17th Jan 2011, by Mary, filed in Home Cooking, Recipe, Spice Rack Challenge

I’ve always envied folks who can simply look into their fridge or cupboards, or walk through the grocery store or farmers market, and somehow just throw together a fabulous meal, either by knowing intuitively what will make for a good combo, or by having some subsection of their memory set aside for the purpose of maintaining their own personal recipe file. I, on the other hand, wasn’t born with that intuitive cook gene, and have a memory like a sieve, so if I try to grocery shop without having spent the sort of time planning and consulting recipes one would usually devote to mounting a polar expedition, I get vapor lock the moment I step through the sliding doors and end up picking stuff totally at random.

On the other hand, I’m not a total slave to recipes. I like to tweak things a bit (especially since I tend to like my food more robustly flavored than 95 percent of the American populace, it seems). Take the following two recipes, which I made this past weekend as part of the Spice Rack Challenge (this month’s challenge is rosemary):

First off, we have Rosemary Walnuts, a recipe by Laurie Colwin (whose writing I love) via The Gourmet Cookbook. While I’ve made these a gazillion times, I’ve probably only followed the recipe to the letter once–it calls for melted butter, and given that we like to eat them by the handful around here, I decided olive oil would be the better choice (and with all that rosemary and cayenne, I can’t tell the difference in the finished product anyway). This recipe is absolutely dead simple, and while the walnuts are a bit messy, they’re absolutely worth it:

5 Tbsp olive oil (or melted butter, if you want to be really decadent)
4 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled (you could probably use fresh, too–just use more)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cups walnut halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle. Mix together oil/butter, salt and spices in a large bowl, add walnuts and toss to coat. Spread nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes (don’t let the nuts burn, but let them get nicely toasted). These can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days, if they last long enough.

Okay, that was a relatively minor tweak. The other rosemary recipe I made this weekend, however, got tweaked a little more thoroughly. I decided I wanted to do something a little more unusual, something sweet instead of savory, so I started out with a recipe for a rustic rosemary-apple tart from A New Way to Cook, by Sally Schneider (you can also find it here). Given that I’ve been feeling a little whelmed lately, I really didn’t want to make my own pastry dough, especially since I had some perfectly good Trader Joe’s all-butter puff pastry sitting in my freezer (I strongly suggest you go get yourself some, right now, before it disappears again). What I ended up with was less rustic-looking, but about as simple to make, and with just the barest tinge of rosemary complementing the apples. (I also decided, on pulling the tart out of the oven, that it needed a glaze to pretty it up a bit, so I improvised with some honey, which was a very good idea, if I do say so myself.)

Not-So-Rustic Rosemary-Apple Tart

(the amounts below are vague because I was winging it, and they’ll vary depending on how large your sheet of puff pastry is)

1 sheet all-butter puff pastry, thawed
2-3 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
2-3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4″ thick
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1-2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced (don’t use dried here)
1-2 tsp unsalted butter
1-2 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat, if you’ve got one. Lay the sheet of puff pastry either on a cutting board or on the parchment paper (just cut carefully, if you do this). Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut 1/2″ strips off of the four sides of the puff pastry, and reserve. Use a fork to prick the remaining sheet all over, then lay the strips on top around the edges, trimming as necessary. Freeze for 15 minutes, then par-bake your tart crust for 10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, toss the apple slices, brown sugar, lemon juice and rosemary together in a bowl. After the crust comes out of the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Lay the coated apple slices on the crust in rows, slices overlapping one another (basically, you’re trying to fill up the center area, leaving as little of the bottom crust showing as possible). Dot with bits of the unsalted butter. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes (keep an eye on the tart to make sure the edges don’t get too brown–you can put foil over the edges if they do seem to be browning too fast). Microwave the honey in a small bowl for 10-15 seconds–you want it to be more fluid, so it’ll be easy to brush on to the finished tart, to glaze it. Serve warm or cooled (a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream goes really well with this).


  1. 18/01/2011

    I can attest to both of these dishes being really tasty!

  2. zoe

    Yummm. I am only slowly (VERY SLOWLY) returning to real cooking. Both of these recipes are now on the make it list. I love the way rosemary smells while cooking!

  3. 21/01/2011

    Both of your Challenge recipes look amazing and your tart I want to try great job!!!!

  4. 21/01/2011

    I also did a rosemary walnut recipe this month. For me it was the first time trying them. They were great in salad. I love that you included two recipes. I am also hoping to do one sweet and one savory each month, I just learned about the challenge a little to late to pull it off this month. Your tart looks great.

  5. Cheryl

    That tart sounds delicious; I might have to break my non-dairyness (again) to try it if the occasion arises. David did let me sample the walnuts and they were great.

  6. 01/02/2011

    Great idea, sweet and savory – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, looks like you might have a imitators. Not sure I could get two done each month but it is a great idea.