Last Friday was the first installment of “Fresh This Week,” a feature discussing new book releases and in-season produce. It’s great to know what’s freshest in the markets and in bookstores—in fact, it’s all I really think about most of the time, so I’m aiming to make this a weekly or every-other-weekly feature (I wanted to use bi-weekly or bi-monthly there, but their dual-meanings are too confusing). I got some really great emails from you guys telling me what your favorite autumn produce is and what books you’re most excited about (so many Stephen King fanatics!), and the produce that came up the most was Italian prune plums, which is exciting because they are one of my fall favorites, too! Prune plums are also called “sugar plums,” “French plums”, “French prunes,” “oval plums” or “empress plums,” and they have a very short season here, lasting only from September through October. Prune-plums have a beautiful, dark purple skin and bright yellow flesh that turns a vibrant pink and orange when cooked. They are sweet and slightly sour and go well in sweets, like buckles or coffee-cakes, or in savory dishes, like salty salads or as an accompaniment to pork, veal or lamb-chops. I love baking with them because they are much studier and less watery than their summertime counterparts. They create a thick, syrupy juice when baked, which makes them perfect for pies and rustic galettes like the one I’m going to give you a recipe for today.
Italian Plum and Almond Galette
1 ¼ cups AP flour (split into ¾ cup and ½ cup)
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoons sugar
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen or well-chilled
¼ cup leaf lard or vegetable shortening, frozen or well-chilled
2 Tablespoons ice water
1 Tablespoon vodka
1 teaspoon almond extract
egg white for brushing
Add ¾ cups of the flour to the bowl of a food processor with salt and sugar. Pulse three times to get everything mixed together. Add frozen butter and lard and pulse until all flour is coated. Add remaining ½ cup of flour and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Keep pulsing and add ice water, vodka and almond extract, pulse until dough comes together. Form dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic-wrap and refrigerate 2-24 hours.
1 Pound Italian plums, pitted and thinly sliced (save the pits! You can make ice cream with them!)
1 teaspoon good vanilla
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons pulverized roasted unsalted almonds (place roasted, unsalted almonds in a food processor and pulse until a coarse almond-meal forms)
2 Tablespoons flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
crème fraiche or ice cream for serving
Pre-heat oven to 400F. In a medium bowl, toss sliced plums with vanilla and sugar and set aside. Mix almond-meal, flour and sugar together in a separate bowl. Roll chilled dough out to a 16 inch oval (about 1/8 inch thick) and spread almond-meal, flour and sugar mixture evenly over dough within about two inches of the edge. Lay plums over the almond/flour/sugar mixture in any pattern you like and fold the edges of the dough over to form a two-inch border. Brush crust with egg white. Cut butter into four pieces and sprinkle evenly over plums. Bake galette in the middle of the oven on a lined baking sheet (lined in case any sticky juice leaks out) for about 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling. Serve with crème fraiche or ice cream.
I came to Andre Dubus III through my love of his father, Andre Dubus I (thanks to Sam), and while I haven’t loved his work quite as much as his father’s, I’m excited to read “Dirty Love.” Dubus is best known for The House of Sand and Fog, which I admittedly have some unknown bias against and have never read. He appeared on the scene nearly twenty-five years ago as a short-story writer, but since a collection of his short stories was released in 2001, Dubus has stuck to writing novels and the odd memoir. “Dirty Love” is a return to his original form, consisting of four “linked novellas” that chronicle the dysfunctional love-lives of four interconnected narrators—Mark, Marla, Robert and Devon. “Dirty Love” was released October 7th.
The first time I heard of Fiona McFarlane was only this past May, when I read a story of hers called “Art Appreciation” in The New Yorker. I loved the story and thought about it often over the next few months, so when I found out that she was coming out with her first novel I could hardly contain my excitement. The novel is set in a remote seaside town in Australia and tells the story of a 75 year-old widow named Ruth, who is awoken one night by the sound of what she is sure is a tiger in her living room. The next day, a woman named Frida shows up, claiming that she is a caretaker who has been sent by the government to look after Ruth. This slow-boiling psychological thriller “is no simple tale of a crime committed and a mystery solved. This is a tale that soars above its own suspense to tell us, with exceptional grace and beauty, about aging, love, trust, dependence, and fear; about processes of colonization; and about things (and people) in places they shouldn’t be.” The Night Guest was released October 1.
Lastly, we have cranberry beans, which are nearly impossible to miss in the market right now thanks to their beautiful, brightly-colored shells. Also called “borlotti” in Italy and sometimes referred to here simply as “shelling beans,” cranberry beans start appearing in the markets in late August and usually last until early November. Their striking neon green and pink pods surround large white beans flicked with crimson streaks that unfortunately, disappear once they’re cooked. They have a mild creamy and nutty flavor and go great paired with most fresh herbs, garlic and lemon. Here, we’re blanching and pureeing them with fresh parsley, garlic, lemon juice, good olive oil and a tiny bit of anchovy paste to make a spread that is earthy and briny and really hard to stop eating.
Cranberry Bean, Parsley, and Anchovy Puree
Makes 2 1/2-3 cups
2 Pound of Cranberry Beans, shelled (should yield about 2 ½ cups of beans)
12 sprigs fresh parsley, bottom stems removed
½ teaspoon anchovy paste (optional if you’re vegan/vegetarian or anchovy-phobic)
4 large garlic cloves
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tablespoon good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Crusty bread for serving
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add your shelled cranberry beans. Boil for six to eight minutes, or until they are tender and the outer skin begins to shed. Strain the beans and dunk them into a bowl of cold water to stop them from cooking further. Remove the outer membrane from the beans and discard. Add the beans, parsley, anchovy paste, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth (I kept mine a little bit chunky because I wanted it that way, but you can make yours as creamy as your heart desires—pass it through a fine-mesh sieve for super-ultra-smoothness). Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!