(Continued from yesterday)
It seems I was on to something. Now I needed to turn vision into reality. No matter the discipline, it is always the same thing. We start in a rapid fire of possibilities — this with that, a dash of something else. But once settled on, the real work begins. As any artist knows, that work can be nerve-racking. It is one thing to engage in flights of fancy but another altogether to see it in print, on a canvas or in a tart shell.
I consult my Joy of Cooking. Along with Mom (and the tried and true lessons of having made mistakes), that book, torn at the cover and pages flying akimbo, has taught me most of what I know. Though I have dozens of books on my shelf, the Joy is my go-to guide. I have grown up with it and should you find one of the older editions I suggest you snap it up (newer editions are not nearly as complete).
It's not a recipe I am looking for but a little inspiration. Most of the instruction is already in my head. I have paid my dues, cooked my meals, stayed long and hard enough in the kitchen to allow a certain recklessness. Which is not to say the novice cannot occasionally do the same. Some folks just have the knack. They are culinary savants — cooks who know where to go without slogging through the foundational years. I can't say I was one of those cooks and am not sure how many really exist. The fundamentals will always be fundamental. Not that I am advocating for "culinary" school. Really not. If you are too tall to stand at your mother or father's knee, try a friend who knows their stuff, or a book or a class. My friend, Katherine Duemling, teaches a series on the basics called Cooking with What You Have. I get her newsletter. Hell, I want to take those classes but they are generally meant for the newbie. You could do no better.
I mix my toasted (in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes) and ground (lightly by the whack of a rolling pin or pulse of a Cusinart; more will make the nuts oily) nuts with the cornmeal in a bowl. I use a mixture of white flour and corn flour, both fine and coarse. I want there to be a rustic crunch to the crust but not something to split my teeth. I consider whether to put sugar in the crust. I have a general rule: when making fruit pies and sweet tarts I add sugar, savory tarts I don't. Salt is not an option. It is added no matter what the filling will be. But then, I like that sweet-salty combination in foods. These days it is all the rage: salt on caramel, salt on a truffle, salt in the wound (my favorite). Old timers have been sprinkling salt and pepper on melons forever suggesting a wisdom that we have recently rediscovered: salt on sweet foods can become sweet squared. I choose brown sugar for the crust in hopes that its ruddy quality will add a malt-like appeal.
I bind the mixture with a combination of pork lard and butter. I would like to say the lard comes from the fat I have rendered off the annual pig I get from the wonderful Square Peg folks but it didn't. What rendered fat I have is better for frying food than for baking. The qualities of the fat differ depending on where it comes from. Fat from the back will be softer when rendered than the fat around the kidneys. I doubt I would know that quite so well had I not tried my hand at fat rendering. That is the miracle of a householding kitchen. It turns today's fashionable food (leaf lard for one, or from around a pork chop for two) into the logical expression of stewardship. If I have a whole darn pig in the freezer (which I do) why not use all the parts, fat included? To date I have used pork fat for saddling, barding, frying, and baking — each technique different in both application and composition. Consider it one of the fundamentals that deep householding will allow.
Pulling together the mixture of flours and shortenings (butter and lard) I pat out the crust in my wide quiche pan. This is not a dough that rolls too easily given its crunchy nut and cornmeal qualities. It is also not a crust I nudge towards flakiness. No, this will be a hearty crust, a bite me and I'll bite you back crust. I have envisioned it as such. I work it over with a recklessness I would avoid with traditional pies. The word "light" will not find its way into a description of this shell. That will be saved for the filling if I can get it right. I consider the ingredients for it. Goat cheese and sage custard. Oh, and the cranberries. It's coming together. I blind bake the tart shell. (... to be continued)