Monday, June 21, 2010

Currant Affair

Today marks the official first day of summer.  Although I do love the Fall in New England, Summer is absolutely my favorite time of year.  The long days and warm weather are nice, but the real reason I love summer is - get ready for a bombshell here - the food!  The farmers markets and our CSA are bursting with fresh, crisp, just picked produce and I can't get enough of it.  In early summer, you see lots of greens and there seems to be an abundance of red fruit available.  My fridge actually looks like Christmas right now.  Strawberries, raspberries and cherries are making appearances.  We also found some more unusual berries at the farmers market - currants and gooseberries.  I've only ever seen currants dried in scones, and I thought gooseberries were something out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.  So I had to try one of these and find something unique to cook with them.  I opted for the currants and I found 2 somethings.
The first was a delicious Saturday breakfast.  I started with some ends of stale baguette that I had in the freezer, but you could also use a slightly stale demi baguette.  This recipe is based off of Paula Deen's french toast casserole - my go-to breakfast recipe when cooking for a crowd, but rather obscene in its quantities of butter and cream.  I slimed this version down a bit.  You have to prep it the night before, but the prep is so easy, and its worth it when you can just wake up and throw it in the oven.  In between slices of custard-soaked bread, I tucked tart currants and raspberries.  

I purposely didn't make this french toast very sweet.  Its the perfect vehicle for maple syrup.
Currant and Raspberry French Toast Casserole
Serves 4
1/2 slightly stale baguette or 1 demi baguette, sliced 1/2" thick
2 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup currants, stemmed
1/2 cup raspberries
butter, for coating baking dish
  • The night before, generously butter a 1.5 quart baking dish.  Layer bread slices in dish, overlapping so they fit snuggly.
  • Whisk together eggs, milk, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and salt.  Pour mixture over bread, pressing on bread to absorb all the liquid.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • The next morning, preheat oven to 350º
  • Tuck currants and raspberries in between bread slices.  They will get slightly smushed, but that's ok.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes, until custard is set and top is puffed and golden.
  • Serve with pure maple syrup
I used currants in dinner as well.  I wanted to make a slightly sweet sauce and I intended to serve it over duck, but my happy meat source Don Otto's was all out.  I have to admit, I've been very into duck lately.  Its perhaps my favorite meat that I've tried since falling off the wagon, but I've yet to cook it myself.  Don Otto's did have some lovely arctic char, so I pan seared that and served it with a port-currant sauce.  I also served some balsamic glazed baby carrots and beets alongside.
It was a very red meal.
Port-Currant Sauce
1/2 cup port or sweet red wine
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 small shallots, minced
1/4 cup currants, stemmed
  • Combine port, balsamic and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
  • Add currants and simmer until reduced by half and slightly thick.
  • Serve over oily fish, duck, goose or pork.

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