It’s not summer camping season, but lots of Mainers extend their time outdoors in the fall by installing a fire pit.
Why limit your menu to hot dogs and toasted marshmallows?
Robin Donovan, a San Francisco freelance journalist who specializes in food, cooking and travel, has a great idea for apples in her new book, “Campfire Cuisine: Gourmet Recipes for the Great Outdoors” (Quirk Books, $15.95).
Her “Parmesan Baked Apples” kicks fire pit cooking up a notch by using fresh, seasonal apples and a good Parmesan cheese. They are grilled over the fire in aluminum foil packets until the cheese melts and bubbles, and the apples soften and caramelize so their sweetness is accentuated.
“I have not tried other kinds of cheese, but I’m sure others would be good,” Donovan said in an email. “The ones that pop into my head are sharp cheddar or a blue cheese like Roquefort or Gorgonzola, or a creamier blue like blue Castello or cambazola. I really like a sharp, salty cheese with fruit. You could also add nuts (chopped walnuts or pecans, or even hazelnuts).”
Below is her recipe for making the baked apples over an open fire, and an alternate version if all you have is an indoor oven.
PARMESAN BAKED APPLES
Sweet apples, such as McIntosh or Gala, provide a nice counterpoint to the salty cheese, but tart Granny Smith or Pippin apples will work as well. Serve the baked apples with slices of crusty bread as a snack or appetizer or as an accompaniment to grilled pork or duck breast.
Olive oil spray or nonstick cooking spray
2 large apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
4 ounces good-quality Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced*
*Use a vegetable peeler to get paper-thin slices of cheese.
Spray four squares of aluminum foil with olive oil or nonstick cooking spray. Place one-eighth of the apple slices on each square of foil in a single layer, and top with one-eighth of the cheese. Repeat with another layer of apple slices and cheese for each packet. Wrap up the foil, leaving room in each packet for heat and steam to circulate. Cook on a grill over high heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until the apple slices are soft. To serve, slide the apples onto plates and drizzle with the syrupy juice that has accumulated in each packet.
VARIATION: Top the apple slices and cheese in each packet with 1 ounce of thinly sliced dry salami (4 ounces total) before cooking.
MAKE IT AT HOME: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the apples in individual ramekins, covered with foil, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the apple slices are soft. Uncover and finish under the broiler for a crisp, golden crust.
Looking for something easy but delicious to make with your apples?
Try Elise Richer’s version of a Dutch Baby, from her cookbook “Always in Season,” a traditional German pancake that, in this case, contains apple slices.
This is a flexible recipe, Richer notes. If you want the apples on the side and not in the pancake, cook them up separately in a pan while the pancake is baking in the oven.
Eat it for breakfast with a little lemon or some maple syrup, or throw some berries on top. Sprinkle some powdered sugar on it or add a small scoop of ice cream for dessert.
“We like to eat it sometimes with cheddar cheese on the side, so that at breakfast it’s not getting too, too sweet,” Richer said.
DUTCH BABY (APPLE PANCAKE)
2/3 cup whole milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup flour
2 small apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch slices
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon sugar mixed with ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Powdered sugar, for serving
Lemon wedges or cheddar cheese for serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat well, by hand or in a blender, until thick and foamy. Add flour and beat well to combine. Stir in the apple slices.
Place a 9-inch cake pan (not a springform pan) in the hot oven for several minutes. Remove and place butter in pan, swirling to melt it and to coat bottom of pan. Scrape pancake batter into pan and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake for 20 minutes, until puffy and browning on the edges. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until nicely browned.
Sprinkle pancake with powdered sugar and serve with lemon wedges (to squeeze over the pancake) or with cubes of cheddar cheese. Best eaten right away.
Mary McCartney, the daughter of Paul and Linda McCartney, grew up in a vegetarian family and today serves as a consultant for Linda McCartney Foods.
She is also an acclaimed photographer. In her first cookbook, “Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking” (Sterling Epicure: $29.95), McCartney shares family recipes and stories, and photographs of her favorite dishes that she took herself.
Her Delicate Apple Tart is a simple way to showcase the flavor of the season’s apples.
DELICATE APPLE TART
My stepgrandmother first showed me this recipe when I was in my early teens, and I still love to make it today. I think of this tart as quite graceful; it doesn’t need to try too hard. The ingredients are few, but the taste is wonderful.
For the pastry:
21/3 cups all-purpose or light spelt flour
1½ sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
A little butter, at room temperature, for the pan
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
4 or 5 apples (use crisp eating apples, not cooking apples)
3 tablespoons salted butter
3 tablespoons superfine sugar, preferably unrefined (raw)
1/3 cup apricot jam (I use St. Dalfour jam)
1 tablespoon water
To make the pastry, put the flour, chilled and cubed butter, and the salt into a medium mixing bowl and mix with a spoon or knife until all of the butter is coated with flour.
Add the water and mix with your fingertips, kneading just until the mixture comes together to form a ball. Take care not to overwork it; pieces of butter should be visible in the pastry (and will give it a wonderful flakiness). Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325. Butter a large, thin baking sheet, measuring about 11 by 15 inches.
On a clean, lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, to the shape of the baking sheet. Gently wrap the pastry around the rolling pin and unroll it onto the sheet pan. Keep it cool in the fridge while you prepare the apples.
Peel and quarter the apples, core them and then slice them thinly. Arrange the thin apple slices on the pastry in a neat, overlapping design (like the pattern of tiles on a roof), leaving a 2-inch border around the edges, then fold the pastry edges in over the apples to form a frame.
Dot the butter evenly over the top and then sprinkle sugar evenly over the apples.
Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and crisp and the apples are browned.
In a small saucepan melt the apricot jam over low heat with 1 tablespoon of water mixed in, then brush it over the apples. Ready to serve.
Reprinted with permission from FOOD: Vegetarian Home Cooking © 2012 by Mary McCartney, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Mary McCartney