Ms. Jeannie is thoroughly lucky to have come from a family of cooking adventurers. Her parents, her sisters, her husband all love to cook and enjoy experimenting with new flavors and diverse ingredients.
When she was small, Ms. Jeannie’s mother taught her the “old-fashioned” way of baking, with recipes handed down from generation to generation. Which meant everything, always, was made by scratch. Cookies, cakes, pies, puddings, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, every decadent delight was made by our hands with real, whole ingredients.
As Ms. Jeannie grew and started her own experimenting, this love of building creations from the mixing bowl up stemmed out into other aspects of the palatte: homemade tomato sauce, chicken broth, pasta, salad dressings, soups, breads…it was thrilling to know that she could indeed make anything she wanted.
One of her most favorite things to make is pie crust. There is something about lumping a few, simple ingredients together in a bowl, mixing it about and then rolling it out into a delightful sheet of smooth paper-like dough.
There are challenges still though – even after all these years… like that wonderful flip of the thumb that makes a beautiful scalloped edge around the rim of the pie crust.Ms. Jeannie cannot seem to master this for the life of her. Instead she opts for the more rustic, “provincial” style of folding over the extra dough, which creates a very humble look.
Ms. Jeannie was consistently taught by her mother that using good ingredients was just as important as using good equipment. Which meant having a good set of mixing bowls, rolling pins , flour sifters and a pastry cloth. Necessities. Each and every one of them.
When Ms. Jeannie was off to college and on her own, she tried to cut a few corners in the equipment department. Using an empty wine bottle as a rolling pin, the wooden cutting board as a pastry cloth and a fork in place of a dough cutter, Ms. Jeannie was off and baking to somewhat satisfactory results. Sometimes the dough would be tough and difficult to work, flour would get all over everything (almost always on the floor!) and the dough never rolled out perfectly on the square cutting board – usually lopping off one side, making it thicker in that section then all the others.
For years she baked like this – improvising and substituting, working with what she had at hand instead of getting the proper tools. A pastry cloth – that is really what Ms. Jeannie desperately needed. But she always seemed to overlook this one neccessity when she was out shopping.
Until…two months ago! When she FINALLY she purchased a pastry cloth at the kitchen supply store. It cost $5.00. What are on earth was she waiting for all this time? It was indeed a jubilant and monumental day:)
Now, whatever Ms. Jeannie rolls out onto this magic carpet comes out lighter, flakier and more evenly consistent. It is completely marvelous! As it turns out – pastry cloths have been in use for over a century. Because they are made usually from unbleached cotton and/or oilcloth they provide a wonderful non-stick work environment. Seasoned with a little flour and carefully stored, pastry cloths can last for years. Marvelous, says Ms. Jeannie, since it took her years to acquire!
Here is Ms. Jeannie’s latest creation using her lovely kitchen helper… (note the rustic crust!)
Simple Tomato Basil Tart – Serves 4
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
6 tablespoons of vegetable shortening
1/4 cup ice cold water
1/2 lb. Farmer’s cheese
4 large handfuls of fresh basil, washed and torn in pieces
2 lbs. organic home-grown cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the halved tomatoes in a medium size bowl and toss in 3/4 of the fresh basil. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and mix to combine. Set bowl aside and let tomatoes marinate while you make the dough.
2. Now onto the dough. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and shortening. Using a dough cutter (or a fork – in Ms. Jeannie’s case) mash the shortening into the flour until it forms small crumb-like bits. Add the cold water and combine until dough forms. Knead it lightly into a ball with your hands. Just until it is no longer sticky. Be careful not to overwork the dough – then it will become tough.
3. Sprinkle a small handful of flour on your work surface (aka the pastry cloth!) and roll the dough out as thinly as possible. Place crust in a round cake pan and bake in oven just until the crust is firm but not brown. About 20-25 minutes.
4. Remove crust from oven, add the tomato/basil mixture. Take the farmers cheese and slice in thin chunks on top of the tomato mixture. Carefully mix cheese and tomatoes together with a spoon, making sure not to scrap a hole in the bottom crust. Top with the remaining 1/4 basil.
5. Return the tart to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Broil for an additional 5-6 minutes until the cheese starts bubbling and turns golden brown.
6. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Serve this with a simple side salad and a glass of white wine (Ms. Jeannie chose a Pinot Grigio) and you have a lovely, light, late-summer dinner!