Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Kiss


Thanksgiving Recipe Files – Part II

Gratin Goodness

The Thanksgiving countdown has begun, and hopefully you’re all taking time to smell the roses and savor the goodwill as you’re prepping your way toward the feast and the occasion.

I love gratins in general, and especially as an easy, delicious do-ahead side for Thanksgiving and other holiday meals. A kind of sassed up casserole, they’re hugely versatile and look as sophisticated as they taste homey and nurturing.

The recipe to follow (like the grits from a post earlier this week) is from my Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, June 2008). Although when I created it, I thought of it as more of a late fall, early spring dish, in retrospect I think it’s splendid for Thanksgiving, too. Onions are glorious with turkey, and the acidic bite and creamy edge of gooey Brie should marry beautifully with a good pan gravy.

Fresh Sweet Onion and Tomato Gratin from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith). Lovely photo by Rick McKee.

Fresh Sweet Onion and Tomato Gratin from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith). Lovely photo by Rick McKee.

Fresh Sweet Onion and Tomato Gratin

(Serves 6 to 8)


For the gratin:

5 tablespoons unslated butter, divided

3 medium fresh sweet onions, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

For the custard:

1 1/4 cups whole milk

2 eggs

4 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion greens (from tops of onions or substitute scallions)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:

1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs

Zest of 1 lemon

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Six (1-inch long) slices Brie

Putting it together:

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Heat 3 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and then season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 12 to 15 minutes; set aside to cool. Coat a deep-dish 9-inch pie pan or gratin dish with remaining butter.

Meanwhile, prepare the custard. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth; set aside. To prepare the topping, combine the breadcrumbs with the zest and seasonings in a small bowl.

To assemble, drain any excess liquid off the cooked onions. Distribute about one-third of the onions evenly on the bottom of the buttered pan. Top with a single layer of sliced tomatoes. Top with half of the remaining onions, another layer of tomato, and finish with remaining onions. If needed, season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour the custard mix over the entire surface of the layered onions and tomatoes. Top with cheese, spaced about 3 to 4 inches apart, along the top of the gratin. Finish with an even layer of the breadcrumb mixture.

Bake until golden and bubbly and the custard has set, about 35 to 40 minutes. If desired, finish under a hot broiler or a flame torch for an extra golden glow. Allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing into wedges or squares.

NOTE: The gratin can be prepared ahead, covered and refrigerated, and then baked just before serving.

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Photos by Rick McKee.

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Photos by Rick McKee.

Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving!



Fall in Charleston is Packed with Delicious Things to Do

I love this time of year anywhere north of the Equator, but I especially love fall in Charleston. The reasons are many, and I’ve outlined and given information about some of them in this post on Charleston The Permanent Tourist:

An early fall stroll on Folly Beach is an excellent way to pass the day. Here I am with my friend, Michael - wind swept and wonderful fun!

An early fall stroll on Folly Beach is an excellent way to pass the day. Here I am with my friend, Michael. What wind swept and wonderful fun!


Remember to keep up with me on and twitter: @tptcharleston.

Happy fall tidings! Holly

Cool Weather Cooking Perfect for Pears and Tarts

Makes two tarts, serves 8 to 12

Now that the crisp, cool air of fall and winter is finally upon the Lowcountry, appetites build for satisfying, belly-warming fare. I lit my first official fireplace blaze of the season last night, pondering the crackle and snap of the aged wood, experiencing its final act after a long year’s nap in the wood pile. It set my mind to dreaming about this fabulous tart, which is a wonderful celebration of fall and is perfect for entertaining both for its simplicity and rustic elegance.

It is a free-form savory/sweet tart (a.k.a. galette) and is drenched in the pungent flavors of the Mediterranean. Local honey and fresh lemon juice provide the “sauce” that gently envelops soft Bartlett pears and toothsome walnuts. Bresaoloa – air-dried, salted beef that hails from Italy – gives it beefy depth and chew. It all gets topped off with mild Roquefort cheese and a generous dusting of freshly ground black pepper.

Adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory, and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October 2011), this tart has no tricks and is definitely a treat. Happy Halloween and happy cooking!

Beefy Pear, Roquefort and Walnut Free-Form Tarts

Maption id=”attachment_1147″ align=”alignleft” width=”300″ caption=”Photo by Helene Dujardin”][/caption]










Equipment Needed: parchment paper, baking sheet

For the pastry:

2 1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) AA grade unsalted butter, cold, and cut into 1/4″ cubes

2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

3 tablespoons ice-cold water, or just enough to hold the pastry together

For the filling:

3 ripe but still firm Bartlett pears, cored and thinly sliced

Juice of 1 lemon

3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots

6 slices bresaola (available at most deli counters), coarsely chopped

3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

3/4 cup local honey

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Pinch salt

Generous dash cinnamon

2 tablespoons flour

1 egg wash (yolk, pinch salt, splash water blended together

For the topping:

1/2 cup Roquefort or another mild blue cheese, crumbled

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Prepare the pastry. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the flour and the salt until incorporated. Add the butter and pulse, 40 – 50 times, or until the butter is the size of small peas and evenly incorporated throughout the flour. Add the thyme and pulse 5 – 10 times to combine. Gradually, stream in the ice-cold water until the flour just comes together in a slightly messy, crumbly ball. Turn the mixture out onto your work surface and quickly form into a 2-inch thick, round disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes (or overnight) before rolling out.

In a large bowl, gently toss together all of the filling ingredients, being careful to coat all the fruit and filling completely. Chill for 20 minutes.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface in two 10 -12-inch rounds. Using your rolling pin, ease each pastry round onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Plop the filling into the center of the pastry circle and spread evenly into a circle, until the filling is about 1 inch thick. Trim borders of the pastry circles with kitchen scissors so you have about 2 inches of free pastry space all around the filling. (Note: It does not have to be perfectly symmetrical. You are shooting for a rustic, country look). Use your palm to cup the pastry around the filling, folding in creases about every two inches as you move around the filling. Press gently with the palm of your hand to make sure everything is sealed.  Brush the pastry top and sides lightly with the egg wash. Sprinkle the open part of the filling with the cheese and pepper. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, until golden and bubbly.

Serve warm or at room temperature as an appetizer, main course, or dessert.

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A Crunchy, Creamy Slice of Apple Love

Touring last Saturday’s farmers’ markets with visiting friends on a crisp, cool, picture-perfect morning was a pure, indulgent delight.  As if that wasn’t perfect enough, I spied the very first apple bins of the season at Owl’s Nest booth, including the ultra-crunchy, slightly tart Winesap apples I have loved since I first discovered them about six years ago. I literally squealed and did a little happy dance, I was so surprised to see them.

The fact is, I love fall’s cool days and nights and apples are one of the best ways to celebrate the season. Tart Granny Smith apples play with a cool, silky butterscotch pudding in this tart, which is drizzled with warm caramel to top it all off.  The pudding and caramel require careful attention, but the end taste-results are well worth it.

Adapted from Tart Love, Sassy, Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October 2011) by Holly Herrick.

Butterscotch and Caramel Apple Tarts

(Makes 2 tarts, approximately 10 servings)

Super-silky and delicate butterscotch (a beloved southern dish) forms the first layer of this delightful tart. It’s topped with see-through-thin slices of skin-on Granny Smith apples, which provide a protective layer for the hot caramel that tops it all off.

A decadent ode to autumn, this tart is surprisingly simple to make.

(Photo by Helene Dujardin)

Take extra care with the caramel. It’s not difficult to make, but it gets dangerously hot once the sugar turns to caramel and can do serious damage to exposed skin. The pudding, caramel, and pastry shells can be made a full day ahead and the tarts can be assembled up to 3 – 4 hours before serving.  Make sure it’s nice and cool when you serve it.

Equipment Needed: Two 13 X 4 X 1-inch rectangular tart pans

Master Sweet Pastry Recipe

2 1/4 cups White Lily all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

Generous pinch sea salt or kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) AA grade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

About 3 tablespoons ice-cold water, or just enough to hold the pastry together

For the butterscotch pudding:

2 3/4 cup whole milk, divided

3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt

4 egg yolks

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon molasses

For the caramel:

1 1/2 cups sugar

9 tablespoons cold butter (1 stick plus 1 tablespooon), cut into cmall cubes

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 – 2 large Granny Smith apples, halved, cored, and sliced very thinly, for garnish


1 egg wash (yolk, splash water, pinch salt blended together)

Prepare the Master Sweet Pastry recipe.  In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt until blended. Add the cold butter and pulse, 40 – 50 times until the butter has broken down into small bits, about the size of tiny peas. Through the mouth of the food processor, gradually incorporate the ice water, until the pastry begins to form a very loose, slightly messy ball in the processor. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a disc, about 2″ high. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or overnight. When you’re ready to roll and bake, preheat the oven to 375F. Roll out the pastry into a large square, and cut into 2 rectangles. Line each pan with the pastry, leaving a slightly elevated border. Refrigerate for twenty minutes. Line the pans with parchment paper filled with dried legumes or pie weights. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights, and brush down the bottom, sides and tops of the tart shells with the pastry wash. Bake another 20 minutes or so, until the crust is completely baked and golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. (Note: This can be done a day ahead. Keep the tart shells in an airtight container once cooled.)

Prepare the pudding. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, brown sugar, salt, egg yolks, and cornstarch. Whisk until frothy and well blended. Meanwhile, bring the remaining milk up to a boil in a heavy-bottomed, deep saucepan over medium-high heat, watching closely to avoid scalding or spills. As soon as it just bubbles to a boil, gradually stream the warm milk into the mixture in the bowl. Whisk in until well incorporated. Return the mixture to the same pan and place over medium heat. Whisk vigorously for about 2 minutes, until the pudding starts to set. It should be smooth and firm with a pliable consistency. Remove the pans from the heat and whisk in the butter, vanilla, and molasses. Taste and adjust seasoning (especially salt) if desired. Transfer the pudding into a clean medium bowl and refrigerate until fully cold or overnight. Cover with plastic wrap pressed to the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.

Meanwhile, prepare the caramel. Place the sugar in a medium-size heavy-bottomed pan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, gently stirring the sugar to help it melt and start to caramelize. Once the sugar has completely melted, stop stirring. It will caramelize very quickly, bubbling up a bit in the pan (be careful!). Once it has turned a luscious caramel color, remove from the heat and whisk in the butter until it is melted. Very gradually whisk in the cream. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, either us it to assemble the tart or refrigerate it in a covered container for up to 2 weeks.

To assemble the tarts, place equal quantities of the cooled pudding in the bottom of the two cooled pastry chells. Using a spatula, even out the pudding so it fully fills the tart shells and is flat and smooth. Slice the apples, then quickly arrange them along the top of the tarts in two rows, forming a kind of layered apple “spine” down the center of each tart. Top with a generous amount of caramel (about 3/4 cup for each tart), brushing with a pastry brush to evenly disperse and to cover the pudding and the apples. Chill the tarts for 2 to 3 hours before serving. Slice and serve on a plate drizzled with extra caramel sauce!


Bon appetit! Tart Love, Sassy, Savory and Sweet is available in bookstores and online now.


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Seasonal Stirrings the Vidalia Way

Even though Vidalia onions are an edible hallmark of spring down here in the South, I start thinking about this Vidalia Onion Tart more as the cooler, shorter days of fall start approaching.  Something about it just seems earthy and right set on a cool, fall table, with the sound of crunchy leaves and waning light all around.  I think we’re all ready for fall once Labor Day comes rolling around as it’s about to once again.

Vidalia onions are basically a sweet onion that hail from Vidalia, Georgia. Sweet onions

Photo by Helene Dujardin

with a less noble label are fortunately available throughout the year. They really make this tart sing, as the sweetness plays the most beautiful taste music against the salty back-notes of the bacon and lemmony earthiness of fresh thyme.

I love this Alsacienne-themed tart so much, I actually repeated it in Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet from its original home on the pages of Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. The only recipe I’ve ever repeated, it’s just that good and can be served warm, room temperature, or hot from the oven.  It’s especially delicious, and even a little bit romantic, eaten in front of a blazing fire with a good friend and a cool glass of Riesling.

Here it is as adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith). By the way, the publisher told me last week that the book has arrived at the warehouse and will be shipping to bookstores in a matter of days! There is no time like the present for tarts. Happy cooking!

Vidalia Onion Tart with Bacon, Honey and Fresh Thyme

(Serves 10 to 12)

Equipment Needed: One 12 X 1-inch round tart pan with removable bottom

Egg wash (yolk, pinch salt, splash water blended together)

One Recipe Master Savory Pastry:

2 1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) AA grade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

3 tablespoons ice-cold water, or just enough to hold the pastry together

For the filling:

4 slices bacon

5 large Vidalia onions (or substitute another sweet onion), peeled, halved and thinly sliced

Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons honey

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons whole cream

At least 30 minutes before rolling and baking (or up to one day in advance), prepare the pastry. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse rapidly, 40 – 50 times, or until the butter is blended into the flour and is coarse and the butter is the size of small peas. Gradually, add the water in a small trickle, with the processor running. Continue adding just as the pastry starts coming together in the shape of a loose, crumbly ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Form into a disc, about 1″ high, and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1″- thick. Line the tart pan with the pastry. Tuck the pastry neatly into the edges of the pan, guiding about 1/4″ of the pastry up and into the insides of the pan. Using your rolling pin, roll over the entire circumference of the pan to cut off any excess pastry (this can be saved for later use). Press the excess pastry between your forefinger and thumb, to form a slightly elevated border. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. Line the pan with parchment paper and weights (I use dried beans) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights and brush the bottoms and sides with the egg wash. Bake another 10 – 15 minutes, or until just golden. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to fill.

To prepare the filling, heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon in a single layer and cook, turning as needed, until it is crispy and the fat has been rendered. Transfer bacon to drain and cool on paper towels; chop coarsely once cool enough to handle. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon fat in the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add onions, salt, pepper, and thyme. Cook over medium heat until onions have softened, stirring about every 5 minutes. Do not let the onions brown! After about 20 minutes, add wine and increase heat to medium-high. Cook the wine down to a glaze, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the honey and reserved chopped bacon. Stir and cook 5 minutes more. Remove onion mixture from the heat and spoon into a shallow pan; refrigerate to cool. When cool, drain off any excess pan juices and stir in the egg and cream. Adjust seasonings as needed.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Fill the pastry crust with the onion mixture and bake about 35 minutes, until golden brown and the filling is set. Serve warm or at room temperature.



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