Blackberries are the quintessential fruit of summer, and like Jonathan says, if you aren’t sick of them by August, you aren’t doing it right. But for those folks who WERE sick of blackberries, the August 2013 show offered some new and different ways to use them: a blackberry gastrique (clearly the hit of the show, according to the tasting/dishwashing panel, and to me), a blackberry summer “pudding,” a green salad with blackberries and speck, and of course, a blackberry-themed cocktail.
Frankly, my head is still spinning from Jonathan’s gastrique. You’ll have to hop over to his post for details, but it blew my mind. I’d never even heard the term “gastrique” until Jonathan said he was making it for the show, and then I had to look it up. Suffice it to say that people were snitching the bread I was trying to use for my summer pudding just to drag it through the remnants of that sauce–and I didn’t blame them a bit.
But on to my dishes. When I got married, my dear friend Beth From Texas (we have a lot of Beths in our lives, so the geographical tag is necessary) came and stayed with us for nearly a month. Beth lives in a converted whorehouse in Deep Elem, and I feel like I’ve written those words on this blog before, but I digress. At one of the many drunken parties that proceeded my nuptials, Beth made this dessert, and it stuck with me. I’ve made it a few times over the years, but I always called it “Beth From Texas’ Berry Thing.” So before the show, I did some digging on the interwebs and found out that it is properly called a Summer Pudding.
Like most of my recipes, this is really less a recipe than a set of vague, half-baked (or in this case, completely unbaked!) instructions. But the end result is a delicious, simple, pretty, and yes, summery dessert, one that can be made a day or two ahead of time and pulled out with great fanfare. I suppose you could use any really juicy fruit to do this, but I’ve never made it with anything but blackberries.
Recipe: Summer Pudding
- One loaf of rustic bread, something with lots of holes. A sourdough is nice here, but anything will do, really. I once made this with squishy cheap white sandwich bread and it was still good. French bread works, too.
- About four cups of dead-ripe berries, plus a few more for garnishing.
- One cup of sugar (you can add more if your berries aren’t very sweet).
- One stick of butter, at room temperature (which is the only correct temperature for butter, if you ask me, and you kind of are asking me, if you’re reading this, right?).
- Mix the berries with the sugar and let them sit at room temperature for an hour or more, until they begin to give off juice. You can speed this up by crushing them a bit with a wooden spoon from time to time.
- Line a springform pan with plastic wrap so that the wrap hangs over the edges. If your springform pan is a little warped and not watertight because you sling it into the cabinet and it gets squished behind the cast iron, then be extra careful with this step, or you’ll end up with blackberry juice all over the bottom of your fridge (are springform pans supposed to be watertight, actually?).
- Cut the bread into slices, about a quarter inch thick. Or maybe a half inch. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Just cut it. You can remove the crusts if you want, but I leave mine on.
- Butter the bread on both sides, but not carefully. It pays to be fairly slap-dash here, because you want some bits of the bread to be unbuttered so the juice can soak in.
- Spoon about a quarter cup or more of the crushed berries, with their juice, into the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of bread on top. Try to make the edges touch, tearing the bread into the correct shapes if necessary, but don’t freak out if you have some gaps. Put another big scoop of berries on top–enough to cover the bread really well, maybe a half cup or so? (I should have paid more attention to myself when I was doing this.)
- Continue to layer the bread and fruit until everything is used up or you reach the top of the pan, whichever comes first (mine usually doesn’t come all the way up to the top of the pan).
- Wrap the overhanging plastic over the top and weigh the whole thing down with a plate that fits inside the pan and refrigerate it, preferably overnight. I put mine in the fridge with a plate on top and then sit every heavy thing I can find on top–jars of pickles, cartons of milk. You may have a more elegant system that involves actual weights. You may also have a refrigerator that is so neat and clean that fitting a springform pan into it without HAVING to pile stuff on top is not an issue for you. I wouldn’t know about that.
- After at least twelve hours (I’ve done this two days ahead and it turned out even better), remove the whole thing from the pan and flip it upside down onto a plate. Peel the plastic and the pan base off. Garnish with whipped cream and fresh berries and serve.
The other thing I made for the show was, of course, a salad. Jonathan makes fun of me for always making salads out of everything, but I can’t help it. I can’t resist the allure of green leafy vegetables and I think they make an excellent base for most of the things I like. And I love those pretty summer salads scattered with berries, but they are often a little too sweet for me. To cut the sweetness, I added speck, which is a deliciously salty cured Italian ham, which I diced up and sauteed until it was brown and crispy. I made a dressing with some delicious blackberry basalmic vinegar I scored from Stuarto’s Olive Oil Company in Lexington, Kentucky–and if you are ever in the tenth circle of hell as personified by Hamburg Place, get out of there and head on down the road to Stuarto’s, where Stuart Utgaard, the owner, will ply you with samples of amazing oils and vinegars until you’re dizzy enough to buy some. Once again, no recipe, really, but if I put the instructions in a bulleted list, maybe it’ll seem like one?
Recipe: Blackberry and Speck Salad
- One bunch of hearty, possibly bitter greens, washed and dried–some endive would be nice here, or I’ve been loving this blend called “Power Greens” that I’ve been getting from my local grocery store, which is a mix of baby kale and spinach and other things. (Also, a confession: I don’t wash those greens that come in the plastic box and I hope I don’t get e-coli but that’s half the reason I buy those, so I won’t have to wash them, right??)
- One small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced.
- One cup of ripe blackberries.
- About a quarter-pound of speck, or any other salty porky thing. Like bacon–that would work. (And I really wanted to make this with smoked tongue or duck breast, but I didn’t have time to smoke one before the show. But that would be really good, too.)
- Three tablespoons of blackberry basalmic vinegar (or you can crush about a quarter cup of berries into some basalmic vinegar, which is what I would have done if I hadn’t made the happy mistake of wondering into Stuarto’s the day before).
- Put the greens in a pretty bowl or on a pretty platter. Arrange the berries and onions over them.
- Fry the ham or whatver you have–I cut my speck into cubes, because I like a big meaty bite, but you may wish for something daintier. Remove the meat and drain it, but keep it warm.
- You should have about six tablespoons of fat when you are done. If you do not (or if you are using smoked meat, which you don’t need to fry), add some olive oil to the pan, which should be at a gentle heat–you don’t want the oil to smoke, but to shimmer. Immediately before you are ready to serve the salad, throw the blackberry vinegar into the oil, stir it, and quickly pour it over the salad and toss it a little bit. You may not need all the stuff in the pan–you don’t want to drown your greens, but just lightly coat them. They should wilt a little bit, but not a lot. I know I’m being unclear here, but really, just put as much dressing on the salad as tastes good to you–better too little than too much, since you can always add more. Just go slowly and taste as you go.
The blackberries are gone now, until next summer. Unless you happened to freeze a bunch, in which case you should give some to me! Just to be nice, and because you know I’m too lazy (and gluttonous) to have frozen any for myself.
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