Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lemon Olive Oil Meringue Tarts

Hello friends, foodies and curd lovers,

   I picked my first daffodils of spring this morning and they’re perched cheerily in front of me absorbing the afternoon sunlight. When pressed, it seems most folks would answer that spring is their ‘favorite’ season, a sentiment which I understand but rarely claim. I myself typically dream in autumn chrome… crimson red leaves, forest colored plaids, cozy shades of wool hats and varieties of squash abound. Such memories of fall are so easy to drum up, that their comforts keep me company year round, while somehow the joys and miracles of spring often escape me until they’re upon us. I’ve so quickly forgotten how our grass turns back to a glorious green and would grow to my waist if we let it. I’ve forgotten the eclectic crew of plants, trees and flowers which keep our scrubby yard beautiful, the cleanliness of streams gurgling with snow melt and the absolute perfection of afternoon temperatures. Once here, I love spring as much as the next gal! And I’m quite certain I’ve figured out reason for my lack of gleeful anticipation… while I’m sure this will make a few of you scold my ignorance, there just isn’t much in the seasonal pantry that I look forward to cooking in spring.  In fact, March is a bit a culinary tease; the sun is shining, but we're still weeks away from putting plants in the ground and the main fare suitably in abundance are still cabbage, broccoli and potatoes.  Of course, we do have asparagus, for which my reverie for cannot be understated… once its time, you'll find me roasting up asparagus four nights a week. But regardless of what your friendly Safeway produce checker tells you, it’s not asparagus season yet! Those bushels are being trucked up from Mexico at a hefty price to their flavor and the environment. So until then, what do we eat to celebrate the season?

Well, I’m still relatively stumped, but I’d suggest you turn to a man whose relationship to the seasons runs much deeper than mere daffodil picking me. I just finished Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager by Langdon Cook; a series of tales which begin in the woods or the water and end happily around the kitchen table with a cold beer Cook's hand, friends on each side and a feast of the season’s wild bounty being served up. Langdon Cook, a harvester, forager and fisherman of many beasts, shares his experiences foraging for native foods in the Pacific Northwest with good humor and a healthy appetite. If I were to whine to Cook about my lack of inspiration in spring, he’d tell me I should be out picking fiddlehead ferns, spear fishing for lingcod and baking with dandelions. While I’m going to do my best (I hope to feature Cook’s recipe for Dandelion Bread here soon!), I need more help to get into the spirit of things.

As if we hadn't celebrated enough...
the keg sled JJ rode into our cabin.
So my favorite dinner spot in the Gorge and a mecca for seasonal fare, The Good River Restaurant,  gave me a hand last week when my family and I headed there for the closing ceremonies of our week long snowshoeing expedition to Trillium Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest.

Feeling celebratory and appreciating our friendly waitress’s offer to not charge us a corkage fee, we ordered two slices of pie for dessert . The lemon meringue pie must have been in cahoots with the barren snowshoe trails and wildflowers, because it struck a chord with its yellow brilliance chiming, 'Spring is here!'  It was perfect…  wonderful tartness, a buttery crust and a huge pile of toasty meringue. It had to be mine. So as always attempt to do with the sweeter side of life, I took home an image of that cheery slice and gave it a healthier twist. I’ll warn you, I am light years away from the ‘There’s no such thing as low-fat dessert crowd.’ I love dessert, everything about it… the way it makes you linger at the table even longer, the natural closure it brings to a meal and indulging in the craving which everyone shares. No, no, skipping dessert is not my credo, but making small, delicious desserts packed with wholesome ingredients… that I go for. Without further ado, Lemon Olive Oil Meringue Tarts! Good luck and enjoy!

Lemon Meringue Olive Oil Tarts
(Adapted from Gourmet, May 2008)
Makes two 4" tarts or one 9" tart

Tart Crust
-1/4 c raw almonds
-3/4 c whole wheat white flour
-1/4 c powdered sugar
-pinch salt
-1/2 stick cold Smart Balance butter blend (pop in freezer for 15 min before using, then use sharp paring knife to cut into cubes)
-3 T olive oil (pop this in the freezer too! It may be easier to measure first though, the oil comes out very slowly once cold.  Ideally let the oil sit in there 30 minutes)

Lemon Curd
-3 lemons
-3/4 c baker's sugar**
-2 tsp cornstarch
-2 whole eggs
-2 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
-1/4 stick Smart Balance butter blend, cut into cubes
-3 T olive oil

-2 egg whites
-pinch cream of tartar
-1/3 c baker's sugar**

** A finer grade, Baker's Sugar is great to use if you have it on hand,
it will diffuse nicely into your meringue and curd.

Toast almonds in a small skillet on medium high heat, until a nice toasty brown, appx 8 minutes.  Don't leave the kitchen or get distracted, these puppies act like they're asleep and then at the drop of a hat, destruction... they're burned.  My nose usually lets me know when nuts are done toasting, but it still requires close attention.  Remove from heat when done and set aside to cool.

Measure out flour, sugar and salt into food processor and give it whir.  Pull your butter out of the freezer and cut into cubes with a sharp knife.  Don't worry about it being too hard, as long as you can cut through it so can your food processor.  Add almonds and pulse until well integrated.  Add oil and butter and pulse until a soft dough comes together. It will be quite a bit softer than any pie crust you're used too, but fret not, you don't have to roll it out. I found it annoyingly sticky though, so I tried it again with super chilled butter and oil. Freezing your oil is a tip I got from a vegan cookbook and is quite possibly the only way to make vegan pie crust work at all.  The oil will come out in cold drops and integrate into your crust mo' betta.

Immediatley press your crust into your tart pan(s) of choice, using your fingers. As you can see, I used two 4" tart pans, but I had 1/2 c leftover curd and a thicker crust than I'd prefer. So this recipe would work for three 4" pans beautifully or four smaller tart pans if you have them. Of course, one standard 9" tart pan works too. Either way just distribute your crust and curd evenly and you'll be fine.  Put crusts in the fridge for at least 45 min.

Grate zest from two lemons, remembering to keep a light touch and only removing yellow zest from the lemon peel.  I think people zesting too hard and incorporating the bitter pith (the white part) contributes to the "too much citrus" complaint I sometimes hear.  There's never been too much citrus for me though, I'll warn you. 

Juice three lemons.  From here on out, PROCEED WITH CAUTION!!

Lemon curd is really worth making, as it's so delicous and a tiny jar sells for over $5 in the store, not to mention it will harldy be as fresh and creamy as your own homemade curd.  But it can be tricky.  It's very, very easy for the eggs to cook, producing little bits of eggy lumps in your curd. As someone who knows exactly what those little lumps look and taste like, I'll give you a saving grace technique if they do turn up, but your much better off avoiding them.  Keep your burner on very low and stir CONSTANTLY.  It's about as simple as that.  Bring together zest, juice, sugar, cornstarch, sugar, eggs and yolks in medium saucepan and bring to boil over medium (med/low for safety) heat.  Whisk constantly while boiling (will look more like a simmer) until curd begins to thicken.  When the consistency is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove from heat.  Stir in butter and oil until smooth.

Allow to cool and if you have bright yellow, smooth and creamy lemon curd, congrats!  If not, here's a trick.  Take your finest gauge sieve and hold it over a clean bowl.  Scrape lumpy curd into sieve and use spatual to push curd up against all sides.  It won't look like its going anywhere at first, but gradually all the smooth curd will come through.  Also, use your spatula to scrape the bottom of the sieve, as smooth, lump-free curd will pile up here.  Soon enough you'll have nothing but egg lumps in the sieve and a bowl of perfect lemon curd.

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly pierce crust all over with a fork and bake until golden brown about 12 minutes.  Cool. 

While the crusts are cooling, whip up your meringue.  Place two egg whites in a clean, completely dry mixing bowl.  Turn on high (a hand beater will work too).  Add a pinch of cream of tartar and continue to let eggs whip for several minutes. Gradually add 1/3 cup Baker's Sugar and continue beating until peaks form.


Return to cooled lemon curd and crusts.  Fill crusts, dividing curd evenly and saving any extra rather than overflowing crusts.  It's delicious on toast.

Top with big spoonfuls of meringue and then using a toothpick, fork or your fingers pull at the meringue to make peaks and whisps.

Turn on your broiler at 250. Briefly (!) slide the tarts under the broiler for 2-3 minutes.  This is all it takes for your peaks to turn a nice toasty brown.  You'll see mine are a little too toasty, thats how fast meringue cooks!  Or even better, if you have a kitchen blow torch, bust it out and torch your meringue for a beautiful finish.  Enjoy!

Even I realize there are better ways to celebrate the season aside from dessert.
Here's Lula taking a non-voluntary breather during a hike up the beautiful Klickitat River on St. Patty's Day. 

Happy Spring!

1 comment:

  1. ooooo I'm totally making this- it looks DELICIOUS. Thanks Nora!