Food and Movies: Labor Day and a Blueberry Honey Ricotta Tart

LaborDay

I know – it’s a weird choice for a movie associated with food. The actual plot line has nothing to do with food. Food certainly makes an appearance and it’s a memorable one, in my opinion.

If you haven’t seen the movie, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin star in a strange story in which Kate is coerced into taking escaped convict Josh Brolin home with her so that he might hide out for a bit from the cops. Brolin is immediate and straightforward about his intentions not to harm Winslet and her son. He, in turn, offers to do things around the house  while he hides there for the night. Winslet and her son grow an odd attachment to Brolin (borderline Stockholm Syndrome…) and make excuses for him to stay throughout the Labor Day weekend.

Where food comes in to this story is when Brolin makes a few dishes for Winslet and her son as repayment for their cooperation. One distinct scene is where he teaches the both of them about pie-making. He is adamant that clean hands are a cook’s best tool and crust ingredients must be kept cold. It is clear that this pie-making exercise further sparks an attraction between Brolin and Winslet’s characters. With his gentle but direct guidance, he helps Kate’s character proceed assertively in handling the ripe peaches. He coaxes her to have confidence in shaping the pie crust. His fingertips graze hers and she is lost in an ethereal and sensual pie-making endeavor.

Sex and food? A combination that has endured through the ages. Don’t act surprised. Food and sex share so many inherent qualities, how could they not be thrown together? The full activation of senses and the instant gratification and pleasure from both acts of eating and intercourse are one in the same.

Pie was never so sexy until this scene:

With all this pie-talk, of COURSE I had to make some pie – or rather, some semblance of a pie.

Josh and Kate inspired me to make a Blueberry, Honey, Ricotta Tart.

WAIT. I know. You think ricotta is only for lasagna? Psshhh, please. You just don’t know what worlds I’m about to open for you.

Rarely do I preface a recipe in terms of difficulty. I never want to scare anyone away from making delicious food. So let me say this: there are three parts to this pie. DON’T BE DAUNTED. It’s worth it. You are the conqueror of worlds. You’ve totally got this. Plus – in the end, you get to enjoy a dessert that is rich and simultaneously light. The ricotta custard does not sit heavily in your stomach and the slight touch of orange in the creamy base will make your head foggy with delight. The tartness of the blueberry jam is softened by the inclusion of fresh blueberries.

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Part 1: The Crust 

Part 2: The Beautiful, Blueberry Compote

Part 3: The Ricotta Custard Base

I firmly believe, as a home cook who is always looking to improve and learn different methods, that there are some recipes that just TEACH us things. This is one of those recipes. Roll your sleeves up and let’s do this.

The Crust:

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 Cup of Flour
  • 1 stick (8 tblsps) of butter, kept very cold and cut into cubes
  • 1/3 cup of ice water
  • 1/2 tsp of salt

(Makes one tart crust.)

Mix the salt into the ice water, set aside. (If you do not have an ice-maker at home or any available ice when you start this, I highly suggest you put this water and salt mixture in the freezer as you work the dough. The fact that it is ICE-COLD is incredibly important)

In a large bowl, put your flour and cold butter in and begin to work the butter into the flour. Use the pads of your thumbs and fingers to press and work the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles course crumbs.

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Once your mixture looks like course crumbs, pour the ice water/salt mixture one tablespoon at a time into the flour and butter until it just barely comes together in the bowl.

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Tip the contents of the bowl out onto a cutting board or whatever surface you prefer. Form into a ball and cover the ball in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, flour your surface (lightly! don’t add too much flour or it will make the dough tough) and, with a rolling pin, roll out your dough to about 1/8 of an inch thin and gently press it into your greased and floured tart dish or pie dish. Cut off excess pie dough (and at this point I always put that excess pie dough in a small baking dish, sprinkle sugar over it and bake it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. I devour the sugared pie crust pieces as I work.)

Put the tart crust back in the fridge while you make your Blueberry Compote.

Part 2: The Beautiful, Blueberry Compote

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 pint of fresh blueberries (12oz total. I bought two 6oz containers at the grocery store)
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Pinch of Cinnamon
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 heaping tsp of cornstarch
  • 3 tblsp of cold tap water

In a medium saucepan, put half the amount of blueberries,  the sugar, honey, lemon juice salt and cinnamon and bring to a boil.

Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat to a low-medium simmer. Let the sauce simmer and reduce for 10-11 minutes, reducing the liquid by about a third.

At the end of ten minutes, make a slurry – mix the cornstarch and cold water together and stir into the blueberry sauce and let it cook for 1-2 more minutes until the mixture thickens closer to a jam-like consistency.

Pour the thickened mixture in a bowl and set aside to let cool. Save the other half of the fresh blueberries for when the jam mixture has cooled. Work on the Ricotta Custard Base (YOU’RE ALMOST THERE. SOON YOU WILL EAT THE MOST GLORIOUS OF TARTS)

The Ricotta Custard Base:

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 Large Egg Yolks
  • 1 1/3 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 tblsps of orange juice
  • 1 tsp of orange zest

Preheat your oven to 350.

Set up a double boiler. Fill a medium saucepan a third of the way with water. Bring the water to a soft simmer and set a heat-proof bowl ( I always use a glass bowl) on top of the sauce pan.

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Put in your egg yolks, sugar and honey. Using a whisk, whisk the egg yolk mixture until the soft heat of the double boiler turns your egg yolks frothy and a pale yellow color. The consistency will be thick and creamy. The volume of the mixture will also increase slightly. This process will take 3-5 minutes. Do not walk away from this part. Your eggs will curdle so fast it’ll give you whiplash, if you neglect it.

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Once the eggs have become thick and creamy, take it off the double boiler and whisk in your orange juice, zest, and vanilla extract. Then gently fold in your ricotta cheese.

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All Together Now:

At this stage – take your tart crust out of the fridge and, with a fork, poke a few holes in the bottom of the crust so it doesn’t bake unevenly. Pour your ricotta mixture into the crust and bake in the pre-heated oven (350 degrees) for 16-18 minutes.

You will know that the custard is ready to come out of the oven if you give it a slight shake. The perimeter (the area of custard closest to the crust) will be firm and not jiggle. The middle will still jiggle slightly. There shouldn’t be too much color on top of the custard. It should still be a pale-yellow.

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Let the custard cool to room temperature (or if you’re impatient like me – you can stick it in the freezer to expedite the process).

Meanwhile, fold the rest of the fresh blueberries into the cooled blueberry compote.

Once the custard base has cooled, spread the blueberry mixture on top. It will seem like you’re struggling to cover the top of the tart with the blueberry compote but it will be enough. A little goes a long way here.

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Cut your slices wide, pour some coffee or tea to go with it, sit and relax your shoulders, breathe, and devour. In that order.

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What you learned:

Crust: EVERYTHING MUST BE COLD. I can’t stress that enough. The success and the flakiness of your crust will depend entirely on the coldness of the butter in the dough.

Compote: Lemon juice is key to bring out the flavors of the fruit. Without it, you would be left with a dull semblance of your sapphire blueberries.

Custard: It’s not that hard. It’s not that scary! Also, learning the double boiler method will set you up for  many other desserts. Specifically – tiramisu. Because – good lord, how can you not love tiramisu.

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