I know that I am a bit early for our usual Thursday chat, but I made this tart last night and liked it so much that I couldn't wait five whole days to tell you about it.

As with so many happy accidents, I came about this success without paying much attention. It is the improvised partnership of recipes from others I admire, brought together by the downright-unglamorous need to clean out the fridge on Friday night before Saturday's trip to the market.

Heidi's Lasagna Tart was an instant favourite in our kitchen, first made within days of her kindly sharing the recipe. The barely-cooked sauce and the raw zucchini keep the flavour remarkably fresh and light even after baking, while the ricotta layer brings creamy relief to all that acidity. I have used the olive oil crust she provided, as well as the Parmesan variation she suggests. Both to great acclaim.

I had never made Rachel's Tomato and Zucchini Tart before, but is a recipe that piqued my interest. Instead of sauce hers has tomato slices, roasted briefly along with the summer squash to concentrate and sweeten their flavours. And her cobblestoned topping of fresh mozzarella is far from a bad thing.

Since yesterday brought rain and temperatures that bespoke the quick arrival of fall, I chose to take elements from each. I wanted a dish that brought some comfort, but didn't ignore that fact that it is still August. What follows is what I think I did, written without formality and with only my best estimates of quantities and timing.

I had not intended this tart as anything greater than our evening's meal. And so, to be safe, let me emphasize the essential parts of my hastily-scribbled instructions; sticky caramelized onions line a butter-laden crust, profoundly rich and yet well-matched by a smear of sharp, young cheese. Atop that are tiles of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, softening into each other, lush with their juices.

The final effect is one of substance without brawn, something so good that I had to share.

Happy weekend.

LATE SUMMER VEGETABLE TART

My adaptation of recipes from Rachel and Heidi, with thanks. The amounts and particulars below for the filling are a non-specific guideline. I was working with what we had on hand, but feel free to make omissions and substitutions to best suit your tastes (and contents of your fridge).

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves picked from their stems, plus more for garnish
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices, I used a mix of varieties and sizes
  • 4 ounces herbed unripened goat's cheese
  • Parmesan cheese (an ounce or so)
  • Fresh mozzarella (around 1/2 a large ball)
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 9-inch pastry shell of your choice, partially baked (see note)

METHOD

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

Take the eggplant and zucchini slices and toss in a large bowl with a generous sprinkling of salt. Transfer the slices to a colander and leave to drain.

In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, cook the onions and shallots in bit of olive oil, stirring occasionally. After about 20 minutes, or when the onions and shallots are lightly-caramelized and starting to catch in places, add the garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes more, so that the garlic has chance to mellow and soften. Pour in the vinegar to deglaze the pan, scraping and the bottom of the skillet with your spoon to pick up any brown bits. Cook for a minute or so, until most of the vinegar has evaporated. Remove the vegetables from the heat and stir in the thyme. Set aside.

Pat dry the eggplant and zucchini on a (non-terrycloth) kitchen towel. Coat the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes in olive oil lay them out in a single layer on baking sheets. Season all with pepper, the tomatoes with salt too. Roast vegetables in the preheated oven, working in batches, until the vegetables are just beginning to brown in spots, around 20 minutes. Although the tomatoes were too delicate for such a procedure, I flipped the eggplant and zucchini over halfway through roasting. You want them tender, but not falling apart.

When the vegetables are done, remove from the oven and turn down the temperature to 350°F (175°C).

Beat the goat's cheese in a small bowl, with a drizzle of olive oil if needed, until creamy. With an offset spatula, spread the cheese over the parbaked pastry crust. Layer in the caramelized onions, then the eggplant, next the zucchini, and finally the tomatoes. Tear the fresh mozzarella into rough chunks over all. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few large, thin shards of Parmesan on top.

Bake in the preheated over for 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving, with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves to finish.

Makes 1 9-inch tart.

Notes:

• Yesterday I used an all-butter pâte brisée from Martha Stewart, making the full recipe and sending a second tart off to loved ones. I did make one change, using 1 tablespoon of vinegar (in this case white balsamic, usually apple cider vinegar) in place of an equal amount of ice water. I also make this crust with 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour instead of using all white.

• This was especially good the next day, gently warmed and served with a soft-yolked fried egg for brunch.

[Thursday, March 26, 2009: Due to an under-the-weather little one, I will not be able to post today . Until he's feeling better, here is a sneak peak at what we've been enjoying this week - a luscious Grapefruit Tart with a buttery, shortbread crust. Just a bit of puckery-brightness for these early spring days.

Back soon.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009: Everyone is all better, and so I am back. Thanks for all your concern and well-wishes, and for keeping a spot warm for me.]

Orange peel. Air that is sugary sweet and heavy, ripe with moisture and the scent of citrus. I shut my eyes and inhale, swallowing whole.

Its February and I am in my parents' kitchen.

For years, my Mum made marmalade; each time turning to the same book, using the same recipe for as long as I can remember. Stains and smears have turned the page translucent in places, smudging the penciled notes along the margins.

The ceremony of marmalade making took the day. The speckled charcoal pot, used only for canning, appeared from the depths of cupboards. Sterilized jars lined up like soldiers on the counter, gleaming, waiting to be of service. I have a mix of memories of the procedure; the infinite boiling, reducing, concentrating of flavours, the endless task of cutting the thin peel into even thinner strips, staining my nails in the process.

And although at the time I did not much care for marmalade, the notion of those jars is still one of my strongest culinary memories and present-day aspirations. What care was there of winter when there was such warmth in the kitchen, such delicious bounty to be enjoyed?

While the calendar may (almost) read April, it still (almost) feels like February here. At best, early March. Maybe.

The sun may be warm but the wind is not; it still breathes bitterly against our faces each morning, sending me shivering back into the warmth of the house and reaching for a scarf. Just the other day I was greeted with snow in the moments just after sunrise; it cascaded delicately, like icing sugar upon a cake rather than a true snowfall, but it was frozen nonetheless. This morning there was no snow, thank goodness, but the grass was frost-tipped and blue in the early light.

Spring is dragging her feet.

But, there is hope. There are the teeniest buds on our lilac tree; tiny, perfect little bundled fists of green, holding within their grasp the promise of warm days to come. The afternoon light has changed its character, doffing its winter garb of blue-grey hues for warmer shades of palest flax. And while I wait, as patiently as I can, for local rhubarb and asparagus and, sigh, berries to make their way to market, at least I can count on citrus to bring even more sunshine to our day.

Bold and boisterous on the tongue, citrus is rah-rah-sis-boom-bah blithe, full of cheer and high kicks. Citrus fruits are sharp and spry, marching merrily ahead as spring lags behind, with enough pep in their step to wake our palates from the sedative effect of a season's worth of comforting richness.

I was looking for a tag-along companion for a Sunday brunch invite, something that could add some brilliance to what could be a gray morning. Citrus was surely the ticket, and I wanted to journey on the path of least-resistance; some quick Saturday baking and Sunday primping, with little worry and few opportunities to be lead astray.

I wholly ignored the option of sometimes-temperamental shortcrust pastry, eyeing in its stead a forgiving shortbread crust. I passed on the idea of a persnickety curd for its filling; with its demands of patient stirring over gentle heat and its abject fear of overcooking, a curd can be such the little fusspot. Not what I was looking for in a brunch guest.

A grapefruit-modified version of a traditional Key lime filling was my choice, whisked together and briefly baked, it demanded only the slightest attention; its presence fit perfectly in the bleary-eyed pottering about of Sunday morning.

Yellow upon yellow, this tart speaks of brightness in golden tones. The floral notes of Ruby Red grapefruit are accented by twangy lemon, and tempered by creamy-sweet condensed milk. The shortbread crust is the perfect foil for the citrus, buttery against all the tang of the filling.

So thoroughly-cheered was I, I (almost) felt prepared to be patient as I wait for spring's arrival. Almost.

GRAPEFRUIT TART WITH SHORTBREAD CRUST

FOR THE CRUST

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 2-3 teaspoons heavy cream

FOR THE FILLING

  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons grated grapefruit zest
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (preferably Ruby Red)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

METHOD

Prepare the crust first. Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on low until light and well blended.

Add the eggs yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour and mix until almost blended. Slowly add 2 teaspoons of cream, checking if the dough has come together. If it is still a bit dry, add the rest. Stop mixing as soon as there is no longer flour visible.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, using the wrap to shape the dough into a flattened disk. Wrap tightly, then refrigerate for 1 hour.

After the dough has chilled, lightly flour your work surface. Roll out the dough into a 1/4-inch thick circle, about 12 inches in diameter. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, drape the dough over a 9-inch flan ring, fitting the dough gently and pressing it into the edges. Chill the dough for 10 minutes.

Using a sharp paring knife, trim the dough so that it is flush with the rim. Return the tart shell to the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up and chill thoroughly.

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). Line the tart shell with parchment, allowing a 1-inch overhand. Fill lined shell with pie weights and bake until the pastry's edges are beginning to colour, about 15 minutes. Remove parchment and weights, using the overhang of paper to assist. Continue baking until the pastry is light golden all over, about eight minutes more. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (still on parchment lined baking sheet).

Turn the oven down to 350°F (175°C).

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer or whisk, beat the yolks on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale, about 3 minutes. Add condensed milk, zests, juices and salt, and beat to combine, scraping down side of bowl as needed.

Pour the filling into the cooled prepared tart shell and bake until just set, about 10 minutes. Still on its parchment, transfer the tart to a wire rack. Cool completely, then loosely cover in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Allow the tart to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving; remove the flan ring and garnish with some softly-whipped cream, crème Anglaise or simply with a dusting of confectioners' sugar.

Makes one 9-inch tart, serving 12.

Notes:

• Alternatively, use the leftover egg whites to top the tart with a torched Swiss meringue.

• The tart as shown was baked in a 10-inch quiche pan with extra-deeps sides and a removable bottom. The amount of filling and pastry require a deeper capacity.

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Authortara
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It is beautiful out.

No wait, let me say it again for those who feel differently about heat than I do. It is hot. It is humid, with clear sunshine interspersed with rather-impressive thunderstorms and torrential rain.

Now I'll admit, I am a lucky one; I am one of those sorts that lives for heat and revels in temperatures others may consider rather sweltering. Dry heat or sticky with humidity, I will always choose a day that is blistering over a day that is remotely cold.

I even take particular joy the dramatic tendencies of our climate. There is something wholly romantic about a midday thunderstorm. The day suddenly turns to dusk, the air heavy and thick with moisture; and afterwards, who cannot enjoy the green, green, green smell of wet grass and soaking leaves, and the reward of a cool breeze. Even as I write this, rain is pouring through trees alight with sunshine and I can hear not-so-distant peals of thunder.

But, even though I consider the weather to be lovely and sultry, I can see my loved ones virtually wilting as the days go on. And so I feel compelled to aid as only I know how - with food.

While I will admit my days have been busier as of late, what with the arrival of our newborn son and the constant entertainment that is his big brother, I have still managed to get back in the kitchen. Like the lovely familiarity of a tune you've hummed for a lifetime, getting back to cooking and baking has brought me the satisfaction of beloved habits. In this mood I have been looking over my cookbook collection, rediscovering old favourites that somehow seem new again.

With that in mind, I have brought together a few of my best-loved recipes I hope will keep you cool for the summer nights ahead.

This past weekend, I was going to do a lot of things. I was going to deal with that pile of laundry. I was going to read a bit more of that book on my nightstand. I was going to wax rhapsodic, again, about the gorgeousness of the season. I was even going to make tremblingly pretty Gewurztraminer gelées, studded with plump blackberries.

You will note, I was going to do those things. In fact, I did not end up checking any of those tasks off my list. The weekend turned out to be a fabulous one, and I was taken with other diversions. Come Monday my mood was so bright that I felt the need to celebrate the weekend's end; it was that good.

The aforementioned berries were glorious specimens of Loch Ness blackerries from the kind folks at Schouwenaar Orchard and Vineyard. Large and glossy black, the pine cone shaped bundles were simply addicting. Starting out with a full flat of these babies, we'd munched our way through the majority by Sunday evening.

Too perfect to mar with cooking, too pretty to hide under mounds of cream, the crowning glory of a fruit tart seemed destiny for the last of the tempting fruits. Wanting something as special as the weekend had been, I decided upon Martha Stewart's pistachio pastry crust for my base. More of a shortbread than a traditional pie crust, butter is even more enriched by the addition of ground nuts. The pistachios in turn tint the pasty a delicate chartreuse. My buoyant mood was not one that allowed for the patient stirring required for a pastry cream, so I turned to a simple alternative; thick mascarpone whipped to luxurious lightness, barely sweetened and scented with vanilla.

The perfect backdrop to the blackberries, the perfect end to the perfect weekend. No agenda needed.

Blackberry tart with pistachio crust

Ingredients
Pistachio crust
1/4 cup heavy (35%, whipping) cream
All purpose flour, for dusting
3 ounces (85 grams) white chocolate
2 tablespoons icing (confectioner's) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 ounces (275 grams) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
2 pints blackberries
1 tablespoon black currant jelly or blackberry jam
1 tablespoon unsalted, hulled pistachios

Prepare pistachio pastry dough as per recipe. On a lightly-floured work surface, roll out chilled dough to a 1/4" thick, 12" round. Lightly press dough into a 9" fluted, removable bottom tart pan, then chill for 10 minutes. Using a paring knife, trim excess dough. Scraps and leftover dough can be rerolled once and then baked as shortbread cookies.

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Prick (dock) pastry all over to prevent puffing during baking. Line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang over all edges. Weigh down with pie weights, uncooked rice or dried beans, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove parchment and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the shell is lightly browned all over.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove tart ring to cool completely.

Melt chocolate using a double boiler or microwave, then set aside to cool slightly. Once cool, use a pastry brush to thinly coat the inside of the cooled shell with chocolate. Chill for 10 minutes or until set.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the heavy cream, vanilla and sugar until soft peaks form. Remove from mixer and set aside. Switching to the paddle attachment, cream the mascarpone until light and fluffy. On low speed, gently stir in half the whipped cream until just combined. Using a spatula, gently fold in the remaining cream.

Fill the prepared shell with the mascarpone mixture. Chill the tart for 20 minutes to firm up the filling or prepare to this point up to 3 hours ahead of time.

Melt the jam, with a scant 1/2 teaspoon water, using low heat in the microwave. Remove from oven and stir. Set aside to cook slightly. Top the filled tart with blackberries, then lightly brush lightly with glaze. Scatter with pistachios and serve immediately.

Makes one 9" tart.

Notes:

• This filling is not particularly sweet; you may want to adjust the sugar to best suit your tastes.
• Neufchâtel, blended ricotta or cream cheese can be substituted for the mascarpone. In these cases, amount of heavy cream may need to be adjusted accordingly.
• The pistachio crust I used is not available online, but I would think that Martha Stewart's Pistachio Graham-Cracker Crust would be a fine substitution, as would a classic pâte sucrée.
• It hardly needs saying, but this pastry and filling can be used as a basis for almost any fruit tart.

Epilogue: It has just come to my attention that the lovely Béa
had similar notions this week; two tastes of the same theme!