I always had my suspicions that if one day I actually did make my living with food, I’d finally find others who suffer from the same affliction I’ve been carrying inside me since, well pretty much since I sprouted first tooth and could chew. There are two types of people out there when it comes to food – those who just enjoy it, and the food talkers. I cook for a living, in the bakery a few days a week, in my kitchen for clients on the other days. So after a day in a kitchen you’d think the last thing I’d be interested in discussing is anything that had anything to do with food, right? Wrong. I not only talk about food, but I talk about food more rather than less. I used to think I was alone in my omnivorous obsession. The rest of the eating population just had a meal and moved on, while I obsessed, thought, talked and occasionally dreamed about food. Then I decided to try to make a living out of my food fixation, and in doing so discovered whole populations of food talkers just like me.
Tell me another profession where those occupied in it not only talk about it all the time; they practice it after working hours, at home, on vacation. Come on…just one. Accountants? I’m betting not. Surgeons? I really hope not. Picture a vacationing surgeon who likes to practice appendectomies on the off hours. Not exactly someone you want as a travel buddy, especially if you still have an appendix. But just meet someone who makes their living putting ingredients together to make something delicious, and it’s likely you won’t be talking about much else. Well, at least the ones I know.
Once I began studying the syndrome I discovered that food talkers aren’t limited purely to the professionals. There are just as many amateur food talkers out there as pros, and probably many, many more. We’re easy to spot. When a checkout person casually asks what you’ll do with that squash, a non-FT will probably say have it with dinner. The food talker? He’ll not only tell you exactly how it will be prepared, you are likely to learn what it is being served with, one maybe two alternate preparations, and possibly hear a story of an amazing preparation from a recent trip or restaurant visit. The checkout person was just making pleasant conversation, but the food talker can’t help but elaborate on the yumminess to come. We are the culinary equivalent of the most obsessed sports fan you’ve ever met. Except at the end of the game we always win, because not only do we get to eat, we get to talk about it at the next meal.
Food talkers tend to have favorite cookbooks filled with dog-eared recipes written by other food talkers. Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells is one of mine. Now there’s a food talker I’d love to talk food with. The other day I pulled out my well-loved copy to make something with the ample local pears, Tarte Tatin Aux Poires, or caramelized Upside-Down Pear Tart. Most of you are probably familiar with traditional tarte tatin made with apples. I love that one too, but have to say I love this one even more. Firm pears are quartered and cooked until golden in butter and sugar (how could that ever be bad), then tumbled into a glass pie dish and covered with flakey pastry to bake up bubbly golden an absolutely delicious. This really isn’t a hard recipe to make, though it does take a little bit of courage to let the pears really get to that perfect golden. I’ve included a few pictures for you to see what I mean. A dollop of crème fraiche is perfect on top, but it’s pretty amazing straight up too. As far as calories? This one falls into the category where my grandmother would have said ”it’s just fruit”. I think I’ll leave it at that. 😉
Tarte Tatin Aux Poires (Caramelized Upside-Down Pear Tart)
From Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells, 1989, Workman Publishing
- 6 TBSP (3 oz.) unsalted butter
- 7 to 8 firm pears, peeled, cored and quartered (about 2-3/4 pounds – Bosc or Anjou work well)
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 recipe Pate Brisee** (see recipe below)
- Crème fraiche or sour cream for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Melt butter in deep (12”) skillet over medium-high heat. (If you don’t have a pan that big, use two smaller pans and divide the ingredients between the two. You can use a non-stick pan if you like.) Stir in pears, sugar and lemon juice. Cook, stirring carefully from time to time so the pears and sugar don’t stick, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat to high and cook until the pears and sugar are a deep, golden brown, about 10-15 minutes more. Shake the pan every once in a while to be sure the pears aren’t sticking. Your urge will be to stop the cooking a little too soon, so I’ve included a few pictures here to show you about where the pears should be when you take them off heat:
When the pears are golden, pile them into a 10-½ inch round glass baking dish (a glass pie pan works well.)Roll out the pate brisee dough slightly larger than the dish. Place the pastry on top of the pears, and tuck in the edges around the pears. You don’t have to prick the dough.
Place tart in center of oven and bake until the pears bubble and the pastry is a deep golden brown, 35-40 minutes.
Remove tart from oven, put a large flat heatproof serving platter topside down on top of baking dish and invert pan. Give the bottom of the baking dish a firm tap to release any pears that may be stuck to the bottom of the baking dish. Carefully remove baking dish so the tart falls evenly onto the serving plate. If some of the pears don’t release, just remove them and arrange on the tart. This is a rustic tart; it doesn’t need to be pristine.
Serve warm or at room temperature, with the crème fraiche or sour cream on the side (if serving.)
I love this tart crust recipe – it’s pretty easy to make, and as long as you don’t overwork it, amazingly flakey every time. Plus because there is no sugar in it, you can use it for sweet or savory tarts.
- 1 to 1-¼ cups flour (140 – 175 grams)
- 7 TBSP chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 3 TBSP ice water
Place 1 cup flour, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process just until the mixture resembles course crumbs, about 10 seconds. Add the ice water and pulse 6-8 times just until the dough comes together when you pinch a bit between your fingers. Do NOT let the dough form a ball in the processor. Lay out a big sheet of wax paper and carefully dump the dough onto it. Using the paper, fold over a corner to squash the dough together. Continue with the other corners and repeat until you have formed a disk. If the dough seems too sticky, sprinkle it with the additional ¼ cup of flour, a little at a time until you can form a disk. Wrap the pastry and chill in the refrigerator at least an hour. Once the dough has rested an hour or more, you can roll out for the tart tatin.
(If you are making a ½ recipe sized tart, or if you want to make the tart another day you can freeze the dough at this point. Wrap well and seal in a zip-top bag. It will keep well for several weeks.)
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