Monday, November 05, 2007
A Tart By Any Other Name
In the film Waitress, Keri Russell’s character, Jenna, names her elaborate pie creations in relation to her current life experiences. I found names like “I-Hate-My-Husband Pie” or “Naughty Pumpkin Pie” (you figure it out!) quite charming.
I’ve been having a love affair with pies that seems to endure the test of time, place and form. I began with the pies of my childhood, which evolved into the quiches of the 80’s (when we were wearing t-shirts with shoulder pads) and I now call the country of tarts “home”...and call my pies “tarts”!
I am often asked how it is that I came to live in Aix en Provence and I always begin, “It was not my intention to be in Aix...I was going to Nice!”
It’s the California Girl in me that wanted to be near the sea. Not to mention that I was more familiar with Nice as it had been my “base camp” when I was traveling here shooting for Façonnable. In an experience that one might liken to nothing short of an harmonic convergence, all of the necessary pieces fell into place at just the right time. What’s more, thanks to the kindness of friends and the unexpected availability of their apartment in a little village outside of Aix, I even had a nest in which to land when I arrived. It was to be just a place to touch down as I made my way to Nice.
Skipping over a few of the details here as they are worthy of another blog (or book!), it will suffice to say that I met a fellow...in Nice. Cool! Not only did I enjoy having someone to share a city that I loved, it didn’t hurt to have someone familiar with French real estate offices and connections as I searched for an apartment. (Not to mention cushioning the inevitable culture shock.)
Together we attended concerts and various soirées with his friends. We strolled along the sea...
...through the marché on cours Saleya...
...walked along the port...
...and explored the shadowy corners of the old part of town.
While were having a great time in that sweet “getting to know you” phase of the early days of dating, he discovered my love of cooking. So one weekend I decided to cook lunch for him. With a carefully planned luncheon fare, I could give him a suitable sample of my talents in the kitchen and keep it simple for transport.
I stepped off of the train in Nice with a basket of essentials, menu in hand, ready to cook for my new friend. In keeping with my long-standing “other affair”, I had decided that it would be a tart with a side salad of fresh baby greens, tossed with a few pine nuts and a balsamic vinaigrette. Simple, tasty. "No over-the-top kind of antics in the kitchen this first time," I told myself. I had nothing to prove...it was just to have a little fun and add a new dimension to this unfolding relationship.
Our walk from the train station to his apartment in the Musician’s Quarter of Nice reflected our growing connection. As we ambled along, arm in arm, we caught up on our week apart and what options lay ahead for the weekend together. After a few minutes of settling in at his lovely apartment, I unloaded the market basket and decided I would get started with my first dejeuner chez Monsieur T. (lunch at Mr. T's house)
In keeping with that typical charming dating behavior that people seem to exhibit at any age, he followed me into the kitchen. He wanted to “watch”. Fair enough. I unpacked the tart pan (packed just in case this bachelor didn’t happen to have one) and thought I’d get the oven cranked up to pre-bake the pâte feuilletée (puff pastry).
A quick scan of my surroundings left me puzzled. As I began peeking behind cupboard doors and pantry closets, anything that looked like it might be hiding an oven, he had taken notice. “What are you looking for?” he inquired sweetly.
“Your oven,” I replied, just as sweetly.
(These would be some of the final moments of that Sweet Phase!)
“I don’t have an oven,” he said...less sweetly.
“Your kidding!” The surprise in my voice revealing my disbelief that this could possibly be true!
“No,” he said flatly. “I don’t have an oven. What do you need an oven for anyway?!”
“Whaaaaat?!?!” I replied, probably losing all the color in my face as images of the Not-To-Be-Realized Tart flashed before my eyes. “You don’t have an oven?!? How can that be?!? You just had your kitchen remodeled!” (Which was beautiful, by the way. Very sleek and user friendly...errrr...except for one little detail!) “Hmmm, that really puts a little kink in my plans as I was planning to bake a tart.” I said, the end of the phrase being squeezed out a few notes higher than the beginning as my tension broke through a glaze of cheer intended to cover the grinding and shifting of gears as I searched for a way to save lunch.
“Well, you’ll just have to do something else because there is no oven,” he stated unapologetically.
Aha! The oven mitt had been tossed down. Was there to be a showdown in this ill-equipped kitchen?!
Since I was fairly certain that spooning bowls full of chevre and pesto topped with caramelized red onions would not have the quite the same effect as those same ingredients artfully arranged in a lovely shell of puff pastry, garnished with fresh basil, I put together a salad. (I must say, Albeit tasty, it was quite the culinary anti-climax.)
We mutually decided on two things over that lunch: to dine out that evening and that all meals cooked at his place would be stovetop from this day forward.
The missing oven was not mentioned again...well, sort of. To be fair, he did not mention it again! On the other hand, I found a number of occasions to tell the story of my shock upon discovering that someone could actually remodel an entire kitchen and not include an oven!
And so, after a few pasta dinners and one lovely batch of coq au vin for his friends, we parted ways. A fine fellow, this Monsieur T. but really...I mean...no oven?!?
With my little French Affair having gone south, I was now making the search for an apartment in Nice on my own.
I quickly discovered that French rentals do not usually include any appliances...no refrigerators, no ovens...for goodness sakes, there are not even light fixtures in unfurnished French apartments. To be oven-less in France is not all that unusual.
My search ended in a great place, just off of Promenade des Anglais, the main drag into Nice that runs along the Mediterranean.
Then, amid a flurry of very fortunate opportunities unfolding in the span of a couple of days, (the Universe is like that sometimes when it’s talkin’ to you!) everything changed and I would remain in Aix en Provence after all was said and done.
In addition to the possibility of working with American university students here, there was a lovely apartment being offered...owned by Anglophones...with an oven!
Those British owners would become good friends and I would find my first French apartment in the same neighborhood.
But that first apartment was one of a number of very fortunate gifts from the universe at a time when I sorely needed some clear direction.
I happily baked many a tart in that fabulous kitchen and even now, when I pop a tart into the tiny above-the-counter oven in my little French apartment around the corner, I think of oven-less Monsieur T. in Nice...and giggle.
Yes, I think I’ll take a page from Jenna’s cookbook in Waitress and begin naming my tarts. I’ll start with this one, and I’ll call it the “I’m-Glad-I-Didn’t-Move-To-Nice Pie”...errrr...make that “Tart”!
Or better yet, given the Romanesca cauliflower used here, what about calling it “Aliens-In-The-Kitchen Tart”? That works, non?
1 prepared puff pastry, for tart shell
4 oz. goat cheese, cut into small pieces
3/4 lb. of Romanesc or regular cauliflower (or broccoli)
4 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces and browned
2 tablespoons crème fraîche (or sour cream)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pre-heat oven to 400ºF and pre-bake the tart shell for 5-8 minutes. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the crème fraîche and mustard until blended. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop the Romanesque in to cook for about 8 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to cut apart the flowerets.
Spread the mustard cream over the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell. Place the flowerets in a concentric circle starting from the center with the largest “crown” part of the Romanesca cauliflower and working to the edge of the pan from there with the remaining flowerets.
Sprinkle the cooked bacon pieces evenly over the top of the tart.
Finish by adding the pieces of goat cheese, distributed evenly over the top.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Serves 4 (Or 8 if you add a side salad of baby greens with a balsamic vinaigrette!)