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With summer drawing to a close, I find myself scrambling for fresh fruit, heaping extra blueberries on my cereal and making desserts with plums or raspberries taking center stage. One of my favorite fruit desserts is a tart or tartlet loaded with whatever fruit is in season and a simple filling of cream cheese or custard. Especially, I love a strawberry tart, made with the choicest of bright red berries, their color highlighted by a glaze of melted red current jelly.
True, strawberry season is over. It is in late spring and early summer when these luscious berries are at their best. Modern farming methods have made this fruit available all year round, but I’m not a fan of buying it in the dead of winter. Yet, as the first nip of autumn fills the air, reminding me of some of the dreary and rainy days to come, I hanker for strawberries.
I make my tartlet shells using Martha Stewart’s recipe for pate brisee, which seems to be the go-to recipe for pie-dough. Pate brisee is the French version of a classic pie or tart pastry. You press the dough into a disc rather than a ball before chilling it in the refrigerator, which helps it chill faster. The recipe makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9 to 10-inch pies, so I halve the recipe to make 4 4-inch tartlets. Of course, if you want to make 6 or 8 tartlets, use the whole recipe. You can find it here.
Strawberry Tartlets with Lemon Cream Cheese
Makes 4 4-inch tartlets
For the filling:
9 ounces (250g) cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Cream all of the ingredients together in a small mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Spread into cooled tartlet shells.
Cut strawberries lengthwise into quarters and arrange on top of the cheese in a pyramid shape.
To give the tartlets a glaze, melt 3 tablespoons of red currant (or other red jelly) with one tablespoon of water and brush over strawberries with a pastry brush.
I had a salad similar to this one in a restaurant once. I’m not a big believer in ordering salads in restaurants. Who wants to pay fifteen bucks for a plate of lettuce? When I go to a restaurant I like the chefs to work their magic on me, provide me with a meal I wouldn’t–or couldn’t–make at home. But when I spied this salad on the menu at a local eatery one hot summer’s day it sounded exactly like what I wanted without knowing it, and I have been making it ever since.
Because of the strawberries and sugared pecans, the salad has a sweet taste. I think a lemon poppy seed dressing goes well without overpowering the flavors. A balsamic dressing would also work nicely, complementing the tanginess of the strawberries. I like fig goat cheese in this but plain goat cheese may be more accessible and also tastes great in this salad.
Spinach & Strawberry Salad with Lemon Poppy seed Dressing
1/4 cup pecan pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon honey Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cups baby spinach
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup goat cheese, fig or regular
1) Set pecans, sugar, and water in a saucepan on medium heat. Simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and pecans are golden. Spread out on a piece of parchment paper and cool completely.
2) Whisk the lemon, Dijon, salt, and honey together in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil. Toss the spinach with the dressing and divide between 4 plates. Garnish with cheese and strawberries. Serve immediately.
There is much to love about summer. The endless sunshine, weekends spent camping or lazing on the beach. Picnics in the park or evening strolls around the seawall. If pressed, it would be hard for me to say what my favorite part of summer is, but I suspect I would say the fruit. Cherries, blueberries, nectarines and plums … I love them all. Mostly, though, I adore strawberries.
Yesterday, I spied local strawberries at my neighborhood market. I had been buying California strawberries for a couple of months now, but when I saw the familiar green baskets with the small ruby red berries, my heart gave a couple of extra beats. The California strawberries are okay. Sometimes they’re even good. But nothing can compare to our local, in-season strawberries. They’re small, relentlessly juicy, and bursting with that sweet strawberry taste that needs no sugar or other adornment.
I took them promptly home and made strawberry shortcakes. I was also reminded of the days when I was a child and we’d go strawberry picking to one of the farms on the outskirts of the city. Whether you live in Vancouver or one of the suburbs, you can drive in any direction and be in the countryside sooner rather than later. The whole family would pile into the car, each holding a big white bucket, and we would spend the whole afternoon rummaging through row after row of strawberry patches, until out backs ached and our hands were stained so red that we looked as though we’d had a serious accident.
Truth be told, I didn’t think much of the actual act of strawberry picking; my disdain for the dirt and the bugs were a foreshadowing of my future city girl ways. But I did love the aftermath of these jaunts out to the farm. I would gorge on those berries to my heart’s content. We weren’t the kind of family to have dessert after every dinner, but suddenly my mother was making cobblers and shortcakes and a strawberry jam that was so runny I used to spoon it by the ladleful over bowls of vanilla bean ice cream as a sort of impromptu sauce. The jam was a bright, fresh red, not too sweet, and to this day it’s still the best strawberry jam I have ever tasted.
Tasting those local strawberries yesterday, I made a resolution to get myself out to a berry farms one of these weekends. Maybe even learn how to make my mother’s jam. I’ve been trying to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible for awhile now. What better way to connect to my food and the earth than doing some strawberry picking of my own?
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”
Makes 10-12 biscuits
The biscuits in this recipe are made with yogurt, the best way to get a tender and flaky crumb. I use French Vanilla to add a bit of sweetness, but regular yogurt will do. You may also use buttermilk as a substitute. If you have neither, use milk instead and add 1 extra teaspoon of baking powder and omit the soda. For an even softer biscuit, try cake flour instead of all-purpose flour.
for the biscuits
2 cups all-purpose or cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons cold butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons yogurt or buttermilk
1) Preheat the oven to 450F. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl or food processor. Cut the butter into small pieces and combine with the dry mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. The butter should be thoroughly blended with the flour.
2) Add the yogurt or buttermilk and combine until the mixture forms a ball. Do not over blend. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead no more than 10 times. Add a bit of flour if it is too sticky to handle.
3) Press the dough into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle and cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or a glass. Put the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet. Gently reshape the rest of the dough and cut again.
4) Bake for 7-9 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown. Do not over bake.
For the filling:
5 cups sliced strawberries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1) Toss the strawberries with 2 tablespoons sugar and allow to sit while you whip the cream.
2) Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Slowly add 1 tablespoon sugar and the vanilla. Whip for 1 more minute.
To serve, cut the biscuits in half and fill them with the strawberries and fruit. The shortcakes are best when the biscuits are fresh.
I did something incredibly stupid on the weekend. It was Saturday and I was trying to shoot a photo to go with an article I had written for a local magazine. Although I have a beautiful bay window, the light in my place is not always conducive to taking food pictures. I decided to take my things outside to the courtyard of my building. My mind was on gathering everything that I needed as I headed out. The second I shut the door I realized I’d left my keys inside. I had locked myself out. In my slippers.
I knocked on the doors of three neighbors, hoping one of them would lend me their phone so I could call a locksmith. Of course, no one was home. With trepidation, I finally knocked on Carol’s door. I hadn’t seen her since Easter, when I had taken her some of my tiramisu.
I felt bad about bothering Carol. Her husband died suddenly at Christmastime, leaving her with two small children to take care of. Carol is from the Philippines. She’s a homemaker and doesn’t drive. A couple of weeks earlier she had fallen at the supermarket and broken her leg. Feeling foolish, I explained what had happened. Carol sympathized with my plight. She let me use her phone and offered me tea. We chatted until the locksmith came.
I wanted to thank Carol for her kindness so I made this Strawberry Mascarpone Tart from the April 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine. I had been wanting to make this tart since I’d seen it on the cover but hadn’t been presented with the opportunity. Piled high with fresh strawberries drizzled with port glaze, this easy tart was truly impressive. Tomorrow I will go get my tart pan from Carol and see how she liked it.
I don’t know about you, but this economic downturn and financial instability have left me with a persistent sense of unease. But now when I feel sorry for myself, I think of Carol.
Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze
Adapted from Gourmet, April 2009
for tart shell:
1 1/4 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 lb strawberries, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
1/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup ruby Port
1 lb mascarpone cheese (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1) To make tart shell blend together flour, sugar, salt, and butter in a bowl with a pastry blender, or in a food processor, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
2) Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon juice, and water with a fork. Drizzle over the flour mixture and blend until the ingredients come together. Knead gently with floured hands on a floured surface until dough forms.
3) Press into a 5-inch disk and place in the center of a tart pan. Cover with plastic wrap. Using your fingers and the bottom of a measuring cup, press out dough to evenly cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Prick bottom of tart shell several times with a fork and freeze for about fifteen minutes.
4) Preheat oven to 375F. Line tart shell with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for about 20 minutes, until set and lightly golden in color. Remove foil and continue to bake until the shell is deeply golden all over, about another 20 minutes. Cool in pan for 45 minutes.
5) While the tart shell cools, make the filling. Stir together strawberries and sugar in a bowl and let stand for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain over a sieve set over a small saucepan, reserving berries. Add Port to liquid in saucepan and boil until reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 10-15 minutes. Cool slightly.
6) Whisk together mascarpone, sugar, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until stiff. Spread mixture evenly in cooled tart shell, then top with strawberries. Drizzle Port glaze all over tart.
*Be sure to add the strawberries to the pie just before serving, otherwise the tart will end up looking messy if it sits around.
*Make sure the liquid is strained adequately from the strawberries. Too much liquid on top of the tart will make it look soupy and messy.
*For a lighter version, use half mascarpone, half ricotta cheese.
*The tart shell can be baked a day ahead and kept at room temperature.