Early in the morning, Natasha Pickowicz ducked into the walk-in refrigerator, the one all the way at the end of the dishwashing station in Café Altro Paradiso’s kitchen, and studied the family shelf. As usual, the tidy nook was stacked with plastic containers of odds and ends, leftover prep from the night before, set aside for staff meal. A pint of blanched broccolini stems here, a lump of blue-cheese butter there. But where anyone else might have seen a random muddle of junk, Natasha Pickowicz saw tarts — big, beautiful tarts that would feed the whole kitchen before noon.
She gathered a few pint containers: ham and red-onion scraps, spare confit leeks and yesterday’s mashed potatoes, tatters of provolone and raw cauliflower debris. She reached for fluttery maitakes, a sticky paste of caramelized onions and a handful of cold, slightly sad-looking boiled potatoes with their skins still on. Pickowicz set everything on the counter, just across from a cook smashing raw beef for carpaccio. “It’s really satisfying to find a purpose for all these things,” she said, already seeing how the bits and pieces would come together on cold discs of pie dough.
Pickowicz is a pastry chef, known for desserts like her glamorous fruit crostatas and the pastries she makes at both Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar in New York. She started baking savory tarts at an old job when there was an excess of squash one summer, and now she builds a few out of whatever’s on hand each morning, working quickly among the tasks on her to-do list so that she can set out a late breakfast for herself and the cooks. Her approach is spontaneous but deliberate, which is to say, the scraps are random, but there’s nothing random about the way that Pickowicz composes them. “I’m always thinking critically about how they’ll cook,” she said. “I’m thinking about creating layers, so when you bite into it, you’re transitioning from tender dough through body and structure.” I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant, until I watched her make four tarts.
For one, she layered mashed potatoes and cauliflower over dabs of caramelized onion. After it came out of the oven and cooled, she covered it in parsley leaves and lemon zest and draped over those thin, soft pieces of ham. She arranged the leeks over smudged mascarpone and lemon zest, keeping it simple. For the third, she broke the potatoes apart with her hands, creating rough, jagged edges that would go golden as they roasted on the pastry — which she coated first with smears of ricotta and an oily condiment of preserved lemon. The maitakes, after they were roasted with red-onion pieces and caramelized onion for the very last tart, would be covered with crisp, dressed leaves of pink radicchio del Veneto.
Repurposing leftovers, making something entirely whole and new from fragments, isn’t only about economy and efficiency in the kitchen. There’s joy in limiting yourself to what you already have, in finding a use for every scrap and stretching a little into a lot. At home, I made Pickowicz’s pastry dough, with its giant flecks of butter, using as little ice water as possible to bring the crumbs together, and tucking some extra dough into the freezer for another day’s tart. It was only technically spring in New York, so I didn’t have much to work with. Some ricotta, some small boiled potatoes and a single shallot. I asked myself, what would Natasha do?
I smeared ricotta all over the cold dough, grated lemon zest over the top and cracked a little bit of black pepper. Then I broke the potatoes up into big pieces with my hands, mixed in the sliced shallot and dressed it all with olive oil and salt. That went on top of the ricotta. I filled a few gaps with torn up provolone, using the last few slices in the fridge. And when the tart came out of the oven, when it had cooled down to room temperature, I seasoned it again and covered it in dressed radicchio leaves, which wouldn’t have been quite enough to make a meal on their own. It was a delicious and inexact emulation, a spontaneous salad tart, and somehow it was big enough to feed six.
Recipe: Potato-and-Radicchio Tart | Tart Crust
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