These peaceful fish and lady are happy to be underwater, where they hear a lot of rumbling. This painting is by Sergio Fiorentino. This is a portrait of me.

Still Life with Peaches, by Paul Gaugin.

Recipe below: Crostata with Summer Peaches and Rosemary

Fruit and herbs. I’m always looking for good new combinations of fruit with fresh herbs. And in my culinary travels this summer I’ve discovered I love rosemary with stone fruit. Not too much rosemary; just a small amount will perfume the fruit with a gentle evergreen aroma. Too much and you might wind up with harsh medicine. So follow me here, and I’ll show you how nice it can be.

I first tried this flavor combo last week with small yellow plums, called lemon plums, that I found at the Union Square market, making a rosemary-scented syrup that I poured hot over the stoned fruit, letting it soak in. It was piney and sweet. Then I moved on to peaches, which had just become available at Migliorelli, my farm stand in Rhinebeck. They had both yellow and white peaches. I chose the white ones for this, but I left their mottled red skins on for color and richness of taste. Before I went about putting this crostata together, I sliced a peach, placed a few rosemary needles on it, and ate it. The taste was a mix of sweet, pine, lemon, and, I thought, also a hint of black pepper. That was what I was hoping for.

Heat both mellows and deepens flavor, depending on what you’re working with. For instance here the peaches became less acidic, more just melting sweet with a hit of citrus. The rosemary lost its harsh edge, but also spread its flavor throughout the crostata in a softened way. All good.

When apricots show up at my markets, in the next week or so, I’m going to try using rosemary on them, maybe in a sorbetto. I’m not sure, but stay tuned.

And happy summer herb cooking at all my friends.

Crostata with Summer Peaches and Rosemary

For the pastry:

2 1/4 cups regular flour
1 tablespoon sugar, plus a little more for sprinkling on the crust
A pinch of salt
2 small sprigs rosemary, the leaves well chopped (about 1 teaspoon chopped)
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small dice, plus a little more for greasing the sheet pan
¼ cup cold white wine
1 egg yolk, for brushing on the crust

For the filling:

4 large or 5 medium-size summer peaches, unpeeled and sliced
¼ cup sugar
2 small sprigs rosemary, the leaves well chopped (about 1 teaspoon chopped)
A tiny pinch of salt
A pinch of ground allspice
A tiny splash of Kirsch or grappa (about 1 teaspoon)
A big squeeze of fresh lemon juice

To make the pastry, put the flour in a food processor. Add the sugar, salt, and rosemary, and give it a few pulses to blend everything. Add the butter, and give it a few quick pulses to break up the butter into tiny bits. Add the white wine, and pulse a few more times, just until you have a crumbly, moist mass. Don’t pulse so much that it works into a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, and press it into a ball. Cover it with plastic, and stick it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (you can also leave it overnight, if you like).

About a half hour before you plan on cooking the crostata, put the sliced peaches in a large bowl. Add the sugar, rosemary, salt, and allspice. Add the Kirsch and the lemon juice, and give everything a toss.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and rub a large sheet pan with butter.

Take the pastry from the refrigerator, and let it warm up for about 15 minutes.

Flour a work surface, and roll the pastry out into a 12- or 13-inch round, trimming the edges to make it even. Place it on a large, standard-size sheet pan, which is 13 inches wide, so it should fit perfectly.

Lift the peaches out of the bowl with a slotted spoon so most of the liquid gets left behind (you don’t want the crostata to get too soggy), and place them in the center of the pastry, pressing them down a bit so the fruit comes to about 1½ inches from the rim. Pull up the edge of the pastry, and fold it back toward the center, pressing it all around so it makes a pretty tight package (see my photo above for what it should look like).

Put the egg yolk in a glass with a splash of water, and whisk it around. Brush the crust with the egg wash, and then sprinkle it with a little sugar.

Bake the crostata until it’s golden and fragrant, about 30 to 35 minutes. Then let it rest for about ½ hour before cutting.

I like to serve it with sweetened ricotta or crème fraîche or whipped cream—or with nothing. A glass of Beaujolais is a wonderful accompaniment, reminding me of the bowls of peaches in red wine my father used to bring out for summer cookouts.

First Cherries of the Season, by Vita Schager.

Recipe below: Cherry Clafoutis with Bay and Lemon Thyme

Cherry clafoutis as traditionally made in the Limousin region of France uses whole, unpitted cherries.  I never wanted to serve it that way, for fear of choking someone, especially when my swallowing-compromised mother was still alive. So every summer I’d consider making a cherry clafoutis and ultimately decide to forget it, even though the thought drove me crazy with culinary romance. Also I wanted to pit the cherries, but I stupidly couldn’t figure out how. Why it took me so long to break down and buy a cherry pitter I’m not sure, but I think I had it in my head that there was no way a simple little gadget that cost nine dollars could get the pit out while leaving the cherry more or less whole. I was dead wrong. The things work. Buy one. I only use it in June and July, when cherries are in season, but it has contributed to my life in a big way.

After I got through with the pitting, which took all of five minutes, I needed to think about herbs, as I wanted to add some sort of herb flavoring to the batter. The usual additions are kirsch and vanilla, which I love and did add, but since dairy, especially cream, accepts flavors so readily, I decided to also add fresh bay leaves and sprigs of lemon thyme to the standard milk-and-cream mix and give that a quick heat-and-steep. You’ll want only fresh bay leaves here. Dried would impart a musty flavor, which would really not be good at all. If you don’t have lemon thyme, regular thyme and a piece of lemon peel will work beautifully. Lemon verbena is also a nice way to go.

I love the bay leaf and lemon thyme combination so much, I’m already thinking about other ways to use it, both sweet and savory. Stay tuned.

I used a shallow 11-by-8-inch oval baking dish for the clafoutis, but any more-or-less equivalent-size round or rectangular dish will work fine.

Cherry Clafoutis with Bay and Lemon Thyme

1/2 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 fresh bay leaves, ripped in half
5 sprigs lemon thyme
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ pints sweet summer cherries, pitted
1 tablespoon sugar, plus ⅓ cup for the batter
1 tablespoon kirsch liqueur
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a little more for greasing the baking dish
2 large eggs
⅓ cup all-purpose flour

Put the milk and cream in a saucepan. Add the bay leaves, the lemon thyme, a pinch of salt, and the vanilla, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and let it steep for about an hour to develop flavor.

While the cream mixture is steeping, put the pitted cherries in a bowl, and add the tablespoon of sugar and the kirsch. Give them a quick toss, and let them sit to soak in the sugar and cherry flavors.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the baking dish lightly with butter.

When the cream mixture has steeped for an hour, put the 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat until it turns golden brown, about 4 minutes.

Put the ⅓ cup of sugar and the eggs in a mixing bowl, and whisk them together. Add the flour, whisking it in. Pull the herbs from the cream mixture (or strain it), discarding them, and add the herb cream to the bowl. Add the browned butter, and mix everything well. Add the cherries, with any juices they’ve given off.

Pour it all into the baking dish, and bake until it has puffed up and is lightly browned, about 35 minutes. If the center hasn’t puffed and still looks wobbly, cook a few minutes longer.

Let the clafoutis sit for about 15 minutes so it can firm up. It’ll deflate as it cools, but that’s the way it goes. Serve slightly warm.

When I first moved to Manhattan from my Long Island childhood home, in the late 1970s, Downtown was an enticingly raw place. My studio apartment near Union Square got broken into a lot, once two days in a row. I started growing pots of basil on the roof, because I missed my father’s backyard garden. Soon one of the old women on my floor, who we referred to as Miss Alabama, a big butch in men’s boxers with a Southern drawl, told me if I continued to go up there to garden, someone would come along and slit my privates from end to end. Men were waiting, she repeatedly warned me. I was more worried about being assaulted by Miss Alabama than by a stranger on the roof—and those pots of basil brought me great joy. They opened a world of fresh sweet aroma and flavor and green wonder for me. Not only did I ignore Miss Alabama’s warnings, I went bigger, adding parsley, thyme, fennel, oregano, rosemary, and wild arugula.

I’ve since grown herbs in city stoop pots, on windowsills, under grow lamps in winter, in a garden in upstate New York, and on the roof of God’s Love We Deliver—they have a big, gorgeous herb garden up there which for a while I helped tend.

I have found herb gardening in Manhattan extremely rewarding, an endless hit of aroma and freshness, Not that it doesn’t have its drawbacks. People steal my plants. All the time. Who thinks it’s the height of accomplishment and city fun to get shitfaced and rip out marjoram at three in the morning? That’s upsetting, but it has never deterred me. I just keep planting. The joy of going out to my stoop while cooking dinner and scissoring a few sprigs of rosemary or basil is just too great.

When I was a child my father kept a tidy Italian man’s garden, growing tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, the triumvirate of Southern Italian soul cooking, and he always had basil, flat-leaf parsley, oregano, sage, rosemary, and spikey arugula (from cuttings our next door neighbor had smuggled back from Sorrento). Fresh herbs feel like home to me. At my wedding I carried a bouquet of them, heavy on the rosemary and thyme. I wish it had been bigger, much bigger. If I had my wedding to do over now, I’d wear a headdress of herbs as well, and give each guest a small bouquet to take home. And I should have had an herb-themed wedding dinner and a cake decorated with basil and mint. But that’s okay. I’m making up for it now.

I’m extremely lucky to now have, in addition to my city stoop pots, my own herb garden upstate. I stare at it and fuss with it dozens of times a day. Herbs are my friends. Truly. They are great company. I talk to them. I plant kinds that complement each other next to each other, like basil and marjoram, or fennel and parsley, so they’ll have something is common when they chat among themselves. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I’m pretty sure this year my bronze fennel, parsley, and lemon verbena are leaning in together, not just toward the sun. I must have made the correct arrangement.

My ancestors in Southern Italy, going back hundreds of years, cooked with the same herbs I grow and use today, and knowing that connects me to them, though otherwise they are somewhat of a mystery to me. The wild fennel liqueur I make in August, a Neapolitan specialty, is probably close in flavor to the liqueur my great grandfather made. I bake rosemary-flavored taralli, little, round crackers, that taste like the ones my family would have eaten in their poor little town in Campania. I’m sure of this because I have gone there and tasted them at the source, eating ones made by my grandmother’s cousin Tony, who grew all his herbs in his dusty little backyard garden, the same way his grandfather had.

So it’s early summer again and my upstate garden is just starting to fill in. This year I planted some companion flowers, nasturtium and marigolds mostly, to deter bugs and disease. So far it all looks pretty good. At this stage when some of my plants such as basil are still small, I’ll wait to start using them lavishly so they have a chance to grow bushy. July and August are when I really let loose and go wild with herbs. Stay tuned.

Red Scallop, by Mary Hubley.

Recipe below: Riso Nero Venere with Scallops, Saffron, Pastis, and Basil

A good way to expand your cooking knowledge is by buying an ingredient you don’t use and making yourself cook with it. Sounds obvious, but I think we all know how easy it is to recycle the same things over and over (penne with tomato sauce again?). I recently bought a bag of riso nero, Italian black rice, just because I hadn’t cooked any in years.

Riso venere, or Venus rice, as they call it, is mostly grown in the Lombardy and Piedmont areas. As I said, it had been a while, so I wasn’t expecting its color to change with cooking, from black to a very dark, sultry, gorgeous purple. A lovely thing to witness. I’m thinking that tells me it’s got a lot of the same antioxidant properties as other purple and red foods such as berries and grapes. When I looked it up, I found that it is in fact rich in fiber and in minerals like calcium, manganese, selenium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, and iron, which all make it much more nutritious than the denatured white rice you probably, like me, eat a lot of. It certainly tastes and smells richer. Some people say it smells like freshly baked bread. I get that. I’ve also heard sandalwood. That I don’t pick up.

Italian black rice is a hybrid of emperor’s rice, from China, also known as forbidden rice (meaning forbidden for anyone other than the emperor; seems he didn’t want his people to be healthy, and he also thought it an aphrodisiac that, if released to the public, could leave the masses out of control). The original Chinese version grows best in warmer climates. This variety was created to grow in cooler places such as Northern Italy.

For my recipe I pulled up some classic Marseille flavors, saffron, pastis, basil, and thyme. The dish itself is elaborate and feels very special-occasion to me. I found great-looking scallops at my farmers’ market, so I decided to make this for my husband’s birthday. He loved it. Seafood goes beautifully with this rice. You can use shrimp or calamari or clams instead of scallops. Or, if you prefer, you can leave out the seafood entirely and just serve the saffron pastis black riso alone, or as a side dish. The rice is so intrinsically flavorful, you might at times want to serve it very simply, maybe just tossed with soft herbs (basil, parsley, tarragon, chives, fennel), pine nuts, and good olive oil. It also makes a nice summer rice salad with seasonal vegetables such as zucchini with summer garlic and mint. And it looks beautiful on a picnic table.

I chose a riso nero from Pacifico Crespi, a producer in Piemonte. It’s imported by Gustiamo. You can also get a riso nero from a company called Marhaba at Kalustyan, and you can find several other producers on Amazon, but I like the Gustiamo one the best.

If you give this rice a try, let me know how it turns out.

Riso Nero Venere with Scallops, Saffron, Pastis, and Basil

12 or so large sea scallops, the side muscles removed (if your scallops are really large, like mine were, three per person should be plenty, but see what you come up with and judge for yourself if you think you’ll need more or you’re big eaters)
The grated zest from 1 lemon
½ teaspoon runny honey
Calabrian chili paste, just a touch for the scallops and another little touch for the tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups riso nero venere
1 large shallot, cut into small dice
A few large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
1½ pints sweet grape tomatoes
A big splash of dry vermouth
1 tablespoon white miso, plus a big pinch of dry ground saffron threads, both dissolved in ½ cup warm water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
A splash of pastis, such as Pernod
A handful of torn basil leaves

Put the scallops in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest, the honey, a touch of Calabrian chili paste, a bit of salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss it all around, and stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook the scallops (you can refrigerate them for a few hours, but for optimal freshness I wouldn’t leave them overnight).

Fill a medium saucepan about halfway with water. Add salt, and bring it to a boil. Add the rice, and give it a stir. Turn the heat down so it cooks at a low bubble, partially cover the pan, and cook until just tender. Because black rice still contains its bran, it takes longer than white rice, more like cooking brown rice, so figure about 30 minutes. I cook black rice more like pasta, in lots of water. When it’s al dente tender, drain it, and toss it with a drizzle of olive oil.

Set out a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add a big drizzle of olive oil. Add the shallot, the thyme, the tomatoes, and a little salt, and cook, shaking the pan around a few times, until the tomatoes start to burst and give off some juice, about 5 minutes or so. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Add the miso saffron water, stirring it in and letting it simmer for about a minute. Add a touch of the Calabrian chili paste.

Add the rice to the tomatoes, stirring everything well. Taste for seasoning. Keep it warm over a low flame.

In another large skillet, heat the butter and a drizzle of olive oil over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the scallops, spacing them out so they’re not crowded. Let them brown, without moving them around at all, for about 2 minutes. Give them a flip, and quickly brown their other side for about a minute or so longer. Add the pastis, and let it bubble away.

Add half the basil to the rice, and pour it onto a large serving platter. Arrange the scallops on top. Pour any pan sauces you might have over the top. Scatter on the remaining basil. Serve right away.

Pair of Wild Herbs, by Sophie Labayle.

Recipe below: Risotto with Preboggion, Upstate New York–Style

I love a big foraged armful of spring greens from my upstate New York backyard. They’re the best thing to eat not just for health but mostly because I like them. They look good too, with their various shades of green. I’m especially drawn to dark leaves, like the ones on stinging nettles. And all this rummaging around drags me back in time to my Puglian and Campanian ancestors. I imagine that Achille, Fortunata, Caprina, Tecla, Assunta, and Leonardo also liked the look and aroma of wild weeds and herbs. Dandelions smell pissy and sweet. The wild thyme and mint around my place are pungent, almost too bitter to eat, but a little heat tames them, so they’re good in a marinade for stuff destined for the grill. The southern Italian foraging genes that I imagine I have in me are great for a touch of romantic misery. But there’s no misery for me, and hardly even any effort. That was probably not the case for my dirt poor (but possibly dirt rich in some respects) ancestors in Southern Italy, whose lives likely depended on those greens. I can wander around my backyard ripping up weeds while sipping a cold glass of rosé. Kind of decadent, but interesting.

The first thing I ever foraged was wild garlic, although back when I was a kid we called it onion grass. It was all over the place in my not-so-rural Long Island community. I and a few of my buddies used to rip up the bulbs with their chive-like tops and take them to a secluded place in the woods, start a scary little fire, and cook them up in a beat-up aluminum pan I found in our basement. We sautéed the onion grass in a pungent and in retrospect not great quality olive oil I took from our family kitchen. The whole thing had an intense, unfamiliar smell, different from the sweeter supermarket garlic I was used to. I remember cooking hot dogs back there, too, and now that I think of it I’m almost sure we ate the wild garlic on blackened hot dogs we speared with sticks. Not bad for a wild adventure 30 minutes from Manhattan. I also gathered dandelion greens, dropping them into our dinnertime salad bowl. My grandmother taught me about dandelions.

Preboggion is a Ligurian mix of wild greens and herbs. The name may come from the Ligurian dialect verb preboggî, which means to preboil. It’s used as a filling for pansoti, a type of swollen-looking ravioli, in soups such as minestrone, and stuffed into torte, tossed with pasta, or just eaten boiled and dressed with olive oil. I love the aroma of boiling preboggion. In Genoa I ordered it as a contorni that also contained potatoes, and I couldn’t stop eating it, really wanting a second serving but knowing I’d never finish it all. Depending on the time of year, preboggion can include borage, dandelion, nettles, galatsida (a type of Mediterranean daisy), wild chard, rampion (another Mediterranean flower, with leaves that taste like spinach), parsley, fennel, anise, or marjoram.

Here’s some of the stuff I found; stinging nettles, dandelions, ramps, and garlic mustard.

For my Upstate New York version, I found stinging nettles, field cress, garlic mustard, dandelion, wild garlic, and wild thyme. I threw in a bit of Swiss chard and some marjoram I had in the fridge. Later in the season I can find purslane and lamb’s-quarters, which tastes like strong spinach. In a month or so I’ll add borage, which I grow myself. That’s often an element in the wild Ligurian mixes, but I can’t find it wild around here. It tastes like cucumber, both the leaves and the electric-blue, star-shaped flowers. I also grow fennel. I can’t find that wild around here either, but it’s another item Ligurian cooks often include.

In my recipe I’ve listed all the wild greens and herbs I used, but you can make a nice version of preboggion with stuff from the farmer’s market or grocery store. I’d suggest a mix of arugula, Swiss chard, spinach, chicory, and maybe some watercress. And a few herbs such as marjoram, thyme, and parsley or basil.

Risotto with Preboggion, Upstate New York–Style

For the preboggion:

A handful each of  stemmed field cress, stinging nettles (the leaves pulled from the tough stems using gloves), garlic mustard, dandelion greens, and Swiss chard
The leaves from about 6 big sprigs of marjoram
A handful of basil leaves
The green tops from a few ramps
Extra-virgin olive oil

For the rest of the risotto:

6 cups vegetable broth or light chicken broth
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large spring onion, cut into small dice, using a lot of the tender green part
The leaves from a few big sprigs of thyme, lightly chopped
2 cups carnaroli rice
A few scrapings of nutmeg
½ cup dry vermouth
Black pepper
½ cup freshly grated grana Padano cheese (I don’t like this risotto cheese-heavy; I want to taste the greens)

Set up a big pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Add all the greens and herbs. Blanch them for about 2 minutes. Drain them into a colander. Run cold water over them, to stop the cooking and set their color. Squeeze out as much water out as you can. You’ll want about 1½ cups of blanched greens for the risotto. If you have extra, add it to a soup or a pasta dish, or just eat it drizzled with good olive oil and a little salt. You want to make the blanched greens and herbs into a simple pesto, so put them into a food processor, add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a little salt, and pulse 4 or 5 times, until you have a kind of rough purée. Scrape the purée into a small bowl.

Pour the broth into a saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat to low, and keep the broth at a simmer.

Get out a large, wide pan with not too high sides. This is best for risotto since the surface area provides good evaporation. Add a big drizzle of olive oil and half the butter, and get it hot over medium heat. Add the onion and the thyme, and sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the rice, season it with a little salt and the nutmeg, and sauté it until it’s well coated with oil and is just starting to toast, about 3 more minutes (although it shouldn’t actually start to brown, so don’t let it get that far). Add the vermouth, and let it bubble away.

Start adding a few ladles of broth, stirring often until the pan goes almost dry. You want to continue adding broth, stirring, and letting the pan go almost dry until the rice is just tender. In my experience the process takes about 17 or 18 minutes. After about 15 minutes, when the consistency starts to look creamy, give it a taste to see if it’s tender but al dente.

When the rice is just tender, add the preboggion, stirring it in. The rice will turn a lovely deep green. Turn off the heat, and add the rest of the butter, the grana Padano, and some black pepper, stirring it all in. Add a bit more broth to retain a loose but not soupy consistency. Taste for salt, and ladle the risotto into bowls. Serve right away.