Monday, June 20, 2016

Apricot Strawberry Tart

Summer fruit desserts!

I don’t even have to make a complete sentence out of that exclamation. Those three words speak entirely for themselves. They are subject, predicate, adjective, and adverb. They are the reason extra-warm weather can be born at all. Perhaps that last one is an exaggeration, but I got a bit excited (and a bit too hot this weekend.)

And this tart really is something to get excited about. It’s simple and a little rustic while still being delicate. It’s gently sweet, but mostly fruity. It doesn’t require much effort, especially since I adapted the crust and topping recipe for the food processor. It takes even less effort to eat it, because it’s so delicious.

The crust is a nutty-tasting combination of white whole wheat flour and almond flour, along with butter and egg yolks. The filling is simply sliced apricots and strawberries and a bit of apricot jam. The crust is sweetened with some sugar, but the overall sweetness of the tart is determined by the sweetness of the fresh fruit.

A long time ago, I tried using white whole wheat flour and found it totally unsatisfying as an ingredient. I think I understand it a little better now, however, and got brave enough to use it here with great results. “White whole wheat” is simply a variety of wheat that is lighter in color and slightly milder in flavor. Flour ground from it may look more like all-purpose flour, but it really behaves more like ordinary whole wheat flour in baking. It’s good in this recipe where the softness and gluten content of a refined flour isn’t needed and the slightly nuttier flavor is welcome. I think you could also use whole wheat pastry flour, or perhaps a multigrain flour (like the mixture I used in this post), or even oat flour.

You could also use other fruits in this lovely tart, specially other berries. I like apricots because I’m not sure this crumbly crust could handle extra-juicy fruits like peaches. I’m wondering, however, whether apples would be nice in this tart in the fall, or if the combination of plums and grapes in this recipe might find a home between this almond-infused crust and topping. 

You could serve this tart with whipped topping or ice cream for dessert. I found myself not adding anything to it unless I ate it for breakfast, in which case, I added a dollop of vanilla yogurt on top. Since the fruit is really the star, eating this tart for breakfast with yogurt it totally legitimate. Really. Totally legitimate. Enjoy!

Apricot Strawberry Tart
Adapted from Eating Well, May/June 2016

For the Crust and Topping:
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
½ cup almond flour (finely ground almonds)
6 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon fine salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Filling:
1/3 cup apricot jam
2 cups sliced (about ½ -inch) fresh apricots
1 ½ cups strawberries, leaves removed and left whole if small, or sliced if larger
1 tablespoon white sugar

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Spray a 10-inch (or a 9-inch will work, too) springform pan with cooking spray (or grease it with oil or butter). Set aside.

2. To make the crust and topping: combine the white whole wheat flour, almond flour, 6 tablespoons sugar, lemon zest, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and process until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand. If you pinch the mixture together, it should stay together in a damp lump.

3. Set aside 1 cup of the crust mixture (this will be the topping.) Press the remaining crust mixture firmly into the bottom and an inch or so up the sides of the prepared springform pan.

4. Stir the apricot jam well to loosen it and spread it evenly over the crust. Arrange the apricots in a ring around the outside of the pan. Overlap slightly if needed. Arrange the strawberries evenly in the center of the pan. I used small strawberries, so I simply cut the leaves off and set them pointed end up in the pan.

5. Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture over the fruit. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

6. Bake at 425 F for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 F and bake an additional 30-35 minutes or until the fruit is soft and the crust and topping are golden brown. Cool on a rack for 1 hour. Remove the outer ring of the pan and slice to serve. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or yogurt if desired.

Makes 10-12 servings (fewer if you like large slices!)

One year ago: Barbecue Beans

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Recipe Revisit: Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce

It’s time to revisit an old recipe from The Messy Apron Archives: Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce and Bacon. This one goes way back to the first year these pages were online; from the second month, in fact. It’s embarrassing to sneak a peek at some of those old posts (especially the sad photographs!), but this is really a great recipe. I should be making it at least once a year during local asparagus season, but, and this is even sadder than those old photos, I don’t think I’ve made it since I put up that post all those years ago.

This is quite a simple dish, as most of my weeknight suppers tend to be these days. Onions and asparagus get sautéed in bacon drippings and then a swim in a sauce of balsamic vinegar and sugar. This sauce gets reduced even as it soaks into the asparagus, becoming richer and more complex, not to mention sweeter. A good dose of fresh tarragon adds some delicious anise notes, and it all gets tossed with pasta, pecans, and crisp bacon.

The inspiration recipe that I tinkered with to produce the original post was a side dish without the noodles and less sauce. I just increased the sauce volume and plumped it up to a main dish with the pasta. I had originally made it with short pasta, but, I tried it with linguine in this recipe revisit with excellent results, which leads me to conclude that pasta of any shape would be just great, as would whole grain noodles.

I also added Pernod to the dish all those years ago, but in this retest, I went without it and found that it’s not necessary. It probably just overpowers the more subtle flavor of the tarragon. It probably also helped to make the sauce especially sweet, since I wrote a lot in that old post about how sweet the dish was, but I did not find it especially sweet without the Pernod.

Overall, I prefer the ever-so-slightly altered version of this recipe that I have below. It’s more inclusive when it comes to pasta shape, and is therefore easier to pull off with what’s in the pantry. The Pernod can go, but if you can’t get your hands on some good fresh tarragon (I grow it in a pot on my back porch), perhaps a teaspoon or two of some kind of anise-flavored liqueur can help you get that particularly fitting flavor kick.

The only additional alteration I might try is to leave out the bacon and make this dish vegetarian (actually, it would even be vegan without the bacon if you used vegan pasta). The onions and asparagus could be sautéed in olive oil instead of the bacon fat, which would change the flavor, but might still be pretty darn good. Bacon does give everything a certain something special, but if you’re not into pork, you should still be able to have lots of delicious happiness with asparagus and tarragon and balsamic vinegar all by their flavorful selves.

Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce and Bacon
If you don’t have tarragon available, you could replace it with thyme or basil, or with 1-2 teaspoons of an anise-flavored liqueur, such as Pernod.

3 strips thick-cut bacon
8 ounces any pasta, short or long cut
½ cup thinly sliced onion
1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
¼ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt (or more, to taste)
A few grinds of black pepper (to taste)
½ cup toasted chopped pecans

1. Cook the bacon in a large saute pan until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings from the pan. Chop the bacon into small pieces when cool.

2. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is done as you like it. Drain the pasta. Reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water to have on hand in case you need more moisture at the end of cooking the dish.

3. Return the reserved bacon drippings to medium heat (in the same pan). Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for 4 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown. Add the asparagus and sauté 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add the balsamic vinegar and sugar, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Cook several minutes until the vinegar has reduced by about half and has become slightly thicker and syrupy.

5. Add the tarragon and pepper. Cook about 1 minute. Add the pasta and toss well. If the pasta appears too dry, add some of the reserved pasta-cooking water. Stir in the chopped bacon and pecans.

Makes about 4 servings

Sunday, June 12, 2016

National Peanut Butter Cookie Day

Today is National Peanut Butter Cookie Day!! That’s such a delicious idea, that I couldn’t resist plumbing the depths of the Archives for peanut butter-based cookie and bar recipes, and getting excited about them all over again.

My favorite basic peanut butter cookie recipe is from The Complete Book of Baking by Pillsbury. You know what I mean by “basic peanut butter cookie,” don’t you? The ones with a simple, firm dough that you roll into balls, and then mark with a cross-hatch made with a fork. This is almost as common/popular/well-known as the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie. If you bake ever, you probably have a similar recipe at your fingertips.

My favorite peanut butter cookie recipe of them all (so far, anyway) is the Peanut Butter Cookies with Peanut Butter Cups recipe in the Archives from way back in January 2013. (Yes, I eat peanut butter cookies in January when everybody else is cleansing.) 

This cookie recipe is wonderful, even before you gild it with a bunch of chopped peanut butter cups. It’s so good, that you could probably leave out the peanut butter cups. I’d replace them before I left them out entirely, however, with something like chocolate chunks or chips, or peanut butter chips, or honey roasted peanuts.

The gluten free option, Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies, are also totally fabulous. They’re very easy to throw together, and are at least as satisfying as anything made with flour.

The recipe makes a small batch, so that, along with their ease and speed of preparation, makes them perfect for quick craving quenching.

These Peanut Butter and Banana Breakfast Cookies are sort of a soft cross between a cookie and a muffin. They’ve got a few extra healthy ingredients, like bananas, whole wheat flour and wheat germ, oatmeal, and raisins, that help them answer the nagging question, “Why can’t I have cookies for breakfast?”

The cookie sheets can’t be allowed to have all the fun on National Cookie Day. Not when a baking pan can contribute just as well. Peanut Butter Butterfinger Blondies are a delicious contribution to any celebration and deserve a spot here. These are made from a peanut butter infused blondie batter with chopped Butterfinger candy bars sprinkled on top before baking. You could replace those candies with something else, like peanut butter cups, if you prefer.

Also in the bar category is this recipe for Peanut Butter and Chocolate Revel Bars. These are a rich and decadent treat, a peanut butter cookie bottom and topping sandwiching a silky chocolate layer. 

Let me give a shout out today, too, to these Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Energy Bars. They may not qualify as a cookie, but they fill the role of hand-held snack and they certainly do come with their fair share of peanut butter. More like a granola bar, they’re pretty darn satisfying, filling and delicious at once. If you just can’t allow yourself the extravagance of cookies, energy bars may be the way to go.

Because you’ve got to celebrate National Cookie Day somehow. Even if it’s tomorrow...or some other day. It’s always a good day for peanut butter cookies!