Cooking on vacation can be a challenge. Even if the place has a nice kitchen, you’re not necessarily going to have the staples you have at home. If you’re lucky, the owners spend time there and cook a lot themselves, so they’ll have a good supply and don’t mind your using them. Or, since most people who buy staples on vacation leave them in the house, you could end up staying after someone who just had to whip up lovely meals.
But most of the time that’s not the case. By the time you read this, Cy and I will be in Provincetown, our 14th trip up together (and Cy has been going even longer than that). The first half-dozen years we went, we stayed in a big house with friends and the kitchen had lots of equipment and staples. So we made lots of fun meals and had a great time entertaining, which we love to do.
Since 2008, though, we’ve been renting various smaller places on our own. While the kitchens aren’t exactly just afterthoughts, there’s usually not a whole lot there. And the food supplies left behind are downright puzzling. Why in the world are there always multiple jars of crushed red pepper flakes? And more than one bottle of cider vinegar? There also seems to be a bottle of pancake syrup every year. Not maple syrup, but Log Cabin and such. (No evidence of pancake mix or Bisquick, though.) And if there’s a blender or a food processor, it’s definitely seen better days — some kitchens look like everything came from the Island of Misfit Toys.
Still, we like to entertain even in less-than-ideal conditions and even make some of the food, so I’ve had to think of recipes that don’t require specialized equipment or lots of ingredients. The two that have worked out best over the years are tarts or pizza, made with frozen puff pastry or pizza dough from a local pizza place. You can make the Tomato Tart with Cheese and Pizza à la Pissaladière (a fancy name for cooked onions with other things like olives and capers) with about a half hour of prep time, and produce something tasty for guests or an easy dinner for yourselves in an hour. And they’re not just “good enough for an afterthought kitchen” kind of recipes — they’re definitely things you’d be happy to make at home.
I’ve posted these recipes before, but I’ve developed a few shortcuts and tips since then after making them in various rental kitchens. The idea is to use what you can find around and don’t worry too much about things you don’t have or can’t easily get. The recipes are pretty forgiving, and they’ll be delicious (almost) no matter what you do with them.
As I mentioned before, you can make them with pizza dough or puff pastry. If you’re looking to make one of each and the local grocery store has puff pastry, it’s a good way to go, since frozen puff pastry comes two sheets to a box. And the look of puff-pastry tarts can’t be beat. If you think ahead, put the puff pastry sheets in the fridge the night before you want to use them to thaw. But if you forget or don’t get a chance, just unwrap them and let them sit on the counter until you can unfold them, usually about a half hour. This gives you time to prep the other ingredients.
If you can’t find puff pastry, then stop at a pizza place and ask for enough dough for a large pizza. (They’re usually happy to sell you pizza dough.) Don’t worry about not having flour for rolling — it works just as well just to oil a baking sheet and press the pizza dough into the right size right on the oiled surface. In fact, it actually works better than rolling on flour. And if you’d still like to roll the dough, use a wine bottle as a rolling pin. If your rental kitchen doesn’t have baking sheets, buy the disposable foil ones, or just use two layers of foil as the sheet, fold up the ends so you can grab them, and put the foil right on the oven rack to bake.
Grocery stores have a lot more things like fresh herbs these days, but if you’re going to a store without them, don’t worry. You can use dried herbs, and they may even already be in your rental kitchen. But if they’re not, buy a little jar of Italian seasoning (and leave what you don’t use for the next renter). For the tomato tart, mix about a teaspoon of the seasoning with a little olive oil (I haven’t yet seen a rental kitchen that didn’t have olive oil in the cupboard), and use that to drizzle the top before you bake it. For the onion tart, you can mix the herbs right in as you cook the onions.
And as for cheese, olives, capers, etc, use what you can find. If your grocery store has an olive bar, you can buy just what you need. Otherwise you can leave them out. I have made these tarts with pre-shredded cheese (Sargento brand is good, I’ve used their Asiago blend and it’s tasty), and even pre-sliced Swiss cheese that I cut into little bits.
If you want to read more about the recipes and the background for them, you can take a look at the original posts I wrote with them. The tomato tart recipe was one Cy and I had while visiting French friends. And the Pissaladière is based on a pizza we had in a small village where practically everyone town gathers to eat pizza and drink local wine on Sunday nights. That’s part of what makes them perfect vacation fare.
The tarts go with nearly any wine, as long as it’s not too oaky. If you’re looking for something, try the Tradition Côtes du Ventoux Red, White, or Rosé from Cave la Romaine. At $10 a bottle, they’re great for entertaining, and they’re fresh and tasty, whether on vacation or not.
PS: I made both the tarts for a cocktail party yesterday — photos below.