It occurred to me this weekend that browsing the farmers markets for the most perfect flowers and seasonal & regional produce is in many ways similar to one of my great loves, antiquing. I am passionate about both. From the best antique stores to the lowliest vide grenier, I love hunting for that diamond in the rough, the beautiful antique or collectible or objet that truly speaks to me. I also love going to food markets anywhere in the world and finding the very best of what is fresh on offer that day.
I found just a few bunches of Buddleia or “butterfly bush” from David at the Saturday market; I snapped them up at the market open. I don’t remember seeing them much for sale at markets, but these were superior in color to anything else on offer. They set the tone for the weekend and were so beautiful on the tables~
Contents of the Saturday baskets were quickly devoured with the ribs & chicken that night, but Sunday brought a new day, a new market, and the opportunity to find the very best fresh produce~
My Dad loves corn on the cob, and we have it just a few times each summer; I found bi-color corn from Kawano Farms; it was picked Friday and cooked Sunday, still in its plumpness~
I looked at the corn at Trader Joe’s on Monday, and the kernels were already very shriveled. Kevin told me that the bi-color corn is even sweeter than the white corn (it is!) He was cracking up as I said I needed his mug shot for the blog~
Next stop was Daniel from Nicolau Farms and our little pixie Paloma from Sage Mountain, who are next-door neighbors at the Rancho Santa Fe market. Most of my produce comes from Sage each week; they are amazing and I hope to take a tour of the farm one day soon~
They were having a good laugh pointing at the basket I was assembling~ “your beautiful cherries, right there, there, next to my arugula”~ like the best antique dealers, the best farmers will tell you absolutely everything about what is good and when. It is encyclopedic and intuitive, based on what they have seen and what they know about the terrain, weather, and their instinct. Perhaps more than the antique dealers, the farmers have to deal with whatever curve ball Mother Nature sends them; and we consume it and it is gone, until whatever is good next week~
These cherries were indeed one of the jewels of the market this week. Daniel says this may be the last week for the Coral variety, and that the recent rains were not good for the two other varieties still to come. With the fresh cherries from Daniel, I had a little bake-off, the classic French dessert Clafoutis, here~
The Clafoutis comes from the Limousin region of France and it is made with dark cherries. You will sometimes see Clafoutis made with pears or other fruits, but cherry is the classic. The word “Clafoutis” comes from the old French verb “clafir” which is “to fill up'.”
3 “spoons” of sugar
1 “spoon” of vanilla sugar or regular sugar (I use heaping tea spoons)
3 spoons of flour
1 generous pinch of salt, preferably French Sea Salt
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 1/4 cups milk or milk and cream or half and half (more cream=richer taste but you can experiment)
Butter for the pan and pieces to top
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Wash and pit the cherries. If you do not have a cherry pitter, you can use a small knife. Set the cherries aside.
Break the eggs into a bowl, add the sugar, the vanilla sugar, salt and mix them all well with a whisk. Then add the flour. Add the orange zest and 1/3 of the milk mixture. Mix with the whisk for a smooth batter. Add the rest of the milk, and let sit for half an hour.
Butter the bottom of a tarte pan or some other flat plan; I used an 14“ fluted pan but you can use any size. Place the raw pitted cherries on the pan, and then pour the batter on top, through a fine strainer to catch the orange zest. Add a few small pieces of butter on top. Fill almost to the top, the eggs rise a little but not too much. Cook around 35 minutes, until it is set and slightly golden; you can test with a knife but I just test by my finger; if it is firm and a little golden, it is done!
Let cool slightly, then dust with powdered sugar and serve warm. Best eaten warm, though my family attacks it as soon as it leaves the oven.
I made a second version, from Chef Joel Robuchon; this is from Patricia Wells’ cookbook Simply French. It’s a great basic French cookbook! It involves a pre-baked pate sucree cust, and the cherries are cooked in the oven for 5 minutes or so so they give up some of their liquid. The batter has more sugar and you sprinkle some extra crust crumbs on top of the cherries before adding the batter. This makes for a firmer pie. It was a beautiful clafoutis~
My family of course loved the second one, that which was more sweet, and that which took the most of my time. The basic clafoutis is a simple country recipe that can be made easily and quickly; it is on many French restaurant menus while cherries are in season. I remember well the cherry trees of the Bonnieux area in the south, bent with the mistral; and I can not make Clafoutis without that memory.
The problem with Clafoutis is the presentation; the whole as it exits the oven is so pretty…..but then the cherries get split and it is cut up. I think that J.R. (as Robuchon is known) did his clafoutis in individual ramekins with the crust. This is a lot of work but this is also why he had three Michelin stars at his restaurant.