Sunday, October 28, 2007

Quince & Pistachio Phyllo Tart - a Recipe

Quinces are drastically underused in this country. Sure we think of them once in a while for preserves, occasionally for membrillo, and even more seldom to enhance the flavors of our apple pies, but it’s very rare indeed that I see a desert featuring them as a main player, or a savory dish that takes advantage of their fragrant twang.

The problem is, I suppose, that quinces grown outside of western Asia and the tropics have to be cooked for long hours before they can be eaten. Only in warmer climes do they ripen to honeyed sweetness that can be enjoyed straight off the tree. But the rewards are too good to be missed.

A fresh quince should be golden in color, and much of its fuzz, slightly thicker than a peach’s, should have fallen away before the fruit is harvested. The scent is heavenly – I think it can be most accurately described as that of a garden after the rain. There’s a decided floral element, yes, but under that there’s the sweetness of wet leaves, and the pungency of bark and soil. Once cooked, the color changes miraculously into a jewel-toned blush, and the fragrance mellows out to a tart-sweet floral twang.

Quinces have long been used to freshen the scent of Mediterranean homes – it’s lovely to keep a bowl of them about this time of year. And they’ve long been considered a powerful fertility symbol in that part of the world. Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, held them sacred, and couples in Ancient Greece shared a quince on their wedding night.

Perhaps my favorite tradition involving quinces is the ancient Athenians' practice of hurling them at the nuptial chariot as the bride and groom made their way to their new home after the wedding. A raw quince is remarkably hard, and I imagine lobbing one at the right person could be immensely satisfying.

Further east, in Turkey for example, quince tarts are often flavored with dried rose petals and coriander. But here I've spiced mine the way I've enjoyed them in Greece - with a faintly sweet mixture of cinnamon and cardamom. Feel free to play around with the flavors and drizzle a little rosewater into the whipped cream if you'd like. This tart is best for the first 3 - 4 hours it's out of the oven. After that it tastes just as heady and fragrant, but the syrupy juice from the quinces soaks into the crisp phyllo and takes away its crunch.

Serves 8 – 10

6 quinces
juice of 2 lemons
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
4 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp kosher salt
4 sheets phyllo dough, thawed if necessary
5 oz. unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp fresh pistachio nuts
2 cups heavy cream (optional)

Peel a quince – I find a pairing knife works best here, but you can also use a speed peeler – and cut in half from top to bottom. Using a melon baller, remove the core and seeds. Trim any stem and place the halves in a heavy pot. Pour over the lemon juice, and fill with water until the quince halves are just covered. Repeat with the rest of the quinces, putting them into the acidulated water as quickly as possible to prevent discoloration.

Put the pot over medium heat, add the cinnamon sticks and ½ cup of sugar. Bring the liquid to a simmer, stirring often until the sugar is dissolved, Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and bubble very slowly for 2 – 3 hours just until the quinces turn pink – remember you need these quince halves intact. Gently remove the halves from the liquid and chill (they’re easier to work with once they firm up in the fridge). Reserve the liquid for a delicious tea, or reduce for drizzling into mixed drinks.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining 4 tbsp of sugar with the cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. Open the phyllo sheets out on a clean stretch of counter, and cover completely with a damp dishtowel.

Using a pastry brush, coat a flat baking sheet with melted butter. Lay a sheet of phyllo on the sheet and immediately replace the damp dishtowel over the remaining phyllo. Brush the phyllo with melted butter and sprinkle evenly with 1 tsp of the sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining 3 sheets of phyllo. Using the tip of a very sharp knife to prevent tearing, trim the sugared phyllo stack to a rectangle approximately 11” x 14” and discard the trimmed dough. Bake the phyllo in the center of the oven for 8 – 10 minutes until golden.

Working from top to bottom – rather than across the equator of the fruit - gently slice one of the quince halves into thin half-moons. You need to go quite thin here – shoot for about 12 slices per quince half. Gently arrange the slices, curved side out, along a shorter edge of the phyllo shell. Overlap a second row over the first, trying to stagger the spacing, and use end pieces or half-slices to fill in the edges. Continue until the entire phyllo shell is covered. Sprinkle over another 1 ½ tbsp of the sugar mixture and bake for 15 more minutes. You may discard the extra sugar mixture.

Meanwhile, toast the pistachios in a small, dry saucepan over low heat until fragrant, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Remove to cool and chop coarsely.

Remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle with the toasted pistachios. Cool for 15 – 20 minutes before serving – or you may serve at room temperature. Just before serving, whip the cream (if using) to soft peaks. Cut the tart into rectangular wedges and serve with a dollop of the cream.


Wendy said...

"A raw quince is remarkably hard, and I imagine lobbing one at the right person could be immensely satisfying."
Hee hee - almost wet myself laughing when I read that.
Does this dessert only work with the sweeter Asian quinces?

Anonymous said...

Why aren't quinces used more here? You're so right. I put them in apple pies, as you mention. But they're so good!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Wendy, heehee. It certainly is one way to deal with a bridezilla, isn't it? This dessert is made with the non-sweet variety. We don't really see the Asian ones here - which I understand don't have to stewed before they're eaten? Am I right about that?

Anonymous, agreed! And they are lovely in apple pies too - such flavor enhancement.

Wendy said...

No idea. I didn't even know Asian quinces existed until I read your post!

Joanna said...

Lovely idea to make a tart with quince. They originate in Turkey / Iran, and the ones you get in Turkey are definitely sweeter, and have a longer season, but I'm not sure that you can eat them straight off the tree. But they stew fairly easily - it's cutting them that can be the problem, although this year for the first time I've been using the Magimix to grate them, like a knife through butter, so I think they'd do well on the slicing blade too. That's given me something else to do tomorrow!

Love the wedding idea - 10-ton-confetti!


Figs Olives Wine said...

Wendy, oh ok. The way I understand it, all the varietals are sort of the same the world over. I could be wrong about this, but I think it's just that in Western Asia and the tropics, they ripen to the point where you can eat them like an apple or pear rather than cooking them first. That is something I would LOVE to try. I can only imagine how heavenly it must be!

Joanna, very interesting! Do you get the Turkish ones there? And I love the magimix idea! I'm a little worried that if you stew them in slices rather than halves, they may fall apart before they turn pink. Have you done it before? You must let me know what happens!

Mercedes said...

I so agree, quinces are the underappreciated fruit! I grew up with an au-pair who was from Barcelona, and made so many beautiful things out of quince. I do think the way they turn red is very amorous. This is lovely, as usual!

Gloria said...

I love this Amanda!!! Phylo and quinces!!! so yummy. xx Gloria

Jennifer/Loulou said...

Gorgeous looking dessert! You never fail to inspire me!
I found some abandoned quince trees yesterday so helped myself to a bag full. I'm making candied quince with a couple of them, and this looks perfect to use up the rest.

Anonymous said...

This looks delicious.

Rose said...

Simply beautiful Amanda! Now I feel so guilty to ignore these beauties every time I go to the Market. But it was mostly because I didn't know what to do with them.

winedeb said...

Wendy was posting about quinces the other day also. I cannot locate them here yet. You two have my curiosity up as I have never had quince. I have a few neighbors I would like to be "lobbing" one towards though! That is too funny:)
Your tart is so handsome!

Annemarie said...

I love your bits of social history of the quince. Your recipe sounds like a great use of the fruit to give it pride of place.

Patricia said...

I have never had quince, Amanda (though I have had quince paste). This tart would be devoured in no time here. :)

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Another gorgeous recipe combining some of my favorite flavors! Do you think you could cook the quinces in a slow cooker, or would this make them too mushy for the rest of the recipe?

Joanne Rendell said...

wow, i don't think i've thought about quinces since my grandmother was alive. she loved them. this looks amazing

Anonymous said...

I love the smell of quinces cooking. Wish I could find some in the Arizona desert.

Cynthia said...

You make me want to have quince so bad but unfortunately I can't because we don't get it in these parts :( Enjoy some of the tart for me. :)

Figs Olives Wine said...

Mercedes, what a fantastic au pair to have! I'd love to know what she made with the quinces.

Gloria, thank you! Phyllo and anything's pretty darn good, isn't it?!

Jennifer/Loulou, thank you so much! What a lucky find those trees were. I hope they're nearby so you can visit them often. Can't wait to read about your candied quince!

Anonymous, thank you! Hope you enjoy!

Rose, I'm glad you like! It's such a shame we don't use them more - they're so delicate, and I think their season is one of my favorites. Hope you enjoy it now too!

Winedeb, Wendy's wonderful isn't she? I wonder if quinces can be mail ordered? I'll try and look into it - with their floral fragrance and delicate flavor, I'm sure pairing wines with them could be sublime. Plus they would be handy with difficult neighbors nearby hehe.

Annemarie, thank you! It's lovely to put quinces front and center this time of year. So glad you agree!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Patricia, I adore quince paste. So lovely with cheeses! I really should make it more.

Jen, thank you! I have to confess that I don't have any experience with slowcookers, but I do know that very low heat is the only way to get these guys pink without their falling apart. I think it's probably the sort of thing where you couldn't leave them for a day, but if you were going to be around to catch them as soon as they turned pink, it might work even better than the stove top. Please let me know if you try it! I'd love to know how it goes. Such a good idea.

Jo, ooo do you remember what she did with them? I'd love to know.

Anonymous, it's glorious isn't it? What a perfume they give the whole house! I think I'll have a look and see if they can be mail ordered from anywhere. Deb in Florida doesn't have them either.

Cynthia, I wish I could Fed Ex you a few! Or at least a tart! I know you'd love them - you must try them next time you're traveling.

Lucy said...

Well, I've met a couple of brides I'd like to have taken a rock-hard quince to...ha!

Quinces. They even sound romantic.

Not sure it would last longer than 1 hour in these parts...

Great Big Veg Challenge said...

Figs Olives Wine,
This is a nother beautiful post. I love the image of the garden after rain. I had some perfume when I was 13 years old called Rain Flower which I thought was deeply sophisticated and smelt as you describe.
You must tell Hannah at Country Kitchen about this. SHe is a quince fanatic.
Happy Halloween!
Charlotte and Freddie

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

I absolutely agree that lobbing one of these babies at a certain someone could be very satisfying. Does it make me a bad person that I can think of a few right now? ;)

I love this tart Amanda - I love how you just went for it and allowed quince to be the star!

Susan in Italy said...

I love the sound of quinces with rose petals and corriander. And rosewater and cardamom, and...

Figs Olives Wine said...

Lucy, I know! Do you suppose the ancient Greeks had bridezillas too? Hehe. So glad you like the tart!

Charlotte & Freddie, thank you! Happy Halloween to you too! You've got to try and drum up some of that perfume! I'd love to know what you think of it now. I was big into perfume at that age too. And I think we all practically bathed in the stuff. I still can't smell Laura Ashley No. 1 without getting a nervous, angst-y, 14-year-old feeling in my stomach hehe.

Jenn, haha. That doesn't make you a bad person at all! I have a few visuals on people myself. So pleased you like the tart.

Susan, me too! So exotic! I like to drizzle a little rosewater into the whipped cream that goes with this sometimes. Adds another layer to the aromatics. So glad you like!

Cakespy said...

I would like to lob one at some of the people dressed up for Halloween in my neighborhood. Sorry, got distracted! Quince has such an unusual flavor...I'm curious to try something like this! The pistachio seems like a nice counter-taste.

Sarah said...

The restaurant where I work is using quince in multiple dishes right now, such as the grilled octopus.
You never cease to inspire me with your recipes and your blog.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Cakespy, haha. Just hunker down with a stiff drink, and they'll be gone soon. Our neighbor's dog goes insane each time kids come to the door. We are literally crawling out of our skins over here with all the annoying barking. And I agree with you about the pistachio quince combination - there's something nice about it. Let me know if you give it a go. So glad you like, and thanks!

Sarah, thanks so much!! Now octopus and quince is something I've never had and desperately want! What a fabulous idea! I must give that a go soon.

70% cocoa said...

What a lovely blog! This tart looks fantastic - I love quinces and you can get the mediterranean kind in England which seem to work ok, just not the ones from Japonica bushes which smell amazing but are T-A-R-T!

I have a savoury Persian stuffed Quince recipe on my blog if you fancy something that isn't sweet, here's the link if you fancy a look: Don't know if that will work.....

Figs Olives Wine said...

70% Cocoa, what a fabulous name, and what a delicious sounding recipe! I'll be sure to check it out, and I'm so pleased you like the tart!

Rosa said...

I love your description of how quinces smell, and I'm always excited about new quince recipes. Thank you!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Rosa, thank you so much! It's always fun to meet someone else who appreciates quinces! So pleased you like the recipe.

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

I am horrified. I can't even really think of what a quince tastes like - that is how unremarkable they have thus far been in my life. and now I see your creation and it is just so inspiring.

but where are the quinces here in Morocco? They must, must be here. I will promptly look for them.

rural_gal said...

While searching for a fresh quince recipe, I came across this page with such nice comments about the presentation appeal of the dish. Have any of you actually tried to make it? What's it taste like? It sounds intriguing, since I love anything Persian in origin.

My experience with quince are two:

1) I tried to grow it in southern Arizona for the flowers that could feed the hummingbirds during migration. Unfortunately, the plant languished and never quite established itself before I moved onto Northern California. It never did produce anything but a single bloom that promptly blew off in the desert wind.

2) I unknowingly bit into a fresh one. That's as far as I got with that fruit.

Yesterday, however, I saw a box containing very yellow man-fist sized luscious looking quince set out by the roadside with "FREE" written on it. The smell was intoxicating to woman and beast alike. Luckily, I was on horseback and asked my poor Pistol Pete to carry a dozen for the two miles back to the barn. Down the street, a random giant fig tree was dropping black fruit, so I bagged some of those, too. That was after having stopped to let the horses take advantage of a couple of really ripe roadside apple trees while I tucked away a couple of red ones for later horsey treats.

How wonderful this place is – to be able to do my produce shopping on horseback!

Has anyone tried a fresh quince and fresh fig recipe?

Cuaderno de Cocina said...

Here's another way of cooking your quinces: bake them: just wash them and put them in the oven for about 2-2,5 hours, or until soft, temperature 120ºC, turning every 15 minutes. If the skin gets too brown cover them in tin foil. When they're ready just cut them in half, sprinkle with sugar while they're still very hot and eat warm. I know I'm late for this year, but try them next autumn. The smell while the quinces bake in the oven is one of my favorites.

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