The summer heat and humidity in our corner of Southern Virginia may not be quite as intense as it was in coastal Georgia, but it's still summer in the South. My cooking continues to be heavy on summer comfort food: lots of fresh produce, pan-roasted meat and poultry, salads, and cold soups.
Luckily, Petersburg has a lovely Farmers' Market in an open lot of Old Towne's River Street, where I've been getting really nice tomatoes, fresh summer squash, deeply flavorful pole beans, cooling cucumbers, and all kinds of seasonal fruit.
It's now the height of peach season here, and this past weekend my favorite fruit vendor had lusciously fragrant white peaches from his own orchard. And a bit of a break in the heat made it bearable to crank up the oven for a nice peach tart.
White Peach Tart
If you want to make it literally sparkle, paint the finished tart while it's still warm with an apricot or red currant glaze. I didn't on the tart pictured here because I was out of the preserves I needed for that and anyway just wanted to keep it simple. The method is included in the notes below.
4-5 ripe but still firm white freestone peaches (other freestone varieties will work of course)
1 tablespoon bourbon
½ recipe of Basic Pastry (recipe follows)
Whole nutmeg in a grater
1. Halve, peel, and pit the peaches. Slice them into wedges and put them in a glass or ceramic bowl. Squeeze the juice the half lemon over them, add the bourbon, and gently toss to coat them with both. Set aside.
2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375° F. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/8-in thick. Fold it into quarters and lay it, point at the center, in a 9-inch removable bottom fluted tart pan. Carefully unfold it and gently press it into the fluted edges, being careful not to stretch or tear it. Roll a rolling pin over it to cut off the excess pastry and prick the bottom well with a fork. Put the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate the pastry for 20 minutes.
3. Cover the pastry with a sheet of cooking parchment or buttered foil (buttered side down against the pastry). Fill it with pie weights or dried beans and gently shake to evenly distribute them. Bake for 20 minutes in the center of the oven, take it out, and carefully remove the parchment or foil and weights. Return it to the oven and bake until the edges are beginning to brown and the bottom is opaque but not colored, about 5-8 minutes. Remove it to a wire cooling rack (including the rimmed pan on which it is sitting) and let it cool slightly.
4. Lightly sprinkle the bottom of the pastry with sugar. Gently toss the peaches again and then arrange them on the pastry, slightly overlapping, in concentric circles. Sprinkle them with several tablespoons of sugar (how much will depend on how naturally sweet the fruit is) and then lightly grate nutmeg over it. Bake in the center of the oven until the pastry is browned and the fruit is tender, and bubbly to the center, about 40-45 minutes. Remove it to a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: To remove the tart from the pan for serving, set it on a large can (such as a 28-ounce can of tomatoes), lower and remove the ring, then carefully slide the tart from the bottom onto a platter or cutting board.
To glaze the tart, do it while still warm with the following glaze: Put a cup of strained apricot or red currant preserves in a saucepan and sprinkle it with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Melt it over medium heat, stir well, and bring it to a bubbling simmer, adjust the heat to a slow simmer, and simmer 3-5 minutes. Using a natural bristle or silicone pastry brush, paint the glaze over the entire surface of the tart while it's still warm.
Basic Pastry for Pies and Tarts
The above recipe uses only half the pastry. You can simply halve the recipe or if you bake often, lightly flour the unused portion, wrap it in plastic wrap, then put it in a zipper-locking storage bad and refrigerate it for up to 2-3 days.
Makes 1 9-inch double-crusted pie or 2 open-faced 9-inch pie shells
10 ounces (about 2 cups) Southern soft-wheat flour or soft wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) chilled lard cut into small pieces
½ cup ice water
1. To make the pastry by hand: Sift or whisk together the flour and salt in a large work bowl. Add the butter and lard, handling them as little as possible. Work them into the flour with a pastry blender or 2 knives, until it's the texture of raw grits or coarse cornmeal. Add 1/3 cup ice water and lightly stir it into the flour. Add more water by tablespoonfuls until the dough gathers into a clump, but is still loose and not sticky. Lightly dust the dough and your hands with flour and gather it into a ball. Wrap it with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes. Skip to step 3.
2. To make pastry in a food processor, chill the steel blade in the freezer for 5 minutes before using it. Fit the chilled blade into the processor and put in the flour and salt. Pulse a few times to sift, then add the butter and lard. Pulse until the flour reaches the raw grits/coarse meal stage. Add 1/3 cup of ice water and pulse again until it is mixed. Then add water in tablespoonfuls, pulsing to mix each addition in, until the dough just gathers into a rough ball. Wrap it in plastic wrap flatten it into a disk, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Lightly flour a cool, smooth work surface (marble, wood or plastic laminate) and roll out the pastry for use as directed in the individual recipe.
A portion of the recipe are adapted from Essentials of Southern Cooking, copyright © 2013 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved.