Apricots, gold tinged with pink, massed on market stalls - how can one resist? Make jam and chutney, make ice-cream, and especially, make tarts! I make make no apology for re-posting this excellent recipe given to me by a family in the Rhone region. High on a hill facing Mont Ventoux, the de Menthon family has a cuverie and a tasting room where they can receive private customers. Here they are offered the wines to taste before buying and are able to admire the spectacular view at the same time.
The thirty hectares of vines producing Côtes-du-Rhône, Beaumes de Venise and Gigondas - all red wines - are planted higher up than most in the region, with their own micro-climate. The de Menthons are often able to look down into the valley which is shrouded in the thick local fog, while their vines are in sunlight, and in several years they have escaped a frost which devastated the lower properties. Their position also means they harvest late, in October and even, on occasion, in November.
M. de Menthon is a native of the Savoie and it is from this Alpine region that he draws his pickers. Each year many of the same friends return; the majority are ski-instructors or mountain guides, who are happy to earn some money picking grapes in their slack season. They usually cook for themselves, provided with ingredients by the proprietors. But on the final night they gather together for a celebratory daube and excellent Gigondas, which they may have helped to pick in previous years.
The de Menthon’s daube is followed by local goat cheeses and usually a fruit tart, in which locally-picked fruits are arranged on a pastry base, and, after baking, sprinkled with two tablespoons of Muscat Beaumes de Venise, a white dessert wine, to give them extra succulence.
FOR 6 - 8 PEOPLE
FOR THE SWEET SHORTCRUST PASTRY (to fill a 25 cm (10 in) tart tin): 200g (7 oz) plain flour 1 small pinch of salt about 15 g (1 oz) caster sugar 100 g (31⁄2 oz) butter at room temperature 1 egg a little water
FOR THE FILLING:
750 g - 1 kg (11⁄2 - 2 lb) ripe apricots 1 tablespoon sugar,
optional 2 - 3 tablespoons Muscat Beaumes de Venise, (keep the rest of the bottle to drink with the tart) 1 egg yolk, optional
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C, with a heavy baking sheet on the middle shelf.
Sift the flour into a large bowl with the salt and sugar. Roughly cut up the butter, then with the tips of your fingers, speedily rub it into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Lightly beat the egg with about a teaspoon of cold water. Make a dip in the middle of the heap of flour, pour in the egg and mix until it is a supple and moist paste. Form this into a ball, cover and leave to rest for an hour.
Butter a 25 cm (10 in) removable-base, fluted tart tin. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line the tart tin with it. Chill for 1 hour.
Cover the pastry with a piece of buttered baking parchment, weighted with dried beans. Put into the preheated oven on the baking sheet for about 8 minutes. Remove the paper and beans. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork and return to the oven for about 3 minutes more. It should be just starting to come away from the sides of the tin; do not let it get too brown.
Reduce the oven heat to gas mark 4, 350°F, 180°C.
Stone the fruit and slice thinly. If they are under-ripe, it might be worth poaching the slices for a few minutes in a little water and sugar but you must drain them carefully.
Arrange them in concentric circles in the pastry shell. In order to prevent the pastry becoming soggy, many people like to brush the base with egg yolk before doing this. Sprinkle the fruit with the tablespoon of sugar if using.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes. This tart is nice served warm, but whether eaten warm or cold, sprinkle the fruit with the Muscat Beaumes de Venise just before serving. It should make a sensational finish to the meal.