Saturday, March 27, 2010

The perfect tarte tatin?

Perfection is not something I strive for in my life.  When I am feeling stressed and need to just get through a project or meet a deadline, my motto tends to be "Done is better than perfect."  I do like to do things well, though, and usually try to do my best.
"An Evening with the Sabbatical Chef" made its debut last night.  It might not have been perfect, but it was as close as it comes.  Back in the fall, I was asked to offer a Provençale dinner as part of our faculty/staff on-line auction at Durham Academy.  I was nervous, but said yes to a couple of very persuasive volunteers.  The parents of a former student of mine offered their kitchen and I agreed.  The woman who is our associate director of development was the high bidder.  We set a date and I just didn't think much about it for a couple of months.  Too many other things to check off my list... midterm exams, the holidays, the 7th grade class trip to Washington, DC, my 8th grade trip to France, the spring meeting for the NC chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French... and then the date was upon me.
While in Arles, I bought a tin of my favorite olive oil from Mas des Barres near Les Baux de Provence and some lavender honey from Sophie, one of the artisans we took clients to visit when I worked with Chef Érick.  I thought they might come in handy.  I started putting together a menu, seeking advice from friends, some who are trained chefs, some who just love to cook as much as I do.  (Are the French just born knowing what goes well together- se marier bien - or is it just early training??   Goat cheese with just a teardrop of lavender honey on top for the salade de chèvre chaud, to quote one French friend's recipe.)  I decided to keep it simple, a wise decision on my part, since I am not a chef.  The BFF (pictured above) volunteered to be my assistant.  We shopped, tied on our aprons, and set to chopping lots of garlic.
We had planned to make an amuse-bouche of shrimp and aoïli but decided not to at the last minute.  Our hostess had already bought olives and French cornichons, little pickles. 
We served the salade de chèvre chaud first.  It was accompanied by Provence rosé and white wines from Wine Authorities.

We then decided to serve the tomates à la provençale separately, as the second course, although we had originally planned to serve them with the main dish.  The lamb was still roasting and we needed to buy a little time.
The lamb, stuffed with anchovies and slivers of garlic, came out perfectly pink.  We served Gratin Dauphinois and Haricots verts au persillade with the lamb.  We had a Provence red to accompany this, as well as two Bordeaux reds donated by another parent.
Our hostess picked out lovely cheeses- a camembert, roquefort and gruyère. 

The BFF has the perfect pan to make Tarte Tatin.  She is also very, very fond of this dessert!  She ate the last piece...

She visited me both summers I was working in Arles and we made it with clients while she was there.  We have made it several times since my return, but I think that last night was the best.  She does look proud, doesn't she?  We served it with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dessert wine named Loupiac, also from WA.  I enjoyed a little glass of it with our guests.

At the end of the evening, our hostess' husband washed up and we packed up and went home.  It was such fun!

Tarte Tatin

5-6 apples, peeled, cored, quartered and uniformly sliced (Pink Lady apples are the best to use)
1/4 c. mild olive oil
1/2 cup sugar (or enough to cover the oil)
Pie dough of choice- home-made, a pâte brisée or flaky pastry)

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a non-stick skillet that can go into the oven.  Spread it around, completely covering the bottom.  (You may need more depending on the size of your pan.)  Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the oil.  Arrange the apple slices attractively in the skillet, in a rounded pattern with the flat side down.  Cover the oil and sugar completely, overlapping the slices a bit.  Place on medium flame and let simmer until the sugar begins to caramelize (about 20 minutes).  Do not stir.
Remove from heat and lay the pastry on top of the apples.
Bake until the pastry dough has browned nicely, about 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cover with a cake plate the size of or a bit larger than your skillet.  Carefully invert the tart onto the plate.  If necessary, use a heat-proof spatula to help get all the good caramel in the skillet on the fruit or to scrape out any apples that may have stuck to the pan.
Let cool a few minutes before cutting.  Serve plain, with vanilla ice cream or with whipped cream.

Bon appétit to all my helpers! I could not have done this without you...

1 comment:

MPK said...

I am proud to be your assistant any time you need one! And, as your assistant it is important for me to taste test - it was really just quality control - I'm willing to sacrifice for your craft :) Thanks for letting me tag along!