Ever since I moved to Colorado from British Columbia, I’ve made a point of celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving with my fellow ex-pats each year. Approximately 13 years running, the tradition has taken on a whole new meaning for us—in addition to getting together, it helps us feel a connection to our families who all live so far away.
Because we need to coordinate our kids, hectic family lives, work schedules, and travel plans, we often can’t celebrate during the actual holiday. (Canadian Thanksgiving falls on the second weekend in October, coinciding with Columbus Day in the U.S.) Sometimes life simply gets in the way, and we celebrate weeks later, even going into the next month, in order to make it work. I’m always happy to celebrate Thanksgiving twice a year, but two Thanksgivings in one month?!? I’m not going to complain about that either.
And this looks to be what’s happening this year.
However, even though we couldn’t find an October date that worked for everyone, my mind was still churning in the days leading up to the actual holiday, while the rest of my northern family was celebrating. I spent a fair bit of time dreaming up fun, beautiful, delicious food that I want to share with my loved ones when we got the chance to celebrate our annual tradition.
I’m a huge cheese board fan. They’re a joy to create and even more pleasurable to savor. At any special occasion, I’m far less enamored with the main courses than I am the small bites, and I can usually be found grazing appetizers with gleeful pleasure—and a well-composed cheese board is my absolute favorite.
There’s a special something about the art of blending flavors and textures when pairing different cheeses with assorted accoutrements. Creating the board is an immersive experience all on its own. And it goes beyond just food. A cheese board establishes an interactive space to mingle around and forage upon, allowing diners to use their creativity and imagination with each bite. And it almost always has something for everyone.
With a cheese board, you can celebrate the bounty and flavors of each season with perfectly customizable displays. The autumn cheese board is deep and rich; a great place to exhibit pungent, earthy cheeses, smoky charcuterie, and the luscious, juicy fruits of the season.
This crostada—a freehand tart akin to the French galette—came to me in a vision while I was enjoying some very nostalgic plums. The prune plum, a dusty dark purple fruit that comes late in the season, is one of those specimens I took for granted as a kid, but it wound-up being one of my favorites when I got older. Just like the bonds I experience when we celebrate our ex-pat Thanksgiving, I feel a connection to my childhood when these plums come into season.
The tender crumb of the crisp, buttery pastry, the decadent creaminess of the bleu cheese, the bright sweet-tart punch of the fruit, and the herbaceous notes from the thyme all come together and meld harmoniously with each other in this crostada. A drizzle of aromatic honey lends a final floral note. (Though the honey is totally optional, I think it completes the final product. It’s also another slice of nostalgia—I’m the only person I know who savored cheese-and-honey sandwiches as a kid.)
This creation hits all the right notes: salty, crispy, fragrant, and fruity (yet not too sweet).
Definitely keep this centerpiece of a celebratory cheese board in mind as the holiday season approaches.
Crostadas are an excellent way to use up pastry trimmings from pies, which, incidentally, is how I came up with this plan upon remembering a small chunk of dough leftover from a larger project. You can easily change up the fruit, depending on the time of year and what’s available. As the season progresses, pome fruits such apples, pears, and quince could play a great stand-in roll for the stone fruits of earlier autumn.
This tart combines minimalism at its finest with an unparalleled complexity of flavors and textures. No matter when we observe our annual tradition, you can be sure I’m volunteering to make this part of my contribution.
And maybe again at Thanksgiving for round two.
Peppered Plum, Bleu Cheese, and Thyme Crostada
Makes 1 (9-inch) crostada
Prep time: 20–25 minutes, plus time to chill
Cook time: 20 minutes
For the crust:
1¼ cups einkorn flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons cold butter (or 4 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons high-quality leaf lard, for optimal balance of flavor and texture)
2–3 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
6–8 firm, ripe late-season plums (or 3–4 medium-sized apples or pears)
3 oz. creamy, mild bleu cheese, such as Bleu D’Auvergne, plus extra to serve
4 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped of leaves
Cracked black pepper (lots)
Pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
Honey, for serving (optional, though if you use it I recommend a nice floral honey such as orange blossom or tupelo, if you have it)
- Prepare crust: Cut butter (or butter and lard, if using) into small cubes and place it, along with your flour, in the freezer for 10 minutes to get nice and cold. Next, place chilled flour, fat, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it forms into pea-sized pieces. Add water, a little at a time, until dough forms a loose ball. Dump onto a clean workspace and gently knead into a ball. (Be careful not to overwork, or it will get tough.) Flatten dough into a 6-inch disk and wrap tightly in plastic or waxed paper. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before using, but it’s best if you allow it to rest a couple hours or more.
- Prepare crostata: Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly dust your work space with flour and roll out dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Carefully transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
- Slice plums (or apples/pears, if using). Pile fruit into center of dough, leaving a border of 2 inches or so around the perimeter. Dot with bleu cheese and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Season with a healthy dose of cracked pepper and a pinch of salt. Fold edges of dough up to encase the filling, leaving the middle fruit exposed. (your tart should be roughly 8 or 9 inches in diameter). Brush the edges with the beaten egg.
- Bake on center rack until browned and bubbly, about 15–20 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5–10 minutes, then transfer to a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled with honey, if desired, and served alongside extra bleu cheese.
Image from Briana Goodall.