We completed another week of the Summer Cookbook Challenge! How are we doing? Are you still with me?
This week delivered a double whammy of two big recipes, both requiring forethought and planning, and, for me, both producing drastically different results.
The recipes slated for this week were Tomato Goat Cheese Crostata and Banana Rum Trifle. I love when things go according to plan, but I also love learning from when they don’t. This week was a lesson in planning ahead, and a reminder that you cannot judge a recipe from a list of ingredients alone.
BANANA RUM TRIFLE.
Let’s start with the trifle from this week. I love banana pudding, and upon looking at the recipe, this seemed to be Ina’s attempt to take Banana Pudding and offer us a version with a different flavor profile. Namely, she replaced the standard Nilla Wafers with ginger snaps, and instead of sticking with plain vanilla pudding, she infused it with rum, meant to enhance and play well with the spices in the ginger snaps. The idea makes sense on paper, but in execution, I found the end result to be disappointing.
This recipe is a lot of trouble. You cook a thickened milk mixture that has to chill, then you whip cream with flavorings and finish the cream mixture before you assemble the entire trifle…which also has to chill overnight. But wait! There’s more! After the trifle chills overnight, we must then whip more cream to garnish and finish the dish. If upon tasting the Banana Rum Trifle my eyes had rolled back in my head and my spoon had absentmindedly begun to scoop the next bite in anticipation of another taste, then fine. The work is worth it. But when I tasted the finished Banana Rum Trifle, I had two reactions.
First, the pudding layer lacked body. It was too soft, falling apart under the weight of the bananas. Scooping it out yielded a mess in the bowl, and the remaining trifle began to collapse in on itself. I wanted more heft in the pudding, and I found none.
Second, good lord this dessert is sweet and brings zero balance to the cloying sweet cream. It is decadent and rich, but also lacks a sense of refinement because all I tasted was sweet. In fact, I could barely distinguish the flavor of the spicy ginger snaps beneath all of that overly sweet cream. I liked the bananas and the rum together, but two bites in and I had to put my spoon down. I could not eat another bite, and given how large the finished dessert it, impressive in its scale, the inability to eat an entire serving proved a difficulty. We, sadly, ended up throwing most of the trifle away. It was good, but not in a way that any of us wanted to eat more than a bite, which maybe means it wasn’t good after all.
TOMATO GOAT CHEESE CROSTATA.
Yum and yes! What the trifle lacked in nuance, the crostata made up for with a wonderful assortment of ingredients that made each component taste better. Yes, this dish required a little bit of leg work, but in the end I barely remembered the effort because the flavor and presentation were a wow, making every minute I spent on this dish truly worth it.
The magic of this dish for me was the combination of flavors. The sautéd leeks are sweet. The fresh tomatoes are tart and acidic. The goat cheese is tangy and creamy. The crust is buttery and flaky, enveloping the whole crostata with a toothsome texture that offset the creamy, soft ingredients of the filling.
Before I started cooking, I was not convinced this recipe would work. I thought the tomatoes would be too wet and the leeks would make the crust soggy. I expected all of it to fall apart into a mess on the plate, but I was wrong! Even after cooling on the counter for two hours, it was not soggy in the least and held up beautifully to slicing. I enjoyed a piece shortly after it came out of the oven (heavenly) and then another half-slice a couple of hours later (even better, in my opinion). This is summer on a plate, and I will be making this again.
Part of the way I know a recipe is a keeper is when it inspires me to want to create a reason to serve it again. In this case, I am picturing a late summer casual dinner party with all of the food laid out on the table, family style. I would flank each end of of the table with a Tomato and Goat Cheese Crostata, served on a cutting board, then add a giant bowl of salad greens with a bright lemon vinaigrette, a platter of gorgeous herb-marinated grilled shrimp, and a shallow bowl of peach slices and blackberries, squeezed with orange juice, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with mint. We would pour glasses of crisp rosé, help ourself to the delicious fare, and for dessert, enjoy strawberry ice cream served in frozen bowls. What a delightful summer evening gathering, don’t you think?
WHAT I LEARNED.
You know I love Ina, and she is one of my most trusted recipe sources. But even trusted sources have recipes that will be a miss. To be fair, the trifle recipe turned out as described, but it was not for me. That’s fine. I have a recipe for Banana Pudding that I like quite a lot, and by trying something new, I am now even more sold on the merits of my recipe. It’s not a mistake to try something new, and the work is not a waste. We learn something new every time we step into the kitchen.
I also learned not to make assumptions, positively or negatively, about a recipe before I try it. There have been so many times when I have browsed a list of ingredients and thought it would yield subpar results only to be wowed and proven wrong. So much of the magic of creating memorable flavors comes in the execution, and this can not be relegated to a list of ingredients on a page. You simply must try a recipe to experience it.
Below is a summary video from the week. I hope you enjoy!