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Recipes for the perfect spring meal

PAM ANDERSON | 9/24/2009, 10:55 a.m.

USA WEEKEND Food

These sunny little tarts burst with lemony goodness under a cloud of meringue -- the perfect way to end a special meal.

The stressful recession means many of us have less time and money to spend. But for precisely those reasons, we need to gather with friends and family to celebrate the season. Today's menu (see list at right) respects our need to save both time and money and still lets us enjoy good food and good company.

The recipe on the opposite page is the meal's sweet ending: Lemon Meringue Puff Pastry Tarts, a simple yet showy dessert. One secret: Cornstarch will keep the meringue from "weeping" as the tarts sit out.Ingredients:

1 10-ounce box frozen puff pastry shells

1/2 cup plus 6 Tbs. sugar, divided

3 Tbs. cornstarch, divided

Pinch salt

3 large eggs, separated

1 1/2 tsps. lemon zest and 1/4 cup

lemon juice from 2 lemons

1 Tb. butter

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS: Bake shells per package instructions. Cool, then scoop out undercooked insides; discard insides and tops.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Whisk together 1/2 cup sugar, 2 Tbs. cornstarch and salt in a medium, non-reactive saucepan. Add egg yolks. Immediately but gradually whisk in 3/4 cup water. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally, then more frequently as mixture thickens, 4 to 5 minutes. Whisk in lemon zest, then juice, then butter. Whisking constantly, simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat; place plastic wrap on surface of lemon filling to prevent a skin from forming.

Slowly heat 1/3 cup water and remaining 1 Tb. of cornstarch in a small saucepan, whisking occasionally, then frequently as mixture thickens and turns translucent. Remove from heat. In a bowl, using an electric mixer, immediately beat egg whites and vanilla until frothy. Beat in remaining 6 Tbs. sugar, one at a time, until soft peaks form. Dollop the warm cornstarch mixture into the egg-white mix; keep beating until stiff peaks form.

Spoon a portion of lemon filling into each pre-baked pastry shell. Then use a spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a tip to top each tart with a generous cap of meringue. (You'll have extra meringue.)

Bake until meringue is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; cool to room temperature.

SERVES 6 PER SERVING: 338 calories, 6g protein, 47g carbohydrates, 15g fat (4.8g saturated), 111mg cholesterol, 1g fiber, 234mg sodium1/2 cup light mayonnaise

3 Tbs. Dijon mustard

2 Tbs. honey

4 tsps. rice wine vinegar

6 boiled eggs, peeled and halved, yolks removed and mashed with a fork

2 heads Boston, bibb or butter lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried

Whisk mayonnaise, mustard, honey and vinegar in small bowl. Mash up to 5 Tbs. dressing into the yolks to make a smooth filling. Spoon a portion of the yolk mixture into each egg white half. (Dressing and eggs can be made a day ahead, covered and refrigerated.)

When ready to serve, arrange a portion of lettuce leaves on each of six salad plates, creating a "nest," and top each with two deviled eggs. Drizzle with a little dressing iand pass the rest separately.