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A cook's larder

(post, Marjorie Taylor)

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Marjorie Taylor is the proprietor of The Cook’s Atelier.  She cooks and writes about food from her tiny home in Burgundy, France.  See more of her writing on her blog, The Cook's Atelier

What is a larder?  A place where cooks go to find the staple ingredients for a meal, such as last season’s preserved items from the garden, dried beans, lentils, rice, assorted pastas, garlands of dried aromatics, and staples such as extra-virgin olive oil, vinegars, salts and baking supplies.  In addition to my dry storage, I always keep a supply of homemade chicken stock and real butter in the freezer and a large hunk of Parmesan in the refrigerator.  

A larder doesn’t have to be a separate room, as long as the area you choose is a relatively cool, dry place, that’s all you need.  Simple solutions could include a vintage armoire that you find at a flea market, an extra closet or designated spot in your basement.  The idea really is to keep staples on hand that allow you to prepare a meal without the need to run to the grocery store every time you cook.  If you stock your larder with the basic staples that your family enjoys, you can easily prepare a meal using the ingredients from your larder along with the fresh, seasonal ingredients from your local farmers’ market or garden.

Given our economic times, this is the perfect opportunity for us to get back to the basics, rethink our priorities and learn to cook. With a little planning and a day or two in the kitchen, you can prepare the essential items for your larder.  Don’t try to stock your larder all at once, make a list of what items you frequently use and gradually add them to your larder. To me, keeping a larder is really more of a state of mind.  It’s about returning to the home-keeping skills of previous generations before we were seduced by convenience foods and to a time when we still valued sharing our meals together at the dinner table.

As a home cook, you can follow this principle and always have something ready in a flash and keep your grocery bill under control at the same time.  Store items in airtight containers and make sure that you properly label and date everything.  I’m very much a visual person, so I like to store my items in clear glass vintage canning jars with tight fitting lids.  They allow quick access, but are also very beautiful.  During the summer months, I take advantage of the bounty of the farmers’ market and the garden and preserve things for the next year.  For example, when tomatoes are at their peak and are in abundance or when peaches are aromatic and bursting with flavor, that’s the time to schedule a day to put up for next year’s larder.  It’s a fun day in the kitchen that you can enjoy with friends and family.

Nothing is more comforting than a family sitting down for dinner together, enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures.  A larder can be a source of inspiration and, if well stocked, can be a great beginning to an impromptu meal or weeknight supper.  Most importantly, a well stocked larder can be a great way to feed your family healthy meals that not only feed their bodies, but their spirits too.

This tart is a perfect weeknight supper served with a simple salad of baby greens from the garden or your local farmers’ market.

Bacon and  zucchini tart

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

For the dough

½ teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup ice water
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, preferably organic
5 ounces unsalted butter, cut into cubes

In a small bowl, mix together the sea salt and water to dissolve the salt.  Keep cold until ready to use.  Place the flour and the butter in a large bowl.  With your fingers, mix the butter into the flour pinching between your fingers until you have incorporated the butter into the flour and the mixture forms large crumbs.  If you prefer, you can use a pastry cutter or fork for this step.  Add the salt and water mixture and work the dough with your fingers just until it is combined.  If it seems a little dry, add an additional tablespoon of cold water.  Gather the dough into a ball with your hand and gently press to form a disk.  Be careful not to handle the dough too much or you’ll end up with a tough pastry shell.  Wrap the disk with a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, turning the dough as you go, until you form a circle large enough to line your tart pan.  Trim the edges and prick the bottom of the shell all over with the tongs of a fork.  Refrigerate until well chilled, about 30 minutes.

Line the tart shell with parchment paper.  Fill the lined tart shell with dried beans and bake until the edges are just beginning to brown.  Take the tart shell out of the oven and carefully remove the parchment paper and dried beans.  Return the tart to the oven, and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes, turning as needed to ensure even color.  Place on a rack to cool completely.

For the filling

3 slices of bacon, preferably nitrate free, cut into small cubes
½ cup freshly grated gruyere cheese
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise with a vegetable peeler into ribbons
3 eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup crème fraîche
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the tart

In a sauté pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, until crispy.  Drain and set aside.

Sprinkle the cheese over the bottom of the tart shell and top with the bacon and zucchini ribbons.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, crème fraîche, thyme leaves and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Pour the mixture over the cheese, bacon and zucchini.  Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly as this tart is best served at room temperature.