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Archive for the ‘dairy’ Category

I’ve lost my kitchen.

In the battle against my friend’s CSA (shared with me while they were on vacation), the CSA won. 

Earlier this week, my friend Ilana and I drove out to the farm to gather our goods. It’s a half pick -em-up and half pick-your-own kind of farm.

I will spare you the details of everything rolling around on my counters and threatening to nudge open my refrigerator door.  Luckily, farm-fresh food seems to stay farm-fresh longer than store-fresh food stays store-fresh. So my abject fear of watching everything rot before being able to stuff it all in my mouth has been allayed.

Over the past few days, there have been salads, tomatoes by the handful, sauteed chard, and zucchini bread.

And today, I give you frittata.

It can’t get much easier that frittata, which is essentially a quiche without a crust.

Here’s the formula: slice and saute some vegetables, beat some eggs, sprinkle some cheese, bake, broil, and eat.

Seriously. That’s it.

Best part? It’s great cold.

And so, I also give you breakfast.

Zucchini and tomato frittata with feta

The inspiration for this frittata came from Steamy Kitchen and the New York Times. Use whatever vegetables and herbs you have on hand – asparagus, broccoli, potatoes, chard, basil, mint, thyme. I like to slice everything really thinly so it cooks quickly (easiest if you have a mandoline).

- 1 onion

- 2 zucchini

- 1-2 tomatoes (depending on size)

- 1 T dill

- 2 T olive oil

- 2 t butter

- 5 eggs

- 2 T milk (I used 1%)

- 1/4 C feta

- salt and pepper

Prep. Preheat oven to 350ºF and put one rack in the middle of the oven, one rack below the broiler. Slice onion into thin half moons. Using a mandoline or knife, slice the zucchini into very thin rounds. Slice the tomato into ~1/4 inch rounds. Chop dill.

Saute. In a non-stick, ovenproof pan (8- or 9-inches), heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add butter and onion and saute until the onions brown (but don’t let them burn), about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Continue to saute until the zucchini wilts and starts to brown, another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Whisk. Whisk together the egg, milk, and dill.

Pour. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg mixture over the zucchini. Stir a little bit. Arrange sliced tomatoes and crumble feta on top of the eggs.

Bake. Bake the frittata on the middle rack until the eggs set, 7-8 minutes.

Broil. Turn on the broiler and move the pan to the rack below the broiler. Broil for 2-4 minutes until the feta and tomatoes start to brown.

Eat. Traditionally served room temperature or cold (when it’s much easier to cut), I love this right out of the oven.

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My great-uncle Ludwig lived in Paris where he and his wife Marta owned a fur shop in the center of the city. The first time I visited Paris with my family, Ludwig and Marta invited us to Furriers Tuileries for coffee. We walked along a small street nestled between the shops of Rue Saint Honoré and Rue de Rivoli to find Ludwig standing in the doorway of the cozy store, his bright blue eyes smiling when he saw us approaching.

Surrounded by coats and hats, we sat on straight-backed cafe chairs around a small round table laid with cheese and crackers and fruit – tiny plums and peaches. The fruit was sliced. The conversation was somewhat formal as the grown-ups caught up on the years since my parents’ last visit.

I balanced a small plate on my knees and covered it with crackers and fruit. When I was ready for seconds, I tentatively reached for another cracker, this time spreading it with soft creamy cheese, leaving behind the chalky white exterior. It was my first taste of room temperature cheese. It was not my last.

Ludwig and Marta eventually sold the store and Marta passed away. Whenever I visited Paris, Ludwig and I would meet in his apartment and sit on his brocade sofa and share a platter of cheese and crackers and slices of ripe fruit. Gradually our conversations became less formal. We shifted from English to French and had more to talk about than how I was doing in school.

When Ludwig visited New York, the whole family would go out to eat. When it was my turn to choose a place for lunch, I’d suggest a brasserie for steak frites. When it was his turn, he’d suggest a diner in Queens. He liked fried eggs and hash browns.

He once brought my mother an Hermès scarf that had belonged to Marta. As we sat in the diner, waiting for our food to arrive, I fingered the scarf’s hand-rolled edge and slightly rounded corners that indicated it was a vintage piece.

The last time I saw Ludwig, he sliced fruit in his tiny Parisian kitchen while I browsed the living room walls, the paintings, the books concealed behind the paned glass doors of the cabinet. There were a lot of history books.

After we chatted, he insisted on accompanying me in a taxi to my rented apartment. We chatted easily in the back seat as we rode from one end of the city to the other, crossing the Seine into the Left Bank. He got out of the taxi and walked around to open my door, asking the driver to wait until I disappeared through the courtyard and into my temporary home.

As I tell this story, I realize that it seems to have written itself and meandered to where I didn’t expect it to.

I meant to start off with a phrase that my mother told me was Ludwig’s life philosophy: n’achetez pas des bananes vertes - don’t buy green bananas. Though I never heard him say it, I often repeat this phrase to myself when I’m in an outdoor market at the peak of the season. Even though I didn’t know Ludwig well, his life always something of a mystery to me, my memories of our rare visits are strong. This French side of my family that introduced me to petite Parisian apartments, stores of another time, and fruit that you slice rather than chomp.

The recipe that reminded me of Ludwig is a blueberry peach tart. The peaches, whose scent welcomed me to last week’s farmers market, are sliced and arranged atop an almond frangipane layer. The blueberries nearly bursting with juice scatter in the center. The tart was baked for a celebration – my friend Shoshana had just defended her dissertation. Our friends gathered at my place for tart and many glasses of champagne.

The moral of this story may be obvious, but I’m not a moral-of-the-story kinda gal. Nonetheless, the tart makes me think of Ludwig and Ludwig makes me think of beautifully fresh fruit, careful preparation and making family feel like beloved guests and guests feel like family.

Blueberry peach frangipane tart

This recipe is very similar to the pear frangipane tart I made several months ago, but I changed the citrus flavor from orange to lime. This recipe may make a bit more frangipane than you need. You only want to fill the crust about halfway to the top.

Makes a large (9.5-10 inch) tart.

- 1 batch pâte sucrée or pie dough: the recipe that I use is here and here – make sure not to work the dough too much – you just need a few pulses. Also, before rolling the dough out, remember the fraissage step: gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. This will help make the dough flakey.

- 3 T unsalted butter (or margarine if making non-dairy)

- 1 1/2 C almond flour – sometimes called almond meal, this is very finely ground almonds. You can find in made with raw almonds (the flour will be light brown) or blanched almonds (the flour will be a very light beige). You could also make your own by grinding up 1 1/2 C blanched almonds – but be sure to add half the sugar to avoid making almond butter in  your food processor.

- 2/3 C sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 lime for zest

- 2 eggs

- about 3C fruit: 3 C blueberries or 3 peaches and 1.5 C blueberries; other stone fruits will work as well

Prep. Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9.5 – 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll. Roll the pastry dough out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper (to make it easier to transfer to the pan) into a circle about 2 inches larger than your pan. Remove the top sheet of paper. Gently lay the dough on the pan and slowly remove the second piece of paper. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough. Use this excess to patch any cracks.

Chill. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes until firm.

Bake. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper (not wax paper which will smoke) on the raw dough and fill with pie weights or raw rice. You want to weigh down the crust so it doesn’t form bubbles. Bake the dough for 10-15 minutes until it just starts to turn golden. Place on a cooling rack. Keep the oven on.

Mix. Melt the butter (I use my microwave). In a medium bowl, mix together almonds flour/meal, sugar, salt, vanilla, and lime zest. Lightly beat the eggs and then mix them in. Pour in the cooled butter and mix. The frangipane will be a bit gritty looking.

Slice. Slice peaches (or other stone fruits) into even slices. I got about 16 per peach because I like the slices thin.

Fill. Spread the frangipane in a thin layer on the tart shell, about half of the way up the edges. Don’t feel compelled to use all of the frangipane because you don’t want it to overflow after you add the fruit. Arrange the fruit as artistically as you’d like, but keep it in a single layer.

Bake. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Check the tart after 30 minutes and then every few minutes until the frangipane turns golden and is no longer jiggly. Let cool before serving.

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I promised you summer and here it is again.

This time it’s dinner. (Don’t worry, a fruit and almond tart is coming your way soon).

This dinner was eaten as close to outside as you can when you live in the city, and your balcony is barely large enough to hold your (flourishing!) herb garden let alone a chair, and your view, if you can call it that, is a parking lot and the City Hall belfry whose bell  chimes every hour from 9 am to 9 pm. So you open all the windows and doors and sit in the summer breeze stirred by the fan. Because no matter how nice it is outside, this just isn’t the type of dinner that can be tucked under a sheet of foil and into a picnic basket and carried to the park. This pasta must be eaten mere minutes out of the pot (or in my case, after a few quick frames and a prayer that at least one of them does the food justice).

The formula is simple. Cook and drain a handful of pasta. Quickly sauté some vegetables with oil in the same pot. Add back the pasta for a few minutes. Pour over hearty greens and let them wilt. Grate some cheese. Sprinkle with something crunchy.

Now I skipped one step, perhaps the most important step, because I wanted to give it a paragraph all to itself. Just before you lift the pasta pot off the stove and run over to the colander in the sink, scoop out some of the cooking water. Hold onto that starchy, salty water because you’re going to use it very soon. When the vegetables are cooked – softened but not so much that they no longer look like themselves – add in some of the set-aside water along with the drained pasta. As you mix everything together, the starch and oil will unite into a silky smooth sauce that just barely coats everything. The sauce all but disappears into the rest of the ingredients, but you know it’s there. Under its light gloss, the pasta shines, the vegetables sing.

And with that, I’m off for a  walk. Happy weekend everyone!

Pasta with tomatoes and arugula

This is not really a recipe, but more of a technique, so feel free to substitute whatever ingredients you like. I used orecchiette, that little ear-shaped pasta, but anything will do, even plain old spaghetti. Instead of grape tomatoes, try zucchini or mushrooms or peppers (though the peppers will probably need to cook a little longer). Any hearty green should work as well – how about young chard or spinach or my favorite, pea shoots? Herbs – basil can’t be beat in the summer, but mint would also be great. I’ve made this with mozzarella instead of parmesan. And for crunch, try other nuts (they really are better if you toast them) or ground pita chips. But whatever you do, don’t forget to scoop out that pasta water.

Serves 1

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high. Throw in a few pinches of salt and return water to a boil. Add 2 handfuls of dry pasta (about 1/2 cup) and cook for one minute less than the directions suggest.

While the pasta is cooking, throw a handful of blanched almonds into a 350ºF oven to toast for about 5 minutes or dry toast them in a small skillet over medium heat — watch them carefully because the window between toasted and burnt is a small one. Cut in half 2 handfuls of grape tomatoes (about 20-25). When the almonds are toasted, roughly chop them by hand or with a few pulses in a food processor.

When the pasta is ready, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and put it aside for later. Drain the pasta (do not rinse).

Return the pot to the stove, lower the burner to medium and drizzle in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Add in the tomatoes, another small pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the tomatoes start to release their juices and break down; don’t let them turn to mush — they should still look like tomatoes. Add back the pasta and about 1/4 cup of the pasta water and stir for a few more minutes. The starchy water plus the oil will make a nice silky sauce that lightly coats everything.

Arrange a handful of arugula on a plate or in a bowl. Pour the pasta and tomatoes over the arugula. Over the pasta, tear 3-4 basil leaves , grate 1-2 tablespoons of parmesan, and sprinkle a few pinches of toasted almonds.

Eat quickly. Have some gelato for dessert.

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If this blog were any indication, seasonality would seem to have passed me by.

There’s been no I-need-to-come-up-with-something-new-to-make-with-my-endless-supply-of-CSA-zucchini-and-kale dilemma.

No there-are-so-many-amazing-fruits-and-vegetables-in-the-farmers-market-that-I-bought-several-flats-worth-that-will-go-bad-if-I-don’t-make-this-crumble-tart-jam-cake-right-now panic.

Instead, I visit my local farmers market like clockwork every Monday. I fill my bag. And then I eat everything out of hand or simply prepared.

Cherries? If they make it home from the market, I can barely wash them before a dozen pits are piled in a bowl.

Blueberries? Straight into my morning yogurt.

Peaches? Eaten dripping down my chin and trickling to my elbow over a sink that, more often than not, has a few dishes to catch any remaining juice.

Heirloom tomatoes? They’ve only just started appearing around here but the first few I’ve snagged have been sliced  and topped with fresh mozzarella, a sprig of basil, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Sure, a fleeting garlic scape or two made an appearance in June, but most of my baking and cooking over the Summer months has revolved around my pantry. It started innocently enough. There was the pomegranate syrup that jumped from tomato tarte tatin to carrots. Then the pistachios that flitted across a salad and landed in biscotti. Now I’ve grabbed the rose water from the biscotti and am adding it to my first truly summer dessert of the season.

Enough chatting and let’s get on with it. I give you plum cake!

Let’s start with the plums. They’re the little ones sold by the pint. You can fit three comfortably in your hand, maybe four. (These are not the nearly apple-sized monsters you’ll find in the grocery stores!) The ones I’ve been using reveal bright red flesh under their dark purple, nearly black, skin.

Now, the batter. It uses brown sugar instead of white, deepening the cake’s sweetness. I add a little bit of my current pantry obsession – rose water – and lime zest, the batter speckled with tiny green flakes. Overlook the fact that the original recipe calls for nearly 10 minutes in a stand mixer – I suspect that a few minutes with a whisk and a strong arm will bake up just fine.

Plum cake with lime and rose, ready for the oven

Scoop the batter into the pan, arrange the plums on top, and pop it into the oven where the batter puffs and the plums sink. No wonder Dorie Greenspan calls it Dimply Plum Cake. Seriously, how can you not love a cake that sounds like a smile?

As you’d expect, Dorie doesn’t disappoint.

Cut a slice, and you can see how the juices that have pooled into the impressions left by the plum pits continue to seep into the cake below. Take a bite and your teeth cut smoothly through the plum skin that has melted into the golden dense cake. The slightly tart plums and specks of lime mingle with the sweet brown sugar cake and hint of rose, lingering in your mouth after nothing but crumbs remain on your plate.

If you can, save a square or two for breakfast the next day.

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One more note before we get to the recipe. Since it’s the first Wednesday of August (August!), drop by the Jerusalem Post to read my next Come to the Table column. This time we’re talking about Panama and the ceviche recipe that a chef gave me on my trip there a few years back.

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Dimply plum cake with lime and rose

This recipe is an adaptation of Dorie Greenspan‘s Dimply Plum Cake that I discovered  via Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  I changed up the flavoring a bit, using lime zest and rose water. Feel free to substitute your favorite stone fruit (maybe even berries) and citrus zest. The cake is dense an a bit crumbly – Deb is spot on when she likens its texture to a coffee cake. You can keep the cake on the counter for 2 days, tightly wrapped, but it’s amazing a few minutes out of the oven when the plum juices are still pooling. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use a whisk and some muscle and everything should turn out great. Don’t try to replace the butter with margarine as the cake doesn’t turn out as nicely.

Makes 16 small servings.

- 5 T unsalted butter - make sure to bring to room temperature

- 3/4 C brown sugar

- 2 large eggs

- 1/3 C flavorless oil (I used canola)

- 1 lime for zest

- 1 1/2 t rose water (I use Cortas brand)

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 2 t baking powder

- 1/4 t salt

- 8 very small plums (3 or 4 should fit comfortably in your hand; if you want to be exact, they should just shy of 2 inches in diameter)

Prep. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8×8 square pan.

Mix. Using a stand mixer, beat the room temperature butter until soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and  beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition for another minute. So, that’s 8 minutes total so far. Add the oil, lime zest, and rose water and beat until smooth and creamy – “satiny” as Deb describes.

Add. You’re supposed to first whisk together the dry ingredients, but I cheat. Here’s how: Add flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl. Don’t mix it into the wet ingredients yet. Use a spoon to gently mix together just the dry ingredients so that there are no big lumps of baking powder in one spot and a pile of salt in another. Then turn the mixer back on until the dry ingredients are just incorporated with the wet.

Cut. Slice the plums in half – I used Deb’s tip of slicing on either side of the pit so you don’t have to twist the halves to get the pit out. And, as a special bonus, you get a leftover slivers of plum to snack on while baking.

Arrange. Use a spatula to help pour the batter into the pan. Using an offset spatula, or, if you don’t have one, a spoon and a steady hand, spread and even out the batter. Arrange the plums, flesh side up in a 4X4 matrix. Gently push them down into the batter.

Bake. Bake the cake for 30-40 minutes until the cake puffs up and turns golden. When you stick a toothpick in, it’s OK for a few crumbs to cling, as long as the batter is not still liquidy.

Cool. Let cool for at least 15 minutes and then run a knife around the edges to help remove the cake from the pan.

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Happy Fourth!

Before you light up the grill and pull out the sparklers, click on over to the Jerusalem Post and check out a couple of recipes in my Come to the Table column. This month we’re talking about rose water and orange blossom water, two floral extracts that have a history longer than that of vanilla.

You might have  noticed that I bake orange blossom water into any sweet that contains almonds. In my research for the article, however, I came across several savory recipes that incorporate orange blossom water and it’s now my new secret weapon, er, ingredient. Look out, because another salad with orange blossom dressing is coming your way soon and it’s a winner.

Until then, happy sunning and eating!

Beet, orange, and feta salad

This recipe, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook Plenty, is a spin on the classic Moroccan salad of oranges and olives, meant to cool down the palate from spicy foods. The addition of beets makes a more substantial hearty and earthy side dish, and I followed Elise Bauer‘s beet roasting instructions . I’ve replaced the olives with feta as the salty counterpart to the sweet beets and acidic citrus. The orange flower water in the dressing provides a sharp, slightly bitter flavor to round out the dish – use a very mild oil to really let the orange blossom shine. Be careful when handling beets as they stain everything that gets in their way, including your hands. I’ve provided a few time- and effort-saving shortcuts for several of the steps.

Serves 6 as a side dish

- 4 large beets

- 3 T olive oil, divided

- 1 head of radicchio

- 3 oranges

- 1/3 C crumbled feta cheese

- 1/3 C grapeseed or other mild oil (canola or vegetable oil will work too)

- 2 t orange flower water

- 3 T red wine vinegar

- salt and pepper

- 3 T chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Roast (or boil). Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a roasting or cookie sheet with foil. Scrub the beets, remove their greens, and place in the pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover tightly with another piece of foil so that the beets don’t dry out. Roast for 1 – 2 hours, depending on their size. They’re ready when tender and easily poked with a fork. Once the beets have cooled for a few minutes, but are still warm to the touch, peel off their skins. Cut them into small, bite-sized chunks. If you don’t want to turn on your oven, instead of roasting, boil the cleaned beets in salted water for 45 minutes to 1 hour until fork tender, and proceed as above.

Grill (or don’t). Heat a grill pan (or a grill if you have one) over medium-high heat. Quarter the radicchio, leaving the core intact, and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Grill the radicchio for several minutes on each surface until the leaves start to soften and brown. When cool, cut out the core and chop into bite-sized pieces. If you like the bitterness inherent in radicchio, skip the grill and just chop the leaves into small pieces.

Segment (or slice). Cut the tops and bottoms off of the oranges and then slice down the sides to remove all the peel, including the white pith. You’ll be left with round, naked oranges. Over a small bowl, use a paring knife to remove each orange segment by slicing between the membranes (then throw out the membranes). Or, slice the orange flesh into circles.

Compose. Spread the beets and radicchio on a large plate. Dot with orange segments and crumbled feta.

Dress. In a jar, mix together the grape seed oil, orange flower water, and vinegar. Taste for salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and garnish with parsley, if you’d like.

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once upon a time

Hello summer. Let’s eat cake.

Not just any cake. A French yogurt cake. Which is really a lighter version of pound cake. And by lighter, I mean less dense. Which might make it a half-pound cake. Maybe? Maybe not.

It seems everyone has been talking about yogurt cakes for a long time. Even I made a yogurt cake last year, but I never talked about yogurt cake.

So, let’s talk.

As lore goes, yogurt cake is one of the few cakes that French people actually bake at home. Seriously, would you bake cakes if you had access to the best pâtisseries and boulangeries mere steps from your kitchen? The French take their pastries very seriously - while a boulangerie is a bakery specializing in breads, a pâtisserie is a legally controlled substance, and can only be called such if it employs a licensed maître pâtissier (master pastry chef). Yes, licensed.

The lore continues that this cake is so easy that children make it. It uses as a measuring cup a standard yogurt tub, measuring a half-cup. Two tubs yogurt, about one tub oil, two tubs sugar, four tubs flour, a smidge of leaveners, two eggs, a quick stir, and into the pan. If you’re like me, let’s also count the dishes to wash. One bowl, one spoon, one cake pan, one cooling rack. The yogurt tub goes right into the trash.

I set out to test the lore because in my several summers spent in France, I never met anyone who baked this cake. I asked all of my French friends, every single one of them, and none of them have every baked this cake. Neither have their mothers or grandmothers. The only French friends of mine who have ever tasted a yogurt cake are the ones that I’ve fed.

So yogurt cake is more folklore than lore, more fairytale than truth. It’s a cake that began once upon a time in a land far, far away. Little Red Riding Hood would carry it in her basket on the way to Grandmother’s house. The witch would feed it to Hansel to fatten him up. Snow White would bake it for the dwarves. Goldilocks would gobble it up while the bears were out on a walk.

Fresh from the oven, the cake’s crisp golden top and crunchy edges give way to moist messy crumbs that cling to your fork. Once cooled, the cake slices neatly and its lemon-yogurt tart and tang intensify. The next morning, a quick toast revives the last few slices. They emerge with a dusting of caramelized crumbs that soak up a slather of butter.

There may be no happily ever after, but this cake comes close.

Lemon yogurt cake

This is an easy, one bowl cake that doesn’t require a stand mixer, just a whisk and a spatula. I modified a recipe from Bon Appétit, adding a bit more lemon flavor with juice and replacing full-fat Greek yogurt with non-fat plain yogurt. The resulting cake rises a lot, with that classic pound cake golden hump and a cracked top. Serve it with berries – my favorites are blueberries and raspberries. The cake is great the next morning toasted and slathered with butter.

-  Nonstick oil spray

- 1 C sugar

- 1 medium lemon for zest and juice

- 3/4 C non-fat or low-fat yogurt

- 1/2 C vegetable oil

- 2 large eggs

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1 t baking powder

- 3/4 t salt

Prep. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Spray a loaf pan (8.5 X 4.25 or 9 X 5) with oil.

Rub. In a large bowl, rub the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers until really fragrant. This releases the oil in the zest and will make your cake really lemony.

Whisk. Add the juice of the lemon, yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

Stir. With a spatula, stir in the flour, baking powder and salt until smooth.

Bake. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 50-55 minutes until the top is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool. Let cake cook in the pan for 15 minutes and then remove from pan and turn onto a rack. Let cool completely (at least 30 minutes) before cutting if you want pretty slices. Or dig in when the cake is still warm and clean up the cut edge after it cools (you know, so it looks pretty for company).

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I’ve let you down. I made a tart and never shared it.

I’m generally a good sharer. My Montessori school teacher put sharing right up there with polishing silver and learning French, and I was an overachiever. But this one tart just slipped through my fingers and out of my mind and into a folder of photos that got lost between a handful of trips and Passover.

Until now.

Apologies aside, let’s talk about the tart.  It’s made with frangipane - an almond custard.

Have you ever tried frangipane? You’ve probably found it tucked neatly between a sweet tart crust and spiral of fresh fruit. Or nestled among the buttery layers of a flaky croissant. Good frangipanes don’t use almond extract. They don’t need it. Because they’re pure sweetened-but-otherwise-unadulterated almond  seduction.

Want to taste some excellent frangipane? If you’re in Boston, head straight to Harvard Square to Crema Cafe for their almond croissants. Make sure to get there early — as in well before noon, especially on a Sunday – because these house-made freshly-baked almond-only filled pastries go quickly.

But back to today’s tart (or rather, six months ago’s tart). I like to bake my fruit right into the almond layer. The juices from the fruit melt into the frangipane. The almond cream puffs up as it bakes and nearly buries the fruit under a crispy, caramelized crust that crackles with the first dip of the fork.

By this point, you’ve probably noticed that this tart has pears in it. On boy, you’re thinking, this girl is evil. Because pear season was months ago. Even worse, it’s months away. But let’s think about it this way: when the days start getting shorter and the leaves start falling off the trees, and the coats come out of storage, you’ll have something to look forward to along with the first snow of the season and a new pair of boots.

And I’m not entirely evil. Though, perhaps a bit of a tease. Next week (if the baking gods smile down on me), there will be a summer fruit frangipane tart to follow. I’ll share that one post-haste because then you’ll be able to go out and grab a few pints of berries or plums and make your own tart to bring to a barbecue.

Until then, happy drooling!

Pear frangipane tart

I have unfortunately lost the source of this recipe. I’ve looked through my usual cookbook suspects and online, and can only find  recipes that use either almond paste or blanched almonds.  I will keep searching, but in the interim, check out this other pear and almond tart.

Frangipane is an almond custard filling for tarts (or other amazing baked goods). The first time I made this tart, I used my stand mixer for the frangipane. The second time, I found it easier to just mix it up by hand. 

Instead of vanilla, I always use orange blossom water as a nice complement to the almond. You can make the pâte sucrée (sweet tart dough) from scratch or use store-bought pie crust dough or even puff pastry in a pinch. Whenever I have extra egg yolks, I quickly whip together a pâte sucrée batch or two in my mini food processor and freeze them until I need them.

Makes a large (9.5-10 inch) tart.

- 1 batch pâte sucrée or pie dough: the recipe that I use is here and here - make sure not to work the dough too much – you just need a few pulses. Also, before rolling the dough out, remember the fraissage: gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. This will make the dough flakey.

- 3 T unsalted butter

- 1 1/2 C almond flour – sometimes called almond meal, this is very finely ground almonds. You can find in made with raw almonds (the flour will be light brown) or blanched almonds (the flour will be a very light beige). You could also grind up 1 1/2 C blanched almonds – but be sure to add half the sugar to avoid making almond butter in  your food processor.

- 2/3 C sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 1 t orange blossom water

- 1 T orange liqueur (e.g., Cointreau)

- 2 eggs

- 3 pears – I use Bosc, but Anjou or Bartlett work well

Prep. Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9.5 – 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll. Roll the pastry dough out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper (to make it easier to transfer to the pan) into a circle about 2 inches larger than your pan. Remove the top sheet of paper. Gently lay the dough on the pan and slowly remove the second piece of paper. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough. Use this excess to patch any cracks.

Chill. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes until firm.

Bake. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper (not wax paper which will smoke) on the raw dough and fill with pie weights or raw rice. You want to weigh down the crust so it doesn’t form bubbles. Bake the dough for 20-30 minutes. Start checking the dough after 15 minutes – it’s ready when light brown. Place on a cooling rack. Keep the oven on.

Brown. While the crust is in the oven, melt butter in a small pan until it browns. The butter will sputter and foam as little brown bits collect on the bottom. When the butter turns to liquid gold and starts to smell nutty, take it off the heat. This takes about 5-7 minutes. Let the butter cool.

Mix. In a bowl, mix together almonds flour/meal, sugar, salt, orange blossom water, and liqueur. Lightly beat the eggs and then mix them in. Pour in the cooled golden butter and mix. The frangipane will be a bit gritty looking.

Slice. Peel the pears, slice them in half, and core them, making sure to also remove the fibers from the seeds to the stem. Carefully slice each pear from tip to end – you want thin slices (I get about 20 slices out of each pear). I say “carefully”  because you want to keep the slices together in the shape of the pear.

Fill. Spread the frangipane in a thin layer on the tart shell, about 2/3 of the way up the edges. Don’t feel compelled to use all of the frangipane because you don’t want it to overflow after you add the pears. (If you have any leftover, use it to make a mini tart or two). Transport the pears on a chef’s knife or dough scraper and gently lay then, tip side in, on the frangipane in a circle. Lightly press the pears towards the outside of the pan to fan the slices out. Smooth out the frangipane and  move it around to even it out if necessary.

Bake. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Check the tart after 35 minutes and then every few minutes until the frangipane turns golden and is no longer jiggly. Let cool before serving.

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I’d like to tell you the tale of my week in San Francisco. It was intrinsically tied to a book. No, not a cook book, but a book book.

The book is Ruth Reichl‘s Comfort Me with Apples. This is the second of her memoirs, and the third of her books that I’ve read.

Before we can fly out West, though, there’s a little history we need to get through.

Reichl and I met in 2001, the year I returned to medical school after a several year hiatus in the “real world,” also known as corporate America (I’m not sure that that’s the real world, but anything felt more real than my 17th year sitting in classrooms). We were introduced by my boyfriend at the time – he bought me a subscription to the now sadly out of print Gourmet magazine and inspired my purchase of a stand mixer (Kitchenaid, just like his). The mixer lasted until last year, its life much longer than the relationship, but its end no less tragic.

For eight years, I awaited Reichl’s monthly arrival in my mailbox, her letter from the editor the start to a cozy night or two, snuggled up under the covers and cradling my Gourmet by the light of my bedside lamp, folding over page after page of recipes to try. She wrote (well, still writes) with an ease that reminded me that with good food, everything would turn out all right. In an effort to rid my apartment of clutter (an ongoing battle), I purged all my food magazines. Only one Gourmet survived – April 2009 – and as I wrote this, I reread her letter to see what Reichl had to say almost exactly three years ago.

“Because that is what spring is all about: hope, possibility, and our endless capacity to rejoice in what nature has given us.”

A nice sentiment as the weather warms and I am in the very (very) early stages of contemplating a big change.

On a particularly sunny Sunday in March, I found myself sifting through cardboard boxes of books lining the sidewalk in front of the post office mere steps from my apartment. Wedged between a carpentry manual and Chemistry text in the last  box, I saw a blue book with Reichl’s name peeking out at me. Three dollars and it was mine.

As night fell, I curled up with Garlic and Sapphires, glad for a reunion. I devoured Reichl’s pre-Gourmet tales of visiting and reviewing the full spectrum of New York restaurants for the Times. In anticipation of this rising star Bay Area critic arriving in New York, chefs pasted pictures of Reichl in their kitchens so that staff could recognize and alert the team to her wielding  pen. As a result, Reichl often dressed in disguise amd adopted different personas to avoid special treatment.

Two nights later,  I ordered Tender at the Bone, Reichl’s first memoir. At some point – between stories of her childhood, stories of her move to Berkeley where she cooked for everyone from housemates to the now defunct Swallow Restaurant Collective, and stories of her early days as a restaurant critic – we became friends and I called her Ruth.

She flew out to San Francisco with me. We shared a cramped middle seat. I forced myself to watch a movie destined for a captive audience so that we wouldn’t have to part ways at wheels down.

Once in the Bay Area, I savored my time with Ruth, only allowing myself to read one or two chapters per day.

We spent the whole week together.

She accompanied me from Oakland to San Francisco to Half Moon Bay to Berkeley. She sat with me in cafes in between meetings. She joined me at the bar for dinner. She was the last person to speak to me before I fell asleep.

In between meetings, I thought of little other than food. Where would I eat next? Where might Ruth go? What disguise might she have worn and persona might she have assumed? What would she think of the food the atmosphere the service? How does the staff treat someone eating solo? Do they give you looks when its crowded and you alone linger at a table meant for two?

I wanted to taste everything. At dinner, I always started with a glass of wine and ended with a desssert and coffee. And there were one or two courses in between. One morning at breakfast, I sat down with a coffee (of course!), a tartine with butter, a croissant, and an orange-flecked breakfast bun. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

But what I had hoped would be the highlight of our time together didn’t go quite as planned. My Berkeley food crawl with my friend and expert eater, Joanne, was almost cancelled when she and her kids got sick. But Ruth and I soldiered on. We crossed the Bay Bridge, just the two of us, intent on exploring her old haunts. We drove past Channing Way where Ruth reminded me she had lived in a communal house (more like a commune) in the 70s. We arrived at Shattuck Avenue — “gourmet ghetto” central — and quickly found parking. I knew that Chez Panisse would be closed on Sunday, but didn’t expect its across-the-street neighbor, The Cheese Board Collective, to be closed as well. I saw the two landmarks, peered in from the outside, left fingerprints on the windows, and then sought out food (and, of course, coffee). A few frantic text messages to Joanne and a charming little cupcake was in my hand. Another hour or two and we headed back.

The next day, Ruth and I said goodbye at the airport on my way back to Boston.

It was a great week.

It was a hard week.

It was a long week.

It was a coffee-filled week.

It was a delicious week.

Fettuccine with asparagus, lemon, mascarpone, and almonds

I would never have come up with this dish had I not been traveling in San Francisco with Ruth. It was inspired by “Danny’s Lemon Pasta” – fresh fettuccine with a cream and lemon sauce - published in Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples, the book I carried around with me from cafe to restaurant to cafe . Having just read the recipe, and dining alone perched on a stool at the bar at A16, I pounced on the restaurant’s fregula with asparagus, mascarpone, meyer lemon, toasted almonds and pecorino riserva. With this ingredient list and Reichl’s directions, I developed this fresh, summery, nutty pasta. The sauce just barely coats the pasta, so if you like more sauce, adjust accordingly. Before draining the pasta, scoop out a cup of pasta water in case you want to thin the sauce. It’s best to have all your ingredients prepped and on hand because the recipe goes by pretty quickly and can be on your table within 15 minutes. This recipe serves 2 hungry people.

- 1/4 C sliced almonds

- 3/4 lb fresh fettuccine (or other shape)

- 1 large bunch of asparagus; thick or thin stalks work fine, but a thicker stalk will require an extra mintue or two of cooking.

- 2 T butter

- One lemon (for zest and juice)

- 1/3 C mascarpone

- salt and pepper

Toast. In a skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, shaking the pan to avoid burning. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Once you start to smell the almonds, they’re done. It’s best to stay nearby because nuts can turn from golden to black in just a few seconds.

Slice. Cut off the woody ends of the asparagus and then slice in 1 – 1 1/2 inch the remaining stalks.

Boil. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt and bring back to a boil. If you are using fresh pasta, drop in the pasta and asparagus together at the same time. This should talk about 3-4 minutes to cook through. If you are going to use dried pasta, follow the cooking directions and then 3-4 minutes before you plan to remove the pasta, drop the asparagus into the pot. When both the pasta and asparagus are ready, scoop out a cup or so of pasta water, and then drain everything in a colander.

Whisk. While the pasta and asparagus is boiling, melt butter in a large pan (that will fit all of the pasta). Zest the lemon into the hot butter. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in mascarpone until smooth. If you’d like a richer sauce, whisk in extra mascarpone. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss. Pour the drained pasta and asparagus into the pan and toss everything to coat the pasta with sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water to get it to your desired consistency.

Squeeze. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the pasta.

Sprinkle. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the pasta.

***

PS – Here’s where I ate.

Oakland and Berkeley:

Bocanova
Jack London Square
55 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Happy hour menu before 6 pm (great when you’ve just arrived from the East Coast)

Miette (additional locations in San Francisco)
85 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Try the chocolate sables, shortbread (lemon and lavender are my favorites), and pot de crème

Caffe 817
817 Washington Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Get anything with a poached egg

Love at First Bite Bakery
1510 Walnut Street, Suite G
Berkeley, CA 94709
The “pretty in pink” cupcake has just the right ratio of strawberry buttercream to not-too-sweet strawberry cake

San Francisco

La Boulange Bakery
All over San Francisco and the Bay area
This small chain has great pastries and breakfast (think egg on a croissant), and people were lined up outside the Marina location when it opened at 7 am
 

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Skip the tartine – thick toasted slabs of levain soudough - and go straight for the croissants: buttery and extra flakey, leaving a trail of shattered crumbs all  over the table and down your shirt

780 Cafe
780 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Huge space, great coffee, free wifi, tons of outlets, well-worn sofas; if you don’t have an Apple, you will be out of place

A16
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, California 94123
Ask for a few extra pieces of salted hazelnut brittle with your coffee (I thought it was better than my actual dessert)

Zaré at Fly Trap
606 Folsom St. (at Second Street)
San Francisco, CA 94107
If they have it, get the pistachio crepes with pistachio ice cream; the owner will probably stop by your table to say hi

tacolicious
3 locations in San Francisco
Try the albacore tuna tostadas

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that wasn’t that

A few weeks ago, a friend dropped by for dinner. Having no set plans for what to make, we scrounged around my apartment but, to borrow a line from Old Mother Hubbard, the cupboard was bare. Well, not entirely bare. (This is my kitchen we’re talking about here.) There were eggs in the fridge and onions in the basket.  And then we found 2 slices of good old American cheese. An omelette was on the agenda. More correctly, it was on the menu. Even more correctly, it was the menu.

We sautéed the onions, then let them brown even more. We cracked a handful of eggs (literally, one for each finger) into a bowl, whisked them up with a bit of milk, and poured them in the pan. They bubbled a bit  and we lowered the heat  and pushed the mix around , scraping up the cooking edges and letting the raw egg flow underneath. We salted and peppered and dropped down the cheese. A few more minutes and we folded the omelette onto a large plate and dug in with two forks.

One taste and the omelette reminded me of something. Another taste. And another. And then it came to me. The omelette tasted like Passover. The holiday when dietary restrictions can make life difficult for a week. Especially when one likes to eat as much as I do. Especially when one refuses to eat matzah or matzah meal (finely ground matzah crumbs used like flour) after the seder. Save for the occasional matzah ball.

So we finished the omelette and enjoyed the evening. And that was that.

But that wasn’t that. I had to get that omelette out of my mind. Denial about the upcoming Passover holiday (it’s now in 2 days!) can be a powerful motivator.

And so the next morning, I awoke with a craving for another omelette. I know, I know, that’s a lot of eggs in less than 24 hours. But I was determined to redeem the omelette with another that bore nary a resemblance to traditional Passover food.

So I scrounged a bit more and I found some arugula. Bingo! The peppery, slightly bitter green holds up quite nicely in an omelette, developing a delicate, not-mushy wilt. To keep with the Passover theme, some of my Sephardi friends place arugula on their seder plates in lieu of the Ashkenazi horseradish. A tour of my spice rack turned up some cumin. And then there was a handful of shredded mozzarella lurking in the back of my fridge.

Breakfast eaten, I hopped in the car to buy groceries.

Arugula and cumin omelette

Turn burner to medium-high and add a pat or two of butter to a nonstick pan.  While the pan is heating and the butter is melting, whisk together 2 eggs and a splash of milk. Chop up some angula (or fresh herbs – parsley, chives) and whisk into the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and swirl so that it covers the entire bottom. With a spatula, start to drag the cooking edges into the center, tilting the pan to help the runnier egg in the center move to the edges. Lower the heat a bit and work your way around the entire pan like this a few times. Don’t let the eggs firm up yet. Sprinkle with a handful of shredded mozzarella (or other mild cheese), a few grinds of pepper, a nice pinch of salt, and a really nice pinch of ground cumin. Bonus points if you first toast cumin seeds and then grind them really fine with a mortar and pestle, but I can’t imagine quite that much work in the morning while my coffee is brewing. Give the cheese a minute or two to melt. When the eggs are still a little runny, fold over one edge of the omelette towards the center. Loosen the rest of the egg, and then slide it onto a plate, flipping the folded edge over. Sprinkle with  a few more grinds of pepper and some extra arugula/herbs.

** PS, Ever wonder where the word omelette comes from? Well, for all  you etymology buffs out there, I did a little research and the history is a bit convoluted.  Start with the Old French (that’s old with a capital O) word “la lemelle” which means a small thin pan. Then pronounce it just a tiny bit differently to get “l’alemelle.” Now misspell it a bit for “alemette.” And then perform a metathesis — switch a few letters to get “amalette.” Voilà, omelette! For those of you really into etymology and linguistics, matethesis is used in French (and other languages) to develop slang. Verlan, a French slang, transposes letters and syllables. Its name itself is verlan for the word l’envers – the inverse.  A woman, une femme, becomes une meuf.  A guy, un mec, becomes un keum or un quèm. Cool (in English) becomes looc. French, francais, becomes céfran. Looc, no? But don’t go to Paris and use verlan as a foreigner — you will not get good service in a cafe, and that’s not a risk anyone should take.**

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our handiwork

For the past two Tuesdays, I’ve left the office early, made a mad dash through  Harvard Square and up Mass Ave, searched for a parking spot, and stood at a long table in a hot room with a bunch of strangers. It’s an exhausting end to a full day at work, but after the first week, I was ready. I brought a pair of ballet flats to change into. I wore a short sleeve dress. I mentally prepared myself to be patient.

Week two was tarts and pies. We skipped the food processor in favor of our hands.

There was squishing cold butter and flour between fingers and crumbling it into little pieces. There was scooping and tossing sandy dough with fingertips to mix it with water. There was pushing dough with heels of hands and smearing it across the counter.

I let my mind wander. I let my hands feel. I let my day slip away.

There was banter as my neighbors and I got to know each other while working the dough and making sure not to overwork it. We checked out each other’s progress, comparing doughs as they just  barely came together. We wrapped up dough and piled parcels into the refrigerator.

There was slicing and stirring and whipping and melting and tasting while doughs chilled and we made fillings.

There was pushing and pulling of French rolling pins, sliding of palms over tapered ends as dough flattened and thinned across the floured counter.

There was divvying up of tart pans and cutting up of dough. There was light pressing of dough into the slides of pans. There was rolling of pins across edges of pans and trimming of excess dough.

There were rogue pie weights to chase as they spun out of reach.

There were tart crusts to check in the hot oven. There were fillings to fill and filled tarts to bake.

We admired our handiwork.

Then I got a parking ticket.

Pâte brisée (short pastry) by hand

The key to makng a flaky crust is to start with very cold ingredients, to not overwork the dough, and to not add too much liquid. I love all the French terminology, so you may find a few quick French lessons thrown into the recipe.

This recipe makes one tart/pie crust. If you are making a double crust pie, you’ll need to double this recipe.

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1/8 t salt

- 4 ounces (8 T) unsalted butter

- 3-4 T ice water

Combine. Combine the flour and salt on the countertop.

Cut. Weigh or measure the very cold butter. Cut it into 1-inch cubes.

Pinch. Place the butter on the counter and cover it with the flour-salt mix. Pinch and gently smush the butter into the flour until you get pea-sized pieces. 

Sabler. Sabler means to reduce into sand. (Sable is sand and French sables are crumbly cookies such as pecan sandies.) Cut into the butter flour mixture with a bench scraper until it resembles sand.

Papillon. A papillon is a butterfly. Spread the sandy mixture into a long rectangle and form a trough down the center. Drip a tablespoon of water all along the trough, and then with your fingers spread, fluff and flutter the sand into the center to gently incorporate it into the water. Using a bench scraper, gather the forming dough and repeat the papillon step a tablespoon of water at a time. The dough will start to come together in shaggy pieces. The dough is ready when you squeeze it and it sticks together. Don’t add too much water, or when you bake the dough, it will shrink down and away from the tart pan sides and your tart will be too shallow. Weather will affect the dough – if it’s humid, add less water.

Fraisage. Gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. The etymology of  fraisage is a little complicated, but here’s my best attempt. The non-cooking definition of fraisage is the act of drilling. The verb fraiser means to sheer. Though it’s spelled differently, I’m convinced that fraiser (and therefore fraisage)) s related to the shear forces of physics. Remember your physics? I remembered just  barely enough to look up the phrase. Essentially shearing is the deformation of a material in which parallel surfaces slide past each other. So, you push the pâte with the heel of your hand, and the flour and butter slide past each other. When I did this, I could imagine the layers of  flakiness starting to form. Check out the second picture – you can see distinct flaky layers on the front left edge of the tart.

Chill. Gather the dough together and press it into a disc (about an inch thick). Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll. Lightly flour the counter. Place the disc of cold dough on the counter and using a large rolling-pin, push the dough away from you, pull it towards you, and then turn the dough 90 degrees. Repeat the push-pull-turn combo until you’ve rolled the dough out into a circle 1/8-inch thick.

Cut. Place a tart or pie pan on the rolled-out dough and use a sharp knife to cut out a circle (or whatever shape your pan is) an inch from the pan edge for a tart or two inches for a deep-dish pie. You want to make sure that the dough will be large enough to go up the sides of the pan.

Press. Lift the dough and place it on top of the pan. Gently press it into the corners and up the edges. Roll a rolling-pin across the top of the pan to trim off the excess dough.

Chill. Chill the pan in the refrigerator for 1 hour or the freezer for 15 minutes.

Blind bake. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Prick the chilled dough all over with a fork, cover it with parchment paper and then fill the pan with pie weights. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the hot pie weights and parchment, and continue to bake for another 5 minutes until the crust is light golden.

Reduce heat. Lower the oven to 350ºF.

Fill. Fill the crust with whatever filling you’re using.

Bake. Bake for 30-45 minutes (will vary from filling to filling).

 Pear and dried cherry tart

After blind-baking a pâte brisée crust, fill it with this pear and dried tart cherry combination. This tart is not particularly sweet and the addition of rosemary provides a savory note. A friend of mine called it a  sophisticated, subtle, and grown-up  tart.

- 6 firm ripe Bosc pears

- 1 1/2 C dried tart cherries

- 1/2 C light brown sugar

- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary (1 t chopped)

- 2 T lemon juice

- 1 T cornstarch

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Cut. Peel and core the pears and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop the rosemary leaves very finely.

Cook. Cook the pears, cherries, brown sugar, and rosemary in a pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently. It should take about 20 minutes until the pears are tender.

Thicken. Whisk together the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small cup. Then stir into the cooked pear mixture and bring to a boil for about 1 minute until the mix thickens.

Cool. Let the fruit cool before adding to the tart crust.

Prepare tart crust. Make, roll, and blind bake a tart at 425ºF for 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes.

Fill. Fill the tart crust with the cooled fruit.

Bake. Lower the oven to 350ºF. Bake the tart for 30-40 minutes.

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