plums

mint sprigs

Chop or ball watermelon with a melon baller.

Pit and halve cherries

Thinly slice plums and use a star pastry/cookie cutter to cut stars out of the slices (or use whatever small cutter-shape you have handy).

Use the stars and the slices with the star cut-out to decorate the top of the fruit salad, as well as fresh mint sprigs.