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"...days that are the good flesh continuing."

Seattle may spend eight months out of twelve under cloudy skies, but come summer, it puts on its sunscreen and pulls out all the stops. There are countless concerts and block parties and festivals here and there, including the seemingly never-ending SeaFair, with its deafening air shows, hydroplane races, and—because every port city needs a few—professional pirates. That said, however, the only local summer event that gets a dedicated slot on my calendar is—all apologies, dear reader—invitation-only. But if you drive around a certain part of western Washington on a certain Sunday and happen to spot a homemade sign featuring a cotton-ball-clad lamb, well, follow the arrow, and you’ll too find yourself at the Knight family lamb roast.

It was a good thing that Kate and I had recently relieved her family’s garden of some of its burden, because it would soon fill again with an onslaught of edibles, this time including a homegrown lamb on a spit, platters full of dolmas, four pans of baklava, three coolers of beer, two bottles of ouzo, and a few dozen assorted friends and family.

I arrived a little after one with an armload of my own, balancing a tourte de brandade and two plates of brownies*. It was still quiet—no one would arrive until after three—and walking in from the street felt like descending into another element, with the garden spilling out at my side, chickens clucking somewhere around the corner, and at the end of the driveway, the house tucked deep under the trees. The yard was in full bloom, with tomatoes of every shape and size, lettuces, Romano beans, herbs, potatoes, corn, and carrots, not to mention a gnarly swath of raspberry bushes, beds of dahlias and daisies, and pear, plum, and apple trees. And between a trellis of beans and the garage, the lamb, aptly dubbed “Briquette,” spun quietly over the coals in time to twangy country music playing from a nearby radio.

With the smell of so much meat in the air, it wouldn’t be quiet for long. Guests trickled in, bearing swim suits and bowls full of food, and while Briquette bronzed, they worked up an appetite in the lake, splashing around on surfboards and in sailboats. Meanwhile, I whet my own with a few sips of ouzo—and began planting the seeds for a slow but steady movement toward the groaning buffet tables.
There, under the shade by the side of the house, bowls of pasta salad jostled with pickled vegetables, which butted up against roasted beets with fresh herbs, noodles, heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, hummus, olives, Vietnamese pancakes filled with ground meat and bean sprouts, baskets full of litchis, pies, plum puddings, compotes, and cookies. And then, of course, there was the lamb, rich and earthy and ringed with fat from seven months of grazing on lush local grass.

We dispersed ourselves around the yard, sitting on the ground or leaning here and there, balancing paper plates on our knees and fending off the chickens, who’d been, much to their delight, liberated from the hen house to root in the loose dirt of the garden. And there was more ouzo, and soon that happy stupor that follows anticipation. There’s a strange, delicious limbo zone one enters after this kind of feasting, when the mind and the senses are both quieted and sharpened, slow but nimble.

Down by the water, Kate slid the sailboat out for one more go before nightfall, and before anyone could wake to the end of summer, I snuck away with my dirty plates, my skin still warm from the sun.

*Recipe forthcoming.

[And special thanks to Robert Hass for the cribbed title of this post, which comes from one of my favorite poems, "Meditation at Lagunitas."]

Tourte de Brandade, or Salt Cod Tart
Adapted from Saveur

When I announced that I’d be bringing a Provençal salt cod tart, Kate responded with resounding approval—that’s my girl!—even though she’d never tasted brandade, or a mousse of salt cod, olive oil, garlic, and cream. True, it may sound a bit odd—off-putting, even—but once tasted, you won’t think twice. Brandade is rich, garlicky stuff, creamy and savory, the flavor of the cod having been tempered and soothed by salting and drying. The mousse is spread atop a layer of slow-simmered tomato sauce inside a puff-pastry shell, and when baked, it puffs lightly and turns a gorgeous shade of gold. Best served when still warm, it is also perfectly delectable at room temperature—terrific picnic, or lamb roast, fare.

1 ½ Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus ¾ cup, warm
1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced
3 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
Leaves of 2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
A pinch of sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ lb boneless, skinless dried salt cod, soaked overnight in abundant water, drained, rinsed, and cubed
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 ½ Tbs heavy cream
3 Tbs crème fraîche
1 large egg
1 sheet puff pastry, such as Dufour

Heat 1 ½ Tbs olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook until soft. Add half the garlic and the tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the sauce until it is as thick as a paste, about 40-45 minutes. Discard the bay leaf, and set the sauce aside.

While the tomato sauce cooks, bring a medium pot of water to a boil; remove it from the heat, and add the cod. Cover the pot, and let it rest for 7 minutes. Drain the cod into a colander or sieve; then transfer it to a food processor. Add the remaining garlic, and process to combine. With the motor still running, gradually add ¾ cup warm olive oil through the feed tube in the processor lid; then add the cream. Adjust the seasonings with salt. Transfer the mousse to a bowl, and stir in the crème fraîche and the egg. Set it aside.

Put a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll the puff pastry out on a floured surface to a large, 1/16”-thick round. Fit the pastry into a removable bottom tart pan (the original recipe calls for an 11” pan, but I used a 9” with no problems), and trim the edges. Prick the pastry all over with a fork; cover it with plastic wrap; and chill it for 30 minutes.

Remove the tart shell from the fridge, and spread the tomato sauce in a thin but thorough layer over the bottom (you may have some sauce left over); then cover it with the salt cod mixture. Bake the tart on the pizza stone until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Serve warm.

Yield: One 9- to 11-inch tart


Blogger Clare Eats said...

It is so sad that it is really hard to find salt cod here :(, but if I do spy some I know where I will be heading ;)

Oh yeah... a year old sheep eaten as meat is known as hoggart (still very delish). To be classed as lamb it has to be under a year and over 2 is mutton I think ...

8:16 PM, August 22, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Clare Eats, good luck with your salt cod quest. I suppose it's a trade...you get the mangosteens; I get the salt cod!

And thank you for your clarification on the lamb/hoggart/mutton issue. In reading your comment, I realized that I'd actually been mistaken when I said--or rather, wrote--that the "lamb" was a year old. For some reason, I was thinking of last year's roast, when the beast was a bit older; this year's lamb was indeed a lamb, born in January of this year. As a matter of fact, I got to see it when it was about a month old, all black and fuzzy and skittish. It made for a strange feeling, seeing it up on the spit, but I feel better knowing that it had been raised free and happy and killed humanely--that's more than I can say of most animals out there.

At any rate, thank you for calling that to my attention. I've gone back and made the correction, effectively turning my hoggart back into the lamb it was!

9:00 PM, August 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love your presentation. i like the arrangement of the red, yellow and greens. i have so much to work on my presentation. and yeps i admit the oatmeal cookie went pretty well following it to the letter. however, most of the other recipes ive tried i have to lessen the sugars. most just tends to be too sweet. and yes kayenne is a great teacher/mentor on this art. and you';e right im a lost cause:D

2:35 AM, August 23, 2005  
Blogger cc(,``o said...

ooops sorry forgot to put in my name. anonymous above is me leslie:D

2:35 AM, August 23, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

Hi Molly - our summer descriptions sound quite similar. It's cold and dark (well, apart from the snow) for some 6 months, then raining for another few in Estonia. But when the summer comes, it's gloriously sunny and warm, and most Estonians would want nothing else but relax at their farmhouse or summer cottage close to the nature. And then they sleep, eat, swim in the lake/sea, sunbathe, grill some meat and eat, drink and be merry..
Did I track a Greek theme to the party? Just wondering as I've spent the last few months with someone who keeps daydreaming about a roast lamb on a spit:)))

5:33 AM, August 23, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

Your first paragraph made me think back to my vacation in Seattle a few years ago. I miss it a lot. And it was only a 4 day trip. If the hubby could find publishing work I'd move there in an instant. And I love hearing about your friend the Knight family's lamb roasts. Their grounds sound dreamy with all its vegetation! And recently I rediscovered my love of lamb as I've been making lamb curry's and mini pot pies for a friend's gathering.

9:02 AM, August 23, 2005  
Blogger Shauna said...

Yes, you captured Seattle summer perfectly. It makes me laugh how everyone outside of Seattle asks me, "Doesn't it rain all the time?" Sometimes, I don't tell them about the summers. I don't really want everyone to move here.

Oh goody, now I'm going to make salt cod tart with a gluten-free crust. Where in Seattle did you get your fish?

9:13 AM, August 23, 2005  
Anonymous Brett said...

Currently enduring one of San Francisco's foggy summers, 4 months of summer sun in Seattle sounds enticingly wonderful, especially if they include a lamb roast! I too have planned to make the tourte de brandade ever since I saw it in Saveur. Now that I've read your post I want to make it even more! I recently returned from a trip to Spain (to escape our fog) and am missing the taste of salt cod terribly.

9:14 AM, August 23, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

The tomato tart looks picture-perfect, and the lamb so very succulent. My only experience with brandade is with Rob Feenie's brandade croquettes (coated in panko, deep fried), and I'm curious to try your method. The buttery crust must pair beautfiully with the filling. A nostalgic and poignant post, all around!

7:07 AM, August 24, 2005  
Blogger margrocks said...

as always...love it, love it, love it!

i was already considering a move to the west coast. you're just sealin' the deal, molly.

11:57 AM, August 24, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Leslie, I assume your reference to presentation is about the tomatoes, right? If so, I'm sad to say that I can't take credit for those...that lovely work of culinary art was done by Kate's friend Charlotte.

Pille, yes, your description of Estonia does sound an awful lot like Seattle, although it stays fairly mild here year-round, so for better or for worse, we don't get much snow. But if you drive even an hour or so away, there's great skiing. At any rate, I think I'd be a great fan of Estonian summers! And as for the lamb roast, yes, it did have a Greek angle, what with the dolmas, baklava, hummus, ouzo, and, of course, the lamb. By the time all the guests had contributed their own wares, though, it was more of a multiethnic, globe-trotting affair...

Foodiechickie, I hear you! It's days like these that help me to appreciate--and to really understand, soak up--this amazing part of the country. Sounds like you're due for another Seattle vacation, m'dear.

Shauna, I know--I see from your site that you too have been enjoying the Seattle summer and all its glories, edible and otherwise! As for the salt cod, I bought mine at Whole Foods. Not cheap--$12.00 for about a pound, in a cute little wooden box--but worth the splurge. And I'm sure it would be absolutely delicious with a gluten-free crust. Hop to it!

Brett, well, I hear you about the fog, but when it comes to comparing San Francisco and Seattle, I'd say that 90% of the time, your weather wins! Even in the summer. But that said, if you need a foggy-day cheer-up, Mediterranean-style, I think a salt cod tart would do the trick. Until you can get back to Spain, of course!

Tara, thank you. I was very, very happy with this tart and would definitely recommend it, especially to those who are already lovers of brandade! Your croquettes sound wonderful...I'll look into that next time. Mmmm.

And margrocks, thank you! I never intended to be an ambassador for Seattle, but sometimes I can't help myself.

1:28 PM, August 24, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

Molly, in case you're interested, here is Rob Feenie's recipe.

6:52 AM, August 26, 2005  
Blogger farmgirl said...

What a great post--and party! Do you happen to know how much that lamb weighed? I'm just curious, as I, too, raise grass-fed lamb. We've never cooked one that way, though. Regarding the whole lamb/mutton/etc. argument/classification, I can't help putting in my two cents. So many people are terrified of the word "mutton," and yet the taste of the "lamb" really depends on how it is raised--not just the age and weight. I have had lambs butchered at 16 months of age that were anywhere from 100 to 135 pounds (that's standard butcher weight, but small for that age), and although people would shudder if you told them that, the meat was incredibly tender, with a wonderful flavor. And yet, technically, this was mutton. When animals are force fed in feedlots, etc., they gain weight much more quickly than nature intended. A grass-fed animal, on the other hand, gains weight slowly and ends up leaner because it is exercising while it eats. Plus, of course, it is much healthier and happier. Phew! Didn't mean to get so carried away. Down off my soap box. . . : )

10:33 AM, August 27, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Tara, thanks so much for the Rob Feenie link. I don't think I would have ever thought of serving brandade croquettes with tapenade, but now that I consider it, it sounds pretty luscious....

And farmgirl, thank you for weighing in--feel free to jump on your soap box anytime! I'm not sure how much this lamb weighed, but I could probably find out from Nicho or from his parents, who raised it on their farm. The meat from their sheep and lambs has incredible flavor, regardless of the animal's age. I've eaten their lambs, roasted this way on a spit, and I've also eaten chops and other cuts from their older animals. You're right--so much of it is in how the animal is raised, how much or how little stress it encounters, and what it eats. And, of course, how you cook it.

2:11 PM, August 27, 2005  
Blogger Shauna said...

Much later now, but I have to give everyone the update: I made this luscious salt cod tart with a gluten-free crust, and it worked beautifully. I used the Gluten-Free Pantry perfect pie crust mix (unfortunately, on this i'm reduced to using mixes), and other than that, made the recipe as Molly wrote it. It was fabulous! One of my friends said of it last night, "That one made my knees melt."

9:54 AM, September 10, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Shauna, m'dear, thanks so much for reporting back! I'm thrilled to hear that the experiment went well--beautifully, even!--and it's wonderful to know that I'm not the only one who goes weak at the knees when faced with salt cod tart!

4:03 PM, September 10, 2005  
Blogger Better Living said...

I know I'm late to the party but I've been reading your archives like a novel (and printing out recipes). Thank you for quoting *my* favorite Hass poem, too.

4:04 PM, February 21, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think you could somehow adapt this to use up a bunch of smoked fish? I'm going to try!

Thanks! Gillian

12:01 PM, January 13, 2010  

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