20 Years of Open-House -September/October 2007
Recipes celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Nantucket Open-House Cookbook.”
by: Sarah Leah Chase
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
“Central heating, French rubber goods and cookbooks are three amazing proofs of man’s ingenuity in transforming necessity into art, and, of these, cookbooks are perhaps most lastingly delightful.”
— M.F.K. Fisher
People often ask me how I got into cooking and writing cookbooks. The answer is not a simple one, but for the sake of offering a succinct sound bite, I often say an undeniable career clue occurred when I noticed that my stack of Gourmet magazines towered taller than the research books I had used to write my senior honors thesis as I was preparing to graduate from Harvard in 1979.
My thesis seemingly had nothing to do with the pursuit of culinary endeavors, for it set out to prove that chaos in our modern times was in and of itself a form of order by examining and comparing the writings of Claude Levi-Strauss in anthropology, Marcel Proust in literature and Ludwig Wittgenstein in language philosophy.
Now, however, after spending three intensely demanding yet wonderfully rewarding decades cooking, catering and writing about food, I know all too well that life in the trendy, fickle and ever-fluctuating world of food is all about trying to transform a perishable chaos of sorts into edible order – every single day. I most certainly have come to realize that it was no coincidence that I kicked off my first solo cookbook, the “Nantucket Open-House Cookbook,” with the following Joseph Conrad quote: “We owe much to the fruitful meditation of our sages, but a sane view of life is, after all, elaborated mainly in the kitchen.”
This summer has marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of my “Nantucket Open-House Cookbook.” Probably no one is more in awe of this fact than I myself am. On the one hand, like birthdays one no longer cares to count, I’m a bit embarrassed to acknowledge 20 years has passed since I wrote the book. On the other hand, I’m as amazed as I am honored to see that the book has yet to end up in a heap of discounted remainder books at the local Christmas Tree Shops and instead is in its 11th printing with 221,000 copies in circulation.
I was first introduced to this simple yet truly irresistible Italian appetizer not in Italy, but on Nantucket where my friend Elena Latici localized a recipe learned from relatives back in Italy by using vine-ripened tomatoes from Bartlett's Farm and toasted Portuguese bread from the Nantucket Bake Shop. I've since had bruschetta many times in the course of travels through Tuscany and can testify this Nantucket version, made in season, is as good as it gets.
- 3 cups seeded and diced vine-ripened tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 5 tablespoons slivered fresh basil leaves
- 1⁄3 cup really good extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
- 6 thick (half- to three-quarter-inch) slices Portuguese bread, either grilled or toasted
- Combine the tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil in a mixing bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let marinate at room temperature for 45 minutes.
- Place the slices of grilled or toasted bread on six individual salad plates. Spoon the tomato mixture equally over the bread, letting all the wonderful juices soak in. Serve with a knife and fork as an appetizer or antipasto.
OIL-ROASTED FARM VEGETABLES
Roasting vegetables at a high temperature is very much in vogue these days, but my Que Sera Sarah staff and I used to love to make this slower-roasted rendition with a variety of local farm vegetables because the beauty and the colors of the dish reminded us of the chic, Italian-designed Missoni sweaters that were popular in the 1980s.
- 4 large or 12 small red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed
- 3⁄4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Coarse salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
- 1 large eggplant
- 2 medium to large zucchini
- 2 medium to large summer squash
- 2 yellow bell peppers
- 2 red bell peppers
- 2 medium red onions, peeled
- 3 medium-size, vine-ripened tomatoes, seeded and cut into chunky three-quarter-inch wedges
- 1⁄4 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
- Slice the potatoes thinly and arrange them in a single layer over the bottom of a large (at least 12-by-9-inch) baking dish. Drizzle the potatoes lightly with a couple tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Cut the unpeeled eggplant into half-inch-thick slices, then cut the slices crosswise in half to make semi-circles. Slice the zucchini and summer squash in the same manner. Core and seed the peppers, cut into half-inch-thick rings, and then in half to make half rings. Finally, cut the red onion into quarter-inch-thick half circles.
- Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- To form rainbow-like rows of colors, arrange all of the vegetables over the potatoes in compact, alternating rows, each vegetable slice standing balanced on its straight edge. Drizzle the vegetables with about a half-cup more of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for an hour to an hour and a quarter. Remove the foil and insert the tomato wedges randomly between the rows of vegetables. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil if the vegetables seem to be drying out. Bake the vegetables uncovered until tender and beginning to brown in spots, about 30 minutes more. Sprinkle the basil over the vegetables and serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves 8 to 10.
PLUM and CREAM CHEESE TART
- 1-1⁄4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1⁄3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon ice water
- 1-1⁄2 to 2 pounds ripe plums, washed, pitted and cut into one-third-inch slices
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons Cassis
Cream Cheese Filling:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1⁄2-cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Prepare the crust: Place the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the vanilla and ice water and process just until the mixture begins to hold together and form a ball. Gather the dough together and use your fingertips to press it as evenly as possible over the bottom and up the sides of a 9- or 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Chill the tart shell in the refrigerator while preparing the plums and filling.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Prepare the plums by tossing the slices with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and Cassis in a mixing bowl. Let macerate for 15 to 20 minutes.
- To prepare the cream cheese filling: Cut the cream cheese into small pieces and place it in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and process until creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, as needed. Add the egg and vanilla and process until thoroughly combined and smooth.
- Spread the filling evenly over the bottom of the chilled tart shell. Arrange the plums in concentric circles over the top. Pour any fruit juices remaining from the plums over the top of the tart.
- Place the tart on a baking-sheet liner to catch any juices and bake until the filling is set and the tart is lightly browned, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into wedges and serving.