Tart with fennel, tomatoes, olives, and many cheeses. And hereing.

The hereness of dusk in the hereness of my bedroom.

The other day Isaac asked me how to spell “hearing.” Because he and I never give each other a straight answer, I told him h-e-r-e-ing. The more I think about it the more I like the word, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I woke up in the middle of the night recently and felt perplexed. I thought about all of the places people live, all over the world. I imagined you could cut away the sides or tops of houses and apartment buildings and tenements and you could see the people inside, living their lives. I hoped they were being kind to each other and their children and their dogs, but I middle-of-the-night feared that many were not. I was bewildered by the thought that I could be anywhere, but I am here, in the same small city I’ve lived in for 20 years.

It bears repeating: it’s been an odd odd year. We were all stuck in the same place, our own space, our here. We were relentlessly here, relentlessly hereing. I think (and write) so much about time passing, about marking it and being aware of it. It’s mildly discombobulating to think about space and place as well. And small wonder that after a year of hereing we’re imagining other places and visiting them in our dreams.

All of this hereing conjured the phrase “hereness of dusk,” which has been in my mind ever since. It is, of course, from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and is from one of the most beautiful passages of literature I have ever read.

…as though even here in the filtering dusk, here beneath the deep indigo sky, here, alive with looping swifts and darting moths, here in the hereness of the night not yet lighted by the moon that looms blood-red behind the chapel like a fallen sun, its radiance shedding not upon the here-dusk of twittering bats, nor on the there-night of cricket and whippoorwill, but focused short-rayed upon our place of convergence;

…And my mind rushing for relief away from the spring dusk and flower scents, away from the time-scene of the crucifixion to the time-mood of the birth; from spring-dusk and vespers to the high, clear, lucid moon of winter and snow glinting upon the dwarfed pines where instead of the bells, the organ and the trombone choir speak carols to the distances drifted with snow,… But in the hereness of dusk I am moving toward the doomlike bells through the flowered air, beneath the rising moon.

The narrator knows he is in trouble, that he’s about to be expelled from college, and he imagines himself in another place and another time. But he’s almost painfully (though beautifully) aware of the space and time he is moving through. In these dreamlike moments, the here becomes the now, the space becomes the time. He is occupying, moving through, taking up space in the dusk. He is hereing. It bears repeating, “In the hereness of dusk I am moving toward the doomlike bells through the flowered air, beneath the rising moon.”

From the sublime to the tasty. This is what I made us for my birthday meal. I love love love fennel and it’s not universally adored by the family, but I took the excuse of birthday brattiness to go heavy on the fennel in this one. Fennel, tomatoes, and olives, with herbs from the garden is a perfect combination to me. They are all strong, assertive flavors, but they work beautifully together. I also used several kinds of cheese. The parmesan and cheddar I grated so they blended right in, but the fresh mozzarella and goat cheese I just roughly crumbled, so that you encounter them in pleasant pockets of soft cheesiness throughout the tart.

Here’s Stand by REM. Think about the place that you live, wonder why you haven’t before.

And Places and Spaces by Donald Byrd.

Recipe after the jump!

The Crust

1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 t. salt
Lots of black pepper
1 stick butter
ice water (up to one cup)

Mix the flour and salt and pepper in a bowl.

Grate the butter into it, stopping every now and again to mix in what you’ve just added. If you wait to the end it will all clump up again. I stir with a big fork. When it resembles bread crumbs, and all the butter seems to have coated itself with some flour, add about 1/2 cup of ice water. Stir again with the fork. At this point you’ll have to use your fingers, but use the tips, and keep them cool. (and clean!) Pull it together into a ball, kneading a tiny bit to incorporate all of the ingredients. (you might need to add more water). Put it in a bowl with a plate on top and put it in the fridge for a while.

Meanwhile…

Carmelized fennel, shallots, plus olives

2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 medium-sized fennel bulb, cleaned and diced
1 large shallot – peeled and diced
1 t fennel seeds crushed
1 t fresh rosemary
1 t fresh thyme
1 big clove garlic, minced
Big splash of white wine
Scant cup black olives roughly chopped

Handful of chopped pretty cherry tomatoes

In a large frying pan over medium heat warm the olive oil and butter. Add the fennel, stir and cook till it starts to brown. Add the shallot, stir and cook till it starts to brown. Add the fennel. Add a big slug of white wine. Lower the heat and cook slowly till the fennel and shallots soften and brown. Add more wine if the pan dries out. Add the herbs, garlic and more white wine or water. Stir to loosen whatever got stuck on the bottom of the pan. Add the olives, stir to coat. Set everything aside while you make the…

“Custard”

3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
grated parmesan, grated sharp cheddar, crumbled goat cheese, crumbled fresh mozzarella (set a handful of this aside)

Whisk the eggs and milk with a pinch of salt and lots of pepper. Add the grated cheeses and stir to combine.

Preheat the oven to 425

Lightly butter a tart pan and roll the dough and press into the pan. Doesn’t need to be perfect. I like to use a taller deeper tart pan so that the crust climbs erratically up the side and makes cracker-like crust. Slice the base of the crust a couple times with a sharp knife, and put it in the oven. You might need to revisit in a couple minutes to make sure the crust isn’t swooning into a puddle. Be careful you don’t burn your fingers. When the crust loses its shine, after about ten minutes, bring it out of the oven.

Spread the fennel, shallot and olive mixture over the partially-cooked crust.

Add the crumbled cheeses to the custard and briefly stir to combine. You want to encounter pockets of cheese in the final version, so don’t stir too vigorously at this stage. Pour this over the fennel.

Scatter tomatoes and fresh mozz over the top. Grate more pepper on.

Bake for 30 minutes more or less, until the crust is toasty-colored and the custard is puffed and browning. Let set and cool for a couple minutes, then de-pan, cut and eat!

3 thoughts on “Tart with fennel, tomatoes, olives, and many cheeses. And hereing.

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