Sections

11.11.14

Tart Art

Crostatas, galettes, call them what you will. There's nothing on a cold night like a warm rustic tart.

When Roy was first courting me, he took me blueberry picking. One day he came bouncing down the rocky road to my Waldron’s Bottom rental in a beaten-up boat of a green Volvo that he’d bought off an Islander who’d bought it off another who’d bought it off another. I think that car basically lived in the Alley’s parking lot with a For Sale sign on it. It was the perfect cruiser. With the windows rolled all the way down and the hot sun dancing around the Hula girl attached to the dashboard, Roy ferried me off to his secret stand of blueberry bushes. I’m not sure whether he was prouder of his sleuthing ability or of the fact that he’d found the perfect activity to enchant a food-obsessed girl, but I loved it.

For me, the whole experience was just one more reason I was falling irreversibly in love with the Vineyard, a year or so into my foray out here. That fall Roy and I went on a wild foods walk on Chappy, and I took a gander at my first wild cranberries – and the famous but not too tasty wild Vineyard fox grapes. Another time, we were invited to pick apples from a friend’s huge old apple tree, and we brought Roy’s daughter Libby along. Later I made rustic apple tarts for my sweetie and the new little girl in my life. By then you could say I was hooked – on this place where fruit grows wild and cultivated from Aquinnah to Edgartown, and yes, on the boy, his little girl, and a new life on an Island where gathering food and home cooking are still honored pastimes.

I’d bet every Islander has a favorite fruit-picking memory, whether it’s the squish of warm sand between flip-flopped toes and the plink-plink of beach plums falling into a bucket on an azure-sky September day, or the quiet rhythm of a hike along a Land Bank trail in shadowy oak-dappled sunlight, stooping to pick a smattering of tiny prickly wild blackberries or blueberries along the path.

For us, the fruit-picking enchantment foreshadowed our future, though we didn’t know it then. Flash-forward five years, and Roy and I are now farmers, living on a delicious little slice of land in West Tisbury, garnished with wild blackberries and wild black raspberries, and yes, even blueberries. We’ve planted some of our own blueberries, and every year our fabulous next-door neighbors let us glean their pear trees to sell the fruit at our farm stand. They have a peach tree, a plum tree, and grape vines, too. I am envious, but grateful to be living next door.

And at last, this fall we planted our first apple trees. It was Roy’s idea to honor his two sisters, JoAnn and Nancy, who have both passed away in the last two years. He’s carved a wooden sign that says “Two Sisters Orchard.” We water the trees every day, hoping they’ll flourish, like we have in our adopted home. I can’t wait until we have our own apples. Libby and I will make rustic tarts, my favorite destination for fruit, in honor of JoAnn and Nancy. I think they’d like that.

Making the tarts

Truthfully, though, you don’t have to gather local fruit to make a rustic tart. If you follow my step-by-step instructions, you will have a killer dessert or even a savory starter or main event with a buttery, flaky crust (really flaky) and a delicious filling – even if the fruit comes from Cronig’s mid-winter. I promise you, your family and guests will love these, and you can make the dough days or weeks ahead, and even bake the tarts a day ahead. I’ve even given you the option to make a regular-size tart or two smaller ones.

I learned to make the easy tart dough in my first restaurant job at Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, where rustic tarts are called crostatas (the French call them galettes), and I’ve gone on to feature the tarts in my cookbooks. For Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, I’ve created a versatile fruit filling for dessert that allows you to make an apple, pear, or plum tart. Then, because I love apples and pears in savory fillings, too, I’ve given you a Savory Cabbage, Apple and Cheddar filling and a Savory Roasted Butternut, Pear, and Cranberry filling (using the same dough).

A slice of one of the savory tarts makes a great supper with hot soup or a lovely starter with a salad for fall or winter entertaining. One would even be a great vegetarian addition to the Thanksgiving table. And the sweet fruit tarts, I’d have to say from vast refrigerator-robbing experience, are as great for breakfast or a snack as they are for dessert.

Whatever filling you choose, I hope you’ll find that a rustic tart – basically a pie with a much loosy-goosier crust approach – is as easy and fun to make as it is satisfying to serve and eat. 

Rustic Tart Recipes

Makes 1 regular tart or 2 small tarts; serves 4 to 6

  •  1 large or 2 small disks of Rustic Tart Dough (recipe on page 62)
  •  1 egg yolk
  •  2 tablespoons heavy cream
  •  Flour for dusting
  •  1 recipe filling of your choice (see options on page 62–63)
  •  1 recipe Crisp Topping (optional, for sweet tarts)
  •  3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped toasted nuts, grated cheese, or cookie crumbs
  •  Sugar or sea salt for sprinkling edge of crust (optional)
  •  Vanilla ice cream for serving (optional, for sweet tarts)
  1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
     
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and heavy cream and set aside.
     
  3. Sprinkle a light dusting of flour on a rolling surface. Roll a disk of dough out into a circle about 12 inches for a large tart, 8 inches for a smaller tart. Remember to lift your dough frequently to keep from sticking; sprinkle a little flour under and/or on top of the dough as necessary. Lift and give the dough a quarter-turn every few rolls to achieve an even circle. Transfer the dough to the parchment-lined baking sheet. (Leave room for the second tart if making small tarts.)
     
  4. Repeat with the second disk of dough if making two small tarts, transferring it to the baking sheet as well.
     
  5. Sprinkle the center of the dough (leaving a 2-inch border all the way around) with a couple tablespoons of your choice of grated cheese, nuts, or cookie crumbs. (Repeat with second piece of dough if making two tarts.) Then mound the filling mixture on top, again leaving a 2-inch border all the way around. (Divide filling evenly if making two tarts.) Pleat and fold the edge of the dough up and over the outer edge of the filling. Brush the top of the dough (and under the folds) with the egg mixture. If using crisp topping, arrange it over the center of the tart or tarts, letting some spill over onto the dough as well. If not using crisp topping, sprinkle the remainder of your cheese or nuts around the edges of the dough and some across the top. Or sprinkle the edges with coarse or fine sugar or a sprinkling of sea salt.     
     
  6. Bake for 28 to 34 minutes, until nicely golden all over and crisp and brown on the bottom. Let cool on the baking sheet and eat warm or at room temperature. (Or follow tips at right for making ahead.)

Rustic Tart Dough

The food processor does an excellent (and easy) job of cutting butter into flour to yield an ultimately ultra-flaky pastry dough. But once you add water, gluten forms and you risk toughening the dough if you over-process. So I like to briefly process the dough once the water is added and then dump the loose mixture out into a large, shallow mixing bowl to finish bringing together. Start to finish, this is a quick process – then you can pop your dough into the fridge or freezer to have at the ready. You can easily double this recipe if you like.

Yields 1 regular disk of dough or 2 small ones

  •  1 cup (4.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  •  1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  •  1/4 teaspoon table salt
  •  1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes (keep cold if working ahead)
  •  2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ice water
  1. In the bowl of a standard food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse briefly to combine. Add the cubes of butter and pulse about 20 times, or until the butter particles are quite small. With the motor running, add the ice water in a stream. Process until the dough begins to come together (it will still be loose – if you pinch some together it should form a clump). Don’t overprocess.
     
  2. Turn the loose dough out into a big mixing bowl and knead it briefly to finish bringing it together. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces if making smaller tarts. (Using a scale makes this easier. Two pieces should weigh about 5 ounces each.)
     
  3. Shape the dough into a disk (or two disks if making smaller tarts) about 3/4 inch thick, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate or freeze.
  4. Classic Pear, Apple, or Plum Filling for Sweet Rustic Tart

  5. Yields enough for 1 regular or 2 small tarts

    Peel, slice, and mix this filling just before assembling the tart. For a variation, skip the spices and add 1 tablespoon very finely minced crystallized ginger instead.

  6.  10 to 11 ounces ripe but firm fruit (about 2 small pears, 1 1/2 apples, or 3 plums) 
  7.  1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  8.  1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  9.  1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  10.  1 tablespoon brown sugar
  11.  1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
  12.  1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  13.  1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  14.  Pinch cardamom, cloves, or nutmeg (optional)
  15.  Table salt

If using pears or apples, peel. Core the fruit and slice it. (Slice apples and pears very thinly, plums into a bit thicker slices.) Put the sliced fruit in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice and vanilla and toss gently. Combine sugar, brown sugar, flour, spices, and a good pinch of salt in a small bowl and mix well. Add to bowl of fruit and toss gently but thoroughly to combine well.

Crisp Topping for Sweet Rustic Tarts

Yields enough for 1 regular or 2 small tarts

  •  2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  •  2 tablespoons oats or very finely chopped toasted pecans, almonds, or hazelnuts
  •  1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  •  Ground cinnamon
  •  Table salt
  •  1 tablespoon unsalted butter, diced

Combine the flour, oats or nuts, brown sugar, and a big pinch of cinnamon and salt in a small mixing bowl. Add the diced butter and rub it in completely with your fingers until a fine, crumbly topping forms. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Savory Cabbage, Apple, and Cheddar Filling

Yields enough for 1 regular or 2 small tarts

Cook and cool the cabbage, apples, and onions before combining with the cheese. Reserve a few tablespoons of cheese to sprinkle on the base of the tart and then again around the edges.

  •  1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  •  1 teaspoon honey
  •  1 tablespoon olive oil
  •  1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  •  1/2 medium onion, diced (about a generous half-cup)
  •  1/2 Golden Delicious or other baking apple, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
  •  Kosher salt
  •  7 to 8 ounces savoy or green cabbage, diced (about 3 cups)
  •  1/2 to 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  •  1 generous cup grated sharp cheddar or Gruyère cheese (about 3 1/2 ounces)
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the apple cider and honey.
  2. In a large (12-inch) nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the onions, the apples, and a pinch of salt, and turn the heat to medium high. Sauté, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a shallow bowl.
  3.  
  4. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter. When the butter has melted, add the cabbage and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently until the cabbage is limp and browned in many places, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the vinegar-honey mixture and the thyme, stir, and remove the pan from the heat.
     
  5. Transfer the cabbage to a plate to cool, and then combine it with the apples and onions. Mix gently. Let cool, stirring occasionally, to room temperature, 30 minutes or so. (To speed up cooling, turn out onto a baking sheet or large plate). Add all but 3 to 4 tablespoons of the cheese to the mixture and mix well.

Savory Roasted Butternut, Pear, and Cranberry Filling

Yields enough for 1 regular tart or 2 small ones

I also like this tart filling with an ounce or so of goat cheese crumbled over the tart filling before the dough is pleated. I often use toasted chopped pecans as my “sprinkling layer” over the base of the tart and around the edges (see master recipe), so consider prepping them while making your filling.

  • 3/4 lb. peeled butternut squash, cut into ½-inch dice
  • 1 firm-ripe pear (about 5 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries or cherries
  • 1 to 1 1/2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled while still cold and refrigerated
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Combine the squash, the pears, the olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix well. Spread in one layer on baking sheet and roast until tender and nicely browned (flip once with a spatula if you like), 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet.
     
  2. Heat butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, add honey or maple syrup, lemon zest, and cranberries or cherries and stir well. Let sit for a few minutes. Combine with squash and pears and mix gently. Let cool. When ready to assemble tart, if you’re using the optional goat cheese, sprinkle it across the filling before pleating the tart, rather than mixing it in ahead.