Butternut and Spinach Tart with a Parmesan or Pecorino Crust

24 Jul

goldorange perfectionI am really in a tarty mood these days. Not sure why. Must be something to do with the moon 😉 I must admit that tarts and pies have always fascinated me. I love the idea of a pastry enveloping delightful fillings – and I have always believed that the pastry should be as good as the interior, if not better. I made a raspberry curd tart the other day, and now I am trying my hand at a savoury one. I love butternut and spinach together – their colours, green and orangegold are so complementary, and, more importantly, they taste so good together. Roasted butternut and lightly sauteed spinach are a knockout taste combination. But what would happen, I wondered, if you made them both very smooth and creamy, a touch of herbs and garlic, and combined them together, side by side. May be some shards of very salty, briney, goats cheese. That would stand up to the spinach and butternut. And a crust that had a hint of pecorino in it, so it too was a taste explosion.

So I set out to make this tart of my dreams … and I must admit it is a process. I made it over one evening, and an afternoon. This is a tart for a family gathering or celebration, a picnic or a birthday. I have to say that the actual cooking processes are easy, and really not focus consuming at all – you just need to be around as things get roasted and sauteed, and you need to let the crust rest, and then prebake it. Its a doddle if you break it down into smaller components (much like life) and then tackle each individual piece slowly and with great enjoyment. I roasted my butternut and prepared my tart dough the night before while watching tv. The actual work time was about 15 – 20 minutes, and the rest was allowing the ingredients to do their magic.

What I adore about this particular tart is that it is layer up on layer of perfection. When you serve it, it looks like a spinach tart, which in and of itself, is pretty damn delicious. Underneath the bronzed deep green spinach, is the goldenorange perfection of butternut, and nuggets of melted goats cheese. What an astounding mixture, what a brilliant taste sensation, what delightful surprises hidden within that beautiful crust.

Tarts are wonderful things because they can feed many people, in great style. They accommodate fillings pretty much at your whim and desire, and can be savoury or sweet at your discretion. A slice of tart will almost never go unaccepted – and when youre in the mood for just a bite, a sliver of tart can hit the spot perfectly. Plus they are so beautifully dramatic to present. Such a wide expanse of pretty colours and melting goodness. And you can serve them warm from the oven (but never hot), or cold from the fridge the next day (if there’s any left!).

If you decide to make this tart, do think about timing. If you make it all in one afternoon, roast the butternut first, make the dough and put it in the freezer while the butternut is in the oven, then cool the butternut, then make the spinach, etc. You will need to give each element time to rest, cool and intensify their flavours and textures, so be aware of what you make and when.

And just a note, I used pecorino in this recipe, but you could just as easily use parmesan. I love pecorino because its a more tangy version of parmesan, and its made with ewe’s milk so it goes easily with the goat’s cheese.

Pecorino Pastry

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pecorino, grated
  • 1/2 cup / 110 g / 8 tbsp butter, frozen and grated
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp oregano or sage or rosemary

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and parmesan. Grate the frozen butter over, sifting it into the flour with the tips of your fingers. I pause and do this twice as I grate.

Beat the egg, dijon, oregano (or other herb) and salt together, and pour over the flour-parmesan-butter mixture. Bring the dough together with the tips of your fingers and let it rest in the fridge for about half an hour or up to two days.

When you are ready to use the pastry, roll out on a floured board. Drape over your rolling pin, and centre it in your tart pan. Prick with your fork, line with aluminum foil, fill with beans, and bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes. Take out the foil and beans, prick again with the fork, and bake for about 5 – 10 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to cool a bit before filling with butternut and spinach.

Roasted butternut (and a garlic head!)

  • 3 – 4 cups butternut (about 700 g), roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp or less olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 tbsp light sour cream
  • 2 eggs + 3 yolks, beaten well together

Preheat your oven to about 220C. Prepare a baking tin with greaseproof paper.

Skin and chop the butternut, and arrange it in one layer on the baking tin. Using your hands, lightly coat the butternut with some olive oil. When I say lightly coat, I really mean lightly – you dont want the butternut swimming in oil because it will most definitely steam in the oil rather than roast and slightly char. You want that caramelised burnt butternut flavour, and a tiny bit of olive oil will really help with that. Too much will be a hindrance.

Using a sharp knife, cut about 1/4th inch off the top of a head of garlic, skins intact.

Place the garlic on the baking tin, and pour olive oil into the cloves.

Salt and pepper everything liberally.

Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the butternut is soft, and slightly burnt around the edges.

At this point, you can refrigerate the butternut, covered, for up to two days. Take the cloves of garlic out of their skins, cut away any very burnt bits (they can be bitter), and store in the fridge too, covered with olive oil. If you are serving the tart that day, go on to the next step.

Using an immersion blender, combine the butternut and 3 tbsp of sour cream.

Beat 3 eggs and 2 egg yolks together until light and frothy. Use 2/3rd of this in the butternut mixture, and reserve the rest for the spinach. Fold the eggs lightly into the butternut.

Set aside.

Spinach

  • 120 g of baby spinach, washed
  • 3 cloves of roasted garlic
  • 3 tbsp roasted garlic olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash a packet of baby spinach well in salted water. Let it sit for a minute in the water while you heat 3 tbsp of olive oil that has been sitting with the roasted garlic cloves, along with three of the cloves, in a large frying pan over high heat. You can mash the cloves into the olive oil.

With your hands, lift the baby spinach out of the water, allowing some water to cling to the leaves. Fry in the very hot oil until it is bright green and soft, about 3 – 5 minutes only. You dont want to over cook the spinach, but you do want it to be wilted completely. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Transfer the hot spinach to a mixing bowl. Add 3 tbsp sour cream, and using your immersion blender, make sure the spinach has been completely pureed.

Fold in 1/3rd of the egg mixture from the butternut into the spinach and set aside.

Assembly

  • Baked tart crust
  • Butternut mixture
  • Goats cheese – about 3 – 5 tbsp, roughly chopped
  • Spinach mixture

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Pour the butternut mixture into the tart crust. Sprinkle the goats cheese all over the butternut, and then pour the spinach mixture over all, using a spatula to smooth the top completely.

Bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes.

tart heavenLet rest for 10 minutes or so before cutting into wedges and serving.

Perfection can be hard work, but it is so bloody satisfying when it comes off!

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