This tart is a specialty of Calvizzano, a town near Naples, made with the mastantuono pear, which grows there. You will have to visit Calvizanno to taste the mastantuono-a small, round yellow-green pear-but several of our American varieties, such as small Seckel pears or medium-size Anjou or Bosc, are perfect for this great tart. In this recipe, the fruit is first cooked and saturated in a natural syrup, then baked in a pastry crust. Make sure to use pears that are still firm, before they become fully ripe or over-ripe.
The tart is delicious with a dollop of whipped cream, or served warm with some vanilla ice cream. I also like it with sour cream.
For the tart dough
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces very cold butter, (2 sticks) cut in 1/2-inch pieces
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed
For the Filling
2⅓ cups sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons soft butter
2½ pounds pears, firm, nearly ripe (Seckel, Anjou, or Bosc)
½ cup apricot jam
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water for glazing
To make the tart dough: Put the flour, salt, and sugar into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process for a few seconds to mix the dry ingredients. Drop the cut-up butter on top of the flour, and pulse the machine in a dozen or more short bursts, until the mixture is crumbly with only small bits of butter visible. Pour the egg yolks over the crumbs and pulse in bursts about 5 seconds total, to moisten the dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of ice water on the dough and pulse again for a few seconds.
The dough should begin to clump together but won't form a solid mass. Scrape it all out onto a board or into a large bowl; gather and press the clumps into a firm ball that holds together. If it crumbles apart, sprinkle more ice water over the dough and knead gently. When the dough sticks together, flatten it into a disk, wrap well in plastic and refrigerate for 6 hours or up to a day before rolling. Freeze the dough for longer keeping.
To make the filling: Put the sugar, the lemon juice and zest, and the butter in the heavy pan. Spread the sugar around the pan bottom. Cut the pears in half and neatly pare away the cores and stems. Lay the halves in one layer on top of the sugar in the pan, cut side down.
Set the pan over medium heat and let the sugar and butter melt and form a syrup with the juices released by the fruit. As it heats, spoon the syrup over the skins of the pear halves. When the syrup starts to boil, adjust the heat to maintain a bubbling simmer and cook, still cut-side down, for about 10 minutes. Carefully turn the pears over and simmer them for 15 minutes on the skin-side. Turn them to cook once again on the cut side for another 10 minutes or more until they are cooked through-easily pierced with the tines of a fork and very soft to the touch. (If you are using small Seckel pears, turn them sooner and expect shorter total cooking time).
Remove the pan from the heat and let the pears cool completely in the syrup. Make sure they are cut-side down so they become saturated. (Steep them in the syrup overnight, refrigerated, if you like.)
When you are ready to roll out the pastry and assemble the tart, lift the pear halves and drain all the syrup back into the pan. Set the pears on paper towels to dry the cut sides. Place the pan with all the residual syrup over medium-high heat, bring to a boil and cook it rapidly, until it reduces and just begins to caramelize. Lower the heat and when the syrup turns deep gold, pour it into a heatproof cup.
Heat the oven to 350°, with a rack set in the center. Place a baking stone on the rack if you have one.
To form the tart shell, cut off 1/3 of the sweet dough in a single piece for lattice top. Keep it chilled.
Place the larger (1 pound) piece of dough between two large sheets of parchment and roll it out to an even12-inch round. Peel off the top sheet of parchment, invert the circle over the tart pan and peel off the remaining sheet.
Press the dough gently down into the pan so it covers the bottom and lines the sides. Trim the edges of the dough round so it is even with the pan rim. With your fingers, form an even wall all the way around. Use scraps of dough to fill cracks or thin spots on the bottom or sides.
Now roll the smaller piece of dough between the parchment sheets to an 11-inch round. Remove the top parchment sheet and cut the dough in 1-inch wide strips with a pastry cutter or sharp knife. Leave the strips in place on the parchment sheet (and, if your kitchen is warm, refrigerate them) until you are ready to form the lattice.
Spread the apricot jam to cover the bottom of the tart crust. Place the pear halves in the crust skin side up, in one layer. Drizzle the golden pear syrup all over the fruit.
Form the lattice top, first laying half the strips over the pears, parallel and spaced about an inch apart. Lay the other half of the strips at an angle, covering the whole tart in an even pattern. Press and pinch the ends of the strips neatly into the rim of dough in the pan. Finally, brush the lattice strips with the egg yolk glaze.
Bake the tart-on the stone if you have one-for about 40 minutes or until the lattice is deep golden brown and the exposed pear tops are lightly caramelized. Cool the tart on a wire rack. When the crust has cooled a bit and contracted, slip off the fluted side ring. Serve warm or room temperature, cut in wedges-with your favorite kind of cream.