I love the Spring Holiday season. Whether I’m seated a friend’s Seder dinner for Passover, or my family’s Easter celebration, there’s a sense of renewal and rebirth that only this time of year can offer. Gastronomically speaking, that inevitably spells fresh fruit to me.
When invited to Passover dinners, I’m very conscious of what’s Kosher and what’s not. So to play it safe I bring a nice Kosher wine as well as a fresh fruit tray. Everyone loves the freshness of fruit at the end of the meal before coffee and desserts are served. As for the Easter menu at my Mom’s home, we also include fruit in the offing. Fruit is fresh and colorful…very much like Easter itself. And we find interesting ways to incorporate it into our recipes.
As I mentioned in our last blog, ham is very often featured as the centerpiece of the Easter spread. And nothing complements it better than fruit. My Mom does a great pineapple in butter rum sauce, studded with plump raisins. She discovered it at a dinner, of all places. They wouldn’t offer her the recipe, so she deconstructed it on her own and came up with something spectacular. It’s basically a Bananas Foster, except with pineapple. Really nice ladled over slices of smoky ham.
I, on the other hand, take pineapple rings and grill them on the backyard barbecue. Simple, really. Just coat the fresh rings with sugar and grill until there’s a nice caramelization happening. It’s usually the first “grill” of the season, which excites me because it ushers in warm weather celebrations for us all. A delectable counterfoil to the saltiness of the ham.
Pineapple is just the beginning of our fruit forays for the Holiday. Instead of mint jelly for my lamb, I opt for beautiful compote of fresh fruits. While some fruits are not really in their season, there are still plenty of choices out there. Mango, for instance. You may also want to investigate a dried fruit compote recipe, which is actually a Passover favorite for many families. I really like what fruit does for lamb. And for those mint and lamb lovers, you may include a few sprigs as you prepare your compote.
Of course, your holiday salad can incorporate any number of fresh fruits. I like the taste of fresh strawberries or raspberries and feta cheese in my salad. I dress it with olive oil and lemon juice. Greek inspired, I find this salad complements my lamb in a gyro sort of way. Orange slices, accompanied by toasted almond slivers, is another salad favorite of mine. I usually go Asian and dress this one with sesame oil and rice vinegar. Of course, fresh green grapes in your salad are always a welcome sight. An interesting tartness balances out the other ingredients well. Really, there’s no end to the fruit and salad possibilities.
Now on to the holiday finale. In true Italian fashion, we serve fresh fruit before coffee and pastries and the like. We will often offer appropriate cheeses and nuts as well. When desserts do arrive, there is the Pizza di Grano, of course (an Italian cheesecake with wheat berries). However, there are often fruit pies to be found as well. Blueberry, strawberry and cherry are my preferred choices. I must admit, though, that fresh fruit tarts are really what I long for this time of year. Depending on what looks good at your fruit stand, you can let your culinary imagination run rampant here. Be creative, make lovely designs and have a ball. We asked Phyllis for her favorite recipe. Try it. It’s fabulous.
Fruit makes it lively. That’s my motto. Just what we all need this time of year, as hints of milder, longer days and happy celebrations are all around us. After a long winter, we’ve all earned it. Enjoy!
What better way to usher in Spring than with a luscious and colorful fresh fruit tart? This recipe will fill a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. (8 servings)
Dough for pastry crust:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 T superfine sugar
1 t salt
4 T butter
4 T Crisco
1 egg yolk
Bottom of Form
1. Place flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor with metal blade in place. Pulse just until mixed.
2. Add butter and Crisco in 1-tablespoon pieces and egg yolk. Process until only pea size pieces of fat remain.
3. Distribute 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture and process just until mixture holds together when pinched between fingers. Add a little more water if necessary. Don’t let a ball form.
4. Place dough on a lightly floured surface. Press heel of hand into dough and smear outward several times (frissage). This will incorporate fat and make dough less likely to break when rolled out. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half hour.
5. Roll out tart crust to a 12-14 inch round and fit into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
6. Gently fit dough into edge of pan without stretching. Cut overhang with kitchen shears outside the rim to give the sides a little extra dough. Chill in refrigerator or freezer for a half hour.
Blind Baking the Shell
7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line pastry crust with a large coffee filter paper or parchment paper.
8. Fill to ½inch with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in lower third of oven for 15 minutes.
9. Take out pie weights and filter paper. Prick bottom of shell in several places to prevent it from puffing up.
10. Place back in oven for 12 to 15 minutes more until fully baked and lightly browned. Cool in tart pan on a rack.
½ cup milk
4 t flour
2 T sugar
2 t powdered gelatin
½ t vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream, whipped
11. Heat milk in a small saucepan. Place flour, sugar, salt and gelatin in a heavy saucepan and stir together.
12. Mix in the egg with a wooden spoon until a smooth paste is formed. Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Place the saucepan over medium heat, whisking until mixture becomes a thick custard.
13. To aid cooling, place mixture in a small bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in vanilla. Fold in the whipped cream Spread custard over pre-baked pastry shell.
Arranging the Fruit Topping
14. Now you can get those creative juices flowing and decorate your tart with the fruit of your choice. Choose what you love and what’s fresh in the market. Plums sliced into wedges, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, ripe mango cut into uniform shapes. The list goes on.
15. Start at the outside rim and work your way toward the center, overlapping where necessary and voila! . . a beautiful fresh fruit tart. Leave as is or glaze as follows:
16. Melt 4 oz. apricot preserves in a small saucepan. Strain through a sieve. Loosen with a little water or liqueur, if necessary. With a small brush, apply to fruit. It will win you kudos either way.