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Sour notes, for lemon tarts, are good things

Good old English curd. As tart and sharp as British wit, and as subtle and demure as a lonely seaside village. There is something mystical about a good curd that I was not privy to until a mere five years ago.
Quite frankly, I never gave a rat’s tail end about the stuff, and I lay blame on ill-prepared lemon meringue pies that I had to suffer through in my childhood.
To be clear, I now adore lemon meringue pies, as long as two conditions are met. One, the curd filling must be tart. The meringue will be sweet enough to counter the tartness, and nothing makes a lemon meringue pie fall flat on its face faster than “meh” on “meh.” When the contrasting of the uber-sweet meringue takes the edge off of the tart curd, I’m a happy man.
Two, please oh please cook your meringue (Italian meringue). Nothing ruins a meringue pie more for me than an aftertaste that just reeks of raw egg whites. I can’t stand it. OK, the rant is over. And I’m not even writing about lemon meringue pie today; what is the deal?
No, today I’m writing about a cool little tart I cooked for a dinner a couple weeks ago; lemon-basil tarts with poached pear. The pairing of the ubiquitous savory herb and lemon is a parting gift from a former student, Mitch, who showed me the ways and wizardry of adding savory herbs to ades (limeade, lemonade et al). There is such a unique and subtle layer of flavor that emanates to the palate, so I recommend that you play with them as often as possible.
Cheating, I purchased the Athens brand mini-phyllo shells, and they work perfectly. You can certainly make your own phyllo cup, and it is not difficult, but given my druthers, I’ll opt for the quick and easy in this case.
To finish my little composed dessert, I thought about all of the great flavors that I could pair with this soft and crunchy dessert that was shaping up nicely already. I opted for poached pears, one of my favorites. I typically use Anjou pears since they’ll take the abuse of poaching without turning to mush.
Bringing the pears to a simmer and then cooling them in their own cooking liquor makes for a grand showing of flavor and textures. When they are chilled, you simply use them as a garnish to the tart, and the flavors meld beautifully. These come in extra handy when the other desserts are six-layer mocha torte and assorted dark chocolate truffles. A little fruit now and then never hurt anybody.
And as winter is now upon us and we get short fused, let’s remember to take a step back and appreciate the dry wit and the lovely dessert that have been bestowed upon us.

Lemon Basil Tarts, Poached Pear
Makes 30 tarts
30 Phyllo tart shells (I cheated and bought them)
about 1.5 cup Lemon-Basil curd (recipe follows)
30 Poached pear rounds (recipe follows)
Chiffonade of mint (optional)
Keep tart shells in plastic trays in which they came. This makes them easy to fill as they don’t slide all over the place
When the curd is cooled down, you can either transfer to a pastry bag and pipe it into the shells, or you can just use a teaspoon to fill them up
Top curd with a pear round, and a chiffonade of mint or basil.

Lemon-Basil Curd
Yields 2 cups
from Ina Garten/
2 Lemons
6 ounces whole butter, unsalted
1 cup Sugar
3 Eggs, whole
1/3 cup Lemon juice, or until taste
6 Basil leaves, whole
Dash of Kosher salt
Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer and then add the lemon and zest and salt
Add the eggs one at a time until combined
Add the basil leaves
Pour this into a saucepan and cook on medium heat, stirring often, until it reaches 170F. Do not boil this, as the eggs will curdle, giving your curd an unpleasant, scrambled-egg taste and feel
Pass this through a strainer, making sure not to smash and mash the basil leaves. Remove them so they don’t discolor the curd
Allow to cool down completely to use.
Poached Pear
Enough for about 30 tarts
5 Anjou pears
2 cups Shiraz or big red wine
1 cup Sugar
1/4 tsp. Ground cinnamon
Balsamic vinegar, as needed for tartness**
Peel the pears and cut in half, removing the seeds and the fiber that runs down the middle
Next, cut into 3/4” slices that you can then use for cutting the discs out when the pears have been poached
Combine everything else in a pan and bring to a simmer and add the pears
Cook until the pears are tender, but not mushy
Remove from heat and transfer pears and liquid to a cool, metal or ceramic bowl and place in the refrigerator. It is important that the pears cool down in the liquid so that they soak up all of that incredible flavor
**While I do add the Balsamic for “tartness,” there will be plenty from the lemon in the curd. You can simply leave it out, but when you taste the poaching liquid you might find that it could use a little “oomph,” for lack of a better way to put it.