The first home I lived in was the best place ever to spend one's childhood. A large rambling home in a small country town there were rooms aplenty, a big leafy yard, and a small paddock with space enough to run chickens, milking goats and ducks. There was a wood pile and vegie patch, cubby house and sandpit, and enough secret little nooks and crannies in which to spend hours letting the imagination run wild. The garden was, or at least felt, enormous, but two trees in particular I remember vividly: the gnarled apricot with its deep green vinyl leaves and crimson juicy fruit, and the colossal walnut tree, which was not only the greatest tree in the world to climb, but was plentiful in providing masses of nuts throughout the cooler months.
Things rarely taste the way they once did, and while this is in part due to context, our proclivity for mass production and storage, and demand to consume when it suits, means foods are now rarely eaten at their best. A few years ago I decided to, where possible, buy my produce exclusively from farmer's markets and it's had a profound effect on my enjoyment of food. Getting to meet the amazing people who work tirelessly to sustain us has been a big part of it. I'm constantly learning new things and discovering new ingredients or ways to cook and eat, and it's a real pleasure to share a passion with people who simply give a damn about doing something well. But even without considering the bigger picture, I love that there's no waste from packaging, find everything lasts longer and, most important of all, that everything tastes better.
We're fortunate here in Melbourne to now have a number of markets to choose from and, while it's a little difficult these days given I generally work weekends, I always still get there whenever I can. This week on one of these rare outings I met a nice lady from Alpine Nuts. We had a good chat about their season and future plans, and I left with a bag of the freshest, creamiest walnuts I've recently had the pleasure of eating.
The best thing was, they tasted like I remembered. Not dry and bitter like the sad shrivelled ones I usually see but rich and gloriously sweet, and I could think of no better way to enjoy them than studded with crimson poached quince all baked atop a buttery, flaky crust.
This tart is fantastically simple, and can easily be adapted to whatever nuts and fruits are in season. That said, the combination here is particularly delightful, and a very elegant way to do afternoon tea. Go on, treat yourself...
For the crust
- 125 g plain flour
- 50 g sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 115 g butter
- zest of half a lemon, finely grated
For the filling
- 120 g walnuts
- 10 g plain flour
- a pinch of salt
- 75 g sugar
- 70 g butter
- 1 egg
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 300 g poached quince
To prepare the crust, combine the dry ingredients and zest in the bowl of a food processor and then add the butter, first breaking it into small chunks. Run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps—it will take 30-60 seconds to come together—then press into the base of a 20cm-square baking pan lined with baking paper. Bake in an oven preheated to 180°C for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden and just beginning to colour at the edges. Transfer to a cooling rack and leave to cool.*
For the filling, grind the nuts, flour, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a food processor until the nuts are powdery. Add the butter, broken into small chunks, and blend until the bits of butter are no longer visible. Add the egg and vanilla and blend until just combined. Spread the filling over the chilled base and decorate with the quince (in chunks, layered slices etc.).
Bake in an oven preheated to 180°C for 60 minutes, until golden and a skewer inserted into the walnut portion comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan before dusting with powdered sugar, then cut into squares. Keep chilled.
** If you're filling it straight away, cool slightly then place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to chill before using.