I love the zoo. From being taken to Sydney’s Taronga Zoo as a five year old by The Sister to wandering around Singapore Zoo on my own at the end of last year, I’m always held captivated by the animals. Seeing the giraffes with their gracefully arched necks delicately step around one another to feed, their violet tongues curling out between their pouted lips, observing the interactions between a chattering extended family unit of chimpanzees and identifying the hierarchy between them, to standing in the middle of a rainforest aviary, surrounded by the exotic cries and seductively throaty crooning of colourful tropic birds, their little eyes fixed on you in obvious curiosity.
The Sister has never failed to make a joke at my expense about the antics I got up to at the zoo (and I don’t remember most of these at all) in my early years. There is mainly just the one I remember quite vividly, due to the amount of pain that was involved in the incident. I loved the petting zoo at that age, not having any pets at home, and we happened upon a very hungry and friendly-looking donkey. He, or she, was methodically chewing on some dry, autumn leaves, and I decided to feed it more. I found a massive pile of them in a garden bed nearby and proceeded to pick them up with my little bare hands and feed them to the animal, who devoured them with great satisfaction.
Later on during the train ride home, I complained to my sister that my hands were hot and stinging. She glanced over at me, and was horrified to see that my little tender palms and fingers were deeply embedded with a large number of coarse splinters. Needless to say, once we got home, the night ended with my mother wielding a large needle, digging them out one by one, while I had tears of pain streaming down my little five-year old face.
I’m glad to say that I haven’t developed an intense dislike for autumn leaves, although they do tend to make me slip more than usual – especially when it keeps raining like this.
I made these gorgeous autumn rhubarb tarts on a mellow, drizzly weekend, from my copy of What Katie Ate, by Katie Quinn Davies.
For the shortcrust pastry, you will need:
- 125g plain flour;
- 65g unsalted butter;
- 40g icing sugar;
- One egg yolk.
For the filling:
- 1/4 cup plain flour;
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar;
- 50g hazelnuts;
- 3 heaped tablespoons mascarpone cheese;
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste;
- 2 teaspoons Frangelico liqueur;
- 8 stalks fresh rhubarb, chopped into 2.5cm/1″ pieces;
- 3 tablespoons caster sugar.
For the pastry, whir the plain flour, butter and icing sugar together in a food processor until crumbs form. Mix the one egg yolk with about a tablespoon of chilled water, and slowly add to the crumb mixture while the food processor is still running. Stop the machine right before the dough forms into a ball. Turn out onto a clean, dry work surface, and knead it together gently, before rolling into a ball and flattening with your palm. Wrap in cling wrap and rest in the fridge for at least two hours.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Lightly grease four individual springform tart tins. Cut the disc of pastry into quarters, then roll out each quarter between two sheets of baking paper to form a disc large enough to line a tin, then lower the pastry into the tin. Press into the sides, trim the edges, and prick the base with a fork a few times. Repeat with the other pieces of pastry. Line the shells with baking paper and weigh down with rice or baking beads.
Blind bake in the oven for about 15 minutes before removing the paper and rice/beads, then bake for a further five minutes. Remove pastry cases from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
Scatter the hazelnuts onto a baking tray and toast for 10-15 minutes then remove from oven and rub gently between a tea towel to remove the skins. Blitz to a fine/medium texture in a food processor, or chop by hand.
Combine the flour, brown sugar, mascarpone, vanilla bean paste and Frangelico along with the ground hazelnuts in a small bowl and stir thoroughly to combine into a thick paste.
Place the chopped rhubarb and caster sugar into a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
Remove from heat and strain juices into a bowl through a strainer, retaining both the stewed fruit and liquid. Return the liquid to the pan and continue to simmer over a medium-high heat until reduced by 3/4, and you are left with a very thick, glossy syrup.
Spoon a heaped tablespoon of hazelnut paste into each tartlet case and smooth over the base, repeat with other cases and paste, then top with the stewed rhubarb.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden and rhubarb fully cooked. They will look a little dry after being in the oven, so brush the top of the tartlets with the reduced rhubarb syrup.
Serve warm with cream or ice cream.
Enjoy your week and rug up, lovelies…it feels like winter is already here. On Friday I review Tamageta-Ya, the sister restaurant to Sushi Samurai, set in the Northern Suburbs food hub of Neutral Bay xx