Pa Amb Tomàquet - Catalan Grilled Bread Rubbed with Tomato

Food is central in Catalan life. Tapas bars and casual cafés serve pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato) already assembled, but some restaurants merely deliver the components to the table: a piece of chewy bread grilled over a wood fire, a perfectly ripe tomato, fine salt, and local extra-virgin olive oil. Such a simple combination depends entirely on the quality of the ingredients—they have to be perfect. The instructions here are adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Paula Wolfert’s World of Food, with her permission. This is the perfect appetizer for a casual late summer meal. Eat with a knife and fork!

Strawberry Raspberry Mille-Feuilles

In France it’s popular during the summer to make tarts and other pastries like mille-feuille aux fruits rouges or “with red fruits,” meaning basically whatever berries are in season. We can’t obtain the tiny, intensely flavored wild strawberries or fraises des bois as easily as the French, but small, perfectly sweet, height-of-the-season berries work very well in this dessert. It’s fun and tasty to combine several types of berries, and if you have access to red currants, sprinkle in a few—not too many, or the fruit mix might be too tart.

Summer Vegetable Pie

This pie came about when my friend Nancy Nicholas shared some of the produce from her Long Island garden with me. I had a couple of several kinds of vegetables, and not having enough to make a full dish from just one type, I combined them. You can add and subtract at will as long as you keep to the same weight of vegetables so you’ll have the right amount of filling for the pie. This pie is excellent on its own, but it’s also a handy side dish for simple grilled meats or fish.

Plum and Raspberry Crisp

You could use almost any combination of summer fruits in this, but sweet-tart ripe plums are perfect with tart raspberries. Choose red or green plums; prune plums come in to season later in the summer and work beautifully too. Peaches or apricots would stand in well for the plums, and earlier in the season, you could sneak in some rhubarb instead of the raspberries. Baking the topping for a few minutes while the fruit begins to cook makes it much more crisp.

Summery Tomato Tarts

Perfectly ripe tomatoes, cheese, and herbs are a great combination, so much so that I think I’ve done at least three recipes featuring them before. This time around, though, I decided that the combo needed revamping, because I wanted to be able to serve the tart completely cooled as well as fresh from the oven. That ruled out cheeses I’ve used in the past, like Gruyère, Cantal, or mozzarella, all of which get rubbery on cooling. Fresh cow’s or goat’s milk cheese is perfect—but because I don’t like how goat cheese dries out when exposed to the oven’s heat, I hid it under the tomatoes.

Strawberry and Raspberry Tart with Mint

While I hate the indiscriminate use of mint leaves as a decoration for desserts in general, the flavor of mint in moderation is wonderful with berries. Right before serving this tart, I like to scatter tiny mint leaves on it, then lightly dust it with confectioners’ sugar. If you only have large mint leaves, then stack them and cut them into fine ribbons

Mexican Cheese Tartlets (Tartas de Requesón)

In Mexico these tarts are both sold and consumed with panes dulces, Mexican sweetened breads that are eaten for breakfast and later in the day for merenda, the late afternoon meal. The cheese used in Mexico is requeson, which is very similar to Italian ricotta, as it is made from whey rather than milk. But it’s usually clotted at a higher temperature, making the curds harder than ricotta, and has a higher salt content. Part-skim-milk ricotta is a perfect substitute.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Crumble Tart

I’ve often confessed in the past to being addicted to crumb topping. Recently I even found a new way to enjoy it—atop a tart that has a prebaked crust and a creamy filling. This does necessitate the extra step of baking the crumb topping separately, but you can do that while baking the tart crust. The crisp crumb topping with a hint of chopped almonds is a perfect contrast to this tart’s light cream cheese filling and juicy strawberries

Perfect Elephant Ears

This little pastry has a different name in every country where it is made. Palm leaves, butterflies, pig’s ears, and elephant ears are the names I know, but there are doubtless many others. Really simplicity itself, they are made by rolling the puff pastry in sugar and causing it to absorb as much sugar as possible during the process. When the “ears” bake, the sugar caramelizes, and that delicate caramel flavor mingles with the butter in the dough.

Raspberry Meringue Wedge

In the fall of 1986, I was teaching my first career-training intensive baking course at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking school when I learned that Peter’s birthday was a few days away. I asked Gaynor Grant, our registrar, what kind of a cake I should make for Peter, and she told me that he absolutely adored the raspberry meringue cake from Maurice Bonté’s bakery, then the best pastry shop in Manhattan.

Mozzarella In Carrozza (Mozzarella “In a Carriage”)

This is a fun first course when served with a tomato salad, but it can also stand as a quick light meal on its own when there’s nothing else available but a piece of bread, some mozzarella, and a few eggs. There are countless variations on this recipe, some including a bit of anchovy along with the mozzarella, but this simple version is the best.

Molded Chocolate-Filled Napoleons

This was a specialty of my teacher chef Albert Kumin, who used to make it with a Grand Marnier flavored mousse at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York when he was the head pastry chef, about 50 years ago. I like to use this light chocolate mousse to fill it, and I’ve retained the orange liqueur as a flavoring.

Olive Bread from Nice

Olives are a natural complement to bread, especially when they’re baked inside it. Be sure to buy firm unpitted olives for this—pitted olives tend to be softer, and though buying them that way may save you time, the olives will easily disintegrate and add extra moisture to the dough.

Marbled Chocolate Brioche Loaf

I love swirls of chocolate threading though any kind of a plain cake. This marbled brioche is fairly straightforward to prepare since you mix everything in the food processor. Marbling the plain and chocolate doughs together requires a little patience, but the reward is a beautiful loaf with an alluringly different flavor achieved by adding grated lemon zest and rum to the dough.

Coach House Bread And Butter Pudding

Back when I was working at Windows on the World, general manager Alan Lewis, never know for his diplomatic ways, walked into the pastry shop one day and said, “Why don’t we have a [expletive] bread pudding on the lunch menu?” After a failed attempt by the assistant pastry chef, I bought a copy of James Beard’s American Cookery. Next morning we tried his recipe for bread and butter pudding from the Coach House, which happened to be right across the street from my first apartment in New York City. We cut into one as soon as they came out of the oven and there was a thick layer of custard topped with a thin layer of buttery toasted bread. This excellent bread and butter pudding is loosely adapted from James Beard’s recipe. At the Coach House, this was always served with a raspberry sauce, but I think it’s best plain.

Chocolate Meringue “S” Cookies

These are a mainstay of almost every pastry shop in Switzerland. These are a sweet cookie, as anything meringue-based tends to be. In the past I always used unsweetened chocolate to make them, but I once accidentally substituted some premium bittersweet chocolate and the cookies were already in the oven before I realized my mistake. Though still sweet (the sugar in the chocolate didn’t really make them appreciably sweeter), they had a much more complex flavor because of the superior quality of the chocolate. An S shape is traditional for these, but of course you may pipe them in any shape you wish.

Tortas de Carnitas

Possibly the most interesting sandwiches in the world, Mexican tortas combine boldly seasoned elements in a way that achieves both complexity and a certain delicacy. This recipe is from my very dear friend Roberto Santibañez, chef/owner of Fonda. Friendship aside, my critical side knows that he cooks the best Mexican food outside Mexico, bar none.