We traveled on Thanksgiving, heading west on a quiet Route 2, as if everyone else had arrived at their destination, already settled in and cozy. Eric drove while the rest of us relaxed, (or slept, ahem, Lars) listening to music and enjoying the snow-covered trees lining the highway. We ate more than we should, let the kids play outside in the first snow of the season and snowshoed through the woods, trying to negate the effects of sitting comfortably all afternoon.
Saturday we were back at home unpacking, getting settled. As I stood at the stove, staring at boiling water while tiny shells bubbled about, I really thought about the simple act of cooking pasta and how our five senses are engaged, each being key to becoming a better cook.
Cooking pasta is a basic kitchen task: water is put on to boil, pasta is dumped into the salted water, stirred, timed and tested for doneness. No thought required other than remembering the timer. However, if you walk away waiting for the water to boil, you may notice steam coming out between the lid and the pan or hear that lid shake if the water is boiling quite vigorously. Pasta feels, looks and smells differently as it goes form dried to al dente. When stirring, you can feel the difference as the shapes become more pliable, you can see the color lighten, notice aroma become less starchy, taste for texture. If we want to improve as cooks, we need to pay attention to these characteristics, to notice the details of what we make so we are more comfortable and less reliant on instructions.
Each year, whether we host Thanksgiving or not, we are sure to get a turkey from my cousin’s farm outside Cooperstown. She and her husband raise orgainc, humanely treated animals and grow organic vegetables on their 500 acres. Sunday we celebrated not-Thanksgiving, so one of her beautiful birds was roasted then served with the sausage dressing and indispensible items like mashed potatoes, gravy and sweet potatoes with brown sugar and pecans. My mom and Eric always want at least one apple dessert and Martha argues for apple crostata, claiming it as her favorite. I had grand intentions for photos of the finished tart, but the turkey was done before I expected which rushed things along and then our family of 4 1/2 people ate the entire crostata, drizzled with David Lebovitz’s salted butter caramel, in one sitting. So no photo op, but there is a photo on Instagram from a crostata made earlier this fall.
I like to dice the butter and place it in the freezer to keep cool while the other ingredients are readied. Make sure your water is quite cold as well. Actually, if it’s very hot in your kitchen, you can put even the flour in the freezer to chill. I usually put about 1/4 cup of a whole gran flour, such as wheat or spelt, in place of 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. If you have a pizza stone, use it for this free form tart. Preheat the pizza stone for at least 45 minutes in a 450 degree oven. Roll out your dough and place it on a piece of parchment then proceed with the filling and folding. Slide the tart on the parchment onto the pizza stone and cook for 15-20 minutes.
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup of all-purpose flour OR 3/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup whole grain flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold water
3 large apples
The zest of half an orange
1-2 teaspoons sugar
Coarse sugar (optional)
Cut the butter into small cubes and place it in the freezer.
Combine the flour(s), sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process about five seconds to combine. Add the butter. (I carefully try to coat the butter with some flour without jabbing my fingers into the blade.) Pulse about 10-12 times until the mixture looks like coarse sand, with some larger lentil-size pieces of butter. Alternatively, place the flour mixture in a bowl and cut the butter into the flour with two knives and/or your hands.
If using the food processor, dump the contents into a bowl. Drizzle the water over and quickly work the dough together with a wooden spoon. In the bowl, grab the dough together and work it into a rough ball. Dump the ball onto a lightly floured work surface (I use my countertop) and work it into a disc, about five inches wide. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for about an hour. (The dough can also be frozen at this point, but place it in a zip top bag first.)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Take the dough from the refrigerator and let it soften, about 10-15 minutes depending on how warm your kitchen is
While the dough is warming, prepare the filling. Peel and core the apples. Cut each apple into quarters then slice each quarter into 5-6 sections. Toss the apple slices in a bowl with the zest, the cinnamon and the sugar, to taste
Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the top with flour and rub flour over a rolling pin. Roll the dough, rotating a quarter turn each time, into a 12″ circle. (To be honest, a circle is your goal, but mine rarely is. It’s really roundish, although when I made this on Sunday it actually looked like a pentagon. Alas, the “rustic” appeal of the free form tart.) Transfer the dough, by rolling it up gently onto the rolling pin, to a half sheet pan lined with either parchment or a silicone baking mat.
Place the apples in the center of the tart, leaving 1-2″ border. Fold the dough up over the apples, pleating it as you move along. Sprinkle the sanding sugar over the tart, if using. Place the pan into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown and the apples ares brown in spots.