The most unexpected gift about cooking in New Mexico has been my transformation from chef and teacher to student. Sometimes when you set out to learn something new, you can plow forward, get your hands on all the books you can find, and learn by pure will and determination. But that doesn’t happen here. It’s more subtle. It takes longer, and each new discovery feels like a treasure.
A perfect example of this is lavender. In the early spring, even before any new growth appears, when sunlight splays over the branches and the wind picks up just enough, delicate scents of mint and wood waft through the yard. It doesn’t smell like lavender yet. It smells like the ground has come alive, whispering a hint of what is to come. Months later, flowers begin to form and so does the multiweek process of their own transformation from green, to gray, to lavender. Once the buds have bloomed, the bees appear. Who knew (certainly not me) that bees would become some of my greatest teachers. Showing up every day, teaching by example what it means to live with dedication, purpose and focus. And now the scent of lavender is everywhere. This in itself is a gift. I spend the next several weeks contemplating when to harvest. In the past, this time has felt exciting but also uncomfortable. Taking the flowers is taking the bees’ work. So while it’s taken me years to find a solution, now I harvest flowers from one plant and leave the other for the bees. My little harvest will season stews, desserts, balms and teas for the year to come with extra to share.
This is the type of learning I did not expect but feel deeply grateful for. When we learn, our hearts open, too — for listening, for understanding, for new ideas. Everywhere I turn, opportunities to learn here are abundant. Sometimes it looks like taking a walk along the dusty riverbed, then coming into the house and roasting the potatoes instead of boiling them. Other times it looks like paying attention to what farmers and other cooks say and do, especially those with different perspectives than my own. And sometimes it’s as simple as buying blue corn flour from growers working to preserve culture and tradition in a land I am lucky enough to call home.
This recipe is a celebration of blackberries, blue corn and lavender. You could of course swap out the blackberries for blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, cherries or plums. You could serve this with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Instead of making individual tartlets, you could even make one big tart and let it bake 15 minutes longer.
Blue Corn, Blackberry and Lavender Tartlets
Makes: 6 tartlets; total time: 2 hours
For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup blue corn flour
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup ice water
For the filling:
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoon cornstarch, tapioca or arrowroot starch
2 cups blackberries
For the egg wash:
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 egg yolk
For the topping:
1 teaspoon ground culinary lavender
2 teaspoon sugar in the raw
For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract, or 1 vanilla bean scraped
local raw honey, to taste
Preparation: First thing, place your cut butter cubes in the freezer for about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, blue corn flour and salt. Using your hands, add the cold butter cubes to the bowl, crumbling them with the flour mixture until they resemble small peas. Add the water and combine, just until the dough comes together. If needed, add additional water, one tablespoon at a time. Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Prepare the filling: In a medium bowl, combine the blackberries, sugar and cornstarch. Prepare the egg wash: In a separate small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream and egg yolk. Prepare the topping: in the small bowl or ramekin, stir together the lavender and raw sugar.
By this time, the dough should be chilled. Evenly divide the dough into 6 pieces. Without overworking the dough (which will make it tough), form each piece into a round. On a clean, lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll each piece into a 6-inch disc (or approximately).
Spoon the blackberry filling into the center of each rolled out round. Fold the edges of dough towards the center, working in a circle covering some but not all of the filling. Transfer each tartlet to the baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with the lavender sugar topping. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown. While the tartlets are baking, make the whipped cream: In a cold, stainless steel bowl, whisk together the heavy cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Whisk in honey to taste. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve. When the tartlets come out of the oven, serve them warm right away, or you can store them at room temperature for the day or in the fridge for the next day or two.