When our town was hit by a snowstorm and subsequent parking ban early this week, The Fella and I cheerily decided to stow the car somewhere safe and not go out anymore. Instead, we huddled down in our cozy apartment, watching movies and playing Trivial Pursuit.
Among the places we did not go: the grocery store.
I regularly play this game when I’m staying with friends, and especially when visiting my mother: I offer to make dinner out of whatever ingredients they have on hand. The barer the cupboard, the greater the challenge. I rarely get to play it in my own (usually well-stocked) larder, but by the end of this week, our supplies were running pretty low, and the challenge felt almost daunting.
Digging through the cabinets for any scrids and scrads of goodies hanging around the dark recesses of the pantry, I found a jar holding a fistful of old, scabby-looking sun-dried tomatoes. That sparked the idea:
open-faced sandwich of sun-dried tomato neufchatel with apple, onion-garlic jam, and shaved parmesan.
As the idea bloomed, I thought I could imagine the taste with some clarity. Boy, was I wrong. It is better than I thought, and though each component loses some individuality, they meld together surprisingly well. It’s sweet and tart, silky and creamy, warm and cold, and altogether surprising. ‘
On the side (and everywhere else) you see oven-baked russet potato chips (crisps). The instant I saw the Utz chips (crisps) accompanying Jagosaurus’ tuna sandwich, I knew I needed chips, but after a brief internal struggle, I simply could not face the arduous task of first finding and then donning shoes and a brassiere* so I could walk two blocks to the nearest store to buy chips.
Incidentally, that telling detail illustrates the peculiar brand of laziness that shaped this whole exercise: note that I’m too lazy to dress and walk two blocks, preferring to spend forty minutes making oven-baked potato chips.
*And other requisite garments, but it was the shoes and brassiere that proved onerous.
If you have a food processor, use it to make the neufchatel in a snap. If not, see the variation at the bottom of the recipe: you can make this spread with just a good knife, a fork for whipping, and a bowl.
sundried tomato neufchatel:
Take an 8-ounce block of neufchatel out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature until it’s soft and pliable. (You should have thought of this this morning.)
In a small bowl, pour a few tablespoons of boiling water over a generous palmful of sun-dried tomatoes. (I buy them in bulk where vegetables are sold; they are soft and chewy, not brittle and coated with tomato dust like the packaged kind. Drained oil-packed tomatoes would substitute nicely.) Cover and let sit.
Go put your feet up for a bit. You deserve it.
Remove the tomatoes from their liquid, reserving the yummy juice. Chop the tomatoes coarsely, then whack ’em into the processor. If you don’t have a garlic press, now is the time to add the minced garlic. Be conservative: start with about half of a small clove. Give it all a whiz, thinning as needed with a tiny bit of the reserved liquid. You’re aiming for a chunky smash, like a nice tapenade, rather than a puree.
Plop in the neufchatel. Grate in a pinch of lemon zest (no pith!) and squirt in a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Sprinkle with chili powder or a speck of cayenne; the spice-minded among us can use rooster sauce. Grind in some pepper and a pinch of kosher salt. Add the garlic if you haven’t before. Now whirrrrrrrr until the creamy mixture is salmon-pink, whipped light, and speckled with tiny bits of tomato.
If the mixture seems too stiff or thick, use the tomato liquid to thin it judiciously. Taste and, if necessary, whip in a touch more salt and lemon.
Refrigerate until ready to use. Like most cream cheese spreads, this one is most flavorful (as well as most spreadable) if you let it sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to take off the chill.
Thinned down with a bit more of the tomato liquid or a touch of milk, this makes a gorgeous and simple dip for pita crisps and crudités.
alternative to food processor: the food processor makes this the way I like it best, with the tomato processed down to tiny specks, but you can easily make this spread in a bowl. First, chop the tomatoes as fine as you can. Then whip the neufchatel, oil, and seasonings vigorously with a fork. When it’s light and creamy, add in the smashed-up, smooshed up tomato bits and whip some more. Correct for seasonings as above.
Now, for the sandwich:
I made my sandwich bread from from this dough, which produces a light loaf with a close crumb and a rich flavor — a touch salty, a bit sweet, and with a tangy undertone. The sesame seed crust is more than a flourish; it brings a tiny crunch and a gentle flavor, but I forgot the sesame seeds this time.
Generously spread a thin slice of good sandwich bread with sun-dried tomato neufchatel. Dapple with onion jam. Top with scant shavings of parmesan and pop under the broiler or in the toaster oven just until the parmesan bubbles.
Over the whole bubbly, warm mess, scatter cold shredded apple. I like
Galas, which are crispy and tender with thin skin and a mild sweetness Fujis, which I had on hand.
Cut into wedges or planks and snarfle it up.