“Good-bye to…food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you…Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? — Every, every minute?”

Oh Thorton Wilder. I know you’re relegated to the dustbin of high school English classes but this quote from Our Town gets me every time. I haven’t read Wilder in years but this weekend, in between working a new job, visiting the Whitney Biennial and the Francesca Woodman show at the Gugg*, and generally avoiding people in green, I read multiple applications for the Board I’m on, students eager to get into an academic summer program.

Someone’s application made a reference to Our Town and my mind wandered to this passage. Food and coffee and freshly ironed dresses, hot baths, sleeping, and waking up…In the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein, these are a few of my favorite things.

Wilder in mind, I set out for this weekend’s simple cooking pleasure. With the weather warming up, but the farmer’s markets not yet stocked with the first produce of the season, an in-between, intermediary meal was in order. Something to welcome the spring and sun and longer days, and gently bid farewell to the unfriendliest of seasons (although kind of friendly this past year).

My hand reached for Plenty on the shelf. That’s the cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi I wrote about here two weeks ago. It would have to be the caramelized garlic tart. The perfect early spring food: the lusciousness of cream, the lightness of pastry, the fragrance of rosemary and thyme. It’s letting go of winter and greeting spring simultaneously. It’s warm and cool, light and dark, sweet and savory, like March itself.

The Ball jar above is filled with cream, crème fraîche, eggs, salt, and pepper. Its final destination: the all-butter puff pastry, to be filled with caramelized garlic, two types of goat cheeses, rosemary and thyme. In the words of a friend, “I do.”

Caramelized Garlic Tart
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 8

1 sheet all-butter puff pastry (approx. 375 g)
3 medium heads of garlic, cloves peeled and separated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
scant 1 c water (220 ml)
3/4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few twigs to finish
1/4 lb (120 g) soft, creamy goat’s cheese (I used Caprichio from Spain)
1/4 lb (120 g) hard, mature goat’s cheese (I used smoked goat cheddar from Redwood Hill, CA)
2 eggs
1/3 c (100 ml) heavy cream
1/3 c (100 ml) crème fraîche
salt and black pepper

Have ready a shallow, loose-bottomed, 9-in. (28 cm) fluted tart tin. Thaw the puff pastry if frozen for at least 40 minutes before handling, then line the bottom and sides of the tin. Place a large circle of wax paper on the bottom and fill with dried beans. Let rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Place the tart in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, with the beans. Remove the beans and wax paper, then bake for another 5-10 minutes, until the pastry is golden. Set aside, leave the oven on.

While the tart is baking fend off vampires by preparing the garlic. (A trick by the way to peeling all that garlic is putting the cloves in a jar, like a Mason or Ball jar, and shaking hard for about one minute. At least half the skins will fall off that way.) Place the cloves in a small saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and blanch for 3 minutes, then drain well. Dry the saucepan, return the cloves to it, and add the olive oil. Fry the garlic cloves on high heat for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic and water and bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add the sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme, and 1/4 tsp salt. Continue simmering on medium for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Breath in deep. Set aside.

To assemble the tart, break up both types of goat’s cheeses into pieces and scatter in the pastry. Spoon the garlic cloves and syrup evenly over the cheese. In a jug or bowl whisk together the eggs, creams, 1/2 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour this over the tart filling to fill the gaps, but make sure you can still see the garlic over the surface.

Reduce the oven temp to 325 F (160 C) and place the tart inside. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the tart filling has set and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool a little. Remove from tin, lay a few sprigs of thyme on top and serve warm with a crisp green salad.

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*If you live in NYC I highly encourage you to visit the Whitney Biennale, up until May 27th. Head straight to the second floor for Latoya Ruby Frazier’s black and white photographs—these are worth the visit alone; then check out Werner Herzog’s film, an ode to c17 Dutch painter Hercules Segers set to the music of Ernst Reijseger, also on the second floor. And then check out the little room toward the back of the second floor gallery with the Forrest Bess (by Robert Gober) installation: chilling. Then head up to the fourth floor rehearsal space of Michael Clark, British dancer and choreographer, who, with the dancers in his company, have taken over the entire floor. You get to stand around and watch them rehearse through April 8th.

Finally…worth a trip to the Guggenheim to see Francesca Woodman through June 13th. Woodman was a prolific photographer with a very short career, basically 1975 to 1981. I loved the Providence photos in particular.

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