15 November 2010
The Month of Eating French
Well, I had a fish tagine recipe all ready to go for you all, but it seems my computer ate it, and then I decided to give up and go to Chicago to eat delicious food at Topolobampo and Blackbird. I'm kidding, but I highly recommend some margaritas the next time your computer goes on the fritz.
Besides, ever since we got back from France I've been on a full-on French cooking kick. First I made pain d'epices (from this recipe), which is deceiving because you expect it to be a sweet and it's really just a bread.
Then there were stuffed poussins with pearl onions and a fabulous cream sauce (adapted from this recipe). Damn, poussins are expensive in the U.S., but they were delectable.
There were two attempts to recreate the fabulous gratin dauphinois we had, trying both Julia Child's and Anthony Bourdain's recipes. Bourdain won, for what it's worth.
And by the time I got around to making a chicken liver pâté, I think Paul was about to call the psych consult. "You don't even like pâté," he said. Luckily, the guests at our party did.
But all this was not before I made, not one, not two, but three tarte tatins. What can I say? Tarte tatins are pretty damn awesome. We made one with pears and cardamom, and two with apples. Despite many people's fear of caramel, tarte tatin is much easier than you'd think, and you don't even have to make a true caramel. Afterward the oven should do the work for you. Even if you aren't in French cooking madness mode, it's worth a try.
(Lentil de Puy Salad with Pomegranate and Fennel)
Though puff pastry is 100% traditional, I confess that I also like to make this with a nice thick pie dough. The crispiness of the pastry stands up nicely to the apples. Can be made with pears, make sure to used firm pears.
5-6 large cooking apples (we used staymans)
juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 Tbl unsalted butter
14 ounces puff pastry (or pie crust)
1. Peel and quarter the apples, removing the cores such that each quarter has a flat inner side. Toss the apple quarters in a large bowl with the lemon juice and ½ cup of the sugar. Set aside while you start the caramel, about 30 minutes.
2. In a 9-inch cast-iron skillet melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Add the remaining 1 cup sugar, mixing with a fork or flat whisk. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture has come together in a smooth, bubbly, pale caramel color. Do not let it get too dark.
3. Turn the heat off and carefully add apple quarters, arranging them rounded-side-down in a decorative pattern. Arrange a second layer of apples on top wherever they fit, closely packed. I usually cut up any larger ones for smaller pieces in the second layer.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Cook the apples over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, occasionally spooning the bubbling caramel liquid over them. Press them down gently with the back of a spoon — don’t worry if they shift a bit in the liquid; just move them back to where they were. Shift the pan as necessary so that the apples cook evenly. They are ready when the liquid in the pan has turned to a thick, amber ooze. The apples should still be slightly firm. Do not allow them to get entirely soft.
6. While the apples are cooking, roll out the pastry. Cut out a circle about 10 inches in diameter (1/2 inch wider all around than the skillet), and trim away any excess. When apples are ready, carefully lay the pastry circle over the apples in the skillet, tucking the overlap down between the apples and the inside of the pan.
7. Place the skillet on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the pastry has risen, and is dry and golden brown. Remove the skillet from the oven, and let it to rest for a minute or two. Tilt the pan and look down inside the edge: if there is a lot of juice, pour most of it off into the sink. [Do not pour it all off, or the apples may stick to the pan.] Place a serving platter upside-down over the skillet and, working quickly and carefully, invert the tart onto the platter. Rearrange any apple slices that may have slipped or stuck to the skillet.