Last week I started work at one of my favourite schools which happens to be in the Belmont Neighborhood of the Bronx. It’s a two hour, two subway train and one bus commute from my apartment in Brooklyn. The trip is worth it because I love working at this school (I have been there off and on for 10 years!) and also because it is near Arthur Avenue.
Arthur Avenue is the best “Little Italy” in the city. There are no suave men trying to usher tourists into their restaurant. There are no Little Italy trinkets to be bought. There are stunning butchers, bakeries and cheese stores that sell olives for half the price of Manhattan gourmet shops. There are cafes with excellent food, run by aging Italian Americans who make you feel like a member of their family. There is the Arthur Avenue Retail Market where vegetables, meat, cheese, cigars and specialty foods are sold in a Laguardia era covered bizarre with lovely sky lights. I remember sitting in a cafe one day on Arthur Ave eaves dropping on the owner as she gossiped with an employee about a new bakery on the Avenue. She said “Well she knows that she can’t get away with selling anything that isn’t top notch! This is Arthur Avenue!”
When I am working at the school in Belmont, I take a little weekly vacation on Arthur Avenue. I have coffee and then buy some delicious ingredients to inspire my cooking for the week. This time I got Italian prune plums, ricotta and mascarpone so that I could make this tart! I am obviously still enjoying the last gasp of plum season and I hope that you are too…because I still have a lot more to say about plums.
Our friend Kerthy made this tart last year and it has haunted me since, so I asked for the recipe. It is from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. I do not own this cookbook (yet) but I have asked for the recipe every time Kerthy has cooked something from it.
I took all of the ingredients overt to my friend Sarah’s house and we spent a very leisurely afternoon stewing the plums in spiced wine and baking a crust. Sarah has a HUGE kitchen with two sinks and every kind of kitchen tool imaginable! Most people in Brooklyn cook in kitchens the size of a boat galley. I think I was moving slow in Sarah’s kitchen just because it was so nice to be there!
For this tart you just put the creamy cheese filling and jam into the baked tart crust and eat it without additional baking. I hadn’t read the instructions all the way through when I first made it and I accidentally put the tart back into the oven for a few minutes before realizing that it was not necessary! It kind of made me giggle because it reminds me of that kind of those delicious low brow pie where you pile some cool whip and fruit into a pre bought pie crust and stick into the fridge….only A LOT fancier.
I have adapted this recipe only because I can only eat gluten-free pie crusts. Of course you can make a crust that isn’t gluten-free. The original recipe is fairly standard except that it replaces some of the flour with ground up toasted almonds and adds almond extract. I wasn’t totally satisfied with the first gluten-free crust that I made at Sarah’s house and I had a lot of jam and creamy cheese filling left, so I made another version a few days later and found something that I liked. I ended up using my favourite gluten-free tart crust recipe from Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise G Roberts with some almond extract added. I put the toasted almonds on the top of the tart rather than in the crust.
The original recipe warns that you should fill this tart no more than an hour before serving. I have to say though, I put my leftover tart in the fridge and found it even better the next day. I love the consistency of the creamy cheese filling when it was chilled and gluten free crusts do not get soggy the way traditional crusts do! So, even if you are not on a gluten-free diet this crust has some serious benefits, particularly if you want to make this desert in advance for a special occasion.
PLUM TART WITH ALMONDS
PLUM JAM WITH RED WINE
I found that this made enough jam to fill two tarts. The extra jam would also be excellent on toast, on ice cream or eaten from a spoon while standing at the counter!
- 2 cups Barolo or Zinfandel (the local wine shop recommended a wine made with the same grapes as Barolo that did not cost fifty dollars a bottle and it worked out just fine)
- 1 and 1/2 cup sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 1 heaping teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds
- 8 bay leaves, broken
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 four-inch piece of cinnamon
- 2 and 3/4 to 3 pounds plums (I used Italian Prune Plums but Queen Rosa and Casselman are also recommended)
- Bruise the peppercorns and anise in a mortar and pestle or smash them with something else heavy.
- In a large pot combine the wine, all of the spices, sugar and salt. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes syrupy. Turn the heat off and let it steep for 20 minutes.
- While the wine and spices are steeping, pit the plums and cut them into sixths.
- Strain the syrup through a fine sieve and return it to the pot.
- Set the syrup over high heat and bring to a boil.
- When the syrup boils add the plums and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer gently, stirring frequently until the plums soften and break down.
- Turn the heat to high and cook stirring frequently until it forms large bubbles. You can tell it is done by dragging a wooden spatula through the jam; it should leave a path that stays cleared. Do not caramelize the syrup as it will lose its fruity flavour.
- Turn the jam out onto a tray to cool while you bake the crust.
- 1 cup brown rice mix (recipe below)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp xanthan gum (no you can’t skip this)
- 5 Tablespoons cold butter
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
- Butter a 9 inch pie or tart pan and dust it with some of the rice flour.
- In a medium bowl combine all of the dry ingredients.
- Use your fingers or a pastry cutter to combine the butter and the flour until it is crumbly
- Add the almond extract and mix well
- Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan
- Bake in the center of the oven until golden (about 18 minutes)
- While the crust bakes and then cools make the cheese filling
RICE FLOUR MIX
- 2 cups brown rice flour
- 2/3 cups potato starch (NOT POTATO FLOUR)
- 1/3 cup Tapioca flour
- 3/4 cup high quality whole-milk ricotta
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- a pinch of salt
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
- A couple of handfuls of sliced almonds
- Puree the ricotta with the vanilla, sugar and salt.
- Fold in the mascarpone.
- Toast the almonds until golden in a dry skillet.
- When the crust is done baking let it cool a bit before filling it to avoid melting your creamy filling. When the crust is cool, fill it half way with the creamy cheese filling.
- Layer the plum jam on top of that…
- …and finish it off with the toasted almonds.