Friday, July 13, 2012

Tarted Up

I recently found a great tart pan neglected on a store shelf and was immediately tempted to find some way to put it to good use. I dimly recall a savory almond tart I was served at a Medieval banquet (like you do) and wished to continue the unexpectedly umami theme. Since summer is the season for deliciously juicy fresh figs, they seemed a great starting place. The resulting tart is quick, versatile, rustically elegant, and most importantly: easy, easy, easy.

Easier done than said
For the tart shell, I fell back to my mother's oil pastry recipe. Growing up, it was her go-to crust for pretty much every pie or pastry except for the cream cheese crust of her addictive caramel pecan tassies. I've tried lots of different crust recipes, my fanciest requires baking at three different temperatures and is intensely buttery and mouth-wateringly evanescent, but there's something to be said for a recipe with 3 or 4 ingredients that you can mash together in the palms of your hands. It's still crumbly, flaky, and meltingly delicious.

Crumbly enough for you?
A surprise visit from our nephews Ben and Dylan gave me some extra helpers, so I made sure they washed their hands and first set them to grinding salt. Despite somewhat grown up flavors (Ben and Dylan can have surprisingly sophisticated palates), this still manages to be popular with kids, too. It's hard to go wrong with fruit and cheese. While not a sweet tart per se, it does come loaded with succulent, seedy figs, rendered yet juicier and jammier by the heat of the oven and a generous drizzle of honey.

Kitchen staff
The potent feta yields some of its pungency in the oven, as well, mellowing into an earthy, salty, savory base note on which to amp the crumbling simplicity of the flaky crust. Fiery cracked black pepper and the tonic, herbaceous dusting of thyme contributes a hint of lemony freshness that keeps things from becoming too deeply dark. Still capable of standing in for dessert, this also works for breakfasts and brunches and pairs handily with soup or salad to make a light lunch or supper. Don't let the minimalist appearance scare you off, this treat has all the flavor you need.

It's about thyme
Feta, fig, and thyme tart

When selecting fresh figs, you want them to be seemingly heavy for their size, lightly fragrant, and soft without being squishy. The flesh should be intact, with no weeping juices. Figs typically still cling to their woody stems, so it's important to always trim the ends.

For the crust:

2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
6 tbs ice water
1 tsp Himalayan pink salt

For the filling:

6-8 fresh figs, stemmed and quartered
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbs tupelo or mesquite honey
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 F and grease an 8" tart pan with a removable bottom. Wash, stem, and quarter the figs.

Seedy characters
In a large bowl, whisk together the salt and flour, then add the oil and water, whisking quickly until the dough comes mostly together into a ball. Tap dough off the whisk and use your hands to press the remainder together into the bottom of the tart pan.

Geronimo!
 Prick the crust several times with a fork and blind bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes.

It'll be prettier when it's finished
Crumble feta to fill the tart, topping with sections of fresh figs. Drizzle honey across the top and sprinkle with black pepper.

Honey, I'm ho-ome...
Bake an additional 20 minutes, until the cheese begins to bronze and melt, and the figs are perfumed and glistening with hot juices. Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes, sprinkle with thyme leaves, and serve.

4 comments:

Unknown said...

Really unique offering! Do you think goat cheese would work in place of the feta?

James Pereira said...

Thanks! I actually think that goat cheese may be an even better choice. It has more moisture (especially if you get an extra soft version) and so should have a more creamy and succulent mouth feel. A little less sharp than feta, though.

For a vegan version, I'd replace the cheese with cashew butter: just toss 2c dry cashews in a food processor with 2tbs canola oil and 1 tsp sea salt and pulse to the desired consistency.

Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes said...

That is one thing we are lacking here in New England- beautiful fresh figs, this tart is absolutely stunning!

James Pereira said...

Thanks! I'm sorry to hear you're short on figs. You could try rehydrating dried ones, or I think blackberries have the right depth of character for a variation on the same theme. I might go with fresh sage in the event of blackberries, they're a terrific pairing.