Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Autumnal tarts: Novel Food

‘You know darls’ said Jo, pausing to take another sip of tea, ‘I wish I’d not read Babs. Then I could have the pleasure of reading her all over again.’

Jo, my best friend, is a woman who knows an awful lot about literature. Babs is our affectionate, Australian-ized nickname for Barbara Trapido, a South African born novelist whose small output is as impressive and enjoyable as it is addictive. Quite simply, both women are stellar.

Trapido’s characters are sexy, clever and literate, often artistic. Set in and around universities and academia, she revels, absolutely, in the romance of bohemian life. In fractured families and unlikely pairings; the ugliness and beauty of language itself. ‘Reading her,’ Anthony Thwaite wrote in the Observer, ‘is rather like being bombarded by sequins’.

Juggling draws together four people: Sparky Christina and her brilliant but melancholy adopted sister Pam; the beautiful, powerful Jago and otherworldly, grey Peter. All are bright, gifted students, each in possession of their own share of demons. A chance meeting of parents on a railway platform binds them, inextricably, to one another. There is love, unexpected and wondrous in its scope, woven with ill-conceived mayhem and devastating consequences; family breakdowns intertwine with Shakespeare, jugglers and even a smattering of mathematics. Unlikely pairings done with considerable wit and skill.

Food offers insightful portraits. Doesn’t it always? Christina and Pam’s father, the extravagant, brash Joe, wooed their gentle mother Alice on a picnic of truly epicurean tastes. Both daughters are repulsed by their father’s choice of aphrodisiac on that fated day – squid and calves sweetbreads – and delight in recoiling with mock-horror as Alice obligingly recounts the tale. Christina’s subsequent, feisty vegetarianism throws down a direct challenge to her father’s impressive, carnivorous culinary skills.

Cooking is a little like juggling. It’s about concentration, balance and practice - small feats of culinary dexterity. It’s also, sometimes, about pleasing the people you feed, taking into account their particular needs and wants. So, drawing an admittedly very long bow, these little tarts, a juggling act themselves of sweet and savoury, are just right for an offal-free seduction. Portable picnic fare to tempt even the staunchest carnivore.

Roasted pear and rocket tarts – makes 4 individual tarts

For Jo. The pastry is based on a recipe in a favourite book, Nourish by Sydney-based macrobiotic chef Holly Davis. Iku, her iconic kitchen, is legendary among my friends.

For the pastry:
50g (1 ¾ oz) of sesame seeds
150g (4 ½ oz) of spelt flour
50ml (scant ¼ cup) pale sesame oil (not the dark stuff)
75ml (scant 1/3 cup) of boiling water
1 tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce

Toast the seeds to a pale shade of gold in a dry pan. Cool on a plate.

Sift the flour into a roomy bowl and mix though the toasted seeds. Whisk the wet ingredients together, ensuring they are well combined. Using a fork, gradually add the wet mixture to the dry. Turn out onto a clean, dry surface and knead for a minute.

Cover the dough and rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F).

Roll pastry out thinly on a lightly floured surface to fit 4 tart tins, each with a removable base. This is a very forgiving dough – take your scraps, scrunch them into a ball and re-roll if necessary. Trim edges and bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Cool before filling.

The rest:
4 ripe but firm pears
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated
2 teaspoons of olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Honey, for drizzling
3 handfuls of rocket (arugula)
¼ cup of almonds, roughly chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon of sea salt
1/3 cup of olive oil
4 tart shells (see above)
4 tablespoons of soft goat’s curd cheese or labneh

Preheat the oven to 180 C (375 F). Quarter the pears lengthways, cutting away the cores. Place in a small baking tin.

Squeeze the ginger hard to extract the juice, as much as you can get, into a small bowl. Add the oil to the ginger juice, along with a little salt and pepper. Whisk. Pour this over the pears and toss them well. Roast for 45 minutes, turning each piece at least once to caramelise. Drizzle with a little honey.

Whiz the rocket, almonds, garlic and sea salt to an emerald green slush in a food processor or blender then, with the motor running, slowly trickle in the oil.

Cover the base of each tart shell with a spoonful of pesto. Break up a little goat’s curd and dollop as artfully as you like on top, no more than a generous tablespoon per tart, though. You don’t want to completely overdo it here. Arrange 4 pieces of roasted pear on top of each and dab with a little more pesto. Serve cold.

freshly made labneh

Simona and Lisa’s event, Novel Food, a wonderful mix of all things bookish and culinary is well under way. They're three chapters in and this is my, late, entry.


Johanna said...

those photos do really make me feel autumn is coming.

now if only there were more feisty vegetarian heroines in novels we would probably have more wonderful tarts like this (ok, pun was intended!)

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

What a fabulous post, you're such a good writer!

p.s. I LUV me so labnah, it's the best!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Oh, Lucy, your photos take my breath away! So beautiful!

And that is an unusual recipe to me. With my love for pears and rocket, I have got to try it.

Ricki said...

Oh, Lucy! This is just totally delectable. I LOVE the sound of Trapido's fiction (sequins!!)--must go seek out some of her stuff here. And those tarts--!! I am definitely giving that crust a go, at the least. What a fantastic combination, with the sesame seeds an oil. My imagination is reeling!

Simona said...

I am all for your offal-free seduction: I love pears and your tarts sound delicious. The crust has an intriguing character.
Thanks for introducing me to an interesting author. I will look for her novels here.

Wendy said...

I'm off to Skye on Monday for a week of reading books by the sea in front of a fire. Hoping that my local bookstore has this in stock as I'd love it to join me. :)

Callipygia said...

who needs offal when one is tempted with the well formed bottoms of pears? I believe I could be easily seduced by these tarts, luscious recipe!

Lisa said...


Fantastic writing here! And I love the recipe. I'm all for a forgiving dough and the filling is intriguing. A must try.

By the way, I made your adzuki bean croquettes the other night. Amazing and thanks for the recipe.

kathryn said...

I've used that pastry recipe many, many times. Isn't it brilliant? A few years ago I went to a cooking class at Holly's tiny little commercial kitchen in Northern Sydney. Learnt how to make her glorious sago puddings, all about keffir and also the most wonderful seaweed pickle.

Carson said...

I do love a binding together of literature and food! Have you read MFK Fisher?
How you feel about Babs is how I feel about Proulx and Atwood. I wish I could discover them both for the first time much to look forward to.
Love the photo of the labneh, all dressed up for its' first Confirmation ;)

kazari said...

ooh... i think i need to make this. as soon as possible! I love your photos!

Susan said...

That crust! All that sesame!

If someone tried courting me with offal, I would have changed my phone number. Same goes w/ math. Numbers just make everything so much more complicated!

A gorgeous recipe well woven into the plot.

Lucy said...

It's a relief, isn't it Johanna? Just knowing that Autumn is coming our way makes me sit up and take notice of life. Excellent pun, by the way, wish I'd thought of it myself!!

Mari, thank you, so much! Labneh is, I reckon, one of my favourite foods. So easy to make as well.

Partricia, the pears themselevs are worth making in quantity so you can toss them through rocket salads and the like. Great against the sharp, salty flavour of parmesan cheese, too.

Ricki, I reckon you'd really like Bab's. She's funny, clever and a master of character-crafting. Isn't that sequins quote unreal! Do try the crust. Holly Davis' tarts in the book are filled with roasted pumpkin, gingery-onions and natto miso. Un-believably good combo.

Simona, glad to have found an author you don't know! I thoroughly enjoyed participating; it's a subject (or two) close to my heart.

Well, Wendy, now I'm thinking that you might like to start with her first book (and the first that Jo introducd me to) called 'Brother of the More Famous Jack'. I was spellbound - great holiday reading. Have a great break!

Calli, these are tempting and seductively rich. Consumption in small quantities is recommended. Pears at the moment are divine here and organic, sexy-bottomed brown-skinned buerre bosc are plentiful. Lovely stuff to play with!

Lisa, thank you, both for your compliment and for making the croquettes. Forgiving dough always sounds good to me being, as I am, not blessed in the baking department!

Kathryn, now I'm supremely jealous - that class sounds incredible. The pastry is amazing, and so fool-proof. Have you made the little pumkin and natto miso tarts? Just amazing...seaweed pickle, you say? Delish!!

Hi Carson, I do have a huge compilation of MFK Fisher that, stupidly, I spilt the entire contents of a 2 litre bottle of water on. Months later it has dried out, just. Annie Proulx and Ms Atwood? You really are a woman after my own heart...

I don't know about you Susan, but I found it a challenge, a very good challenge mind you, to weave literature and food into the one piece. The offal-seduction is over the top, but it does accurately describe Christina's father in his true colours! And maths was never a strong point in my life...

As for that crust? It makes delicious crackers, thinly rolled and cut appropriately. You'd love it!

Cynthia said...

It is always such a pleasure to read your blog. It's like visiting a long-time friend.

Christina said...

I've never heard of Trapido, so I must check her out, and soon. I certainly need so good reading for the plane.

This is a wonderful-sounding recipe--a delightful mix of savory and sweet. I can't wait to try it.

The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet said...

Hey Lucy -

Thanks for the link to the Novel Foods event. I'd love to participate...even though I think the deadline ends today! There is a cheese soup recipe from one of my Lucy's favorite children's books "Le Bistrot de Sept Frere" which is about a restaurant run by mice who have an award-winning cheese soup. Anyway, this could be a hoot.

As for you, I'm glad you stopped by to say "hello" at Yummy Mummy and want you to know that I think you are one of the truly gorgeous writers in the blogosphere - you have really mastered being both literate and fun, which I think is a rare combo. Consider me a fan. And I love your NAME!

Anyway,I'll be around and hope you'll do the same!


Anh said...

I always like they way you write Lucy. Such an elegant piece of writing, wonderfully put together. You have really inspired me to get back to my kitchen! :)

I am really busy these days. Work and preparation for the "big day". You know. all the girly stuff like dress and all. :D

Now, a question to ask you. I really want to buy a cookbook on wholefood. Few months of brown rice, millets, quiona and lots more vegs have won me over to good eating. Can you suggest one or two reliable ones? I just need more inspiration for my daily meals now.

Anonymous said...

I know Nourish, but don't own a copy. It is a lovely book, and this recipe sounds great. It just might make it into my kitchen.

winedeb said...

Lucy what lovely writing. It felt like autumn, like when you want to curl up and have something savory and enjoy that first chill in the air. The photos...also depicting fall, just great!!! (I have read and looked at it 3 times already!)

Lucy said...

Cynthia, that's a really lovely thing to say. You're welcome in this kitchen anytime!

Christina, it is a lovely mixture of sweet and savoury and so is Trapido. Perfect reading for a plane because they are simply impossible to put down...

Thanks, Kim. You know I was quite naughty holding off my post until so late in the piece, but Simona and Lisa host the event quarterly, so there will be time to post your Lucy's beautiful (and plus perfect) sounding soup! Of course I'll be back - it's fascinating reading about your efforts raising your beautiful kids in New York and that risotto? Well, it sounds IN-credible.

Anh, God, I had no idea your wedding was so close. Very exciting - no wonder you're so snowed under. I'll send you an email re the books, as there are quite a few good ones worth investigating.

Vegeyum, I hope you do try it - and, sadly, Nourish is now out of print. Let me know how you go...

Deb, isn't it interesting that we get to look at each others seasons so intimately? As I'm watching your garden grow, seeing asparagus appearing on Northern plates, I'm reminded that the cycle of the seasons is logical and wonderful. It really does mean a lot to me that you are drawn back to these pages...thanks, dear girl. Hope your spring is delightful.