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Two of my favorite places are Israel and France. Even though it has been more than 10 years since I spent a month in Israel, I often find my mind retreating to there – our first night in Caesarea eating hummus and tahini spread for dinner as we sat next to the gorgeous waters to the Mediterranean, sunrises over our dig location, and the nose-tingling odors of the food in Akko’s Turkish market. Despite any familial connection to Israel, it’s one of those places that felt like home as soon as I arrived.
Paris was similar. We spent much of our time just wandering the streets with no real agenda in mind and I never really felt like a tourist there. (Being constantly mistaken for Europeans didn’t hurt either.) I long to return to both places, eager to see how my life experiences have changed my views of these other worlds. In that vein, it’s logical that I would be drawn to the merging of the two cultures and Joan Nathan’s new cookbook about Jewish cooking in France.
I had the pleasure of spending some time with Joan Nathan when she was here for the Texas Jewish Book Festival. Along with a handful of other local food bloggers, we talked over cocktails and small plates at FINO. It was inspiring to hear about her experiences as a writer, and her stories about Diana Kennedy and Julia Child were icing on a food blogger’s cake.
Joan is a joy, and so is her new cookbook. As I leafed through it I had trouble not grabbing a pen and writing down all the ingredients I would need for each recipe – the flavors and story behind each make them irresistible for a person enthralled with the French-Jewish culture.
Before I met Joan on Saturday I made her lemon tart, and I’m glad I did. Even though its a simple recipe, the movements of rolling out pastry dough and rhythmic stirring of custard were comforting, as though we were already old friends. I can’t wait to get started on some of her other recipes.
The unfussy flavor of this tart makes it a natural to serve at a brunch or afternoon tea. As we’re getting into the gray season, it’s the perfect way to brighten up the long, chilly nights.
Joan Nathan’s Tarte Au Citron
For the crust
- ½ cup 1 stick unsalted butter or pareve margarine
- 1 cup all- purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- About 2 tablespoons cold milk or water
For the filling
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 lemons
- 3 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or pareve margarine
To make the crust
- Cut the butter into small pieces, and toss into a food processor fitted with a steel blade, along with the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse until the texture is like very coarse meal.
- Pour in the milk or water a tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the dough comes together in a ball. Be careful not to add too much liquid, or the dough will be impossible to roll out.
- Shape the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. Roll out the piecrust, and line an ungreased 9-inch tart pan with it. Prick it all over with a fork, and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. (This can be done ahead of time.)
To make the filling
- Pour 2 cups water into a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Add 1 cup of the sugar, and bring to a boil.
- Slice one of the lemons into thin circles, drop them into the boiling sugared water, lower the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes, uncovered. Drain, and discard the liquid.
- Grate the zest of the remaining 3 lemons to get 2 tablespoons of zest, then juice the lemons to get about ¾ cup juice.
- Whip the eggs and remaining sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed. Gradually add the lemon juice and zest.
- Pour the filling ingredients into a medium saucepan, add the butter or margarine, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, being careful not to boil, until the lemon thickens into a curdlike custard, about 5 minutes.
- Spoon the filling into the prebaked crust. Lay the lemon slices all over, and refrigerate until firm.