A Delicious Dinner for a Summer Evening


Lemon verbena tea with tonic water and elder cordial ice

Beet and Carrot Trimmings Salad

Tart with beet greens, tomato, spring onions and thyme

Summer berries and cream with maple syrup

It seems like the best dinners seem to come together on a whim. I try to plan ahead, search through cookbooks and scrupulously design menu ideas – but those preplanned concoctions never seem to be as exciting as those nights where the things I find hiding in the fridge or ripening in the garden just seem to whisper to me what they want done with them. Call it a creative burst inspired by beautiful ingredients, or the amazing power of last minute pressure on the indecisive / perfectionist mind – but whatever it is, the muse of gastronomic pleasure has found me tonight.

An unplanned meal always begins with me rummaging through the fridge, taking a mental inventory of things that spark the flame of inspiration, and things that just need to be used and soon. Tonight, my inventory of potential dinner ingredients includes:

  • blueberries I picked yesterday
  • a bunch of cilantro
  • a carton of eggs from the little honesty box down the road (a charming little painted box where¬† you slip in a few dollar bills into a rusty tin can in exchange for beautiful fresh eggs – quintessentially Vermont)
  • a very ripe tomato
  • some baby onions
  • a bunch of baby beets with their greens still attached from the Kingsbury Farm Market.

Next, I head up the garden and see what sort of treasures are to be found. The thunderstorms of yesterday have given way to a beautiful breezy evening, bathing the world in a lovely golden light that makes the garden look almost surreal – almost as though I have entered into some other enchanted world full of magic and unknown splendor. After a few minutes of rummaging around, prodding this plant and digging around that one, I end up heading back towards the house with a fistful of carrot thinnings and a handful of flowering thyme – gray clouds whizzing by over head.

Back at the kitchen table, I plop myself down and thumb through two of my most recent additions to the old cookbook collection: Tender by Nigel Slater Рan amazing tome picked up on our trip in England;  and Breakfast, Lunch, and Tea, the cookbook of The Rose Bakery in Paris, a much treasured gift that has quickly become a new favorite.

Beet and Carrot Trimmings Salad

Tender is a cookbook devoted to the author’s vegetable patch – each section extolling the culinary and gardening wonders of his most treasured vegetables. His recipes are straightforward and simple, relying mostly on the amazing flavor that comes from freshly harvested, lovingly tended produce. In the carrot chapter, I find a simple salad that utilizes the beautiful appeal of whole carrot and beet thinnings – simply steamed until just tender, and tossed with red wine vinegar, olive oil, chopped garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and a handful of torn cilantro leaves. Twenty minutes and it’s done, and delicious. Have a look:

Tart with Beet Greens, Spring Onions, Tomato and Thyme

While the vegetables for the salad we’re steaming away on the stove, I sat back down with Breakfast, Lunch, and Tea. This cookbook is the creation of a very special bakery in Paris, run by an English woman married to a French man. The combination of English cuisine with French flair results in something quite spectacular – a perfect balance of comfort and sophistication. Nearly 4 pages of the book are dedicated to savory tarts made with fresh vegetables, and I flip right to that section, thinking a tart may be just the destination for my leftover beet greens from the salad, perhaps paired with some spring onions, tomato slices and thyme…?

Tart crusts are fairly simple, they just require time and patience. My sweetheart makes delicious pastry that always comes out amazingly better than mine ever does, so I delegate to pastry making to him. Here is the recipe that he followed from B,L, and T:

Short Crust Pastry:

Combine 3 1/3 cups flour, 1 cup butter and 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor.

Pulse for 6-8 seconds, until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is fairly well incorporated.

(Note: You can also do this by hand by working cut pieces of butter in with your fingertips)

Place the mixture into a bowl.

Make a well in the center, and add 1 egg yolk and 1/2 cup cold water to the well.

Stir quickly with a fork and bring together the wet and dry ingredients, adding more water if needed.

When the fork can’t do it’s job anymore, use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for about 30 minutes.

While the pastry is resting in the fridge, I prep the ingredients for the tart. I roughly chop the beet greens (1 bunch worth), thinly slice the onions with their attached greens (4 spring onions or 1 cup), thinly slice a tomato, and grate 1/2 cup cheddar and 1/4 cup Parmesan.

For the filling:

combine 2 cups cream, 4 eggs and 1 egg yolk, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg in a bowl and beat until well mixed.

Now the time comes for the tart crust making:

Divide the dough into 3 large pieces. Save 2 pieces for another day in a glass Tupperware in the fridge.

Take 1 piece and roll it out on a well-floured surface, lifting and turning often to prevent sticking.

When the thickness reaches about 1/2 inch or less, use it to line your tart tin.

Be sure not the stretch the dough because the crust will shrink slightly as it bakes. You want a little extra to spare.

Chill for another 30 minutes (or skip if you are very hungry like we we’re!)

Line the pastry with tin foil and fill with beans, then bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until just golden and dry.

To assemble the tart:

Remove the tinfoil filled with beans, and save for your next tart endeavor.

Sprinkle the crust evenly with the cheese, then layer the beet greens and onions over the cheese.

Pour the filling over the tart, to about 1/8 inch from the top.

Layer the tomatoes over the top, and sprinkle with fresh thyme.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is set and golden.

Summer berries and Cream with maple:

While the tart is baking, I whip some cream (about 1 cup) with a 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup and a dash of vanilla extract. This goes in the fridge to chill. After dinner, add a large dollop of whipped cream to a bowl, smother this in a good handful of fresh berries, then repeat. Drizzle the top with maple syrup and eat with a spoon…or your fingers.

Lemon Verbena Tea with Tonic Water and Elderflower Cordial Ice

When the tart is out of the oven and cooling, I whip up the drinks. Lemon verbena tea was my chilled tea of the day ( made by infusing 1 cup of dried leaf into a 1/2 gallon jar of hot water, then refrigerating till cool). I’ve been trying to make lots of chilled herbal teas on these hot days, and lemon verbena is a favorite, with nettle and peppermint coming in a close second. In wine glasses, I add equal parts sparkling water and tea, then pour an 1/8 part elderflower cordial. Each glass gets 1 very special rosemary elderflower cordial ice cube.

Now, time to eat!

A whimsical dinner for a summer’s eve filled with golden light, the sound of wind blowing the leaves, and delicious, vibrant ingredients just waiting to whisper in your ear…