I have gone on at some length about my regard for the late Mireielle Johnston, and her wonderful cookbook, Cuisine of the Sun. More than a few of my most reliable and well loved recipes came from this collection of "Classical French Recipes from Nice and Provence," which appeared in my life in the late seventies. It was, to me, a key to a whole world of distinctive, delicious and unpretentious food. No doubt the recipes are classic, but they were also chosen, refined and executed by a brilliant home cook, and very clever lady. I was pretty much never disappointed when I trusted her judgment.
There was not much in this book I hadn't tried or considered in one form or another, but there was one unusual dessert I never got around to making. She called it,"one of the most traditional and well-loved desserts of Nice", but also a "curious blend". The tourte de blettes always seemed odd, including as it does spinach or chard, and cheese in a sweet pie. I had been curious to try it, but shy of commiting time and ingredients to something I might well not like. Now that I had a farmbox, with plenty of spinach and chard, some pine nuts I got for a gift, and the blog to encourage me experiment, it seemed like a good time to give it a try.
The ingredients are these:
(BTW MJ says this serves eight. This borders on the hysterical. I would say it serves at least 12, and I am known for my greed.)
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 eggs beaten
1 cup softened butter, unsalted
1/2 cup sugar
about 1 tbsps salt
4 large golden delicious apples
3 tbsps raisins
1 tbsp dark rum
1 cup of cooked, drained and squeezed and well chopped chard, spinach, or combo
4 tbsps pine nuts
1/2 cup confectioner' s sugar
1/4 to 1/2 pound mild, bland cheese (gouda or mild cheddar, eg.) diced small
2 beaten eggs
grated rind one lemon
2 tbsps currant jelly
3 tbsps confectioners sugar
Digression: It's about those golden delicious apples. I know they are horrible eaten out of hand, a travesty of an apple-the texture is mealy and the flavor insipid; the skin is unusually tough. Crispness, one of the most essential qualities of an eating apple, is pretty much entirely absent. (Caveat: I have never had one freshly picked, usually any apple right off the tree is a thousand times improved from a storage apple.) I assumed, from sampling it, that the golden delicious was bred for storage and transport, and regularly ignored for years directions to use them in cooking. I just substituted something I knew to be a reasonable cooking apple.
I had vaguely remembered a dispute reported in the early days of common marketdom, in which the many fabulous varieties of English apple were seen as threatened by a French proposal to recognize fewer varieties. Since most of the recipes including the golden delicious were French, I guess I just thought that the poor dears didn't have good cooking apples to choose from, or some foolishness of that kind. I may have even been pompous on the topic-it seems likely. I'm here to tell you that this was a Serious Error. In turns out that somehow, in cooking, the golden delicious is magically transformed. It softens, while keeping its shape, and the sugars condense, or something, resulting in an almost flowery, carmelized yumminess. End of digression, I think.
Pastry:On a floured surface, work the ingredients together until well blended, stretching the dough away from you with the heel of your hand. Shape into two balls, one 2/3 and the other 1/3 of the total dough. Cover with a clean nonterry dish cloth, and leave 2 hours at room temperature.
Tourte:Peel the apples and cut 2 in small cubes. Put the raisins and rum in a little pan. Boil and then simmer 2 minutes. Preheat oven to 425F. Mix the greens, raisins, apple cubes, pine nuts, sugar, cheese, lemon rind and eggs, in abig bowl. Slice the remaining apples. Roll the pastry out thinly. Butter a deeper than ordinary pie dish, casserole or mold, and spread the larger circle of dough in the bottom, up the sides, and over the edges of the baking dish. Prick it all over with a fork. Heat the jelly and brush it over the bottom and sides of the crust. Add the filling, and cover with the apple slices.
Cover with remaining circle of dough, and trim neatly. Poke the top crust with a fork, and bake 15 minutes. Turn heat to 325F, and continue to bake until golden- approximately 45 minutes more. (It should be a darker gold than appears in the pictures, which are washed out by sunshine and an inept photographer-me.) Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar. I snuck mine out of the pan, because it was an old beat up metal one, but if you make it in a pretty baking dish, you won't have to upend it.This may be eaten, said Ms. Johnston, warm or cold, and is especially suited to buffets and picnics.
I would agree. I was surprised by the taste. It is simultaneously a very individual flavor and not weird. Not a sharp taste at all, neither the greens nor the cheese stand out. If any taste dominates, it is the apple, but just barely. It's all kind of mellow, taste-wise, in the manner of a custardy sort of thing, though an entirely different texture. It is quite solid, but soft, not chewy- just sort of densely packed. Unlike a ricotta kind of pie, it is not prone to collapse. It is easy to slice, hence good for picnics and buffets- or to take sliced, in a lunchbag. It goes extremely well with strong hot coffee. I'm in favor, and glad I tried it. I'm thinking of making some for company. Meantime, I've got a lunchbag treat for the week. I might pre-bake the bottom crust a little next time.