Pumpkin pie takes center stage on the Thanksgiving dessert table, but the rest of the year, pumpkin doesn’t get much love. Which is a mistake. With a distinctive flavor that accepts spices or sweetness with ease, versatile pumpkin can be used roasted, sautéed as a side dish, added to soups, and in desserts. On a trip to Mallorca, pumpkin was used in a best-ever, delicious puff pastry tart topped with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.
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The largest of the four Balearic Islands, Mallorca is a popular destination off the eastern coast of Spain. Less than an hour flight from Barcelona, the island has a rugged coast, ranches, olive and orange groves, and hillside towns within sight of the Mediterranean.
A delight of traveling is the opportunity to experience local cuisines in small cafés or roadside stands. But it isn’t likely that a tourist destination will have a quality café. Often the food served to busloads of eager visitors is packaged or mass produced. That was decidedly not the case at Restaurant Cafeteria Sant Salvador in Artá.
For a day trip, I visited Artá, a town on the northeast side of the island. Typical of the island, a church and fort on a hill overlook the town of 7,000. Streets lined with centuries-old stone houses crisscross the hill leading up to the fortress and sanctuary of Sant Salvador.
Next to the stone balustrades that circle the fortress, signs pointed to the Cafeteria, which served pizza, grilled seafood, pizza, pastas, and a variety of paellas with shellfish, fish and meats. Hungry from the long climb up the hill, I followed two men carrying a 4-foot wide paella pan up stone steps from the kitchen to the dining room.
On the marble counter, half a dozen Spanish dessert cakes and tarts were laid out for inspection. All the desserts looked delicious. There was a chocolate, hazelnut and coconut cake, a cake with whole fresh strawberries, a cheese cake, an apple tart, a Mallorcan almond cake and a puff pastry with pumpkin marmalade.
I wanted to taste them all. But since I was by myself and could only order one, I decided on the pumpkin marmalade tart.
Walking down the stone steps with my dessert and an espresso, I settled down in the shaded outdoor dining area. Spread thin on the light-as-air puff pastry, the pumpkin marmalade was full of flavor with only a touch of sweetness. The sliced almonds added a crunch. When I took a bite, the powdered sugar floated up, sweetening the air.
The dessert was so delicious, I decided to make it at home. I experimented and determined that the easiest way to duplicate the pastry-crispness at Sant Salvador was to use phyllo dough, readily available in supermarkets.
I liked the result so much, I’m going to serve the tart during the year and, when fall rolls around again, for Thanksgiving.
Pumpkin-Phyllo Tart With Slivered Almonds and Powdered Sugar
Smaller pumpkins have more flavor than larger ones. The best pumpkins to use are ones called “sugar” or “pie” pumpkins. If pumpkins are not available, kabocha and butternut squash are acceptable alternatives. Canned pumpkin should not be used.
Any size tart pan can be used, from individual sizes to ones 10 inches square.
The pumpkin marmalade can be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated in an air-tight container.
The tart should be assembled and baked just before serving to ensure that the pastry is light and crispy.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 1/2 hours
Total time: 2 hours
Yield: 6 to 10 servings
2 1/2 pounds sugar pumpkin, washed
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons sweet butter (unsalted)
8 sheets phyllo dough
1 cup blanched sliced almonds
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1. Using a sharp chef’s knife, quarter the pumpkin. Scoop out seeds and fibrous pulp. If desired, reserve seeds cleaned of pulp and fiber to make oven roasted seeds flavored with cayenne, olive oil and maple syrup or soy sauce. Otherwise discard.
2. Place pumpkin quarters onto a steamer in a large pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Cook covered 20 minutes or until flesh is softened. Remove pumpkin and allow to cool.
3. Using a sharp paring knife or large spoon, remove flesh and discard skin. That will yield 1 1/2 pounds cooked flesh.
4. Roughly chop flesh.
5. Purée together the pumpkin flesh and brown sugar in a mixer or place in large saucepan over a low flame and use a wand mixer. Using a heat-proof spatula, stir frequently and scrape any purée that accumulates on the sides of the pot.
6. After 15 to 30 minutes, the marmalade should turn a toasty brown color. Taste and add more brown sugar if desired.
7. Remove from flame to cool. If not using immediately, place in airtight container and refrigerate.
8. Preheat oven to 350 F.
9. Melt sweet butter over a low flame.
10. Take eight phyllo sheets out of the package, lay flat and cover with a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying out.
11. Lay two phyllo sheets on a flat surface. Use a pastry brush to paint the top sheet with melted butter. Lay another two sheets on top of the previous two, paint and continue until all top sheets are painted and create a “stack.”
12. Cut phyllo sheet stack into a size 2 inches larger than the tart pan.
13. Carefully lay the stack over the tart pan and gently press against the bottom and sides. The sheets should be higher than the top of the tart pan.
14. Using the back side of a large spoon or a spatula, scoop up some pumpkin marmalade and spread onto the bottom of the phyllo sheets. Evenly spread the marmalade to quarter-inch thickness across the bottom.
15. Top with a layer of blanched sliced almonds.
16. Place tart pan on flat baking sheet and place in preheated oven.
17. Every 10 minutes, rotate tart pan for even cooking. Bake a total of 40 minutes or until the phyllo dough and almonds are light brown. Be careful not to burn.
Remove from oven. Allow to rest 5 minutes. Remove from tart pan and place on a plate. Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar and with sides of freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.