In these final dog days of summer, the heat is still on. It’s funny how some nights we can down a big meal, that barbequed steak, and on other nights we crave something refreshing, light and bright.
On those nights, it’s time for cucumbers. Suzi will slice one up then top it with smoked fish dusted with paprika. How do you prep the fish? Some sour cream, crème fraiche, and horseradish, mixed in the proportions you like. Perhaps, a touch of mustard or a dribble of hot sauce. Maybe some finely diced onion or pickles.
There’s no “right” way to prepare this dish. You’ll surely never make it the same way twice. And each time will be the best.
Most people would pause if asked to find Poland on a map. Eventually, you can work it out. East of Germany, west of Russia. There it is.
"Is now" that is. Over the centuries Poland has grown and shrunk, moved westward and even disappeared for a 120 years. At one point in history, Poland stretched from the Baltic to the Black Seas and was the most important country in Europe.
Now, in the resurgence after the fall of Communism, Poland is an economic powerhouse. And, as always, a harbor for intellectual spirits especially artists, writers, and mathematicians.
Maybe it’s the water. Or maybe it’s the food. The food. There is a dichotomy to the food, some of it peasant simple and some just outrageously contemporarily wonderful. And even the “peasant” dishes reflect the very deep and very special nature of Polish cuisine: a richly studded table of fruits, grains and meats with recipe inspiration from the West [France and Italy] and the East [Russia, Ukraine, the spices of the Silk Road]
Consider some of the recipes on display in Authentic Polish Cooking by native Marianna Dworak.
Soups include simple vegetable, of course. Any farming nation in Eastern Europe has vegetable soup. But it’s the Poles who have Pickle Soup made with pickle juice. There a very royal purple soup, Chilled Beet, made with buttermilk. And if sweetness appeals to you, there is Fruit Soup with Apples, Plums, Broth and Egg Yolks.
Beets are an integral ingredient in Polish cuisine. The Poles just know how to brighten up that flavor, as in Beets with Horseradish, Wine Vinegar and Parsley. The combinations offered here includes ones you surely have not experienced, like the salad of Turkey with Peaches and Radishes. And I mentioned that contemporary Polish cuisine has a sophisticated side, so we have Veal Pate with Veal Shoulder, Veal Liver, and Bacon.
The meat dishes in the cookbook run the gamut. There are, of course, those very essential meat pierogies. Besides the beets, cabbage is a staple crop and converted into some excellent offerings like Beef and Cabbage Stuffed Croquettes. There is the very basic Goulash but also Duck Stuffed with Apple, Raisins and Walnuts. And fish, the fish too come with adornments to make them richer, creamier. There’s Herring in Sour Cream and Trout in an Egg Sauce with Parsley.
Vegetable dishes include dumplings of all types: Potato, Flour, and Cheese. Pierogies appear again, now made with cheese or fruit, instead of the standard meat.
Desserts are often constructed. A basic cake or dough with filling that provides the sweet richness we expect. You’ll find Cream Cake [simple dough, rich cream-egg filling], and then a Walnut Cake with Chocolate Cream. Nuts seem to have prominence across the dessert spectrum. You’ll discover a Walnut Log [roulade with walnut filling] and a Three-Layer Walnut-Almond-Chocolate Cake.
These Polish recipes have a distinctive nature. Some ingredients you may not employ too often: those beets or the cabbage. A heavy use of nuts. A passion for sour cream and buttermilk. These are different flavor pathways to a part of Europe you may never have visited, that you may never visit. But now, you can enjoy the food. One beet at a time.
In First Prize Pies, Allison Kave argues that you can enjoy pie year round. Her argument is sound, and you can see my review here.
But, ah aren’t there always buts in life, I think late summer is just the one time of year when you have to try pie. There are blueberries and nectarines, used here, plus peaches and plums and apples. It’s fruity out there. And it needs to be fruity in your kitchen.
This recipe calls for a double crust pie, but the picture shows a lattice top. A wonderful, tasty lattice top. You’ll find a step-by-step, photo-by-photo set of instructions in the book for making the lattice. And, it’s easy. Easy. A very good reason for getting your very own copy of First Prize Pies!
There are, of course, some issues that arise when you bake pies. That’s why so few of us do it. There’s the too much liquid problem. That’s why this recipe calls for cornstarch. Did it work for us? Kinda. Just kinda. The problem we had was using old, old blueberries. They disintegrated while baking and released a lot of fluid. This recipe should work just fine with very fresh berries. And, frankly, I don’t mind if the pie flows a tad over my plate. Warm, steamy juice with berries and chunks of nectarines floating past crust covered with sprinkles of sugar.
Summer paradise. One crust at a time.
Blueberry Nectarine Pie
Yield: one 9-inch pie
One 9-inch pie crust [double] or, better the Cornmeal Crust on Page 44 of the book, which is why you need to buy this book!
1 pound fresh I nectarines (about 4), cored and sliced
4 cups (560 g) fresh blueberries
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup (30 g) cornstarch
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
Egg wash or milk, for glaze
Raw sugar, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Roll out half of the dough into a circle about 11 inches in diameter. Transfer it to a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the overhang to 1 inch and refrigerate the crust.
Make the filling: In a large bowl, toss together the nectarines, berries, lemon zest, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt. Just before adding the filling to the pie plate, toss the fruit in the dry ingredients. Brush the rim of the bottom crust with egg wash or milk.
Roll out the second half of the dough into a circle about 11 inches in diameter. Lay it over the filled pie. Trim the edges, and tuck the top crust over the rim of the bottom crust to form a tight seal. Crimp the edge into whatever pattern you like. Brush the top crust with egg wash or milk, sprinkle it with raw sugar, and cut a few slits to allow steam to escape.
Put the pie on a baking sheet and bake it for 20 minutes, turning it once halfway through. Lower the temperature to 350°F and bake it for30 to 40 minutes more, until the crust is golden and fully baked and the juices have thickened. Remove the pie to a rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour. This pie can be refrigerated for up to 1 week, covered in plastic wrap. Let it come to room temperature before serving, or warm it in a low oven. It can be kept frozen for up to 2 months: Wrap it in plastic, then in foil, and let it come to room temperature before serving.
Source: First Prize Pies by Allison Kave [Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2014]
Photo Information [top]: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/4 for 1/40th second at ISO‑250
Photo Information [bottom]: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/3.5 for 1/30th second at ISO‑400