Forum Holitorium

Month: July, 2012

The Geometry of Paradise

Local tomatoes are now in season! In the eastern part of the Austria, tomatoes are called Paradeiser. The two cherry tomato plants on my balcony are leisurely producing a steady harvest. Nothing beats eating the sun-warmed Cherry Romas fresh off the plant. Last week I set aside the first Bombolino d’Invernos to ripen as per the instructions. Today I looked for them to make bruschetta, and I came to the harsh realization that a tomato thief is at large. It’s a good thing I had a few regular-sized ones lying around. Otherwise, I may not have been able to whip the bread, olive oil, basil, and tomato above into this:

The Bruschetta Triangle

Dice fresh tomatoes and place in a small bowl. Mince basil and add to the fruit. Add as much olive oil, salt, and pepper as you like.

Let the mixture sit and marinade while you toast slices of bread in the oven at 200°C/400°F for about 5 minutes.

Spread the mixture on top of the toast slices, return to the oven, and leave in for 2-3 minutes for the topping to warm up. I couldn’t resist adding a bit of sheep’s cheese.

Devour.

This basil grown from seed has proven to be one of the toughest plants on the balcony, weathering two hailstorms and a plague of very hungry green caterpillars that decimated three out of six young lettuce plants. It is featured along with tomatoes in the following savory tart inspired by a recipe by Heike Kügler-Anger in Vegetarisch kochen – französisch.

Hexagon Tart

The name of this tart pays homage to the culinary influence of France (goat cheese and mustard), a country commonly referred to as l’Hexagone due to its shape.

STARRING:

Tomatoes

Fresh basil and rosemary

Mustard (If it’s flavored, be careful that the taste matches the rest of the ingredients and/or that it isn’t too hot. I made half with homemade plain mustard and half with chipotle mustard that stole the show from the rest of the cast.)

Garlic

Goat cheese (fresh, not aged)

Olive oil

Rectangular puff pastry? (I use Blätterteig which you can get at any supermarket here and am not sure what the best option is outside of Austria. You could also make a regular pie or tart crust. This recipe can be prepared really quickly and is what I normally use for all my veggie tarts.)

THE PLOT:

The rectangular pastry dough is placed so that its center is inside the bottom of a tart pan. A layer of mustard is spread on top the pastry within the tart pan. Sliced tomatoes are arranged to form the next layer. Torn basil and rosemary leaves are scattered across the tomatoes. Chunks of goat cheese crown the tart and olive oil is drizzled over it. Finally, the pastry outside the tart pan is folded over the tart so that there are six sides. The tart is baked in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 200°C/400°F until appetizingly brown.

Advertisements

Queijo, Tejo, Azulejo

A wedding, a honeymoon, a near miss by a falling window and the demise of a household appliance hindered the Forum Holitorium from opening the past month, but things are back to normal now. A lot of good food was prepared and consumed in the meantime, and there are a series of posts waiting to be set free.

Little did we know on our wedding day when we received an agapanthus, or Liebesblume (love flower), that we would see blooming specimens every day of our honeymoon. Native to South Africa, they are easily spotted in gardens and public parks in Lisbon and Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. The flowers below were spotted in Cascais.

I love points of geographical significance. In May, I spent one night in Passau and was excited to find out it was the point where three rivers (Ilz, Inn and Danube) meet up. The city is a pleasant and sleepy place, yet there is an energy coursing through it thanks to its position at a watery crossroads. In today’s world of air travel and cars, we often forget to acknowledge the importance of waterways and how they have shaped our destiny. So it will come as no surprise that I was really looking forward to reaching the end of the continent, what the Romans called the Promontorium Magnum and which is now known as Cabo da Roca, to hear the pounding surf, gaze out onto the blue expanse, and contemplatively face the winds that blew the intrepid discoverers in their caravels to points unknown.

Before I started preparing for the trip, I knew nearly nothing about Portuguese cuisine. My only associations were Port wine, which has a Proustian effect on me, and cod, the famous bacalhau. In fact, Portugal has made a very important contribution to the culinary vocabulary of several European languages via the word marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince. While the English word marmalade designates jam made of oranges or lemons (and reminds me of Paddington Bear), the term refers to jam in general in most other languages that have borrowed the word (including the Austrian German Marmelade). These quinces were still ripening.

You may remember from a previous post that cabbage arose along the European seaboard. In the beginning, the plant did not form a head but grew like kale with leaves growing off of a stem. I like to think that the Galician cabbage pictured below is a direct descendant of what the Romans grew in Lusitania. Couve galega, as it is called in Portuguese, is used to prepare the national dish caldo verde, a cabbage soup that I regret to say I did not sample. I imagine fishermen returning home on a cold winter’s night and warming their bones with a huge bowl of caldo verde into which they dunked crusty bread.

So what were the food highlights? Our daily routine included the much anticipated stop at a cafe for a bica, the Portuguese version of espresso, and a pastel de nata, a puff pastry shell filled with egg yolk custard. In Lisbon, our landlord showered us with culinary gifts: fresh cherries and peaches, homemade peach ice cream, and queijo curado. Queijo means cheese, curado means aged, and the kind of aged cheese we sampled was made of sheep’s milk using a kind of thistle as the curdling agent. TC got his fill of coentros, or cilantro, a favorite fresh herb, while I will always remember a particularly scrumptious peach chutney paired with sheep’s cheese. With the exception of the exquisite meal at the B+B we stayed at near the coast, satisfying vegetarian food was not in the cards for this vacation. But you know what? The point of a honeymoon is not to eat yourself silly.