Kissed By The Sun

There's nothing like the emergence of fresh fruits and vegetables that appear this time of year in residential gardens and commercial farmland to take me back to my farm girl roots. Milking cows, gathering eggs, putting up hay, working the tobacco fields....

Okay, the few of you who read my blog and know me personally can pick yourselves up off the floor and curtail the hysterical laughter now because I was going to add a disclaimer to that last sentence saying that I didn't ACTUALLY do all of those things myself. Instead, I have fond memories of all those things happening on my grandparents' farm in my youth and even though I was too young to help out, it's amazing at the things you learn just by being an annoying under-foot child.

And as my family's land was a flutter of activity during the growing season, so was the adjacent farmland owned by the Scott family. Wayne Scott was the overseer for a massive strawberry operation that included acres and acres of fields worked by migrant families who were housed on his land. Over the years, the family integrated tomatoes and corn into their farming repertoire and today the Scott family is infamous throughout all of northeastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia and even parts of the Carolinas. My mother, aunts, and uncles spent their summers working in various aspects on the Scott farm. I can remember sitting in the offices while my mother answered phone calls from people wanting to place orders for the berries and sometimes I'd even get to help out in the shed where the berries were being sold. I mostly ate the berries, but nonetheless I was helping by offering quality control services. I have such vivid memories of plucking those scarlet red berries, still warm from the sun, from the carton and savoring each bite as the sticky red juice clung to my fingers and stained my mouth.

A few weeks ago, I found myself standing in the hot sun in the middle of a strawberry field waxing nostalgia about those childhood days gone by. Seeing those sun ripened berries just waiting to be picked brought back a flood of carefree feelings of standing barefoot in a strawberry shed, not having a care in the world. These days, most kids have no idea where their food comes from other than the grocery store shelf. They don't know that the plastic carton of strawberries started as a tiny plant in a far off field, totally dependent on the sun, rain and the land for nourishment, growth and its very existence in that plastic container. I'm so fortunate to know the amount of hard work, sacrifice, and sweat that goes into making a living off of the land and I know the personal satisfaction of harvesting the food and turning it into something special to be shared with friends and family.

Even before I headed to the strawberry field that morning, I knew some of my berries were destined to become this lovely Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze featured in the April 2009 edition of Gourmet. It was very simple to prepare and I loved the tangy-sweet addition of the port wine glaze drizzled over the berries. To me, strawberries are best coupled with a light and fluffy filling so I think next time I'll cut the amount of mascarpone and add some freshly whipped cream to make the filling just a bit lighter in texture. But pay no mind to doubt you will enjoy this just as it is!

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze
from Gourmet, April 2009

For tart shell:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons cold water

For filling:
1 1/2 pounds strawberries (about 1 1/2 quarts), trimmed & halved lengthwise
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup ruby Port
1 pound mascarpone (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Equipment: a 10-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom; pie weights or dried beans

To make tart shell:
Blend together flour, sugar, salt, and butter in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon juice, and water with a fork, then drizzle over flour mixture and stir with fork (or pulse) until mixture comes together.

Gently knead with floured hands on a lightly floured surface until a dough forms, then gently knead 4 or 5 times. Press into a 5-inch disk. Place in center of tart pan and cover with plastic wrap. Using your fingers and bottom of a flat-bottomed measuring cup, spread and push dough to evenly cover bottom and side of pan. Prick bottom of tart shell all over with a fork and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until side is set and edge is pale golden, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and continue to bake until shell is deep golden all over, about 20 minutes more. Cool in pan, about 45 minutes.

Make filling while tart shell cools:
Stir together strawberries and granulated sugar in a bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Strain in a sieve set over a small saucepan, reserving berries. Add Port to liquid in saucepan and boil until reduced to about 1/4 cup, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together mascarpone, confectioners sugar, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until stiff.

Assemble tart:
Spread mascarpone mixture evenly in cooled tart shell, then top with strawberries. Drizzle Port glaze all over tart.

Cooks' note:
Tart shell can be baked 1 day ahead and kept at room temperature.



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