Until recently, I hadn't been spending much time in my kitchen. Back in the summer, I hardly used the oven or stove, as is often the case during the hotter months. The changing season was then followed by a busy spell of work. I was developing, testing, and shooting recipes for clients during the day, which left me pretty drained when I got home (see: scrambled eggs for dinner again). Then in May, Dave and I were back in the states for a few weeks to see my family. Since returning from that trip, I think I had just gotten out of the habit of cooking.
I noticed myself getting grumpy. I was uninspired at work, lazy at home. This funk subsided though, when I picked up Mimi Thorisson's latest book, French Country Cooking. I rarely use a cookbook to follow a recipe word for word, but rather just to get ideas. I have always loved Mimi, and thought this would be a nice book to have on the shelf for the occasional peruse. When I got home from the shop, though, I ended up reading it cover to cover. I was totally engrossed. I had some chestnuts and savoy from the market; I could make her Roast Chicken with Chestnuts and Cabbage. The lamb from our recently butchery at Craiglee could be used in one of her rôti d'agneau. And that big bunch of swiss chard I didn't want to go to waste? It would be cooked into her decadent gratin with a rich layer of béchamel.
While cooking from this book, I was transported back to our time in France, where we stayed in a family friend's home in the tiny village of Sivignon. Here, in winter, I cooked with heavy cast iron and worn copper pots, using the most fragrant produce from the neighboring town's market, a fire always lit and Côte-de-Beaune Pinot always flowing. It was one of the happiest times in my life.
This book has served as a catalyst, helping me reconnect in the kitchen by way of rustic French cooking. I do not know if it is my tiny portion of French blood, the time I've spent traveling there, or that I favor the ingredients of the cuisine, but I love this food. And I love making this food. Everything about it feels natural and instinctive.
I have made many recipes from this book, and they've all been beautiful, but they have since morphed into interpretations of my own, based on what's in season and looks good at the market. I have fallen back into the therapeutic habit of cooking by feel. There is one recipe, however, that I do not stray from: Mimi's Walnut Tart, which I've already made half a dozen times. It is my favorite kind of dessert - quick, foolproof, and all the better with some fresh cream, a shaving of nutmeg, and a sticky amaro.
Mimi Thorisson's Walnut Tart
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) flour, plus more for rolling dough
120 grams butter (8 1/2 tablespoons butter), cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ice water
30 grams butter
1/2 cup honey
250 grams (1 2/3 cups) walnut halves, lightly toasted
50 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Make the dough:
In a food processor, pulse all ingredients until dough comes together, about 20 seconds. Shape into a ball and wrap in cling wrap; refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
Lightly flour a clean work surface. Roll dough 1/4-inch thick and transfer to a lightly greased tart tin. Trim off excess dough, poke base all over with a fork, and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large saucepan, melt butter and honey over medium heat until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Stir in walnuts, sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Pour into tart shell, place on baking sheet, and bake until golden, 30-40 minutes. Allow tart to cool and serve.