The last time I had climbed a tree I was a 9-year old trying her best to keep up with a bunch of silly boys and their ridiculous games. On the way down I cut my wrist. I still have a small scar as a memento. Last month I climbed a tree, but the pursuit was far more delicious and worthy. Although I reminded myself that few decades had passed and that I probably was not as nimble (not that I ever was, really), the vision of a puffed golden cherry clafouti prevailed.
Served lukewarm, bursting with the ripe sweetness of fruit, clafouti is probably the ultimate comfort food. Traditionally made with cherries, it is equally delicious with most fruits and berries, from strawberries to apricots and peaches to apples and pears. The basic batter of egg, flour, sugar and milk can be altered according to the juiciness of the fruit on hand and preferred consistency – some like it custardy, others a little firmer. You can roast the fruit first, like they do in Gascony, with a couple of tablespoons of Armagnac, which takes the rustic dessert out of the nursery and onto the sophisticated grownup’s table. For a cherry clafouti it is best to leave the pits in! Besides saving time from a messy job, the cherries will hold their shape and juice during cooking, and the pits do add an almond flavor to the preparation as it bakes – this is not a cook’s tale! Kindly warn your guests.
- About 4 cups cherries
- 2 tablespoons Armagnac or Kirch
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup milk
- 4 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
- 2 tablespoons flour
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Place the cherries in a bowl along with 1 tablespoon of Armagnac and the 2 tablespoons of sugar, and toss to coat evenly.
Transfer the cherries to a baking dish large enough to hold them on a single layer, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until warm and some of the juices start to release. Remove from the oven and cool.
Lower the oven to 350 F.
Meanwhile, whip the eggs until frosty, add the remaining sugar and continue whipping until thick. Add the milk, cream, remaining Armagnac, and flour. Whip until just blended.
Pour the batter over the cool cherries. Gently shake the pan to distribute the batter evenly.
Return to the dish to the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the custard is set and the clafouti puffed and golden. Remove from the oven and cool.
Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
The month of May was the coolest and rainiest in 38 years. Needless to say, crankiness was felt everywhere. A couple of weeks ago, in an effort to lift the mood, I hosted a spring lunch in which peas, fava, new onions, string beans and, of course, asparagus had a part to play. We started with a vibrant asparagus soup drizzled with a cèpe essence; a recipe Neal Fraser, chef-owner of Grace Restaurant in Los Angeles, contributed to Cooking on the Road. I love the simplicity and lightness of this soup combined with the intense woodsy flavors of the wild mushrooms and aromas reminiscent of damp underbrush in the spring, which, I thought, were very fitting for the occasion.
As I was directing the guests to their seats, my father felt compelled to make an announcement and to apologize for serving a soup as a first course. Why? I asked. Soups are appropriate for dinner and certainly not for lunch was the answer. I looked at him in disbelief, wondering when my father had morphed into a 19th century French Emily Post. My other guests, the polite ones, sensing a slight chill in the air, quickly sat down and silently grabbed their spoons. Then, the man sitting to my right declared: “sublissime.” Case closed!
Asparagus Soup with Cèpe Mushrooms Essence
Six to 8 servings
- 1/8 ounce dried cèpes or porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup non fat milk
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 jumbo white onions, peeled and sliced
- 1 small head celery, chopped
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 3 bunches of asparagus, peeled and chopped
- Kosher salt to taste
Place the dried mushrooms in a small saucepan. Add the milk and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let it steep for 20 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender and strain through a fine meshed strainer. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to use. This can be done up to one day ahead.
Heat the oil in a stock pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Do not brown. Add the celery and some salt. Continue cooking until the vegetable are soft. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the chopped asparagus to the pot and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender and strain (optional). Adjust seasoning to taste with salt. The soup can be prepare ahead of time and kept refrigerated until ready to serve.
To serve, reheat the soup and ladle into serving bowls. Spoon or swirl some cèpe essence into each serving.