Nectarine, Living Reflections from a Dream

top crust nectarine pie; creme fraiche ice cream

We took a road trip up to Madison, WI two weekends ago to kick off a couple of busy months ahead. In addition to hanging out with a really cute kid and his parents, we also had the pleasure of attending a really awesome show of local fruits, veggies, oils, and herbs, the Dane County Farmers’ Market. Sure, the Green City Market here in Chicago is nice and is somewhat crowded (especially the crepe stand), but this WI market has a reputation to uphold – that of being the country’s largest farmers’ market. And uphold it did – as our friend put it – you are literally shuffling through the sidewalk like a herd of cattle. This herd happened to be pulling kids in wagons, pushing double seated strollers (I loathe those things and think they should only be used in large open areas without people around. You know, like nowhere), and making a bee line to the stand selling the best bread in the city, maybe the state (?), Stella’s. If you ever go to Madison, at least drive by this market – you will find a new respect for those teeny tiny neighborhood Chicago markets. [Oh, and run to Stella’s for the jalapeno cheese bread.]

cutting top crust

After the market, a loaf of jalapeno bread, and lunch, we headed to another foodie mecca, Brennan’s Market, in search of some great cheeses for the upcoming in-laws n’ friends’ visit. They’re a local business buying direct and stocking loads of cheeses, fresh fruits, and brews. Tasty indeed. The best part? They had little samples of every single fruit. And sample I did.

This, friends, is where I fell in love with the nectarine. I wanted to take that barrel o’ nectarines and run to the car with it. Please… I’d pay – you think I was gonna steal them?! Shame on you. But instead, I settled for 2 nectarines and a block of camembert and gruyere cheeses. Let’s be real – I only brought one pair of jeans for the weekend so I didn’t want to soil myself with nectarine juice. Not that having nectarine juice all over my pants was bad for me – I was saving others from embarrassment. Ya know – taking one for the team. I have to show class every now and then!

top crust

Despite my inability to take home multiple fuzz-less recessive peaches, we still had a great weekend. I enjoy hanging out with normal, laid-back parents – it makes me think that one day I might be able to have a couple rugrats of my own and not totally screw it up. But on the downside, I came home nectarineless. That was a sad state of affairs. And nothing against Whole Foods, but their nectarines just aren’t as good as the ones Brennan’s procured.


But it didn’t stop me. With a weekend full of house guests on the horizon, I knew I’d be able to talk someone into eating a pie if I 1) made it and 2) shoved a plate full of that warm, juicy, fresh-baked nectarine goodness in front of them. And I knew that chance of having said pie eaten would be increased three-fold if I also put a dollop of ice cream off to the side. But what flavor concoction would that be? I immediately remembered a dessert from Napa and an ice cream I swore I’d make – crème fraîche. Done & done.

This pie is great for three reasons: the obvious, it tastes delightful. In addition, it’s a show-stopper due to its beautifully scalloped crust that appears intricately designed and unique. But the best reason – it’s even easier to make than your typical pie crust even though it looks harder and so you definitely want to make this one for company. Definitely. Did I forget to mention the cardamom that’s added? Yeah, make that four reasons.

baked and ready

As if the pie isn’t good enough as is, when you add this ice cream to it it becomes a magical dessert that I could probably eat every day. I tell ya, when I had crème fraîche ice cream in Napa, I was gulping it up as if I’d never eaten a thing and when it was gone I was sad. I could never make another ice cream (well, maybe basil...) and I’d be happy. And sure, it sounds weird because crème fraîche by tranlation is “fresh cream” but by definition is a soured cream. It’s not quite as sour as sour cream but it’s definitely thicker. But weird tasting, it is not. Just ask the other 5 people who scarfed it down with the pie.

Love pie? Want more? Try these:
Strawberry-Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze
Classic Key Lime Pie
Andouille & Sweet Potato Pie

almost gone
Top-Crust Nectarine & Cardamom Pie*
Adapted from Bon Appetit, August 2009; Serves 8

printable recipe

I think the topping is so cutesy on this pie. If you want though, you could use this same dough for a regular pie crust. Just par-bake it prior to baking the whole pie to prevent soggy bottoms (poke holes in bottom, line with parchment paper and weights and bake at 350 F until slightly brown, then remove weights and paper and bake a few minutes more). You could even double the recipe and make another top crust. Next time, I might do a top crust like this one but also add a bottom crust.

1 1/4 c unbleached AP flour
1 1/2 t sugar
1/4 t salt
1/2 c (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 T + ice water

2 1/2 – 3 lbs firm, ripe nectarines; peeled and sliced ~ 1/2 inch thick
1/3 c sugar
2 T cornstarch or arrowroot
2 t fresh lemon juice
1/2 t ground cardamom
1 egg, beaten (for glaze)
1 1/2 T raw or regular sugar

Other: 2-3 inch cookie cutter. I used plain but you can use shapes or scalloped edge too.

For Crust:
Blend flour, sugar, salt in food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 3 T water; pulse until moist clumps form, adding more water if necessary (I added about 4 T). Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead briefly just until dough comes together, about 4-5 turns. Flatten into disk and chill at least an hour (or overnight if doing this in sections like I did).

Line baking sheet or other flat surface w/ parchment paper. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to sheet and chill 20 minutes. Using your cookie cutter of choice, cut out shapes, spacing close together. If needed, remove scraps and reroll to have about 20 pieces. Keep dough as chilled as possible.

For Filling:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 F. Place peach slices in medium bowl. Add sugar, cornstarch/arrowroot, lemon juice, cardamom and toss to coat. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish. Carefully arrange cutouts atop filling in slightly overlapping concentric circles, starting at edge and working inward to cover filling completely. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet (or else your filling will spill into your oven and smell icky!!). Bake until crust is golden and juices are bubbling at edges, about 45 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool at least 30 minutes.

Crème Fraîche Ice Cream*
Adapted from multiple sources

printable recipe

2/3 c sugar
5 egg yolks
2 cups crème fraîche
1 1/2 c low-fat milk
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 t lemon zest
pinch of salt

Place eggs and sugar in bowl and whisk together to blend. In large saucepan, combine crème fraîche, milk, lemon juice and zest. Stir over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Gradually pour mixture into bowl of egg yolk/sugar mixture to slowly warm but not cook the eggs. Return all to saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat. It’s ready when an instant-read thermometer reads 170 F or when custard coats the back of a spoon and stays separate if you run your finger through the middle. You can strain here, but I usually don’t cause I’ve never had any chunks in the mixture, but if you do (from eggs partially cooking) you should strain. Pour into bowl and set over another large bowl filled with ice water to cool. Cover and chill.

Transfer to ice cream maker and process according to instructions. Move to ice cream container and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours.

*Pie is not gluten-free; ice cream is gluten-free

Is There Rehab for Rhubarb?

rhubarb crisp
You’ll hear most people, including myself, get pretty excited about various Spring seasonals such as strawberries, asparagus, and even ramps. Yes, I’ve talked (or typed, or typed and talked, rather) about all of those in previous posts. And why shouldn’t I, right? They’re all sublime in their own way. Why, right this second, if you asked me, I could name at least 20 things to make with each of the above. And whether that’s true or not, you’ll never know because you are reading what I’ve already typed, rather than talking directly to me. So there. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.


Speaking of smoking, I can think of one thing I’m totally cracked-out on. Well, one thing for today at least, as every day brings about a new addiction (in food terms only, most definitely. that I think about it, I am also addicted to things like vacations, sunshine, blogging and so on). And today that one thing is rhubarb. Yup, I said it. Rhu-barb. Oh yummers. If I hadn’t already cooked with it for two weekends straight, I’d re-consider it as the secret ingredient for the upcoming Iron Chef Battle. But I’ve already got that under wraps, and I’m not changin’ it no matter what. Plus, I like having these little nuggets to myself (or at least, for the two of us). Next time, I’ll buy more and freeze them. I’ve recently eliminated freezer space by eating the rest of some tasty pulled pork this week that a special someone sent me for my birthday. Move over piggies, it’s time for rhubarb!!

The first time I ever bought rhubarb was last year around this time. Kris & Jon came to visit for the weekend, and we stayed in for dinner one night. And while I can’t for the life of me remember what we had for dinner, I know I made a strawberry-rhubarb crisp that we all ate on for the whole night. Meaning, between each hand of spades, hearts, or whatever card game we were playing, one of us was in the kitchen wolfing down a bite of that crisp while the others shuffled and dealt. What I also remember was Chris turning his nose up and whining, “I don’t liiiiike rhu-baaaaaaarb.” Well, that crisp sure shut him up! Now if only I could get him to like cucumbers. I also vaguely recall a rhubarb-maple fool that I made for the in-laws’ visit. But before I knew it, rhubarb season was over. I somehow felt cheated – as if I were punished for discovering rhubarb 28 years into my life. Better late than never, right? I mean, give a girl a break! That being said, I’ve been waiting for it [the new rhubarb season] ever since.

crisp mixture

And so this time, I’ve made a point to buy these pretty in pink rods during both weekend trips to the Green City Market. The strawberries were slim pickin’s by the time we made it there last week, so instead I made a crisp with rhubarb & apple which was super scrumptitious. The apples were nice and crunchy and the rhubarb just melted in your mouth. I don’t know that I’d pair rhubarb with granny smiths, but most any other apple variety will probably do – just not the tart ones unless you enjoy that scrunched up look on your face. I don’t.

For my bunch o’ rhubarb from this past weekend, I did have strawberries and whipped up some strawberry-rhubarb frozen yogurt. Next week though, I just don’t know what I’m gonna make. I’m thinking I might get some jars and stock up on preserves, or maybe make a tart although I’m a little tart-ed out, which should come as no surprise.

What do you think? Ya got any bright ideas over there?!

Rhubarb-Apple Crisp
Liberally adapted from various crisp recipes; Serves 6

printable recipe

1 lb rhubarb, cut into 1″ pieces
2 Fuji apples, cored and diced
3 T tapioca
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
2/3 c granulated sugar
1 T orange zest
2 T orange juice

2/3 c all purpose flour*
1/2 c packed light brown sugar
1/2 c regular oats*
1/2 t cinnamon
dash of salt
6 T unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes**


  1. Combine all ingredients for filling into medium bowl. Let sit 15 minutes. Pour into 13×9 baking dish.
  2. Preheat oven to 375
  3. Combine all ingredients for topping except butter. Cut in butter (with hands or pastry blender) until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over filling.
  4. Bake ~30 minutes. Let sit 10 before serving.

*You can easily turn this into a gluten-free dessert by using gluten-free oats and gluten-free flour. Since you’re not using the flour to develop gluten, you won’t need other additives such as guar gum or xantham gum. Most Whole Foods stores stock both of these products, but they can also be ordered online.

**You can also make this as a dairy-free dessert by using margarine (many brands are dairy-free) or the Smart Balance spreads. I’d recommend the Smart Balance Lite over margarine any day. I’ve also heard Earth Balance brand is a good non-dairy substitute.