Posts have been pretty sparse lately, because we’ve been pretty hard core about dieting for the new year. It has been an exercise in creativity making food low in carbs and calories which still tastes good, but it has been easier than I expected it to be. In the past 7 weeks David and I have both dropped about 20 lbs cutting out a lot of the rich food (and booze) which had become our norm. That doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally have a blowout, however, and splurge a little. We had one of those this weekend.
A friend of mine I met on my cooking school trip to China came up from Miami to visit us, and I wanted to be sure I did my job as a good host, ensuring he’d leave stuffed and hung over. Mission accomplished. We did an Italian dinner Saturday night, with most of the dishes coming from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza cookbook. They were all new recipes (to us) and they were all memorable enough, I’ll be putting them up on the blog in the next couple of weeks. A caprese salad made with Burrata, basil pesto, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Quail, marinated in an Italian agrodolce, stuffed with pancetta, herbs and onion, wrapped in thinly sliced pancetta and roasted, served over tangy grilled radicchio with honey and fried sage. Roasted broccolini with balsamic and chile, and as a finale, Torta Della Nonna – probably the most ambitious dessert this baketard has ever SUCCESSFULLY made. It was stunning. More to come on all of that…
This starter is one I’ve been making for years, but never got around to posting on the blog. I started making these during culinary school when I was working my externship/stage at the Herbfarm. These pastries were frequent starters on their multi-course menu, they invariably come out flawless, the dough is easy to throw together in a food processor, and they *always* work. Always. For a pastry recipe to consistently work for me, it’s got to be foolproof. Trust me, you won’t screw this up if you follow the directions. My friend Becky Selengut does a version with Camembert and port-poached cherries. It’s delicious. You can caramelize onions, shallots, leeks—whatever suits your fancy, and add something herby and some dairy to bring it together. The tart shell recipe is consistent, but the filling can change based upon what you have on hand.
Yes, there are three recipes here but my point is they don’t take a ton of work and they’re all do-ahead tasks: The shells can be made ahead and frozen, unbaked. The braiding of the crust takes a little practice but you can always do a simple crimp too. The filling can be made a few days ahead and the cherries can be made up to a month in advance, so this is a great dish for a dinner party or catering. The assembly is relatively quick, and they’re pretty.
I was fortunate enough to have a friend join us for dinner this weekend who is also a food photographer by profession. Her husband was unable to join us (I think he’s either having an affair or he just hates the gays) so I sent home a doggy bag for him. She surprised me Sunday morning with the gorgeous photo above, with a disclaimer that she’d thrown this shot together before letting him at the tarts, and that it was the best she could do at 2am, drunk and stumbling around the house. Girl, if this is your worst, I am even more in awe. Thank you for the thoughtful gift. (You can find more of Kelly’s gorgeous work at www.kclinephotography.com and http://nommynom.com ).
And now, we return to the previously scheduled salads.
Flaky Tartlets with Sauteed Leeks, Pancetta and Sage with Madeira-Poached Cherries
Modified from a recipe in the Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld
6 leeks, sliced
4 ounces pancetta, finely diced
¼ cup duck fat or olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 teaspoons champagne vinegar
¼ cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup gruyere, grated
½ cup parmesan, grated
12 4-inch Flaky Pastry Tart Shells (Recipe Below)
Madeira and Sage Poached Cherries (Recipe Below)
Making the Filling: Slice the leeks, removing the tough green ends and root end (You want to have just the white and pale green parts). Slice in half lengthwise and then thinly slice into half rings. Melt the duck fat or heat olive oil, and cook the diced pancetta, stirring often, in a large skillet over medium heat until almost crisp. Add the leeks, garlic and salt and cook, stirring often until the leeks are very soft, about 10 minutes. Add champagne vinegar, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook until the wine has evaporated, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any caramelized bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add chicken stock, and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Add the crème fraiche, chopped sage, and cheeses and stir until you have a thick, spreadable and unified consistency. Season with pepper and additional salt, if needed. Be sure to taste the mixture before adding additional salt, as the parmesan will add quite a bit to the mixture. (The mixture can be prepared up to 2 days ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator.)
Filling and baking. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Divide the filling among the tart shells and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon. Bake in the upper third of the oven until the filling is set, about 15 minutes. The filling should still be soft but not runny. Let cool slightly, then transfer the tarts to a cutting board using a large spatula. Just before serving, top with 2-3 Madeira and sage poached cherries. Serve warm or at room temperature.
For large tarts, prebake 2 10-inch Free-Form Tart Shells. Divide the leek mixture between them and bake the tarts until the filling is set in the center, 20 to 25 minutes. Using a large spatula, transfer them to a cutting board and cut each into 12 wedges.
In place of sage, use an equal amount of finely chopped rosemary, marjoram, savory, English thyme, or lemon thyme.
Flaky Pastry Tart Shells:
Makes 12 4-inch shells or 2 10-inch shells
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level; 9 ounces)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
Egg wash made with 1 egg yolk and 2 teaspoons water
Place the flour, butter, and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse about 24 times, then open the machine and lift a handful of crumbs. The largest pieces of butter should be the size of raw grains of rice or barley. If there are larger pieces, continue to pulse the mixture. When the butter pieces are the correct size, transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water onto the dough. Spread the fingers of one hand as if you were about to grab a large ball, and using your rigid fingertips as if they were a large fork, stir the dough quickly and briefly until the liquid is incorporated. Squeeze a handful of the dough in your palm. The dough should have just enough moisture to stay together. Break the piece in half. If it seems dry and crumbly, cautiously add more water a few teaspoons at a time until you can squeeze it into a ball that will not crumble when broken apart. If your kitchen is reasonably cool, the butter was cold, and you used ice water, the dough should be at just the right stage of malleability for rolling out, and it will be easiest to work with immediately. If your kitchen is very warm, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 15 minutes.
Rolling the dough:
Turn the pastry dough out on a lightly floured board and divide it into quarters for small 7-inch tart shells or in half for large 10-inch shells. Shape 1 piece into a disk and dust the top lightly with flour. Begin to roll out the dough, using quick but gentle strokes with the pin. Start with the pin in the middle of the round and roll to the top, then to the bottom. Rotate the dough 1/4 turn each time you roll to be sure the dough is not sticking and use additional flour as necessary. When the round is larger than 9 inches for a small tart, or 12 inches for a large tart, and about 1/8 inch thick, turn a 9- or 12-inch plate or bowl upside down on the dough as a template and cut around it with a sharp knife. Remove the plate or bowl.
Forming the edge:
Fold 1/2-inch edge of dough all around to form a decorative rim. Begin by folding a 1-inch-long section over by 1/2 inch, then overlap the fold by half and roll another piece of dough over, pinching it firmly in place. Continue to roll and pinch, and a twisted rope pattern will. Form. Roll out the remaining dough and crimp the edges in the same manner. Transfer the pastry shells to baking sheets lined with parchment paper and poke the interior of the shells all over with the tines of a fork. Refrigerate the pastry for at lest 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. If you wish, you can freeze the shells on the baking sheets, and when they are frozen, stack them inside freezer bags. Bake the shells without defrosting first.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the rims of the tarts with egg wash. Bake the tart shells (1 baking sheet at a time) for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and continue to bake until they are an even golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes longer. Lift a shell with a spatula and check that the underside is evenly brown. If the tart shells puff up during baking, press down the center of the pastry with the back of a large spoon. Let cool on the baking sheet.
Madeira and Sage Poached Cherries
1 cup dried cherries
2 cups Madeira
¼ cup sugar
1 bunch sage
Place all ingredients into small saucepan, stirring occasionally and simmering until cherries are plump and liquid is reduced by 2/3, about 30 minutes. Liquid should be thick and there should be just enough left to coat the cherries. Remove the sage sprigs and store in a covered container in the refrigerator, up to one month.