TS Eliot once said April is the cruelest month, but I’d like to take his April and raise him a January. Clearly, the man hasn’t lived though a “new-year-new-you” era – he’d be singing a different tune if he had, and the prologue to his canonical work might have started out a tad differently.
Generally, I am no friend of January. It’s just too much pressure: the resolutions, the feeling of obligation to be better, do better, think better; the pressure of salads in a month when brown food accented with butter and a rich sauce is what I want to eat. Somehow a plate full of lettuce leaves me feeling cold and dejected. Were you to put a salad in front of me, I’d simply poke about with a fork and shove it to the side. Unless we’re talking about this salad here and that one there. But for the most part, I’m all about devouring stuffed cabbage and merguez burgers and braised short ribs. I make a terrible vegetarian in the month of January and my resolutions last about as long as it takes me to drink a cup of tea. Thus I rarely make resolutions outright. Instead, I aspire. To aspire just sounds so much more open than resolve, softer, more lenient, more forgiving. It’s not that I don’t like to set goals, but just not in January, okay? The cold is just too much for me to bear. I prefer dreaming about hibernation and fleece and flannel and soup. Or visiting sunnier cities with gracious hosts and friendly dogs. On occasion, I will daydream about walking around this cold, cloudy city, armed with a cup of coffee in my hand and a camera. But mostly, I think about palm trees and chewed up monkey toys and day hikes. I’d like more of those in my life.
The sheer pressure of January with its new beginnings and clean pages is so daunting, it can be overwhelming and downright depressing, right? Plus as we’re coming off the holiday season high, we might just come crashing down. There are no more festive parties, no more champagne cocktails, no festive cupcakes adorned with tiny little silver dragées. It’s back to the grind; back to reality. Work picks up almost overnight and after a 15 hour workday as you get home at 10:30 o’clock at night, you want a little indulgence and a lot more sleep. And that indulgence does not come in the form of a salad.
And this is where I am not helpful. At all. I say to you, “It’s winter, indulge a bit, comfort thyself. And when spring comes around with its verdant, lush produce, then transition to salads!” Won’t that be so much more fun? Great, in-season produce when it’s warmer and you’re feeling lighter just because you’re not wearing eight layers. But for now, this tart should get you through the colder months. It’s the kind of thing you want to have company for and because this is so wonderfully rich, smaller slivers will do just fine – you won’t want a big piece on your plate. Rosemary, the quintessential herb in savory winter cooking, is the star here, with its soft fragrance accenting the caramel and pine nuts. This is very classically-Italian flavor combination here, and so perfectly wintry, you’ll feel perhaps a bit gladder it’s not summer yet.
Gray, cold days are no time to make resolutions when our souls need comforting. Let’s make them on warmer days (if at all) and in the meantime let us have cake (or tarts) with bottomless cups of tea. It’ll pass the time quite perfectly.
Pine-nut Tart with Rosemary
Adapted from The Last Course, by Claudia Fleming (with Melissa Clark)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp almond flour
Pinch of salt
Pine-nut Rosemary Filling
1 cup pine nuts
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp honey
3 tbsp light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
Pinch of salt
To make the crust:
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in egg.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.
3. Mix until the dough holds together, which you can test by pinching a small piece. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, form it into a disk, and wrap well. Chill until firm, for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to a 12-inch round. Fit it into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim away any excess dough, then use a fork to prick the crust all over. Chill for 10 minutes. Bake the tart crust until it’s pale golden, 20-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. (The tart shell can be made 8 hours ahead of frozen for up to 3 months.)
To make the filling:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the nuts out in one layer on a baking sheet and toast them until fragrant and golden brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool, but keep the oven on.
2. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar, honey, and corn syrup. Stir the mixture occasionally over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to high and boil the mixture, stirring occasionally to keep the caramel from burning, until it turns a deep amber color, 12-14 minutes.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the cream (stand back, the caramel may splatter). Place over low heat and whisk until the caramel is smooth. Turn off the heat and stir in the toasted pine nuts, vanilla, rosemary, and salt. Let the mixture infuse for 15 minutes.
4. Wrap the outside of the cooled tart shell (still in the pan) with aluminum foil. Remove the rosemary sprigs and pour the pine-nut mixture into the shell. Place on a baking sheet and bake until golden russet brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
Makes 8 servings.