Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Savory Pumpkin, Robiola and Rosemary Puff Pastry Tart

I am working on my Thanksgiving menu. Stay tuned, I'll be sharing it with you soon. But for the moment, I am focused on one dish. It's a tradition of sorts, something I've been doing since I arrived at the States and began celebrating. For those of us who came to this country from someplace far away and found home, a safe shelter, a place to dream, big and small, and make our dreams happen, being thankful is a big deal. For us -- the immigrants -- Thanksgiving has a special meaning.

I still remember my first Thanksgiving here. I spent it alone, but not lonely. I remember waking up to the crisp November air, infused with distant scents of rain, mud, and pumpkin fields, laced with promises of what's about to come and a little bit of sadness for everything I left behind. I made a big pot of tea and had it on a patio, wrapped in a blanket. I sat there for quite some time, registering the hollow sound of woods and hustling of the fallen leaves, heavy with wetness and compost. I remember that roads were empty, and that a new kind of quiet had overtaken the neighborhood. I remember that sun was fighting the clouds, and losing the battle, reduced to a pale-yellow blur on a stormy sky, faint, yet still warm. I sat on the patio, absorbed in the moment, treasuring the holiday I had never celebrated before -- the holiday of turkeys, pumpkins and fallen leaves -- taking it all in, amazed at how far I had traveled.

When I ran out of the tea, I went inside, into a brand-new kitchen of my rented apartment, with tons of cabinets and two ovens to die for (who knew that a kitchen could have two ovens) and made a pumpkin pie. It was a strange pie, a pie I had never made before, not quite Serbian, not quite American, not quite old and not quite new, a bit traditional but also very modern. It was a reflection of who I was and who I were to become. A pie that carried the spirit of my very first Thanksgiving.

Twenty years fast-forward and I still do it. Every Thanksgiving, I make one dish, a new dish, a dish that captures the essence of the holiday in one single bite: that crispy November day, that pot of tea, the waltz of the golden leaves in deep foods, and the grey sky with a smudge of sunshine. It's my Dish Worthy of Thanksgiving; a dish you could eat alone or with friends; a dish that can replace the entire holiday table or be a part of it; a dish abundant with the most giving of seasons and with the blessings we are endowed with.

Twenty years, twenty dishes. Sometimes it's a salad, sometimes it's a soup. Sometimes it's about the turkey, sometimes, oftentimes it's not. Sometimes it's elaborate. Sometimes it's simple. Some of my best dishes were born on Thanksgiving. I guess for a reason.

What will it be this year?

I can see that you are all ears, so let me tell you.

It's actually quite simple. There are years that call for simplicity -- say pumpkin and rosemary, and a little bit of something extra. There are years that call for comfort -- a pie perhaps, or a tart. There are years when we want to hold onto old traditions but crave them slightly re-imagined and with a twitch of unexpected -- say, robiola instead of cheddar and cream. There are years when instead of engaging in epic culinary efforts, we want it nice and easy, bullet-proof and effort-free, because it's been a long, difficult year and family comes first, and because not every dish is measured by the time invested in making it. And that's where puff pastry comes in.

Originally, I had planned on making the tart the good old-fashioned way, with a classic pie dough and my own bare hands. But my friends from The Filo Factory had sent me some of their organic puff pastry to try, and I fell in love with it. It reminded me of the puff pastry my grandmother used to make -- flour, butter, salt, water and nothing else -- pure, honest and straightforward, and so homey. I changed my mind about the dough -- think about delicate, airy crust sheltering all the gooey goodness inside -- and a new kind of Thanksgiving pie was born. I am using pumpkins and robiola in my recipe, but you can go with any type of winter squash and brie, or camembert; you can sub the rosemary with sage, marjoram, or winter savory; you can ditch the creme fraiche for sour cream. And it's still going to be fine (and very, very, decadent). One spoonful, worthy of the holiday. The best thing of all, you can pre-bake the shell ahead of time, and roast your squashes ahead of time, and cut the cheese ahead of time, so that when the clock starts ticking, you don't have to do anything but assemble and bake. And sometimes, oftentimes, most of the time, it's something to be truly grateful for.

Pumpkin, Robiola & Rosemary Puff Pastry Tart

* about 20 oz pumpkin (such as sugar or cheese) or butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
* 16 oz puff pastry (I used The Fillo Factory organic puff pastry)
* 10 oz robiola, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
* 1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
* 2 large eggs
* 1/3 cup heavy cream
* 1/2 cup creme fraiche
* 2 tbsp olive oil
* salt and freshly ground black pepper


* one large baking sheet
* 11-inch loose bottom tart pan
* parchment paper

Remove the pastry from the freezer and defrost for about an hour or two at room temperature. (You want the pastry to be barely defrosted, just about enough so that it is easy to work with.)

Preheat the oven to 400F (or 375F convection).

Drizzle the pumpkin cubes with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place the pumpkin cubes in one layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 30 minutes, turning once, until pumpkin begins to caramelize on the edges. Remove the pan from the oven. (You can bake the pumpkin up to a day ahead and keep in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the tart.)

Reduce the oven temperature to 350F (or 325F convection).

Line the bottom of the tart pan with parchment paper.

Place the pastry on a surface dusted with flour and roll it into a 13-inch round circle. (The circle should be large enough so that it covers the bottom of the pan, the sides of the pan and about half an inch extra.)

Line the pan with the pastry. With a tip of a knife pierce a couple of holes on the bottom of the pastry (this will help the air escape as the tart shell is baking). Place a circle of parchment paper on top, and cover with pie weights or dried beans. (Put as much weight as possible.) Leave the pan in the refrigerator to rest for about 30 minutes.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the weights and paper and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325F (or 300F convection).

In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Add the heavy cream, creme fraiche, and a pinch of salt, and mix well.

Arrange all of the robiola cubes at the bottom of the tart shell. Top with the pumpkin cubes, and sprinkle with rosemary. Pour the egg mixture over the filling, making sure that you can still see the pumpkin cubes on the surface.

Place the tart in the oven and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until the filling has set and the top is golden. (Since robiola is quite soft, the filling will not be as firm as if you were using hard cheese.) Remove the tart from the oven and let it cool quite a bit, so that the filling firms up further. Serve the tart barely warm. (The tart holds up well, and reheats nicely.)