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a torte and a little history

Linda and Barb in 2007

For the first week of my final series of classes at Les Gourmettes, I chose the menu from recipes from the very first series of classes I took from Barbara Fenzl more than 30 years ago.

Barb, Anne Willan, and Linda in Barb’s kitchen

I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared the story of how I came to work for Barb at Les Gourmettes Cooking School. With these next two weeks of classes being the last, now seems like a good time.

Linda, Lydie Marshall, and Barb in Lydie’s kitchen in NYC

In the fall of 1988, when my daughter, Marissa, was not yet 1-year-old, I first learned that there was a cooking school in Phoenix called Les Gourmettes. Our local newspaper, The Arizona Republic, used to have a glorious Food & Dining Section. It was massive compared to what you find in the paper today. At least once a month, there was a “Food Calendar” and Barb’s school was listed there. It was one of, if not the only, avocational cooking schools in town back then.

Barb, Linda, some dude, and Julia Child at James Beard Awards in NYC

We didn’t have much money to spare, but I splurged and signed up for the series of three classes. I loved it! I was hooked! Now I was on the mailing list, so when the schedule for the next semester came around, I not only signed up for Barb’s series again but also for Jacques Pepin’s class.

This photo was taken in 1998 in San Francisco, 9 years after I first assisted Jacques at Les Gourmettes in 1989.

I adored Jacques. I had several of his cookbooks and Jacques would come to the Scottsdale Culinary Festival in those days and I went to see him whenever he was in town.  The series was first, and after each class, I would tell Barb that I was a stay-at-home mom, and if she ever needed anything, I would run around town to get it for her. I assured her I knew how to cook, that I had worked for a respected caterer in town, and that I personally catered on the side. I had a growing cookbook collection and I rarely made the same recipe twice because I loved to create and experiment. Basically, I was not only passionate about cooking, but I was also good at it.

During the time between Barb’s series and Jacques’ class, Barb’s assistant had to leave and get a full-time job. All my offers of help had paid off! Barb called to see if I’d be interested in apprenticing as her assistant, starting immediately. I was over the moon!

Not only was I going to work in a cooking school, but I was also going to assist Jacques Pepin! And the cherry on top – I was going to be refunded the money I had paid for Jacques’ class. That was huge for us back then! We had a new baby, I had recently been in a serious car accident and bills were piling up. Dave had just been made a partner at his CPA firm and we were making very large monthly payments for his buy-in.

Julia Child and Linda at an IACP conference

As they say, the rest is history. I’ve been with Barb for 30 years. Working there lead to me opening my own children’s cooking school, to dozens of articles in the newspaper, in national parenting magazines, local TV appearances, starting this blog, meeting and working with the likes of Julia Child and Emeril Lagasse, teaching Larry Fitzgerald to cook and so much more. So yeah, I have a lot to thank Barbara Fenzl and Les Gourmettes for, including this recipe. Enjoy.

Smoked Turkey Torte

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 pounds baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, peeled and minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 eggs, divided
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
  • 1 pound frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
  • 3/4 pound Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 pound thinly sliced smoked turkey breast
  • 3 red bell and or yellow peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into wide strips (feel free to use store-bought roasted peppers)

Grease a 9-inch springform pan with 1 tablespoon of butter. Set aside.

Add the olive oil to a very large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the oil and then add the shallots and garlic and sauté over medium heat until soft and translucent.

Add as much of the spinach as the skillet will hold, sauté, tossing and as the spinach wilts down, add more until all the spinach has been added and is cooked down.

Yes, this is all 2 pounds of that big bag of spinach, wilted down.

Transfer spinach to a colander and drain well. Press out the excess liquid with the back of a spoon and then squeeze dry with your hands. Season with nutmeg, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat 5 of the eggs with the parsley, chives, tarragon, ¼ teaspoons salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Use a skillet that has a base that is as close to 9-inches as possible. The perfect skillet would be one in which the springform pan sits perfectly inside. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the skillet and add half of the egg mixture and cook over medium-low heat until the eggs are almost set about 3 minutes. Flip the omelet over and cook until the bottom is set, about 1 minute. Remove to a plate. Repeat with the remaining tablespoon of butter and the remaining egg mixture to make another omelet.

Roll out about three-quarters of the puff pastry to ¼-inch thickness. Line the springform, fitting the dough against the bottom and sides without stretching or tearing. Allow a bit of the dough to hang over the rim. Refrigerate for 5 minutes if the dough is very soft.

Place one of the omelets into the bottom of the pasty-lined pan. Layer on half of the spinach.

Next, layer on half of the shredded cheese, half of the turkey slices, and all of the roasted bell peppers.

Now layer on the remaining turkey, then the remaining cheese, and remaining spinach. Top with the second omelet.

Roll out the remaining dough. Place on top of the torte.

In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water. Use a pastry brush and brush the top piece of pastry with the egg wash. Fold the overhanging pastry up and over, crimp to seal, and brush with egg wash again. If you have any little trimmings of pastry, cut out decorative shapes and adhere them to the top with egg wash.

If my finished torte looks different than the torte I assembled above, it is because it is a completely different torte. I made the first and served it in class and then assembled this smaller one in front of the class and brought it home to bake.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the springform on the center rack and place a piece of foil on the rack below to catch any dripping. Bake for 90 minutes. If the top begins to over-brown, cover loosely with foil.  Remove from the oven and let cool for a minimum of 15 minutes before removing the outside ring of the springform pan.

Use a serrated knife to slice into wedges.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 10 to 12

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1 comment

1 Barbara Fenzl { 05.06.19 at 7:07 AM }

Oh, Linda, what a beautiful trip down memory lane! I loved reading every word and I cannot adequately express how much your being part of Les Gourmettes had meant. Thank you, dear friend, for 30 years of fun, hard work, laughter, and sometimes, even tears. We’ve been through so much together and I cherish each and every moment. Love you-

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