Turkeys, Traditions and a Pistachio Tart

Pistachio and Almond Tart with Orange and Cardamom

I love Thanksgiving. I love coming in from the crisp November air to a warm, bustling kitchen. I love the smell of dozens of dishes in final stages of preparation, savory intermingling with sweet. I love the coming together of generations around the table, the threads of conversation picked up from last year as if they were never interrupted. I love that there is no anxiety over present-buying, no over-the-top commercialism, no religious overtones one either feels obligated to respect or rebel against. I love the way that people are given two whole days of public holiday to eat. I also love the thought that I can predict what nearly everyone in America regardless of time zone is doing at any given moment on Thanksgiving Day – they are either preparing food, eating food, or sated and stuffed from the overabundance that gives this feast its character. I love the sheer indulgence of it all.

But I also love breaking tradition on Thanksgiving. While others revel in the continuity and comfort of perennial favorites, I’m always looking for the next culinary thrill. Some people think I have a pathological fear of gastronomic commitment, but I think it’s better described as an insatiable lust for adventure. I believe that if I’m going to spend all day (or two or three) in the kitchen, I might as well tackle some items on my ‘must cook’ list, which each year seems to stretch longer than the last. And let’s face it, even if I were one for repeat-cooking, turkey, potatoes and cranberry relish can get kind of old. As a result, in my house just about anything goes for Thanksgiving, as long as it’s delicious, as long as there’s a lot, and as long as there are people around to share it. I’ve done full-on ethnic themed dinners, and hodge-podges of everything that looks good in a new cookbook or two. There have been Thanksgiving tamales, Thanksgiving curries, Thanksgiving pizzas and Thanksgiving tapas.

This year, we’re a little short on company, a little short on food, and a little short on time to celebrate. But luckily we’re not short on pistachio tart. Nutty, citrusy, subtly spiced and sporting a lustrous emerald hue, it’s the kind of confidently spectacular dessert that would be equally at home quietly biding its time on the buffet table with the more traditional post-feast sweets as it is shining in the spotlight. It’s decadent, exotic, and downright delicious. In fact, it’s almost good enough to merit a tradition of its own.

So whether your table encompasses turkeys or tagines, apple pie or tarte tatin, have a wonderful, belly-stretching holiday. And if, like me, you live in a part of the world that hasn’t woken up to the charms of giving thanks, rest assured that a little pistachio tart certainly can’t go amiss on any chilly Thursday in November.


Pistachio and Almond Tart with Orange and Cardamom

Source: adapted from Casa Moro, by Sam and Sam Clark
Note: Since shelling your own pistachios is a real pain (literally!), try to find them pre-shelled – Indian, Turkish, Persian and Middle Eastern shops (or shops that sell things imported from these countries) are good places to look. To blanch pistachios (and almonds, for that matter), drop them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain. The skins should peel off easily. If they start to dry before you get through the batch, cover them with cold water until you finish the blanching. This does take quite a bit of time; you can use unblanched pistachios but the color will not be quite as vibrant.

for Crust:
225g flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g caster/superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
250g butter
1 egg yolk

for Filling:
200g blanched almonds
300g shelled, blanched pistachios
250g caster/superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
150ml orange juice
4 egg yolks
finely grated zest of one medium orange
pinch salt

for Glaze:
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons cream

for Topping (optional):
1 pint heavy cream, softly whipped
1 teaspoon rose water
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
mild honey, to tasteĀ 

For the crust, combine the dry ingredients in a food processor with the butter, and pulse until only small lumps of butter remain. Add the egg yolk and process for 20 seconds more, then turn out into a bowl and bring together by hand. Form the dough into a ball and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Roll out on a floured work surface to a large circle, and fit it into a 10 or 11-inch tart pan, trimming the top to an even height. Prick the crust well with a fork and place in the freezer.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Spread the blanched almonds and pistachios on a baking tray and bake for about 10 minutes, or until lightly colored. Set aside. Take the frozen crust out of the freezer and line with baking parchment or foil, line with beans or pie weights, and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment, and continue to bake until the pastry is an even, light gold color, about 10 minutes more.

For the filling, process the nuts, sugar, and cardamom in a food processor until ground very fine. When ready, the nuts will have begun to release their oil and cake together. Slowly add the orange juice to make a very thick, smooth paste. Finally, add the egg yolks, orange zest and salt, and process until incorporated.

Spread the filling into the shell and smooth with a wet spatula. Bake for 10-15 minutes to dry the surface, then brush on the glaze (made by mixing the egg yolk and cream). Continue to bake for a further 10 minutes, or until golden.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a spoonful of the cream, into which you have stirred the rose water, cardamom and honey.