My article in this month’s Chronogram mostly consists of a few recipes designed to make the traditional feast a bit less stressful and a bit more tasty. There wasn’t room in the piece to cover all the dishes mentioned or photographed, so I’m doing it here. Anybody with a question about any of it should leave a comment and I’ll try to help.
First, the poached pears. I bought some local, organic Seckel pears at the farmers’ market in addition to the Bartletts and plums that ended up in the tart. These little guys are brilliant for poaching, because they hold their shape well even after quite a bit of cooking. You’ll notice the reappearance of some of the spices used to make the turkey stock.
Pears poached in red wine
Local, organic Seckel pears
Decent local red wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 thumb of ginger
2 star anise pods
6-8 cardamom seeds
Local honey or maple syrup
Cut the bottoms off so they’d sit up straight, and cut out the core with a paring knife, making a conical void in the center of each one. Leave the stems on. Arrange the pears in the bottom of a pot or saucepan so they fit fairly snugly. Pour in enough wine to reach the widest part of the pears. Add the spices and pour in the sweetener; the amount is going to depend on the number of pears, the size of the pot (which will govern the volume of wine) and how much you reduce the sauce at the end. I would suggest about 2 tablespoons per cup of wine to start, since it’s easy to add more before serving. Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the pears are tender but not mushy. Remove pears to a bowl or container and strain the wine into a smaller pan. Over low heat, reduce the wine to a syrup and adjust sweetness. Put one or more pears in each bowl and pour a little syrup on top. For extra credit, try them snuggled up to a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Plum-pear tart with blue cheese crust
Plums and blue cheeses share a couple of flavor compounds, as I learned here. I meant to make this as an entry, but was too busy to get to it before the deadline passed. Here, belatedly, is a version of what I had in mind.
For the crust:
2 oz. butter (1/2 stick, frozen)
2 oz. Old Chatham Ewe’s Blue (local Sheep’s milk cheese inoculated with Roquefort bacillus, also frozen or very chilled)
1.5 cup AP flour
Cold water (about 2 tablespoons)
Cut the butter and cheese into pieces about 1/4″ thick. Put them into a food processor with the flour and salt. Pulse until the butter and cheese are well-incorporated as small crumbs. Add water a bit at a time while running the machine until the dough just comes together- it should not be sticky. Form into a ball, divide in two (this makes enough for two tarts; the second piece can be frozen for a month or more if wrapped tightly) and refrigerate for half an hour or more.
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Cut plums in half longitudinally and remove pits. Quarter pears longitudinally, cut out cores, then cut quarters in half to make eighths. (Originally this was going to be a straight-up plum tart, but I didn’t have enough to fill the crust; feel free to do it either way). Roll the crust out into a circle big enough to fit a 9″ tart pan (a shallow one with fluted edges is best). Butter the pan and place the crust inside, gently pressing the crust into the ridges around the edge of the pan.
Blind-bake the crust for about 10 minutes covered with parchment/foil and pie weights, then remove the weights and covering to lightly brown the top for another 5 minutes or so. If the crust starts to bubble or distort, take it out of the oven. (This crust will be thin enough that you can skip the blind-baking if you like, though it may not be quite as crisp underneath). Arrange the fruit in a pleasing manner and sprinkle with about 1/4 cup of white or brown sugar. (I like my tarts on the, well, tart side; feel free to add more if you want). Drip a bit of lemon juice over the top to dissolve the sugar a bit, add a twist or two of black pepper, and put in the oven for about 40 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the crust is a good medium brown.
Remove the tart and let cool. To make a glaze, take 2 tablespoons of apricot jam, apple jelly, or similar and put in a small saucepan with a glug of apple cider, fruit liqueur, or brandy. (I used ginger jam and Calvados because that’s what I had). Simmer and stir until the jam is dissolved, then use a brush to lightly coat the all the fruit on the tart. Let the glaze cool and serve either at room temp or rewarmed a bit. Ice cream also does not suck with this one, and a white dessert wine can really sing with the cheese in the crust, or some more of the Ewe’s blue could make a wicked ice cream with some sweet wine mixed right in. If demand is sufficient, I’ll try to make such a thing and report back with measurements.