We are not romantic people, Mr Gander and I. You will not find a bunch of roses on my desk on a certain February morning (dark chocolate is a totally different matter).
Yet, we buy each other little gifts any time of the year. We hold hands in the street. We laugh at each other’s silliness, but are also considerate, even sweet.
Maybe the first sentence should be, we are not conventionally romantic, pink hearts and teddy bears kind of people. Instead it is the kind of affection that goes ‘to the level of every day’s / Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.’ (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
Which brings me to this savour plum tart. It won’t leave you in a sugar coma. It is savoury, creamy, the caramelised onions setting off sweetness from the plum slices and the crispy tart shell – all of which makes the tart well worth savouring slowly.
It is equally graceful with warm caramelised onions and plums, or at room temperature when the slivers of basil comes to the fore. You will want to come back to this again.
Kind of like a good relationship – right?
And when one of you accidentally eats some of the fruit and mascarpone meant for the tart, you can leave this tongue-in-cheek pastiche of a note:
This is just to say**
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
(William Carlos Williams)
(ah well, no relationship is perfect)
A few notes on this recipe. The original asks you to make a basic pastry base of pâte brisée, and I’ve reproduced the recipe below. I’ve only ever made this tart for weeknight dinners (including the one where I served this yam ice cream), when I have not much more than 1.5 hours to prepare everything. Instead of the pâte brisée, I took to cutting shapes – rounds, flowers, dog bones – from good puff pastry using cookie cutters and baking them under a baking tray to keep them thin rather than puffed.
The result was low effort “tart bases” that emerged, golden and crispy and round/flower/dog bone shaped, while I fuss around the stove in a kind of controlled panic.
I like to assemble the tarts just before serving, to keep the puff pastry crisp. Mascarpone. Onions. Plums. A few snips of basil (either normal basil or Thai / purple basil, I have a slight preference for the colour and taste of Thai basil) and a balsamic or Chinkiang drizzle.
On the drizzle – the day of the yam ice cream dinner (as it’s come to be known around here) I had no balsamic vinegar. The plums were also too soft so that some of them became a jammy mess. In controlled panic, I added some Chinkiang vinegar, a dash of water and palm sugar to the plum jammy mess and stirred until it came together into a kind of jammy syrup. It was really good! (Still trying to reproduce the state of controlled panic and recipe for chinkiang plum drizzle…)
As for the mascarpone, I also wonder if ricotta and goats cheese would work, possbly with a result that leans more towards the savoury. Maybe it’s time for another round of tart making.
This is – hopefully just in time – going into Fromage Homage’s monthly cheese round-up. This month is all about cheesy romance. Whether quoting well known (too well known?) poems counts as cheesy, or the use of mascarpone in cheesy romance dishes is itself cheesy, I’ll let the judge decide.
Savoury Plum Tart
(adapted from this recipe on Food 52)
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 firm plums or 4-5 sugar plums, pitted and sliced into wedges
1 tsp sugar
4-5 tbsp mascarpone cheese (increased from original, which asks for 1 tbsp only)
1 tsp honey or 1/2 tbsp palm sugar
1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black glutinous rice vinegar, available from all Asian grocers and some good supermarkets)
1 tablespoon basil or Thai basil, snipper into thin slices with scissors
1. Make tart shells using the puff pastry cheats-method, or by making pâte brisée. Methods for both are below.
2. For the onions: heat the olive oil in a large saute pan set over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook stirring often until soft and caramelised, about 15 to 18 minutes. Or, I close the lid to the saucepan and let the onions cook down, slowly, for about 30 minutes, and then remove the lid and stir more diligently for the last 5 minutes until the onions have caramelised. Remove onions from the pan.
3. For the plums: Melt the butter in the pan then add the sugar and the plums. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the plums have lightly softened and the sugar has melted into the plums, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool to room temperature. (Note, I’ve cooked the plums and sugar with just a dash of olive oil, and it seemed fine as well)
4. For the Chinkiang drizzle: take an extra couple of slices of plums, cook in the same pan over medium heat, with a few tablespoons of water, until the plums have softened and is breaking down into a jam-like consistency. Stir in Chinkiang vinegar and palm sugar, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until the mixture becomes more syrupy looking. Taste and add more palm sugar if desired.
5. To assemble: spread the mascarpone cheese in a thin thickish layer over the tart shell. Add a layer of caramelized onions, then add a layer of plum slices. Either drizzle honey and balsamic vinegar over the top or drizzle the Chinkiang mixture. Garnish with basil or Thai basil. Serve at room temperature.
Either one sheet of puff pastry (I used store bought all-butter puff pastry)
1 cup plain / AP flour
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1/4 cup ice water
1. If using puff pastry: Preheat oven to 160C / 320F. Cut frozen puff pastry sheet into shape. I’ve done this by cutting the sheet into four pieces (one for each dinner guest – great for entrees) or cutting shapes using cookie cutters – perfect for canapes.
2. Place puff pastry pieces between two sheets of baking paper, and put a baking tray or some other weight on top. The idea is the puff pastry won’t be allowed to puff while baking. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until barely browned. Remove the weight and uncover the pastry pieces, bake for another 5-10 minutes until golden brown. This can be done a day in advance and the pastry pieces kept in an airtight container.
3. If making pâte brisée: Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cubed butter and pulse for about 5 seconds until well-combined. Pour in the ice water and pulse just until the dough forms a ball. Note: this can also be done by hand; use your finger tips to blend in the butter but be sure to work quickly so it doesn’t melt.
4. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic. Freeze 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
5. Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. Roll out the dough onto a floured work surface to create a circle 1/8-inch (0.3 cm) thick. Invert a 9-inch (approx 23 cm) plate over the dough to measure the size of the tart and cut out a circle. Set the dough onto a silicone baking sheet or a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Crimp the edges of the dough to make a decorative rustic edge.
6. Set a piece of foil over the dough and fill with dried beans. Leave the edges exposed. In a small bowl whisk together the egg and water. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the edges with egg wash.
Bake the tart dough for 8 minutes. Remove the foil with the dried beans and use a fork to dock the bottom of the tart. Return the tart to the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until cooked through and lightly browned. Cool to room temperature.