The University District farmers market is one of the bigger and better neighborhood markets, and even at the first booth, I feel like a kid in a candy store. I try to force myself to walk around the whole market before making my first purchase. Sometimes I even make it. Last Saturday, I didn’t. I spotted red currants in one booth, and quickly grabbed a pint. They were sitting next to gooseberries which I also couldn’t resist, although I really had no idea what to do with them. Into my bag also went a grab bag of first of the season apricots, with the faintest of red blush. Some fresh fruit tarts were definitely going to be making an appearance.
First off, I had to learn a little something about the gooseberries.
The Produce Bible, a great cookbook that goes into detail about the this and that of almost any fruit or vegetable you could find, had a couple of great tips on gooseberries. According to it, gooseberries are one of the few fruits that should cooked before eating. Of course, I read this after snacking on quite a few of the grape-like berries earlier. There were no ill effects, and I kind of liked the sweet-tart bite of each gooseberry, which reminded me of a kiwi mixed with a concord grape. The inside is sweet and juice and the skins hold all of the tartness. If you are using gooseberries, make sure they are not too ripe… they should be somewhat firm, or they start to develop an off-flavor. The little brown tops and green tails should be trimmed off before using them.
For the pastry for the tarts, I turned to Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World by Alford and Duguid. There are a myriad of pastry recipes in this book, but I wanted a fairly quick puff pastry. The Rough Puff recipe looked like it would do the trick. The pastry turned out well… it’s light and flaky and puffed a small amount as promised. But, I don’t think I’d make it again. It just wasn’t much of a time savor overall from regular puffed pastry, which gives a bit more puff. My next batch, I’ve decided will use a croissant dough instead, for a more danish like puffy chewy texture.
But the beauty of these tarts is that you fill them with whatever combination suits you. The currant tart is simply fresh currants, topped with a touch of honey once cooked. The apricots can be sliced and cooked as is, or poached in white wine or sherry. A drizzle, once again, of honey and a little flake sea salt makes each bite irresistible. The gooseberry tart requires a touch more workâ€“ a quick saute in some sugar and a vanilla bean to create a luscious syrup.
4 to 5 small tarts
1 cup of gooseberries, topped and tailed
1 t water
3 T sugar
1 vanilla bean, split open
2 t lemon juice
1/2 recipe for puff pastry dough
Prepare your pastry dough, and let it chill for at least 30 minutes before using.
Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment, and place it in the freezer.
Add the gooseberries, water, vanilla bean, and and sugar to a saute pan. Mix to coat, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and add the lemon juice. Remove the vanilla bean, cover and allow the berries to cool in the syrup.
Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Working with one piece at a time (leaving the remainder in the refrigerator), roll out to about a 5 inch by 4 inch rectangle, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Slice the dough in half. Cut the center out of one of the halves, leaving about a 1/2 inch border around the edge. Then, place the edged piece on top of the solid piece, and lightly press down. Then, place on the parchment lined baking sheet in the freezer. Proceed to the next piece of dough and repeat. (If you want, you can re-roll the remnants, rechill them, and make one or two more tarts. These won’t puff up as well though.)
Spoon the gooseberry mixture into the center of the tart. Only add enough that the pastry rim you’ve created can hold in filling.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.