September 21, 2011

Summer Came Late

It's September in San Francisco and there's a warm Santa Ana like breeze drifting into the house through my thrown open windows.  Outside, I'd dare say it's hot.  I take every opportunity to celebrate the sun and warmth and this is seriously gorgeous summer weather.  It's days like today that this city really steals my heart.

No matter that I have an exam tomorrow in my management class and I'm supposed to be studying.  Or that I have a lab report to write.  Forget that I have a giant "to do" list staring me down, claiming most my time this weekend.  Today I have no classes, and no motivation speak of.  Sunshine means playing hooky time.  Tonight we will be hosting a movie club night - which let's be honest, sounds so much better than studying.  I just can't take today seriously.

In celebrating days like today, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the food.  The bounty that is the late summer harvest.  It's felt so good to get back into the kitchen, fingers in the bowl, tasting as I go.  Cooking has helped settle me in.

Figs and beets are everywhere right now, on display all over the markets and in corner produce stores alike.  Both sweet and earthy in their own ways, the two work together really well.  The figs, black mission in this case, are candy sweet while the beets have a more wholesome flavor profile.  Layer that with some salty and mild feta cheese and a nutty whole wheat pasty crust and you've got a divine dinner.  I thought it was even better the next day, just barely rewarmed in the oven.

Beet Fig and Feta Tart
adapted from five and spice

There is so much playing around you could do here.  Chevre instead of feta cheese, different types of figs - I used the big green Adriatic figs, but black mission would be just as delicious, if not a bit sweeter - even changing up the dried herbs and using a bit of rosemary in place of the thyme and oregano.  For a more adventurous herby twist, za'taar could work too.  If you don't have whole wheat flour for the crust, go ahead and use all purpose, but maybe consider subbing out few tablespoons for cornmeal to get a nice crunch in there.  Some freshly ground pepper in the crust might be nice too.

4 to 6 servings

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
6 tablespoons cold butter cut into small chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white vinegar 
3-4 tablespoons ice cold water

In bowl, mix together the flour and salt to combine. With your fingers or pastry blender mix the butter chunks until you have a mixture that is a coarse meal that still has pea sized pieces of butter in it.  Mix in the vinegar and the water one tablespoon at a time until the dough just starts to come together. Turn it out and press it into a ball with your hands. Flatten the ball of dough into a thick disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. 

3 medium beets, roasted and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1/4 pound feta cheese
2 adriatic figs (or 4-6 black mission figs)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

Preheat the over to 400F. 

When the tart dough has chilled, roll it out on a lightly floured surface - preferably on a piece of parchment to make transferring easier later - into a circle about 1/4 inch thick. Don't worry about the edges being smooth, but fix any cracks by pressing the dough together with your fingertips.

Crumble the feta into small chunks and sprinkle half of the cheese onto the tart crust, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges, then evenly distribute the spices over the cheese.  Spread a layer of the sliced figs on top of the cheese, followed by a layer of the beets (still leaving a 1-inch border). Sprinkle the rest of the feta on top.

Fold over the edge of the tart, toward the center, folding and overlapping the dough to keep it circular, but not perfect. Slide tart carefully onto a baking sheet by carefully picking up the edges of the parchments and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

While the tart is baking, put the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn to a low  simmer and cook until thick and syrupy and reduced by about three-quarters, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

When the tart is finished, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes.  Before eating, drizzle the balsamic syrup all over it and sprinkle the mint leaves on top.  Slice and serve.

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