November 17th, 2010

Savory Pear-Walnut Crema Tart

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Next month, I will be one of several chefs involved in a fundraising dinner for our food bank. To a group of 80 guests, we’ll be serving a multi-coursed Tasting Menu. Much fun, this allows for a wide swath of creativity on diminutive plates. I had been asked to prepare something salad-like, something to follow a soup course.

What to make?

I knew, of course, that it would be a seasonal dish. And, I wanted it to be meatless. Many of the chefs had picked a protein— beef, pork, tuna, duck, lamb, bison–for their centerpiece, so I wanted a departure from that. I also had a sense, with the wealth of good food ideas that I am connected to through blogging, that my inspiration was close at hand.

When I came upon this Pear and Walnut Crema Tart on Joyti’s splendid site Darjeeling Dreams, I got excited. Walnut crema! Her description of its taste and simplicity of execution sold me. Alone, the crema seemed incredible, but her presentation–layered with pears, thyme, mascarpone in a savory crust, would be nothing short of sublime.

I could envision a delectable sliver on a small plate, served alongside a ruffle of arugula, sheerly dressed. A drizzle of floral honey, perhaps, over the tart, or, better yet–a lemon-honey infused vinaigrette.

It was time to get to work, test out the recipe, and see how it would work for a large dinner party.

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Following Joyti’s direction, I made the walnut crema first. I didn’t have shallots on hand, as her recipe lists, only garlic, which I cooked in the pot with the walnuts. While the walnuts were simmering to tenderness, I made my pastry dough. Both crema and dough can be made a day in advance—and actually benefit from an overnight stay in the refrigerator.

The crema took on the look and texture of hummus, and the walnut flavor, surprisingly deepened in the simmer, had nothing sharp or acrid. This is the sort of sauce, or pesto, that would be quite delicious tossed over pasta or served over roasted vegetables, like asparagus.

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WALNUT CREMA
1 cup Walnuts
2 small cloves Garlic
pinch salt
4 T. Olive Oil

Place ingredients into a 2 qt. saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for 12-15 minutes. Drain, reserving a little “walnut water.”

Place into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until chopped finely. Add olive oil and process until smooth, adding a tablespoon or 2 of the walnut water as well, so that the walnut crema will have the look and texture of hummus. Taste for salt.

Refrigerate tightly wrapped for at least overnight so that flavors will develop well. Keeps about a week, wrapped and refrigerated.

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The following day, I gathered my ingredients. I peeled the pears–these were tough-skinned, from the country—but the pears that you use might have a delicate skin that will bake nicely. Use your judgement about that.

I made a few adaptations along the way.

Joyti’s recipe calls for mascarpone or cream cheese. I had a log of mild, tangy goat cheese that I thought could work well. (Use whatcha got!) I had no lemon thyme, but lemon and thyme.

I also compressed her recipe steps, somewhat. She calls for blind-baking the pastry shell, then filling it, and broiling it. For my large dinner group, I decided that it would be better for me to bake the shell and its filling all together.

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It didn’t take long to assemble this appealing tart.

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Before I placed it in the oven, I brushed some melted butter across the slices, to insure some glazy browning. Happy-Happy with the results.
The tart had a lovely crispened shell–sides and bottom. Walnut bits toasted across the pear-laden top. It cut easily, retaining integrity of layers, even when sliced into delicate pieces.

You’ll notice an inherent sweetness from the pears and bit of lemon, balanced by the tangy chevre, and anchored by the walnut crema.

It’s a simple, beautiful dish in all aspects–you could serve it as appetizer course, a fruit/cheese course in lieu of dessert. And, when paired with winter greens and honey vinaigrette, will be a stunning plate for the special fundraising dinner.

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SAVORY PEAR-WALNUT CREMA TART
adapted from Darjeeling Dreams, with thanks to Joyti

1 recipe My Basic Pie Crust (click here )

1 batch of Walnut Crema
4-5 oz Goat Cheese
2-3 ripe Pears (could be Bosc, Anjou, Bartlett–I used a rustic country pear of unknown name from Maggie’s tree!)
Lemon–for zest (1 T.) and Juice (to squeeze over sliced pears)
1 T. melted Butter
a few sprigs fresh Thyme
a few Walnut halves and pieces

10″ pie pan or quiche/tart pan

Roll out pastry dough, place into pan and crimp edges. Spread walnut crema over the bottom, and follow with crumbled goat cheese. Peel and core pears, and slice thinly.

Lay out the slices, one slightly overlapping the other, in concentric circles, pressing the pieces gently into the layer of crema and cheese.

Squeeze a little lemon juice over the slices, and sprinkle the zest. Finish with a sprinkle of thyme leaves and walnut bits.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Makes 8 generous servings, or 16 cocktail “tasting plate” servings.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Recipes, Sauces | 19 Comments »