(Full recipe at bottom of post)
People always associate us with Martha Stewart. And while she’s certainly been a great friend and influence, one of our other main culinary and life inspirations is Jacques Pépin. We’ve always loved his background…he started working as a youth in France in his parents’ restaurant. Then he moved to Paris and worked as the personal chef for french leaders like Charles De Gaulle. Then he came to America to work in NY’s finest french restaurant, La Pavillon.
Then – and we love this part of the story – he was hired away from the fancy restaurant by none other than Howard Johnson. Yep. The guy who owned these restaurants:
Jacques developed recipes for their product line and restaurants for several years before becoming the TV chef that most people recognize him for today. (Our two favorite Jacques Pépin cookbooks are this one, and this one.) Along the way he became dear friends with Julia Child. Whom we also love.
We’ve always believed that food and recipes and dinner parties can be wonderful whether served on Limoges or Dixie. And sometimes a combination of both. We also believe that technique is important. But sometimes it’s not. Pretty much the only thing we insist upon is that a meal should taste great, be freely shared, and should end with your heart as full as your stomach.
Years ago we saw something similar to these tarts made on one of Jacques cooking shows. They’re really nothing special. They only require a few ingredients and a little time. Their entire reason to exist is to highlight the strawberry at the height of its season. We added just enough of a twist (thyme) to make them suitable for any guests that need to feel impressed.
We think Jacques would like them.
Maybe someday he’ll come over and have one on the porch.
Here’s how we made them:
First we picked the ripest strawberries we could find in the garden. And a few sprigs of thyme. The berries have to be super ripe. Or there’s no point in making this. (You could substitute raspberries, cherries, blueberries or whatever is awesomely mouthwatering at the moment.)
Next, we prebaked pie-dough in the individual tart pans. For detailed instructions, click here.
Shameless (but proud) Plug Alert: We naturally use our own ceramic mini “pie-lette” pans. They’re a little deeper than most tart tins. Plus they’re hand-thrown by one of our amazing Beekman 1802 artisans using our signature Gun Metal Glaze. Plus they have a teeny goat stamped into the bottom. They come in sets of one, two, or four.
End of Shameless (but proud) Plug Alert.
Next we simmered a few of the strawberries with half of the thyme.
We let it simmer for a good long while to extract as much of the thyme oils as possible.
After done simmering, we discarded the thyme sprigs and pureed it using an immersion blender. Then we spooned a few tablespoons of the mixture into the bottom of each pre-baked “pie-lette” shell.
Looks so good, we almost considered stopping here.
But no. We have all the rest of those incredible strawberries.
So we piled them on top of the puree mixture in a neat little pyramid.
Then we heated up some of our own red currant jelly with a little Limoncello. (You can use apricot or apple jelly as a substitute. Don’t use strawberry jelly. It will conflict with the taste of the real strawberries.) And the remaining thyme sprigs. Once melted, we let it simmer a good while, extracting the thyme oils. Then we discarded the thyme sprigs and brushed the still-hot jelly syrup over the strawberry pyramids.
The jelly helps set all of the strawberries into place, as well as making it beautifully shiny. Like little rubies. Only tastier.
And more priceless.
Are you out there, Jacques? Raspberry season is next…come on by.
Prep time: 1 Hour
Cook time: 10 Min
Yield: 3-4 individual tarts
Crust for 2-3 mini-tarts:
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon butter, cut into pats and very very cold.
2-4 Tablespoons vodka straight from the freezer.
3 tablespoons sugar
4 cups whole, washed, hulled, super-ripe strawberries (A little less than 2 pints.)
12 springs fresh thyme
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons Limoncello or Grand Marnier
¾ cup red currant jelly (substitute apricot or apple jelly.)
First, make and prebake pie-dough in individual tart dishes. For instructions, please click here.
Heat 1 cup of the strawberries, 6 sprigs of thyme, and sugar in a small sauce pan, over medium heat. Lightly smash berries to produce a little juice. Let simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring often, not allowing to burn. Strawberries should be completely softened if not dissolved. Remove thyme springs and puree mixture with immersion blender. (Or with food mill, or even back of fork.)
Once mixture has cooled add 3 tablespoons in the bottom of each baked pastry shell.
Arrange remaining strawberries in pyramid on top of pureed mixture.
In small saucepan, heat Limoncello, currant jelly, and remaining thyme sprigs until dissolved. Allow to simmer for five minutes, adding water or more liquer if necessary to keep from scorching. Remove thyme springs.
While melted jelly mixture is still hot, lightly brush over piled strawberries, coating completely. Allow 30 minutes to cool and set.
Serve at room temperature with creme fraiche, or a mixture of ½ whipped cream and ½ sour cream. (optional.)