The past four weeks have been a bit of a proverbial culinary “badlands” for me creatively.
I’ve been attempting to get to the bottom of some long-endured autoimmune issues through a somewhat restrictive elimination diet. I hate the word “diet.” I also strongly dislike restriction, especially when it pertains to the edible pleasures of life.
However, for me to be able to experience dining freedom without the worry of what will make bloated and sick just 20 minutes or so of eating, this unpleasant stint in the badlands is necessary. I consider it a necessary dose of tough self-love. This, too, shall pass.
Luckily this past week I’ve channeled in a bit of inventiveness through the browsing of numerous food blogs and taking on special dessert requests at the restaurant. I tend to get equally inspired by the making of other bloggers/chefs and the creations of my own hands. I sought out a collection of other online cooks to be my muse for the savory side of nourishment while I mapped out my own brain for stimulation towards something sweet.
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The combined inspiration resulted in a two-fer for this week’s blog. The savory dish I constructed is a super-easy take on the paleo-famous cauliflower crust pizza. I’ve been craving a pizza something vicious for a few weeks now, naturally, since I’ve restricted all grains and made my brain very cheerless.
Unfortunately I did not really possess the will to go through the process of grating cauliflower, straining off the moisture and participating in a laundry list of other steps in order to create something that might resemble pizza crust. So instead I came up with the idea to just create a wicked-easy pizza sauce recipe, cover some oven-roasted cauliflower in the sauce and mozzarella cheese, and shove it all back into the oven to melt and brown the cheese.
The result was astonishingly delicious, trouble-free and, most importantly, appetizing. I also believe the timing of this recipe is almost perfect since the kiddos are back in school and will be craving munchies when they arrive home in the afternoon. This pizza-smothered cauliflower dish is not only straightforward and could easily sub in for a fun weeknight meatless meal, but it’s also a genius way to coerce the youngsters to actually enjoy eating more veggies.
The second part of your two-fer recipe bonanza was born out of a desire to take advantage of the still-cheap summer stone fruits and create some kind of pie or tart but making it fun-sized and relatively low-labor and no-fuss.
Pies are delicious, as are their buttery tart cousins. But messing with pastry dough under the constraints of time, after-school activities and the general buzz of energy and desire to be out of the kitchen and outdoors in the dog days of summer doesn’t always leave much desire to whip out the pastry cutter and exercise the elbow grease.
Keeping the daily activities of the average family with kids in mind, I settled on constructing mini tarts, using my sugar cookie recipe and filling them with a sweetened coconut cream, topping them off with a flavorful nectarine compote and garnishing them with almond slivers.
Coconut cream is the fatty substance that separates from the liquid in a can of full-fat coconut milk when placed in the fridge for a few hours. Luckily Trader Joe’s sells just the coconut cream in a can. I highly suggest the next time you are near or at a Trader Joe’s, you stock up on a few cans of this creamy, coconut-y deliciousness.
Furthermore, my decision to use coconut cream was mostly to give readers a vegan option and to appeal, as well, to parents who have kids with dairy allergies and sensitivities.
With all due respect to the sugary and juicy peaches of this time of year, I opted for nectarines simply because I feel like they don’t receive enough love and recognition in the culinary blogosphere where it pertains to summery stone-fruit desserts.
And the almonds? Well, because almonds. But really almonds and almond flavoring pair magnificently with any and all stone fruits. Feel free to leave it out if it isn’t your cup of sweet tea.
Make, devour, and enjoy.
Shortbread Tarts with Almond-Nectarine Compote and Coconut Whip
Vegan and dairy-free options
For the sugar cookie tarts:
2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups white sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
For the nectarine compote:
4 large nectarines, peeled and largely diced
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar
Juice of half small lemon
2 teaspoons starch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Few shakes of ground nutmeg
For the coconut cream whip:
1 cup coconut cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Almond slivers for garnish
For the tart shells: Beat together the sugars and butter until light and fluffy; add eggs/vanilla and continue beating until well-incorporated. Add the remaining ingredients and slowly beat just until everything is combined.
Refrigerate dough for approximately 30 minutes, just until dough is firm enough to form a ball in your hands without sticking.
Heat oven to 325 degrees; prepare muffin tin with baking spray.
Divide cookie dough into 1/4 cup portions using a 2-ounce scoop, or you can simply weigh the dough or measure it out in a cup.
Flatten each piece of dough out in your hands as much as possible. Place each piece of flattened dough inside the individual tins and gently push the dough through the bottom and up the sides until it reaches the top edge. Use a fork to prick a few holes in the bottom of each portion of dough.
Bake the dough for approximately 15-20 minutes, or just until the dough begins to brown. It will look a bit scary at first as the butter is going to pool in the bottom of each muffin tin. Don’t worry as the butter will absorb back into the dough as it continues to bake and cools. The dough is also going to puff up. Don’t worry because we’ll be flattening it back out and molding it once it starts to cool.
Once the tarts are baked, take another muffin tin, same size, and press down gently with the bottom of the pan into the tart shells, which will have puffed up a bit. This action is to press them back down and to hollow them out to give them a mini-tart shape.
If you do not have another muffin tin, simply push the dough back down with your fingers and mold the inside of the tarts to create a hollow shape for the cream and fruit filling. Don’t worry so much about them being perfect.
Preferably allow these little tarts to rest overnight, making them easier to handle the next day.
For the nectarine compote: Whisk the water and starch in a small dish; set aside. Add the remaining ingredients to medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Once the sugars are melted and everything is bubbly, stir in the water/starch mixture.
Continue cooking until the nectarines are soft and the mixture has begun to thicken. Remove saucepan from heat and allow compote to cool completely. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
For the coconut cream whip: If using the cream from a can of full-fat coconut milk, you’ll need to place a few cans of the milk in a fridge overnight so that the cream can rise to the top and the liquid remains at the bottom.
The easiest way to separate the cream and liquid is the open the can from the bottom only halfway, allow the water to drain out, and scoop out the cream. Alternatively, purchasea can of the coconut cream from Trader Joe’s.
Add the remaining ingredients to the coconut cream and beat with a hand mixer, or in a stand mixer, until the coconut cream starts to become supercreamy and slightly increased in volume, about 3-5 minutes. Keep in the mind the coconut cream will become hard again once it goes back into the fridge. Alternately you could simply whip up regular heavy cream and only use half the amount of powdered sugar.
For the assembly: If you’d like to garnish the edges of the tart shells with slivered almonds, simply brush a bit of the syrup from the nectarine compote around the tops of the cookie cups and then gently dip and roll the edges in a shallow dish, filled with almond slivers.
Fill each cup with a few spoonfuls of the coconut whip. Next, top the cream with a spoonful of the nectarine compote. Finally, garnish each tart shell with a sprinkling of the almond slivers.
Note: For the vegan option, replace the egg with mixture of 1 tablespoon milled flax seed and 3 tablespoons warm water and substitute equal amounts of Earth Balance for butter..
Vegetarian, with a vegan option
For the cauliflower:
1 medium to large head of cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces
1-2 tablespoons oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the pizza sauce:
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 5-ounce can tomato paste
4 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
2-3 pinches sugar, or to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Heat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil, coated in cooking spray. Toss the cauliflower bites in the oil, salt and pepper. Roast the cauliflower approximately 15-20 minutes, or just until it begins to brown and is fork-tender.
While the cauliflower is roasting, puree the tomatoes and paste in a blender or food processor until smooth. Put the puree in a medium saucepan and add the remaining dry pizza sauce ingredients; whisk everything together well. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat; cover pot with lid and reduce heat to low and allow sauce to simmer while the cauliflower continues to cook.
Once the cauliflower is ready, pour approximately a third of the sauce over the veggies and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Return baking sheet to oven and cook until the cheese is completely melted and slightly brown and bubbly.
Pour the rest of your pizza sauce into a freezer-safe container for future meals.
Note: To make this dish vegan, simply use your favorite dairy-free mozzarella cheese. Daiya cheese is very popular for its ability to melt like it’s dairy rival.
Trish Minton is the pastry chef and baker for Pierpont’s at Union Station. Although she has a passion and love for all things baked and sugary, she particularly loves catering to clients who need and desire desserts in the world of gluten-free and vegan.