Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pi-kahn or Pee-kan?

Never really had a need to say the word til I got to North Carolina. I rented a place for awhile near Pecan Avenue, so that forced me to say it out loud. I switched it up depending upon my mood. Pee-kan Avenue, or Pi-kahn Avenue. It seemed as if Pee-kan was proper pronounciation for the road, and Pi-kahn was reserved for the nut. Not really sure why; it just came out that way.

The only instance of pecans in my life was hearing this exchange in the movie, "When Harry Met Sally" with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.

Harry Burns: Repeat after me. Pepper.

Sally Albright: Pepper.

Harry Burns: Pepper.

Sally Albright: Pepper.

Harry Burns: Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.

Sally Albright: Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.

Harry Burns: But I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.

I like nuts. Except for walnuts. They make my cheeks and the back of my throat itch. I found that out one Christmas Day, when I was about 10 yrs old. I was all dressed up, waiting to say "the company's here!!!!" when I spied a bowl of walnuts and a shiny silver nutcracker. Making a neat crack was so satisfying, because the meat inside the shell was perfectly shaped. I picked out the halves and within a few minutes I was uncomfortable, but the symptoms were invisible. No blown up face. Definitely not enough medically wrong spring a trip to the ER on my parents. And besides, company was coming.

Pecans look very similar to walnuts, so I've avoided them for 40 years. The idea of a nut pie was foreign to me, until LAST WEEK. It's never too late to learn! I'm here to say that at age 50, I've had my first slice of pecan pie (albeit chocolate pecan pie) and I LOVED IT!!!  Pecans must be a distant enough relative to the walnut, because I had no hint of discomfort.

Here's Heidi Billotto's recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie Tart. She demo'd the recipe last week in her "Sweet and Savory Pie" class at Reid's Fine Foods in Charlotte. It was paired with Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux. Heidi noted that "popping a sparkling wine cork should sound like a woman sighing." Well, now. On to the recipe!

This recipe makes 2 pies. Preheat oven to 350 F.

3 cups granulated sugar
Pinch salt
7 Tbs unsweetened cocoa
4 local eggs (deeper colored yolks, fresher taste!)
1 Tbs vanilla
1  1/4 cups milk
1 stick butter, melted
2-3 cups shelled pecan halves (be generous)

Dough for 2 pies fitted into 2 10" French tart pans with removable bottoms. For this recipe, Heidi used premade pie crusts. Why make the holidays any more stressful...the premade crusts are just fine! Note: If you have leftover pecans, store them in the freezer. This keeps the nut oil from going rancid.

Carefully fit the dough into each of the French tart pans, trimming edges to fit.
Place each tart pan on a baking sheet.
Mix sugar, salt and cocoa together.
Whisk together the eggs, vanilla and milk; stir into the dry ingredients.
Add melted butter and and stir until well blended.
Fill each pie shell 2/3 full with pecan halves and pour the filling over the pecans.
Heidi sprinkled chopped up bittersweet chocolate over the pies at this point.

Bake in a preheated oven for 40-45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. If you are taking the pies to-go, transport them in the tart pans and remove the pan onsite to keep the crust intact. Top with fresh whipped cream, or ice cream. The photo above shows the tart with a drizzle of goat cheese caramel sauce that was left over from another recipe ;-)

Creamy Goat Cheese Caramel Sauce (can be drizzled over fresh fruit, pecan pie, other fruit tarts...)
1/2 Cup sugar
2 Tbs water
1/2 Cup warm heavy cream
6 oz plain or honey goat cheese
1 Tbs butter

Combine sugar and water in a heavy medium sized saucepan. Swirl over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat, boil without stirring until mixture is deep amber color (about 3 minutes.) You've made caramel!  Add warm cream and stir over medium high heat until sauce is smooth and reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Add goat cheese, cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and add butter, stirring til butter is melted.

Cover and chill. Re-warm over medium low heat before serving.

Can be prepared one day ahead.

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