Growing up in Oregon, I always knew spring was coming around when the thermometer outside passed 50 degrees and a little ray of sunshine managed to shove its way through the densely packed clouds and left a small spot of warmth on the ground below. Here in California, however, I knew spring had arrived the moment the skies parted and large droplets of rain began furiously pelting the dusty rooftops of the city and flooding its sunken streets. While the general flooding of the sidewalks around my neighborhood was a bit irksome when trying to walk the pup, my garden soaked it up like a sponge and little bits of greenery began poking their way through the softened soil. Tulips sprouted, the branches of my columbines became heavy with buds, and the entire neighborhood exploded with the scent of wet, clean earth and rapidly blooming flowers.
In the days following the rain, the sun reared its golden head and the waters rapidly receded from the streets, but the sumptuous rainbow of spring flowers remained, and walking around my neighborhood peering at the lovely variety of fauna (and snipping a few to admire in the house) reminded me of the vibrance of my favorite spring perennial, rhubarb. I didn't know what rhubarb was or what it tasted like until I was in my twenties, when Jeremy kept going on about rhubarb pies and I had no idea what he was talking about. But when I did finally try it, it was love at first bite. I've always been a fan of tart flavors (vinegar is one of my favorite ingredients), so encountering an enormous herb of sorts that had such a wonderful tang to it was kind of a life-altering experience. I wanted rhubarb in everything; salads, sweets, stews, roasted, raw, and grilled. And after incorporating it into many, many things, I can say that my favorite use is the tarte tartan.
A tarte tartin is basically an upside-down pie where the filling is cooked in a skillet with butter and sugar until the fruits have softened and the sugar has caramelized. A rolled-out pastry crust is quickly tucked into the pan around the filling and the whole thing is popped in the oven for a good baking session. The crust gets golden brown and flakey, and the filling simmers away underneath, soaking through the edges of the crust to create buttery, syrupy goodness. The pan is then removed from the oven and allowed to cool for a bit before flipping the whole thing over onto a serving plate, exposing the beautifully caramelized filling and crust to the world.
Now, it's no secret that strawberry and rhubarb are bffs in the world of baking, but when you throw the subtly sweet and slightly licorice-y flavor of fresh tarragon into the mix, the flavors are brought to a whole new level of sweet and tart. Tarragon is traditionally used in savory fish and chicken dishes, but it's anise-like flavor properties makes the herb well-suited to the world of desserts, and its inherently sweet and herbal flavor compliments the tartness of the rhubarb with resounding warmth. So if you're looking for a way to use the most vibrant perennial of the season, I think I've got you covered. (And by think I mean know. Seriously, you should make this immediately.)
Also, these photos mark the debut of the new backdrops I ordered from Unique Primtiques on Etsy. They were kind enough to do a custom order for me (most people want legs on their tabletops, but not I!) and I could not be happier with how they came out. The assortment of tabletops, along with my growing hoard of vintage cookery props, has officially crowded out my remaining cabinet space and left me longing for a larger kitchen. As such, I've come to the conclusion that my lack of current storage space is just further evidence that I need to give up on Los Angeles apartment-dwelling and start my own goat farm in Oregon, with the ridiculously large kitchens that most farmhouses are equipped with. Come summer, I may just be heading up north once and for all...
Strawberry Rhubarb & Tarragon Tarte Tartin
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons sugar
1 cup butter, cold and hard
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
5-8 tablespoons water, cold
Strawberry Rhubarb & Tarragon Filling
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon water
12 large strawberries, halved with caps removed
1 and 1/3 generous cups rhubarb cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
1 and 1/4 teaspoons fresh tarragon, finely chopped
Begin by preparing the crust. In a large bowl combine all of the dry ingredients. Grate the butter on the largest hole setting of your grater over the bowl, mixing to coat the butter shards in the flour mixture every 10 seconds or so. Add the cider vinegar and 5 tablespoons of water and mix the dough. If it stays in a clump when you squeeze it in your hand, it has enough water, if it falls apart, add more water until it stays together. Shape the dough into a ball and roll it out into a 1/2 inch thick disc. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. To make the filling, heat the sugar, butter, and water in a roughly 8-inch skillet over medium heat for 8 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized and the mixture is bubbling. Add the strawberries and rhubarb and sprinkle the remaining sugar over the top. Simmer for 20-30 minutes over medium-low heat. Remove from the stovetop and stir in 1 teaspoon of the tarragon, then sprinkle with the cinnamon. Place the crust over the skillet, quickly tucking it down into the pan around the edges of the filling. Cut three 1-inch slits in the top to allow heat to escape before placing it in the oven.
Bake for 20-25 minutes of until the top of the crust is golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before attempting to flip the pan over onto the serving plate. Once flipped, gently remove the pan to display the filling inside. Sprinkle with the remaining tarragon and allow the tart tartin to continue to cool for 30 minutes before serving.