I've been feeling kind of uncreative lately and it made me a bit guilty because uncreative in the kitchen equals a boring blog. I guess everyone goes through stages like that from time to time. But one of the many benefits of the blog is that it sometimes spurs you to try something new solely in order to have something interesting to say. So we can add this to the list of "What has blogging done for me?"
On Monday I realized when I got home that I didn't have anything planned for dinner and the refrigerator looked ominously empty. (Well, actually, our fridge is always pretty full but it's mostly condiments and sauces and preserves and bowls of fruit or vegetable purée for the boy.) I called the Critic who, in his usual brilliant problem-solving way, suggested ordering pizzas. With some reluctance I agreed it was probably going to be that kind of night, though I was aware of the fact that it would mean another "blank" day in terms of cooking creativity.
And then I thought, Well this is silly. Surely in this kitchen full of ingredients, I can come up with something to make.
And so I did.
One of the things I usually fall back on when I want a quick way dinner is a pre-rolled puff pastry. You can throw onions and Brie or blue cheese on it, spread a variety of vegetables on it, sprinkle anchovies and top with Parmesan, or make a chicken pie. But I didn't have any puff pastry. I had some frozen pastry but it would require 2 hours to defrost according to the package and I didn't think it would respond well to the microwave defrost function.
So I thought of Barrett and his wonderful cornmeal pastry. That would go extremely well with the two zucchini in the vegetable bin. And some cheese (of course). And maybe a little tomato sauce, a little thyme. Perfect.
Actually, it worked even better than I expected. One problem I often have with my vegetable pies, especially with watery tomato sauce and zucchini, is that they release water and make the crust soggy. With the cornmeal crust, however, the excess moisture was absorbed while still leaving a crusty bottom. If anything, the crust simply became better because it was more flavourful.
And so I felt proud of having created something very tasty out of "nothing". The Critic actually asked for seconds! (Though I think I heard muttering about "would have been better with anchovies"...)
For Barrett's Cornmeal pastry:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup corn meal
8 Tbs butter
1/4 cup ice water
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme
For the filling:
2 small zucchini
6-7 shallots, sliced in thin sticks
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme
1 cup (or more) Beaufort cheese or some other sharp hard cheese
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely
Preheat the oven to 200c/400f. Using a pastry cutter or a food processor, process the butter in the flour roughly. Lightly mix in the salt and the thyme. Add ice water until the dough forms a fairly stable ball. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
While the dough is refrigerating, slice the zucchini in thin rounds. Grate the cheese and slice the garlic.
Roll out the crust and fit it into a pizza baking sheet. (I found this had the exact height I was looking for on the sides of the pie - a little over a centimeter.) Prick the dough and bake it in the oven for 10 minutes. (Barrett calls for 15, but I got impatient. It seemed to work.)
Remove the crust from the oven and spread the tomato sauce over it. Sprinkle it with garlic and sliced shallots. Artfully arrange the zucchini rounds in a circular pattern over the sauce. Sprinkle them with thyme and top with the grated cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes in the oven (which you hopefully have not turned off, as I didn't tell you to) until the cheese is starting to brown and the crust is crispy.
Tip: Wait 10 minutes or so before slicing this pie to give the cheese time to set. It's much easier to cut, easier to eat and prettier to look at if you do.
The tomato sauce soaked into the thyme-infused crust and made a wonderfully savoury base to the pie. The zucchini and cheese and garlic topped it off perfectly in a Med vegetable feast. And the reviews were pretty good. As I mentioned tonight that I was posting the recipe for the pie, the Critic said (somewhat grudgingly), "When I saw it, I thought I wasn't going to like it. There was too much zucchini. But actually it was pretty nice." For him, this is the equivalent of four stars out of five. Success.