If Julia Child hadn’t died in her California retirement home in 2004, she would have turned one hundred this August. Learning this made me realize that she was just a few months younger than my own grandmother, who turned a century old last fall, and passed away in the spring.
Looking at Child’s biography, it seems the two lived in Paris during some of the same years, and because my grandmother was also an avid cook, I like to imagine their paths crossing at one point or another, over some market stall or perhaps browsing the shelves at G.Detou.
Although I own Julia Child’s monumental Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I’ve only ever used it as a reference book, but I credit her for introducing me to the idea of baked cucumbers.
In my mind before then, cucumbers were firmly entrenched in crudité territory, their quenching crunch typically enjoyed in sticks with an appetizer dip, in slices for a Japanese-inspired salad, or grated for tzatziki. I was therefore intrigued by Child’s recipe for concombres au beurre, a preparation I’d never heard of before.
In it, she peels the cucumbers and cuts them into sticks, tosses them with salt, sugar, and vinegar, leaves them to rest awhile to draw out the excess moisture, then bakes them with butter, scallions, and herbs. (You can read the detailed process here.)
I confess I never followed the recipe exactly, but I took the concept and ran with it, tinkering with the measurements a bit, substituting olive oil for the butter, holding the herbs until the moment of serving, and baking the cucumbers along with the small pink turnips I get this time of year (see below).
The result is absolutely lovely, and has made frequent appearances on our table over the summer: cucumbers take on a surprisingly silky, tender texture when baked, and the subtle bitterness of the turnips is an ideal match to their sweetness.
What about you, do you have any cooked cucumber experience to share? Or unusual ways to prepare the cucurbitaceae ?
- 2 large English cucumbers, about 35 cm (14") in length each
- 8 small pink turnips, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon unrefined cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons cider or rice vinegar
- olive oil for cooking
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh dill, roughly chopped, for serving (optional)
- Peel the cucumbers in alternating stripes. Slice in two along their length, and use a teaspoon to scrape out the seedy core in the middle (I save these in a bowl and eat them with a spoon, sprinkled with a hefty dose of gomasio). Cut each half in 3 or 4 lengthwise strips, then in crosswise pieces, about 4 cm (1 1/2") in length.
- Put the cucumber in a bowl with 1 teaspoon salt, and toss to combine. Let rest for 30 minutes to allow for the excess juices to drain out (don't skip this or the baked cucumbers will be mushy). Transfer the cucumber pieces to a clean dish towel, leaving the juices at the bottom of the bowl, and pat to dry.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).
- In a medium baking dish, combine the cucumbers and turnips. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt along with the sugar, vinegar, and a good drizzle of olive oil. Toss to coat.
- Bake for 30 minutes, until browned in places. Sprinkle with black pepper, top with the dill, if using, and serve warm. Any leftovers can be eaten cold the next day.