Yesterday, I was able to play in my kitchen... I spent last week preparing for a dinner I made Sunday night to benefit the Madeline Island Music Camp. Being busy with that, I ignored a bag of organic pears that by now had seen better days. And since my idea of a good time is being in my kitchen and making tarts, that's exactly what I did yesterday with my neglected fruit.
The direction I took with these little tarts was based on what was available in my kitchen. I had just purchased a beautiful block of blue cheese made in Faribault, Minnesota, and had a basket of big, sweet onions. I also keep bags of walnuts in my freezer at all times... because, I throw them into everything! And, if I'm making a savory pear tart, I tend to add cornmeal to the crust... so, that's where I started.
Of course, if you don't feel like making little individual tarts, make this recipe in a large (approximately 11-inch) tart pan. I used eight 3 1/4-inch tart rings, but had enough pastry dough with the recipe below to easily make ten.
These little tarts would be delicious on a brunch or luncheon menu this fall served with a green salad.
• 1 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
• 1/4 cup finely ground cornmeal
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 4 tablespoons ice water
• extra flour for rolling pastry
• 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion
• 3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
• Salt & freshly ground black pepper
• 4 small pears
• 3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
• 1/3 cup walnuts, toasted lightly and chopped
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon walnut oil
MAKE THE PASTRY: I used 3 1/4-inch tart rings but you can also use individual tart pans with removable bottoms, or use an 11-inch tart pan if not making individual tarts.
1. Pulse the flour, cornmeal and salt in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until pea-size lumps form. While pulsing, drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water over the mixture, continuing to pulse until moist clumps form. Add the remaining tablespoon of ice water by drips if dry. Gather dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic; chill 2 hours or overnight.
2. Divide the dough into 8 pieces if making individual tarts. Roll the pieces of dough between lightly floured sheets of waxed paper. Cut circles of dough larger than the rings and transfer to metal rings that have been placed on a parchment lined baking sheet (you can substitute individual tart pans with removable bottoms). Gently press dough onto bottom and up sides of the tart rings; trim. Keep refrigerated until ready to fill and bake.
MAKE THE FILLING:
1. In a large cast iron skillet, cook the onions in 1 tablespoon of the butter and the olive oil over medium heat, stirring often until onions are golden, approximately 15 minutes. (Turn down heat if onions burn at all and add a little more olive oil if skillet seems dry). Add the vinegar and salt & pepper to taste.
2. Peel, core and halve the pears lengthwise, then cut the halves lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices, leaving the slices attached at the top end. Press on the the pear halves gently to spread the pears into fans. Brush the top of the "fans" with the butter. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat and place the buttered side of the pears in the pan. Cook the pears briefly until golden.
3. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Take the baking sheet with the tart shells from the refrigerator. Divide the caramelized onions among the shells. Sprinkle the onions with the crumbled blue cheese and gently place a fanned pear on top of the blue cheese. Sprinkle a little freshly ground pepper over the pear. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon walnut oil over each tart.
4. After all of the tart shells are filled, place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Bake the tarts for 35 minutes, then remove from oven and sprinkle chopped walnuts over each tart. Return baking sheet to the oven and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until the tart crust is baked and golden.