Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.
I love an ugly food. Heaping, brown bowls of chili; bloody, sinister burgers; cheesy pasta as beige as a hospital room … casual, perfectly imperfect dishes that are comforting and indulgent and let you know right off the bat you’ll be needing a nap after you eat them.
Recently, I was scrolling mindlessly through Twitter when I saw an ugly food I didn’t immediately recognize — a lumpy, brownish circle filled with tomatoes and herbs. Something like this:
A galette, I learned on Wikipedia, is a traditional French free-form pastry that you can fill with pretty much anything. Maybe I was just primed to notice them, but over the next few days, they seemed to pop up all over my Instagram and Twitter feeds — rustic-looking pies, some savory and filled with vegetables and meat, others sweet and bursting with fruit. Each with the kind of relaxed elegance that suggests you plucked the produce from your personal orchard, and served it to a intimate group of friends and lovers in the cozy, sun-filled dining room of your French country home. Chic enough to be aspirational, ugly enough to look filling and comforting. I knew galettes were exactly what I needed to attempt next.
Because it is still summertime, I chose to make this summer vegetable galette by Melissa Clark at the New York Times. According to Clark, you can “feel free to use any combination of cooked vegetables” or “even leftovers over from the fridge.” Her cool, laid-back attitude toward ingredients made me feel excited and empowered, but the only things I had in the fridge this weekend were some moldy broccoli and old beers. So I stuck with Melissa’s suggestions, and went and bought two eggplants, two zucchinis, a pound of plum tomatoes, and two hot chili peppers.
When I got back, I started on the dough. I mixed the dry ingredients together, then the wet ingredients (doing this separately is VERY important, as I’ve learned from bingeing Nailed It, though I still don’t fully understand why) and then added a stick of butter. The recipe says to mix the dough until it “just starts to come together but is still mostly large crumbs.” Mine was indeed large crumbs the size of chickpeas, and when I first started to knead it, I was afraid that’s how it would stay forever. None of the dough seemed to come together at first — it was like I was playing with a big lump of buttery sand. Just as I was starting to panic, it finally started to stick. I flattened it into a disk, and wrapped it in plastic wrap to chill in the fridge for the next two hours. Then I turned to my vegetables.
After preheating the oven to 425 degrees, I cut my eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes into thin slices that I laid out on three separate baking sheets. I don’t actually own that many baking sheets, but Key Food has $1 disposable ones that I use and I know they’re wasteful and must be horrible for the environment, but also they’re so cheap and convenient because you can just toss them when you’re done, and what’s the standard number of baking sheets to own anyway? Please whisper the answer into the wind and it will be delivered straight to me.
Did you do it? Okay, back to me: I cut up the vegetables, drizzled them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and put them into the oven, where they were supposed to cook for 35 to 40 minutes, during which time I was supposed to toss the zucchini and eggplant “occasionally.” The first time I went to do so, they’d been cooking for 10 minutes. I managed to flip all the eggplant, and just as I was halfway through the zucchini, my apartment’s smoke alarm started screaming. That also happened the second time I went to flip them. And then 30 minutes in, I smelled something burning. I hurriedly pulled all the baking sheets out, and found that half the tomatoes were charred to a crisps, and so was a bunch of the eggplant. Great.
I posted a picture of the burnt vegetables to my Instagram Story to which someone replied “You suck.”
I salvaged what was left of the vegetables, and mixed them in with some diced jalapeño peppers. Then I took out the dough, rolled it with great difficulty into a sloppy 12-inch round, and let it chill for 15 more minutes, because dough, I’ve learned, is so needy and dramatic it needs to rest all the time even though the rest of us don’t get to just rest in a cool place when we’re tired.
When the dough was finally ready, I took it out and covered it with a mixture of goat cheese, fresh thyme, and garlic, and then topped that with my burnt vegetables, leaving about an inch and a half of dough around the edges, which I folded over and coated with an egg and cream mixture. After lowering the oven temperature to 400, I put the galette in on another $1 baking sheet, and baked it for 40 minutes.
At the designated time, I opened the oven door with great trepidation, worried that a gust of heat would set off my fire alarm. (It didn’t.) And there it was, my dense, ugly, slightly burnt little galette. I loved it. It looked like a Beryl to me, or a Bertha — some warm, sturdy woman with thick forearms who gave great hugs. I posted a picture to Instagram. Several people asked what it was, another said “it probably tastes better than it looks,” and someone else decided it looked like “burnt vegetables stuffed in a crumbling muffin.”
It’s true, my little galette was not a looker. But despite a significant amount of the filling being incinerated, it still tasted amazing. The dough was buttery and flaky, though perhaps slightly more dense than it should have been (I got kind of tired of rolling it out at the end there). I picked off a couple of the most egregiously burnt tomatoes, but besides them, the vegetables had a great smoky, earthy taste, cut through by the freshness of the thyme and the goat cheese. I ate slices of it for three lunches and a dinner. It held up well, kept me full, and I never got tired of it. In fact, I miss it. I didn’t enjoy it in a French country cottage, and I won’t make it again for a long time because I don’t want to deal with the fire alarms, but I truly loved my ugly, delicious little galette.
My report card
My Overall Performance: B-