Crist’s visit to small farms as part of our work on a new project serves as a reminder of the amazing diversity and abundance of fruits and vegetables growing in many fertile parts of this country. In Kerala it seems that any seed or stick placed into the rich soil will sprout, and even in the sandy or red clay soil of Maharashtra he found vegetables with explosive flavor. He described the mango trees that surrounded the farm – not only was he in “mango headquarters”, as he put it – he was likely surrounded by the one of the most prized of this “king of fruit” – the Alphonso.
Note to self: visit during mango season.
My many visits to markets serve as windows into the culture of my host country, and the fruits and vegetables I find during those explorations serve as inspiration to both expand my knowledge of what is available as well as my creative use of what I buy. Not only does it make sense to buy what is local and in season – it’s healthier and tastier too!
Our first experience of living abroad was Costa Rica in the mid-1990s. I’d always loved mangos and during that time I experimented with family recipes based on familiar fruits such as peaches or apples, replacing the temperate climate fruit with the tropical fruit during season. Savory peach chutney or sweet peach tart became the same recipes with mangos. Classic apple tarte tatin got the mango treatment as well, all with excellent results.
Our move to Paris during peak summer meant markets overflowing with all varieties of estival fruit. If a fruit is sturdy enough to hold up to slow stovetop cooking it’s a good candidate for tarte tatin, and we tried each variety with pleasure. We brought the same excited expectation to the table here in India when we found small plums in the market.
One of the many special things about this type of tart is that despite the “cross fingers” task of flipping it onto the waiting platter (the tart is baked upside down, i.e.fruit on bottom, crust on top) and the occasionally fickle process of cooking the fruit in a caramelizing mixture of sugar and butter, if the fruit was good to begin with it will be delicious no matter how it looks in the end!
There are many opinions about the crust. I usually make a simple pie or tart crust, although some prefer to use puff pastry. The primary thing is to roll the crust out in advance and chill it while you prepare the fruit. It should be slightly wider in diameter than the cast iron or other over proof pan you’ll be using to bake the tart.
6 Granny Smith apples, or other hard, tart apple ; or apricots, plums ; or ripe mangos
1 9-inch pie crust dough
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Ice cream or crème fraîche, optional for serving
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
1. Fruit and Crust: Peel apples, slice into quarters, and remove the core. If using plums or other stone fruit, after washing cut in half from pit end. For mangoes, peel and cut into wedges. Roll out the pie crust to a little larger than your cooking pan on a piece of wax paper and keep chilled in the refrigerator while you cook the fruit.
2. Caramel sauce. Melt the better in the skillet over medium to medium-high heat, then stir in the sugar. It might be grainy at first, then start to dissolve into a syrupy liquid.
3. Add the fruit to the sauce. When the sugar and butter are bubbling, add the apples and sprinkle with salt. You don’t have to arrange the fruit now.
4. Cook the fruit until caramelized. Cook fruit, stirring every few minutes, until the sauce darkens to a deep amber caramel color – the fruit will be releasing its juices. This should take 12 to 15 minutes. Carefully turn the fruit as you stir them so they are coated with the caramel sauce.
5. Top with the pie crust. Remove the pan from the heat. With a fork and a spatula, carefully arrange fruit into concentric circles. Apples or mangoes either with their rounded surfaces against the bottom of the pan or laying sideways; Plums with rounded side down. Drape the chilled crust over the hot fruit being careful not to touch the hot pan or sauce. Tuck the edges of the pie crust into the pan and prick with a fork.
6. Bake. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
7. Remove from oven and cool briefly. Set on a cooling rack and cool for 10-20 minutes.
8. Invert. Run a knife around the edge of the pie crust to separate it from the pan. Shake the skillet a few times to loosen the fruit in the caramel sauce. Place a platter over the top of the skillet. Using oven mitts, grip the plate and the skillet, take a breath and swiftly turn them both over so the pie plate is on the bottom and the skillet is on top. Once you start you can’t stop – so you have to COMMIT!
9. Remove the skillet and make presentable. Gently lift the skillet away and re-arrange any fruit that has shifted. Scrape any remaining caramel sauce from pan with spatula and drizzle over the tarte.
10. Serve warm with ice cream or crème fraîche. Serve while still warm, topped with ice cream or a dollop of crème fraîche.