Tag Archives: pie

Twice Baked Caramelised Onion Cheese Tarts

27 Feb

This is a complex, work intensive dish, but the results are nothing short of spectacular, if I might say so myself. The rich buttery puff pastry holds a wonderful creamy base laden with succulent deeply wine-y caramelised onions. Topped with melted raclette, the tart is complicated, delicious and very satisfying. These were created as a tapas for the O’Gourmet Food Hall Spanish red wine tasting, and were paired with a beautiful, organic Crianza 2005.

The onions were caramelised in an entire bottle of Crianza 2005, and cooked down into a thick jammy muddle for four hours. The puff pastry is simple, if you an find an all butter prepared puff pastry. If you cant, there are some amazingly easy recipes for foolproof puff pastry made with your food processor available online. Dont, under any circumstances, use puff pastry that is made with vegetable fat – it ruins everything!

Part of the problem with tarts of this kind is that even though the top bakes up gorgeously, the bottom is often underbaked. I solved this problem by baking the tarts as per normal, letting them cool for a few minutes, taking them out of their muffin tins, and flipping them over onto a baking sheet. I then baked them again in a very hot oven for about ten minutes, until the bottoms were golden and crisp, and just as delicious as the tops! We must always have balance in cooking…as in life.

I used raclette in this tart – a smooth very creamy melting cheese, often added to fondues. The cheese is rich and salty, yet mild. It compliments the onions, without overwhelming them. Baked into the tart the raclette melds with the onions and savoury custard into a molten cheesy joy.

You can serve this tart warm from the oven, or at room temperature within 24 hours. The recipe for the onions makes more than you need. Any extra can be used as the base for a magnificent pasta, a grilled cheese sandwich, or to spark your cooking imagination!

Makes 20 medium sized tarts. Do adjust for your own crowd!

Twice Baked Caramelised Red Wine Onion Tarts with Raclette

Caramelised Red Wine Onions

  • 1 cup (2 sticks – 16 tbsp) butter
  • 8 cups (approximately 8 – 10 medium) yellow onions, sliced in fine half rings
  • 1 bottle red wine (I used QV Crianza 2005)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar (organic if possible)
  • Pepper and salt

In a large, heavy pan, over medium low heat, melt the butter. While the butter is slowly melting, prepare the onions. Peel, cut in half (from stem to root), and slice thinly. I always keep root intact to hold the onion together while I slice it.

Once the butter has melted, add the onions, and toss so that they are covered completely by the butter. Add about half a bottle of wine, the red wine vinegar, balsamic, sugar and a lot of pepper and a bit of salt. Stir well to combine, and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Reduce the heat a tad, and allow the mixture to simmer, stirring every ten minutes or so for about an hour.

By the end of an hour or so, the onions should be stained dark red with the wine, and quite soft. Remove the lid, add the remaining wine, stir well, and allow to cook down for another three hours or so, stirring every half an hour to make sure the onions dont burn. You can judge when you feel they are ready, but do try and give them as much time as possible. They will turn a deep dark wine red.

When the onions are ready, take off heat, and allow to cool to room temperature. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

These may be kept, covered, in the fridge, for up to 3 weeks.

Assembly

  • 5 to 6 sheets all butter puff pastry (enough for 20 squares to fit muffin tins)
  • Caramelised onions
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • 300 gm raclette or other melting cheese, sliced thinly

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Spray a muffin tin pan with non stick spray (I used an organic canola oil). Line a large baking sheet with parchment or baking paper.

The puff pastry should be quite cold, yet malleable. If you have made fresh puff pastry, make sure you pop it in the freezer for about 5 minutes before cutting it. Cut the puff pastry into squares larger than the width of the muffin tin and place one square in each. I like the squares with the edges rough and untamed. I tend to like these tarts look rustic, but if you prefer an ordered tart, by all means cut big rounds.

Pierce the pastry with a fork all over (particularly the bottom), and bake in the oven for about 10 – 15 minutes until light golden.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and cream, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and place in a pouring jug.

Once the pastry has been baked to golden brown, remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.

Place a tablespoon or more of the caramelised onions in each tart, and pour over the custard mixture. Bake again in the oven for about 1o minutes, and then remove and top the tarts with the sliced raclette or other melting cheese. Bake again for a further five minutes or so, or until the cheese has melted and is starting to bubble, and the custard is just set.

Remove the tarts from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from the muffin tins, and place onto the prepared baking pan upside down. Bake in the hot oven for a further 5 – 10 minutes, or until the bottoms are crispy and browned.

Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature within 1 day.

Enjoy!

Raspberry Tart

28 Nov

With purple pansiesThis raspberry tart is dramatic, beautiful, romantic and outrageously delicious. Its such a perfect combination of flavours and textures, and its so pretty that people smile when they see it. I love this tart, and I must give credit where it is due – it was inspired by Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio’s amazing raspberry tart, but enlivened with a few of my own happy pleasures. Specifically, dark bittersweet chocolate – and instead of a cookie crust, a pistachio crust inspired by her pistachio ice cream.

This tart is easily made (in its various components) ahead of time, and put together a few hours before serving. The combination of pistachio biscuit crust, dark bittersweet chocolate cream, light vanilla whipped cream and tart fresh raspberries is just outstanding. Crunchy, slightly bitter and nutty, creamy, chocolatey, tart, fresh, cool, bright – decadent, sumptuous, and totally sensual. Can you tell by all the superlatives how much I loved this tart? 😉

The element which brought drama and a really natural beauty to the tart were the flutters of sweet purple flowers adorning the top. My local supermarket sells edible flowers in a little packet – all different colours and they are beautiful. I picked out the purple ones – pansies I think – and together, they made for a stunningly lovely presentation. You can find information on edible flowers at the Cook’s Thesaurus and also some very pretty photographs here and here. Flowers are a wonderful way to make food look visually appealing and beautiful, and after this result, I definitely need to start using them more often!

This tart will serve 10 – 12 people. Its very rich, so you dont need huge slices.

Pistachio Crust

  • 1 cup whole pistachios
  • 2 tbsp powdered/icing sugar
  • 5 tbsp flour (plus additional if needed)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cold butter
  • 1 egg + 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Using a coffee grinder, processor, your immersion blender – or even a plastic back and a rolling pin to smack them into submission! – grind and pulverise the pistachios with the powdered sugar. The sugar will ensure that the nuts dont go over into a paste – but watch them carefully. I usually grind the pistachios in two batches of 1/2 cup each plus 1 tbsp of powdered sugar.

Put the ground pistachios and sugar into a bowl. Add the flour and salt and toss to combine. Grate the cold butter over the pistachio mixture, and using the tips of your fingers, combine very gently. You could even use a fork left in the fridge to mix everything up. This mixture can be exceedingly delicate so be careful!

Beat the 1 egg and vanilla together, and add to the pistachio-butter mixture. Combine gently and quickly until the mixture comes together into a dough. If its really sticky, add additional flour, a tablespoon at a time until it comes together, but be gentle and work quickly.

Shape the dough into a ball, and refrigerate, covered for at least half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 175 C (350F). I used a 11″ tart pan with a detachable base and non stick surface for this tart. If your tart pan is not non-stick (and really, it should be if it has a detachable base), butter the pan well. Remove the dough from the fridge, and centre it on a the tart pan. Using your fingers, quickly spread and knead and push and prod the dough so it completely covers the pan. Line the tart with parchment/baking paper, and pour in some pie weights. I use dried beans – theyre much cheaper, and they work just as well!

Bake your tart for about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the baking paper and pie weights/beans, and place the tart crust back into the oven for a further 5 minutes or so, or until the shell has lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 3 minutes or so. Whisk the egg white with a fork in a small cup or bowl. Brush the interior of the shell with the egg white. This is a great trick to ensure that the tart crust is “water proof” and does not become soggy when you add the pastry cream!

Set aside to cool completely before assembly.

You can make the tart crust up to 1 day in advance, and store in the fridge, covered until needed.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pastry Cream

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups cream
  • About 150 grams (1 1/2 small slab bars) best quality bittersweet chocolate – I used Lindt, broken into pieces
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt until well combined. Whisk together the egg yolks and cream in a small bowl, and whisk into the sugar-flour mixture until you get a smooth paste.

Place the saucepan over medium low heat, and bring slowly to the boil, whisking all the while. This will take you about 10 minutes – about 5 minutes into this time, stick your thumb in the mixture. It should be like quite hot bathwater. Add the chocolate now, and continue whisking for a further 5 minutes or so. The mixture will start to steam, and bubble, and will have become noticeably thicker.

Check that the mixture will hold a line when it coats the back of a spoon and you run your finger through it. If not, continue to cook for a few minutes further, whisking all the while. It should not take that long to get there, so be vigilant! And remember, the pastry cream will thicken as it cools, so the consistency at which you take it off the stove is not the consistency it will be when you finally assemble the tart!

Remove the saucepan from the heat, and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract. Strain the pastry cream through a fine sieve, and allow to cool to room temperature.

The pastry cream can be made up to 2 days in advance, and stored, covered (with parchment paper spread over the surface for preference), in the refrigerator until needed.

Vanilla Whipped Cream

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream – 2 tbsp of cream removed from this amount
  • 1 1/2 tsp agar agar
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split, and beans scraped – or 1 tbsp vanilla essence/paste

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream. From this amount, measure out 2 tbsp, and remove to a small bowl. Sprinkle agar agar over the 2 tbsp of cream, and set aside for a few minutes to allow the agar agar to dissolve into the cream.

Whisk the remaining cream (by hand if youre macho – with a stand mixer or handheld electric beaters if youre me!) until it just begins to hold soft peaks. Add the reserved cream and agar agar mixture, the icing sugar and the vanilla, and whisk until the cream holds stiff peaks.

The agar agar will ensure that the cream holds its shape for about six hours.

I would prepare the whipped cream just before assembly.

Assembly

  • Pistachio Crust
  • Bittersweet Chocolate Pastry Cream
  • Vanilla Whipped Cream
  • Raspberries – About 1 1/2 pints (1 1/2 small packets)
  • Pretty edible flowers for additional decoration (optional)

Place the tart crust/shell on a good working surface. For the kind of pretty decoration that I created here, I actually centered the crust (in pan) on a small lazy susan that I had from Ikea – this helped move the tart as I was placing raspberries and piping cream.

Pour in the bittersweet chocolate pastry cream, and using a palette knife or even a spoon, ensure that the pastry cream is evenly covering the tart shell, and is smoothed on top.

For this tart, I placed half the vanilla whipped cream into a piping bag with a small round tip (and topped it up when needed). If you want to get extra fancy, you could use a star tip, but that for me would be gilding the lily!

GorgeousPipe a border of whipped cream around the edge of the tart. Now take the raspberries, one at a time, and using the small tip, fill the raspberry with whipped cream, and pipe a small circle of cream at the opening of the raspberry. Place the raspberries onto the pastry cream in circles – working your way from outside in.

Once the tart has been covered with raspberries, begin placing the flowers. Pipe small circles of cream between the raspberries, working from inside out, and on each small circle of cream, place a single flower. You could cover the entire tart with raspberries and flowers, or, as I preferred to do, leave the outer edges with the decadent chocolate cream peeking out.

Refrigerate the tart until ready to serve. Assemble no more than 6 hours before consuming!

When you are ready to serve, remove the tart from the pan, leaving the bottom intact.

Enjoy the pleasures of this most lovely of desserts.

Savoury Polenta Tart Tatin

3 Nov

Tart TatinOne 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.

Balsamic Mushrooms

  • 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.

Creamed spinach

  • 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.

Cheesy Polenta

  • 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.

YumRemove 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!

Enjoy!

Spinach and Cheddar Tart

16 Oct

TartI made a spinach pie for Essia when she left us to go to Germany, and have been mulling over the workings of that pie since then. I thought may be it could have been done purely spinach (the one I did had caramelised onions on the bottom for pleasure), but I wanted it to be substantial and warming. Spinach and cheddar cheese go extremely well together, and so when it came to dinner, I decided to make a spinach cheese pie – with the cheese everywhere I could get it!

Cheese in the crust, cheese mixed with the spinach… totally delectable. This pie/tart is best made in a small spring form tart pan – I used an 8 inch pan, and it was perfect and served 4 quite well. The tart is quite rich. Its lovely served with a chopped tomato and onion salad just for the juxtaposition. Its also really really good the next day, cold, for breakfast!

The crust was soooo good. I think its because I became shameless, and decided to make it with more cheese than flour. Flour only acts as a delicate connective marker to the crispy burnt cheese in this crust. I cant tell you how much I love burnt cheese, but this crust came close to nirvana for me.

I love spinach, and I love the deep green spinach taste of this tart. You almost cannot taste the cheese except as a support to the spinach, and in the way it makes the texture of the filling firm. I tried quite hard, but I couldnt come up with a good vegan version, Im afraid. This relies too heavily on cheese as one of its main structural ingredients! Speaking of which, you could probably also use feta in place of grated cheddar…

Enjoy a thin slice of this tart, and immerse yourself in the happiness of pure spinach joy.

For the crust

  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 – 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp / 1/2 stick butter, cold
  • 1 – 2 tbsp cold milk

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

In a small bowl, mix together 1 cup of grated cheese with 1/2 cup flour. You may need more cheese or more flour as you knead the dough, so have some standing by.

Sprinkle over paprika and salt, and grate in the cold butter. Using your hands – just the tips of your fingers – mix in the butter with the flour cheese mixture. You should have an oatmealy mixture. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp milk, and combine until the dough comes together.

Now its up to you – sometimes I add more cheese, sometimes I add more flour – sometimes I add a bit more of both. You want a supple dough that tastes extremely cheesy, and yet has enough strength to be rolled and pressed and kneaded.

Once you are happy with your dough, roll it into a circle, and flatten with the palm of your hand. Centre in an 8-inch spring form tart pan, and using your fingers, press the dough out into the pan. You should have more than enough to cover the bottom and sides of the tart pan.

Refrigerate for 10 – 15 minutes, and then using the tines of a fork, poke multiple holes in the crust before baking for 15 minutes.

Spinach and Cheddar filling

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped frozen spinach or 4 – 6 cups chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • Approximately 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

You want the taste of spinach to come out loud and clear here, so there is no distraction – no garlic, no herbs, nothing but a touch of dusky paprika to bring out the green of the spinach.

In a medium non stick frying pan, lightly saute the spinach in the olive oil until it is bright green, and has released most of its liquid.

Tip the spinach into a sieve, set over a bowl, and drain, pressing down, for at least 3 – 5 minutes. You want the spinach to be quite dry.

Put the dried spinach into a bowl with the paprika, salt and pepper generously, the sour cream, and eggs. Using an immersion blender, puree the spinach well. Once the spinach is a glowing smooth green mass, fold in the cheddar cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings, and add more cheese if you want (though it shouldnt overwhelm the spinach).

Pour the spinach mixture into the prebaked cheddar crust, and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the filling is firm.

Serve warm or cold.

Essia’s Spinach Pie

14 Sep

Spinach PieTomorrow, Z’s first and greatly beloved au pair, Essia is leaving to go home to Germany. Essia has become part of the family, and today was one of those days of laughter and memory, tears and bittersweet melancholy. Its a time of change, not just for Z,  but for M + B who watch their surrogate daughter leave with ache and love. I think its easier for babies … they love those who love them. Z is adjusting well to Julia, her new love… For the adults though… We have been through partings before, and we know the heart soreness that accompanies leave taking. We understand that change is a part of life, that loving and loss are intertwined. We accept it, but its difficult. It hurts.

And there is not much that makes it better. We just have to live through it, and be thankful for knowing and loving one another. Essia is a special, bright and beautiful young woman, and her departure from this home will be felt deep down in its bones. But she will always be connected to Z, to us, to this family. We know that too, and we look forward to the joy of seeing each other once again.

There isnt much that makes it better… but I can do the one thing I always do, during times of celebration and times of sorrow. I cook. So I made Essia dinner. At her request, Trader Joe’s Truffle brownies (which I jacked up a bit with a sinful amount of white and milk chocolate and some coffee from the pot). And this spinach pie. It was at once rich and comforting, and hopefully conveyed how much we love Essia and will miss her. Sometimes I am not good with words. Sometimes, when I want to offer a hug, I replace it with a pie. I did that here and I hope Essia knows how much she is beloved.

This spinach pie had a secret ingredient. Underneath the spinach layer, I added caramelised onions, simmered in olive oil and balsamic, and a touch of sugar. The onions softened the spinach and made the pie take on layers of love and missing. This pie made me happy too because it had the beautiful greens of the end of summer – when baked in the oven, the spinach goes dark emerald green. So gorgeous. With it, I served a simple salad of raw white corn, fresh and sweet, with chopped carrots and minced garlic chives and wheat grass. A simple balsamic vinaigrette just to bind the flavors. It was the perfect sunshiney juxtaposition to the pie.

As we sat around the table and remembered life together, knowing that tomorrow will bring leave-taking, we were joined by our communal meal. It was such an honour to be able to provide it, not just for Essia, but for M as well.

This pie will serve 6 – 8 people. I made it in a spring form cake pan (9 3/4″) but you can make it in a pie or tart pan if you like. I have also notated how to make this pie vegan – a few simple switches between butter and margarine for the crust, and soy creamer / coconut milk with the spinach. Enjoy with those you love.

Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar or ground almonds or walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or Earth Balance margarine (or other vegetable shortening), frozen or very cold from the fridge
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp ice cold water (for vegan version, if needed for vegetarian version)

In a small bowl, toss together the flour, cheddar (or ground nuts), salt and oregano. Grate the frozen butter (or shortening) over, and toss lightly with your fingers. The mixture should resemble oatmeal.

If you are making the vegetarian version, beat the egg lightly and mix into the flour mixture until the dough comes together. If you are cooking vegan, add the ice water, and combine until the dough comes together.

Preheat your oven to 200C (400F)

Refrigerate for at least ten minutes to let the dough rest.

Once the dough has had some time relaxing in the fridge, take it out and roll out on a clean surface. Transfer to your baking tin, and make sure the edges are even. Using the tines of a fork, poke multiple holes in the dough, making sure to go up the sides!

Bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the crust has browned well. Set aside to cool.

Filling – Caramelised Onions

  • 3 tbsp olive oil (plus, if you have it, some truffle oil for added richness and depth of flavour)
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, sliced into thin rings
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar (or agave syrup if you are vegan)
  • 3 – 5 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or wine if you like)
  • Water

In a large, non stick pan, over medium heat, sautee the onions in the olive oil until they begin to soften. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle over the sugar and a few tablespoons of balsamic, and bring the heat up to high. Cover the onions completely with water, and let the mixture come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and let the onions simmer until all the water has been incorporated, at least 15 minutes or so.

Taste. Sometimes, if I want a deeper darker flavour (as I did here) I will do this a second time, adding more balsamic and more water, and simmering down again. The first time you go through this process, you will have quite distinct rings of caramelised onion. If you do it a second time, you will have almost jammy caramelised onion, sweet and thick and almost like a sauce. Thats what I wanted, so thats what I did. I leave it to you to decide depending on your sense of taste, and occasion.

Once the onions are to your liking, set aside.

Filling – Spinach

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 – 5 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 6 cups raw spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 cup “cream” (and by this I mean: half and half or sour cream or ricotta or soy milk creamer or cream of coconut or almond milk or … well, you get the idea. You can mix as well – so a bit of half and half with ricotta, etc. Just decide what you like and add about half a cup)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan (optional)

In a pan or saucepan, heat the olive oil and saute the garlic until just softened, over medium high heat. Add the spinach, and stir until it wilts. You dont want to over cook it, but you do want to encourage it to let go of its liquid. Season with salt, pepper and paprika.

Set a sieve over a bowl, and transfer the spinach to the sieve. Let the water drip through for about 5 minutes or so. You can encourage it by pressing down on the spinach solids. Discard the water, and transfer the spinach to the bowl. Add the cream, and taste. Adjust seasonings.

Using an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender or food processor), cream the spinach well. You want it to emulsify, and you want the garlic and spinach to combine completely. It does not need to be totally liquidised… I quite like it a bit chunky.

Add parmesan if you are using, and taste again for seasoning. You could add some chili flakes if you like a bit of a kick. Set aside.

Assembly

  • Prebaked pie crust
  • Caramelised onions
  • 1/2 cup of grated cheddar (totally optional – if you are vegan, you could use the wonderful Daiya melting cheese)
  • Spinach

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F).

Spread the caramelised onions all over the base of the pie crust. If you are using, sprinkle about half the grated cheddar over. Pour the spinach into the pie shell, and sprinkle with the rest of the cheddar.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or longer. The pie is done when it no longer wobbles ferociously when shaken 😉 or when a knife inserted into the spinach comes out clean.

Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. I prefer this at room temperature or even cold.

Eat with love and loved ones. Enjoy the time you have together!

Mixed Vegetable Phyllo

27 Aug

With loads of mixed vegetables!Oh what a day! Blissed out baby mode, and when it came time to make dinner, I realised we had nothing in the fridge but bits and pieces – a handful of spinach, a few artichoke hearts, quarter of a butternut. Some days, you dont have one thing to work with, but many many little odds and ends of things. On days like these, I like to make something that will incorporate all the left over bits – a pie, tart, pasta sauce, even a bread pudding …

Tomorrow we go to Whole Foods once again, but tonight was incorporate all the remaining handfuls and try and make something yummy night. This is one reason why I love phyllo dough. I am not a master Greekie cook (like my beloved Osisters – their spanakopita is phenomenal!) but I do like its ease of use, its pliability and its wonderful presentation. I dont know why, but people feel very manja-ed (Malaysian word – means spoiledbelovedcaredforlookedafter all rolled into one!) when you present them with a baked good – pies, tarts, pastries of all kinds. People love them, and the presence of a crust seems to elevate a rather normal meal into something special. On a night like tonight, phyllo dough enabled me to incorporate lots of things quickly and seamlessly… and delectably!

I would never ever try and make my own phyllo dough. Its waaaaaay too delicate and intricate a process. Rather, I purchase the best phyllo I can find, and am thankful to those who take (almost) all the work out of it for me! There are a few general rules for working with phyllo. Use butter if you want a rich tart, and use olive oil if you want a slightly lighter version. Set up everything you need before you even begin to unwrap the phyllo because as soon as you do, you need to work quickly and efficiently. Phyllo will dry out or start to melt and stick together, so know what you want to do, and do it fast. And always try and work on grease proof or wax paper. This allows you to preheat your pan (I use a jelly roll or large flat cookie pan for this free form recipe) in the oven, and then slide your creation onto it, still on the wax paper. The bottom of the phyllo pie will be crisped because of the immediate contact with hot pan, and you wont get that soggy bottom which generally occurs when you bake the phyllo on a cold pan. And finally, try and drain as much of the moisture out of the filling as you can. You need some moisture to bind the vegetables, but dont put a very wet filling into the pie – it will leak and get soggy and be yucky. If you are making a vegan version, just boil all the juices down into a thickened sauce and use it in place of the ricotta and egg.

This will serve 6 hungry – 8 people

I am going to tell you what I put into this pie, but really, use up what you’ve got in the fridge – from tomatoes and carrots to spinach and pine nuts. You will need about 4 – 6 cups of cooked filling in total.

For the filling

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large Vidalia onion, minced
  • 3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced fine
  • Small handful (may be 1/4 cup) sun dried tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 – 1/2 butternut
  • 1 + 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup mixed dried mushrooms – I used chanterelles, porcini and shiitake
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped spinach
  • 1/2 cup chopped french beans
  • 1 cup chopped asparagus
  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts
  • 3 heaping tbsp ricotta (optional)
  • 2 eggs (optional)
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta (optional) – use toasted pine nuts instead if you are a vegan!

In a large, non stick frying pan, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, garlic and sun dried tomatoes together until the onions are softened and glossy, and have browned a little.

Add salt, pepper, oregano and paprika, and stir well.

Chop the butternut quite fine – you want little cubes about the size of the nail on your pinkie. You want it to have body, but you want the butternut to cook quickly. Add to the pan, and saute for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of hot water, and allow to bubble and cook for a while on medium high heat.

In a separate small bowl, immerse the dried mushrooms in another cup of boiling water. Leave for at least 10 minutes, whilst the butternut is bubbling away.

Once the mushrooms have softened, take them out of the water, and chop roughly, and add to the pan. Most of the water from cooking the butternut should have boiled away. Add about half a cup of the mushroom water, and allow to cook for a further five minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sometimes I add a little cinnamon for depth of flavour, or more salt, pepper and spices.

Turn off the heat (you should still have a significant amount of liquid in the pan), and transfer the contents of the pan to a sieve set over a small bowl. I usually use the mushroom bowl, cleaned out! Let the liquid drip through, and using your spatula or spoon, press down on the onion-butternut-mushroom mixture so that most of the liquid drains through. Reserve the cooking liquid, either to use as the base of a sauce for the pie, or as the binding liquid if you are baking for vegans.

Transfer the mixture back to the pan, and over medium heat, add the spinach, beans, asparagus and artichoke hearts. Saute briefly until completely combined, but make sure that the greenery does not cook too long – you want it to retain its colour and taste!

Tumble the vegetable mixture into a bowl, and set aside for at least ten minutes to allow it to cool.

If you are cooking vegan, transfer the cooking liquid to the pan, and boil it down until reduced by at least half. It needs to be thick and syrupy. You could add some wine to this if you like, though I didnt have any available. Add a few tablespoons to the vegetable mixture to bind it properly, and give it some body.

Otherwise, beat together the ricotta, eggs and feta, and mix gently through the vegetable mixture. Taste and adjust for seasoning, and set aside.

Phyllo Assembly

  • 7 – 9 large phyllo leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil and pastry brush
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta or toasted pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 200 C and put a jelly roll or cookie pan into the oven to preheat.

Lay out your work surface. On a clean tea towel or a strip of waxed paper, unroll your phyllo dough. Have a small bowl with olive oil and a pastry brush handy. Also have a small bowl containing your feta, and your bowl of prepared vegetables.

Tear a strip of waxed paper long enough to fit your baking pan. Lay a phyllo sheet on the paper (my phyllo dough covered almost the entire paper), and gently brush with a bit of olive oil. Continue to layer leaves of phyllo dough, brushing each layer with olive oil. Its okay if the phyllo tears – just patch it up with olive oil, and keep going. You want to work quickly but surely, and dont worry about covering every inch of the pastry with olive oil – you really just want to give it a gentle brushing. I used 7 layers, but you can use as many as you want.

Sprinkle your crumbled feta onto the dough, going straight down lengthways the middle of the dough. Leave a 2 inch space on either side.

Spoon your vegetable filling over the feta, mounding it, and leaving space on either side. You will now have what looks like a log of vegetables centred on your phyllo dough.

To complete the pie, fold over both short sides, like an envelope, and then fold the longer ends over each other. Using the waxed paper, flip the phyllo log over on itself, so that the seam is bottom side down. Centre the phyllo log on the waxed paper. Brush the top with olive oil.

Using oven mits, take the hot baking pan out of the oven. Using the waxed paper, transfer the paper and the phyllo log onto the hot pan, and put back into the oven.

Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes, or until the phyllo is browned and crispy.

Let sit for a few minutes once out of the oven before slicing and serving.

With Sauce!Sauce

If you are not baking a vegan version of this, use the reserved cooking liquid as the basis for a lovely sauce to serve with the phyllo pie. I boiled the cooking liquid until slightly reduced, and then lowered the heat and added a few tablespoons of creme fraiche, a tablespoon of pesto sauce, some salt and pepper, and a few drops of balsamic. I whisked everything together, and served in a little jug to pour over. It was delicious!

Spinach Pie

20 Aug

Today, around 11am, I realised I had a houseful of hungry women to feed – me, my sister, our mother, and the Au-Pair Nation (3 in total, though in M’s house it seems to be in constant flux!)… So went to the fridge to have a mosey about to figure out what I could cook. The quickest, easiest, and freshest thing seemed to be a spinach pie, with basil from the garden, and a ripe tomato to add colour, prettiness, and sweetness. I love cooking on the fly like this. I love checking out whats fresh, what looks delicious, and thinking up creative ways to cook it. This kind of meal is my favourite – unplanned, and yet with a certain urgency to it.

We sat down to eat at around 1230 or so – and the cooking was really a series of pottering about, mixing, tasting, stirring, sauteeing… It was very organic (as were the ingredients), and even baby Z got into the equation when she went to the garden to help Essia pick the basil! This pie will serve 6 – 8 people for lunch, and is wonderful on a hot summer’s day as it really does taste wonderful lukewarm, or even cold. You can try it with lots of different toppings (sauteed onions or mushrooms come to mind), and you can choose to add or subtract cheese, as is your wish. I used some sour cream and a little milk with the eggs, but if all you have is condensed milk, water, cream – use that. Its a very forgiving dish, and will really adapt to what you have.

Its also best, in my opinion, looking very rustic. This is not fancy restaurant fare. This is healthy, delectable home cooking, and it shouldnt pretend to (or try to) look polished and refined. There is a certain lustiness to this kind of cooking and food that people really respond well to.

I baked this in a medium sized Corningware dish, but if you want to bake it in a pie pan, go right ahead. Its easy peasy, and so delicious. Plus, I find people love pie. It feels like you have done a huge amount of work, when you really havent – and they feel like you have treated them to something magical.

For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached organic flour plus extra for rolling out
  • 3/4 stick (6 tbsp) frozen butter, grated
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup cheddar cheese (or parmesan, pecorino, goats cheese, whatever you like)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 170C

Measure the flour into a small bowl, and grate the butter over. Use your fingers to mix the butter in well, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese and salt and pepper in, and using your fingers again, mix well.

Break the egg into the flour mixture, and mix well, until a dough forms. Knead this dough, using the heel of your palm, until it feels very soft and elastic.

Let it sit for about 10 minutes in the fridge, and then roll it out, very thin, flouring your rolling surface and pin first.

Transfer the dough to your baking pan, ensuring that its even, and goes up the sides of the pan, and prick all over with a fork, remembering to prick along the sides as well.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the crust has browned nicely. Remove from oven, and allow to cool, though if you are cooking the filling whilst baking the crust, its fine to assemble immediately upon removing the crust from the oven. Dont mind the sizzle 😉

Filling + Assembly

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 (Vidalia) onion, chopped well
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 4 – 5 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 large tomato, sliced into 6 even slices
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 1/3 cup milk, cream or half and half
  • 2 + 1 tbsp grated parmesan
  • A few rough chunks of goats or sheep cheese, roughly chopped (optional)

In a large frying pan, over medium heat, saute the chopped onion in the olive oil, and season well with salt, pepper and dried basil. Once the onion has become soft and glossy, add the white wine, and allow to simmer until the wine has almost completely reduced.

Add the chopped spinach all at once, and saute until wilted. Remove from heat, and let cool for a few minutes.

Chop the basil leaves fine, reserving 6 for the top of the pie, and mix the rest into the cooled spinach. Cut a large tomato into six equal slices, and set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat together the ggs, sour cream, milk and 2 tbsp parmesan.

Mix the egg mixture into the spinach mixture, and taste for seasoning. Adjust if needed.

Pour the spinach-egg mixture into the pre-baked crust. Lay the reserved tomato slices on top, and top them with the six reserved basil slices. Strew a few chunks of goat’s cheese into the pie, if you feel like it (I kind of poked them into the filling), and sprinkle about 1 tbsp parmesan over all.

Bake for about 40 minutes in a 170 C oven, and allow to cool for at least 5 – 10 minutes before serving.

Apple Pie with a Pecorino Crust

6 Aug

apple pie with pecorino crustOh apple pie. Its a simple simple dish, but you can screw it up in so many ways. Good apple pie is brilliant – bad apple pie, well the less said, the better. I love apple pie but I know how difficult it is to make well. Because the ingredients are so simple – a flaky pastry crust, and apples, basically, you have to really pay attention to technique and process. I have been dreaming of an apple pie with a cheddar cheese crust for ages, and decided I would make one today.

I went to the market to get a few things I needed, and AngelKitten asked if I was sure I had cheddar cheese. I blithely said yes. Of course, I didnt have any. But I had bumped into Iq at the market and when I told him what I was baking, he said he thought it would be gorgeous with a pecorino crust. Well, I did have pecorino, so I made it with that! Cooking is sometimes about making do with what you have, and forgiving yourself for assuming you have what you dont!

I think this pie came out beautifully. Its sweet without being overwhelmingly so. Its crust is so gorgeously savoury. The apple interior is scented with cinnamon. It reminds me that in South Africa, we eat cheese and jam together. Sweet and salty. A perfect balance. This pie has those elements.

And thank you to Iq for the pecorino suggestion!

Pecorino Crust

  • 2 1/2 cups pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick (8 tbsp) butter, frozen
  • 2 tbsp vegetable shortening or margarine, very cold
  • 1 1/2 cups pecorino cheese grated (you can use cheddar if you are a traditionalist!)
  • 2 – 4 tbsp ice cold water

Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Grate the butter into the flour, and toss gently with your hands to mix.

Cut up the margarine into tiny pieces, and toss into the flour butter mixture. Add the pecorino, and toss again. You should have a lumpy, slightly golden mixture.

Using your hands, mix in the cold water, a tablespoon at a time, to create a firm and pliable dough. You can knead this dough a few times, using the heel of your hand to smear the dough away from you (this lengthens the frozen butter bits and makes it flaky).

Wrap the dough in baking paper and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Apple Filling

  • 7 – 8 apples, peeled, cored and chopped – about 6 – 7 cups in total (I used Pink Ladies and Gala)
  • 2 tbsp juice (optional)
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 – 3 tbsp light brown sugar (depending on the sweetness of your apples)
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp all spice
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)

Peel, core and chop your apples and place in large bowl. Add the juice and lemon juice as you chop to ensure the apples dont brown too much.

Add the sugar, flour, all spice, cinnamon, vanilla and balsamic, and toss well to combine. Set aside for about 30 minutes.

Assembly

  • Dough
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Apple filling
  • 1 – 2 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces (optional)
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter a 9 – 10″ pie plate, with a removable edge if you like.

Divide the dough in half, and on a floured surface, roll out one half of the dough. Put the remaining half of the dough into the fridge. Fit it into your pie plate, making sure the dough comes up over the edge. Poke holes in the dough with a fork, and bake blind (lined with greaseproof paper or aluminum foil and filled with beans or pie weights). Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the greaseproof paper and beans, and bake for a further 5 minutes until just lightly brown.

Remove the crust from the oven, let cool for about 5 minutes, and brush with beaten egg.

The apples will have let go of a lot of juice in the bowl. Using a spoon (or as I do, you hands) take the apples out of the bowl, making sure to leave quite a bit of the juices behind. Mound the apples in the pie plate. Take about 2 – 3 tablespoons of the juice and pour over the top. Dot with butter if you want.

Roll out the second half of dough, and place over the pie, crimping the edges to seal. Bake in the oven (on a cookie sheet if you are worried about spillage) for 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Take the pie out of the oven, and brush all over with the remainder of the beaten egg, and sprinkle with sugar. Return to the oven for 5 – 10 minutes more or until the pie is shiny, and sugar has caramelised a bit.

Take out of oven and allow to cool for about 10 – 15 minutes before serving warm with cream.

By the way, Ezril loves the juices from the apples, mixed with some milk as a drink!

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!

Raspberry Curd Tart

22 Jul

intense raspberry flavourSometimes, simple is the most beautiful. I made some gorgeous raspberry curd last night, and decided to present it two ways – with a beautiful cold rice pudding, and in a stunning tart. Both are easy to make with the addition of the raspberry curd – and both ways of presentation really highlight the flavour and texture of the raspberry curd. It is incredibly intense, and a wonderful dessert for a dinner party or high tea.

This is an amazingly dramatic and beautiful tart. Such a pretty looking tart – very girly and yet totally sophisticated. I like to serve it with a blossom of lightly whipped cream flavoured with vanilla. The cream helps to balance the strong flavour of the curd, and adds another textural element to the whole.

Preferably, you should prepare this the day before to allow the curd some time to settle into the tart shell… though if you really want to serve it day of, its fine, it will just be a little bit more unctuous, and the curd will flow out when you cut into it.

First, prepare, your tart shell. This recipe makes enough so you can make two thin shells. I often flavour it with lemon instead of vanilla because lemon really complements the raspberry wonderfully.

For a 12 – 14 inch tarte shell, you will need

  • 2 1/2 cups of cake flour
  • 1 cup / 8 tbsp / 110 g of butter, frozen, then grated
  • 3 tbsp of icing sugar, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod scraped out or 1 tsp of lemon juice and the rind of a lemon, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp or more cold water

Measure out the cake flour into a large bowl. Grate the frozen butter directly over the flour, stopping twice during the grating to gently mix in the butter shards with the flour. Use the tips of your fingers, and just make sure you dont over mix. You want this to be a very gentle process.

Sieve the icing sugar over the flour-butter mixture, and sprinkle over the vanilla or scrape the seeds from the pod, or lemon if you are using. Mix gently again with your fingers.

Add the egg and toss the flour with your fingers, mixing to make a dough. Taste and add up to 1 more tablespoon of icing sugar if you want a sweeter dough. If the mixture doesnt come together as a pastry dough, add a tablespoon of very cold water. Be gentle. It will come together if you have patience, and mix properly.

Form the dough into a ball, cover in cling wrap, and put in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.

Once the dough has been refrigerated, roll out on a floured surface, sprinkling with a little bit of flour if needed. Transfer to a pie plate, and prick with a fork.

Cover the pie dough with tin foil, and fill in with beans or other pie weights. Bake in a pre-heated 200C oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the beans and tin foil, and prick again with the fork. Brush with some egg white if wanted, to proof the tarte shell so it doesnt get soggy when you add the curd. Bake for another 5 minutes or so or until very lightly coloured.

Let cool.

Assembly

  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups raspberry curd, cooled
  • 1 cooled tarte shell
  • 1 – 2 cups cream, whipped with a little icing sugar and vanilla

mmmmmmmmmmmmmPour the cooled raspberry curd into the tarte shell, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

Just before serving, whip the cream with a little icing sugar and vanilla.

Serve in wedges, with a few tablespoons of whipped cream.