The crisp shell on this tartlet accentuates the subtle flavor and buttery texture of seaonal pears. Recipe below.
Pastilla is a traditional dish from Morocco: It is a pigeon pie made with multiple layers of thin pastry brushed with butter and then filled with pigeon meat, softened onions and almonds. It is a festive treat that is served as a first course, but accented with sugar and cinnamon, it is just as sweet as it is savory — like many a Moroccan specialty.
A coworker of mine, who was born and raised in Casablanca, would bake one and bring it into the office whenever there was cause for celebration. Since pigeon meat is hard to come by in Paris (unless you hunt for them on sidewalks, which I wouldn't recommend), she made it with chicken, to delicious and much-lauded results.
Clotilde Dusoulier is the 26-year-old Parisienne behind the popular food blog Chocolate & Zucchini. She is working on her first cookbook.
The memory of this dish inspired me to create a dessert variation, in the form of these single-serving pastillas. In keeping with ingredients traditionally used in Moroccan cuisine, I fill them with pears, pine nuts and raisins. They are served warm, sprinkled with confectioner's sugar and an optional dash of cinnamon.
The beauty of pastilla lies in the contrast between the soft and flavorful filling and the brittle and crispy shell that encloses it. Traditional pastilla is made with "brik sheets" — round sheets of paper-thin dough made with flour, salt and water. I tend to use phyllo dough both because I prefer it and because it is readily available in the freezer section of most grocery stores. Typical of Greek and Middle-Eastern cuisines, phyllo sheets are thinner and the resulting shell has a lighter, more delicate consistency.
These pear pastillas are a tasty way to celebrate the arrival of fall, as we ease into the cold months' fruit selection and reacquaint ourselves with the joy of fragrant and juicy pears. It would also be the perfect sweet note to end an all-Moroccan dinner, say, a carrot salad flavored with orange juice and a bit of orange flower water, followed by a lamb tagine with prunes and almonds.
I have successfully paired the pastillas with a bottle of Gris de Boulaouane from Morocco, a light wine that is comparable to a rosé and boasts a unique shade of silver. If this is difficult to find, a mildly sweet Riesling or a Muscat will work just as well.
One pound ripe pears (any variety)
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons pine nuts
3 rectangular sheets of phyllo dough, thawed (phyllo typically comes in 14" x 18" or 12" x 17" sheets; either size will work)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Four 4-inch tartlet molds
A pastry brush
Wash and peel the pears, and cut the flesh in half-inch pieces. Melt a teaspoon of butter in a medium skillet. When the butter starts to sizzle, add the pears, raisins and 1/4 cup of water. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the pear pieces are softened. Transfer into a colander over a bowl (to save the cooking juices), and drain for 10 minutes. This can be prepared up to a day ahead.
Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until golden and fragrant (keep an eye on them so they don't burn) and let cool. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and butter four 4-inch tartlet molds.
Cut one sheet of phyllo dough in four, crosswise. Keep three pieces on your work surface and wrap the leftover phyllo according to package instructions so it won't dry out.
Brush top side of one piece of phyllo lightly with melted butter using a pastry brush. Set the piece carefully into a tartlet mold. Sprinkle the bottom with a little brown sugar. Brush top of a second piece of phyllo with butter, and set atop the first one, setting it at a slight angle from the first. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar. Brush a third piece phyllo with butter and top the previous one, also at an angle. Fill with one fourth of the pear mixture, top with a fourth of the pine nuts, and cover with the overhanging flaps of phyllo. Brush the top with a little more butter and set aside. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make three more pastillas. (Note: You can wrap each pastilla tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to an hour before baking.)
Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Let cool for two minutes, transfer onto four serving plates, and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and a little cinnamon if desired. Serve immediately, on its own or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
You can also reduce the pears' cooking juices until syrupy and dot the plates, using the tip of a spoon handle.