One of the things I love about reading great recipes is that they inspire me to create unique dishes of my own. For a long time now, I have been fascinated by tart tatin, the great French creation where you pour caramel into the bottom of a cake tin, layer over caramelised apples, and then top it all off with puff pastry. The pastry bakes at the top, becoming crispy and light, and the apples caramelise even further. When the tart is done, you flip it out of the cake pan, et voila! A perfectly crisp bottom, and sensuously caramelised apple.
I have always wanted to make a tart tatin that was savoury… but part of the trick is that sweet caramel sauce that you pour in first. How to make something savoury with that? And then… I read Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for a caramelised garlic tart – with goats cheese and puff pastry. I read the actual recipe for the caramelised garlic and realised that there is a sweet savoury caramelised sauce that coats those gorgeous garlic pieces. And then… I read a recipe for polenta with sauteed mushrooms. I do love mushrooms, and polenta is another obsession of mine. I fell asleep last night daydreaming of a perfect dish… and this morning, when I woke up, I knew what I needed to make a savoury polenta tart tatin.
I cant tell you how happy this makes me. Its like I have figured out some remarkable puzzle. It may have been made before (after all, in cooking, relatively little is new), but I have never read a recipe like this. I loved it from the moment it popped into my head, and I was determined to make it!
It took me more than 3 hours to make this today. Its a hell of a recipe, but … you could definitely do it in stages. Almost everything (even the polenta) can be made in advance and refrigerated until needed (though I would make the spinach mixture on the day). If you spend a day or two caramelising garlic, sauteeing some mushrooms and burnishing them with old thick balsamic, preparing some polenta, thickened with parmesan and butter … well, then this recipe would probably take you about 40 minutes from assembly to final stages of cooking.
And I am here to tell you… Its damn worth it! It is so good. Outrageously good. Celebration, birthday, vegetarian Thanksgiving, dinner party good. Its gorgeous and dramatic, and the layers of flavour are unbelievable. Fluffy yet creamy and cheesy polenta, with a crisp crust, is topped with creamy spinach, which in turn is topped with balsamic mushrooms and caramelised garlic. Its a beautiful tart, and very dramatic. If you want to add a bit of flair, you could probably decorate it with a few sliced cherry tomatoes stuffed strategically into place, but it really does not need it. This tart is a tour de force of flavours and textures … It is sublime, if I say so myself.
Feeds 6 – 8
Caramelised Garlic (from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)
- 3 medium heads of garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 220 ml (about 1 1/4 cup) water
- 3/4 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp chopped rosemary
- 1 tsp chopped thyme (I did not have any fresh thyme, so I used about 1/2 tsp dried herbes de Provence)
- 1/4 tsp salt
Break the heads of garlic up, and peel the cloves. I realised I had many different sizes of garlic cloves, so I chopped the larger pieces in half to make them all approximately the same size.
Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Lower heat so the water is simmering, and blanch the garlic for 3 minutes. Drain well.
Wipe out the saucepan (make sure you do this well – oil and water sputter badly), and place the olive oil in the saucepan. Over high heat, saute the garlic for 2 – 3 minutes. You want the garlic just to begin to brown around the edges.
Add the balsamic and the water (be careful, it will spit and spew at you as the water hits the hot oil), and bring to the boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Then add the sugar, rosemary, thyme and salt, and mix well. Simmer on medium heat for a further 10 – 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated, and you have a thick dark caramel sauce and deep dark soft garlic.
Take off heat and set aside. If you are only cooking the tart in the next day or so, transfer to a bowl or container, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before assembly.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tbsp truffle oil (if you have it – if not, use olive oil or any other flavouring oil that you like)
- About 8 medium to small portobello mushrooms (about 250 g – 1/2 lb) peeled and sliced thickly
- About 3 – 4 Swiss brown mushrooms, peeled and sliced thickly
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp butter
In a large non stick frying pan, heat the olive oil and truffle oil over medium high heat. Add all the portobello mushrooms, and stir well to combine, and to ensure that most of the mushrooms have been slicked with a little oil. Leave the mushrooms in the pan, not stirring, and allow them to brown and caramelise on their own. The heat and the olive oil will do the trick – you just have to NOT stir! Once you start smelling a wonderful mushroomy smell (about 3 – 5 minutes – possibly longer if your heat isnt that high), flip the mushrooms over. You should see that the bottom side is well browned.
Add the Swiss browns, mix again, and allow to saute, undisturbed for another few minutes. Salt and pepper well, stir, and then add the balsamic all at once. It will immediately begin to bubble and coat the mushrooms completely. Slice the butter directly over the mushrooms, and allow it to melt into the mixture. The butter will flavour the mushrooms as well as adding a bit of needed oil to the balsamic coating.
Taste, adjust seasonings, and once you are happy with the mushrooms (they should be slightly burnt, sticky, gooey, balsamic-y and intensely mushroom flavoured), tip out into a bowl and set aside. Transfer to a bowl or container if you are making the tart in a day or two, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before assembly.
- 2 cups baby spinach, tightly packed
- 2 heaping tbsp cream cheese
- 1 tbsp cream
- 1 egg
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Lots of black pepper
- 1/2 cup (or more, depending on your cheesiness) grated cheddar – I used an organic white cheddar which was phenomenal here
Wash the baby spinach very well, and then roughly chop it. Add the spinach to a large non stick pan over medium heat. You still want a bit of the water to be clinging to the leaves – this will help it cook. Saute the spinach briefly – a minute or two will do it – until it turns dark green. Remove the spinach from the heat, and place it in a sieve to drain the liquid from it. Allow to cool a little.
In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, cream and egg. Add the spinach (squeeze it with your hands before adding to the mix to make sure youve gotten rid of as much moisture as possible). Using an immersion blender (or you could transfer the lot to a blender or food processor), cream the spinach until it has completely integrated into the cream cheese mixture. Add salt and pepper, and mix well.
Add the grated cheddar, and mix well. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Set aside until ready to assemble the tart.
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup whole milk (low-fat will do, but its better with whole milk)
- 1 cup polenta (cornmeal grits)
- 1/2 cup mixed water and milk if you are making as below (optional)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Loads of black pepper
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- 2 tbsp butter
Polenta is usually made in a saucepan, but I actually like the quickness and control I get from making it in a large, non stick, frying pan. You need a good spatula or wide flat wooden spoon.
Place a large non stick frying pan over medium heat and pour in the water and milk. Bring just to the boil, and once it boils, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Pour in the polenta in a steady stream, mixing constantly as you do so. This will ensure that the polenta is smooth and creamy and without lumps.
Keep stirring, the polenta should begin to thicken almost immediately. I usually use an almost scooping motion – circular, and right at the end, I scoop some polenta, and flip it over itself. Almost like folding egg whites gently into cake batter. Keep stirring and scooping for about 5 – 10 minutes. If the polenta gets too thick, add the water and milk mixture in gentle dribs and drabs.
Taste the polenta – it should be uniformly creamy. Any grittiness, and you need to continue cooking.
Once the polenta has reached a creamy consistency of thick oatmeal, and there is no grittiness, add the salt and tons of black pepper. Stir well and combine. Add the parmesan and butter, and combine well. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Set the polenta aside (in the pan if you like) until it comes to room temperature. The polenta will firm up quite a bit but this is fine. Refrigerate if you are not making the tart immediately, but bring to room temperature when you assemble.
Polenta Tart Tatin – Assembly
- Caramelised Garlic
- Balsamic Mushrooms
- Creamed Spinach
- Cheesy Polenta
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- Butter for the cake pan
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F), and prepare a 9 – 10 inch round cake tin. Butter the cake tin, and place a circle of grease proof wax paper in the bottom. Butter this as well.
Pour the syrup from the caramelised garlic, and cover the entire bottom of the cake tin with the sauce. Tilt to make sure you coat the wax paper completely. Arrange about half (or all if youre greedy – I like to keep some back for other uses!) of the garlic on the syrup, and arrange the balsamic mushrooms over the garlic. With the garlic and mushrooms, you will cover the entire bottom of the pan. Dont mix them up though, they should remain quite insular.
Pour over the creamed spinach, and use a spatula or knife to ensure that the spinach completely covers the garlic and mushrooms.
Bake the tart in the oven for about ten minutes, or until the spinach has firmed up and puffed a little – it will bronze a bit. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for about ten minutes or so.
Prepare the polenta. Sccop up a handful of polenta, and flatten it between your hands. It should be less than 1/2 inch thick. You will have a polenta patty – place this gently onto the baked spinach in the tin. Keep doing this until the spinach is completely covered. You can patch up the polenta if there are small holes or bits youve missed.
Grate the parmesan over the polenta, and bake again in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the parmesan has burnished and become a gorgeous burnt mass on top of the polenta.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes, in the pan, on a cake rack.
Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to make sure that nothing is sticking to the sides. Place a serving plate over the cake pan, and using oven gloves (as the pan may still be hot), flip the tart over in one smooth move. Remove the cake pan, and the wax paper, and adjust any bits of garlic or mushroom that may have fallen off.
Serve warm, at room temperature, or even cold the next day. Any which way, its mind-blowing-ly deeeeeee-licious!