If you have read any of my cookbooks, or eaten in my restaurants, you may have noticed that I have a certain fondness for dried fruit. You'll find them in my desserts, of course. But you'll also find them turning up in many savory dishes, from stews braises, and sautes to appetizers and side dishes, to salads and soups.
Some of those guest appearances trace back to culinary history. In Austria, where I grew up, it was traditional for frugal people to save some of the harvest for culinary use at other times of year. That's why raisins would appear with fresh apples in a strudel, or prunes and apricots might help thicken the red wine sauce for slowly braised short ribs.
Flavor, of course, is another key reason why dried fruits are used in so many savory dishes. I like to talk about how good cooking should have a "yin-yang" quality; that's the Asian term sometimes used to describe the way that opposites can complement each other in the right balance. For instance, I like how tart, tangy dried fruit can brighten something savory or highlight and pleasantly contrast the brightness of sweet ingredients.
There is also another reason why I like to use dried fruit. During the cold months of autumn and winter, when our choices in fresh, locally grown produce can be more limited, they make it possible for you to enjoy the taste of the warmer months. That's reason enough to keep a good supply of dried fruit in your pantry -- all sealed in airtight bags or containers that help keep them from drying out any more than they already have.
To illustrate that last point, I'd like to share one of my longtime favorite recipes: An apricot pine nut tart that offers up the golden color and tangy-sweet flavor of a signature late-summer stone fruit in the middle of this chilly winter.
After prunes (dried plums) and raisins, apricots are among the most widely available dried fruit. You've probably seen them sold in two different forms: sulfured and unsulfured. That refers to the common use of sulfur dioxide gas as a preservative during the drying, which also helps the apricots keep their bright orange color. The Food and Drug Administration has found that only the slightest traces remain by the time the apricots are packaged; but if you're at all sensitive to sulfites, or have any concerns at all, you can certainly make the recipe with unsulfured dried apricots, which will have a dark brownish color but still taste delicious.
Feel free to experiment with other dried fruit in this recipe, too. It will give you many ways to enjoy the cornucopia until spring and summer arrive.
APRICOT PINE NUT TART
Makes one 10-inch (25-cm) tart, serves 8 to 10
1 cup (250 mL) water
8 ounces (250 g) dried apricots
1/3 cup (85 mL) Grand Marnier
1/4 cup (60 mL) orange juice
Sugar dough (recipe follows), or store-bought frozen pastry for a double-crust pie, thawed
9 ounces (280 g) shelled pine nuts
1/3 cup (85 mL) sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon finely chopped orange zest
2 tablespoons apricot jam
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving
First, prepare the filling: In a small saucepan, combine the water, apricots, Grand Marnier and orange juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, remove from the heat, and leave to soak for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, divide the Sugar Dough in half and, on a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half to a circle about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick and large enough to line a 10-inch (25-cm) tart pan. Loosely roll up the dough around the rolling pin, unroll onto the pan, and gently press into the bottom and sides. With scissors or a sharp knife, carefully trim the edges, adding the trimmings to the other half of dough. Refrigerate the lined pan.
Roll out the second half of the dough to a 10-inch (25-cm) square; then, using an inverted 9-inch (22.5-cm) round, cut out a circle. Loosely roll up the circle around the pin and unroll onto a lightly floured sheet of waxed paper. Using a 1/2-inch (12-mm) circular cutter or pastry tip, cut out a random pattern of circles, leaving a rim of dough about 1/2 inch (12 mm). Gather up the cutouts and refrigerate or freeze for another use. Refrigerate the circle of dough.
Strain the liquid from the apricots. Transfer the apricots to a bowl and return the liquid to the saucepan. Boil until reduced to 3 tablespoons. Set aside to cool.
In a large skillet, lightly toast the pine nuts over medium heat, stirring constantly and taking care not to burn them. Stir the sugar and a third of the pine nuts into the apricots.
Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, or a handheld electric beater, beat the butter until fluffy. Stir in the cooled liquid and orange zest.
Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C).
To assemble the tart, spread the jam over the bottom pastry. Arrange the apricot mixture evenly on top. Sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts. Top with the butter mixture. Carefully top with the cutout pastry circle.
Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, accompanied by vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Makes 1 1/2 pounds (750 g), enough for one double-crust tart
2 1/3 cups (585 mL) cake flour or pastry flour
1/3 cup (85 mL) sugar
1/2 pound (250 g) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
3 large egg yolks
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream
In a food processor with the stainless-steel blade, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles fine meal.
In a small bowl, whisk together the yolks and 1 tablespoon of cream. Scrape into the machine and process until a ball begins to form, adding a little additional cream if necessary. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and press down into a circle. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.(c) 2018 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.