Quite some time ago, I was newly married and had invited some people over for dinner. I had a little experience cooking for a crowd—my mother entertained a lot when I was growing up—but I hadn’t “flown solo” too many times. My main course repertoire in those days was pretty limited to things like Beef Stroganoff or lasagna or Chicken Cordon Bleu. Add a salad and a vegetable and I was done. Dessert was usually some kind of ice cream with liquor or coffee sprinkled over—easy and uncomplicated.
But getting ready for this particular party, I was in the office talking to a friend of mine bemoaning the fact that I really needed to learn some nice things to make for dessert that were easy but a little more imaginative than my ice cream concoctions.
She suggested that I try her “foolproof” dessert. Nut tort, topped with any frozen fruit with syrup and topped with cool whip. She gave me her recipe for the tort, I tried it, loved it, and over the years, I have played with this recipe and complicated it just enough to make it a little fancy—and using fruits that I sweeten myself by making a compote, and whipped cream that I make myself by simply whipping it up. Everything but the whipped cream can be done early in the day, and the whipped cream takes just a couple of minutes to do right before serving—and it all comes together into a nice sweet/tart, crunch/creamy combination that is good every time.
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup nuts, finely chopped (choose your favorite, I used pecans)
1 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, the nuts and the sugar. Stir in the eggs and mix to combine thoroughly. Scrape the batter into a well-greased pie pan or 8 x 8 inch baking pan.
Bake for 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan.
2 cups full-bodied red wine (Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 pounds fresh rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into ½-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
1/8 teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan combine the wine, sugar, and orange and lemon zests. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to the boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the rhubarb and the salt; bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rhubarb to a glass dish. Return the saucepan to the heat, bring to a boil and cook until the liquid has thickened and reduced to about a cup of liquid with a syrup-like consistency. Pour the syrup over the rhubarb, cover and chill.
To assemble the dessert, cut the tort into wedges or squares, top with a spoonful or two of the chilled compote and a dollop of whipping cream.
Note: I like plain whipped cream with this—just a cup of chilled heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks. If you like a sweetened cream, add a tablespoon or two of confectioner’s sugar to the cream before whipping.