Kitchen Window
1:20 am
Wed October 10, 2012

'Tis The Season For Savory Tarts

This is the most glorious time of year for a cook. Between the forbiddingly hot kitchens of summer and the long, produce-deficient months of winter comes a spell of abundant vegetables and perfect cooking weather — just right for savory tarts.

The farm where we pick our vegetables is laden with ripe, dropping fruit, hanging from bare vines like stained glass. We wade through sweet scents of decaying leaves, sun-baked herbs and over-ripe vegetables. We dodge bees buzzed on sunshine, who seem to know there won't be much more warmth to come. And we come home with heavy baskets of green tomatoes, winter squash, sweet root vegetables and crisp apples and pears. The harvest reflects the transience of the season — the shift from fruits that demand to be eaten now to those you collect to sustain you through the cold months ahead.

I love savory pastries all year long. The savory tart is a wonderful way to showcase vegetables any season of the year: deep, comforting double-crusted pies in winter; light, open tarts in summer; and small portable galettes for spring picnics. In autumn, a tart is a cozy, toasty meal of seasonal vegetables placed against a backdrop of crunchy crust and mildly flavorful baked custard. The vegetables can be matched with nuts and cheeses, herbs and seasonings to suit their particular flavors and textures.

I'm a vegetarian, so I appreciate the center-of-attention quality of a good pie. They're satisfying and substantial, they're a little fancy, but they're surprisingly easy and fun to make. Many people feel intimidated by the pastry, but I'm here to tell you: Don't fear the crust. I'm not a very precise or dexterous person, and I've developed a few tips for making delightfully flaky pastry (almost) every time. If you're still nervous about making a "perfect" crust, add the words "rustic" and "galette," and you have free rein to make a free-form masterpiece — the rougher the better. I like to add herbs, pepper, ground nuts and oats, lemon zest or cheese to the crust to give it flavor and substance, and to complement the flavor of the vegetables. (With these additions, if you have any dough left after you make your tart, you can turn it into crackers.)

Tarts and galettes with oats, hazelnuts, apples and parsnips are the perfect combination of sophistication and comfort. You could imagine Ratty from Wind in the Willows proudly producing them out of his basket for a picnic on the river, just before the ducks start tipping their tails up, like so many Busby Berkeley dancers. You could see Peter Rabbit's mother lovingly baking them over the fireplace, after a day of foraging in the hedgerows. Or you could serve them at an elegant dinner party with a crisp salad and some roasted potatoes, and have very happy and satisfied human guests.


Recipe: Pumpkin Seed Sage Tart With Butternut Squash Coins

In this tender tart, the sweet smokiness of the roasted squash works nicely with the distinctive savory flavors of pumpkinseeds and sage.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Crust

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 stick butter (1/2 cup), frozen

Ice water

Filling

1 small butternut squash, 2 to 3 inches thick at the top (if you can't find one this thin at the top, you can use a thicker one and cut it into half circles or even quarter circles)

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup unshelled pumpkin seeds, or pepitas

1 clove garlic

5 or 6 sage leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Pinch cayenne

1/2 cup milk (I use whole, but I think any kind, or even cream, would work)

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar

For the crust, in a bowl mix the flour, salt and black pepper. Grate in the frozen butter and mix with a fork until texture resembles coarse crumbs. Add enough ice water to pull it into a workable dough — about 1/2 cup, but start with less. Knead for about half a minute, using cool fingertips, until you have a smooth ball of dough. Wrap in foil or plastic, and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it, at least half an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Peel squash, and cut it into circles about 1/8-inch wide. You want to have a thinnish squash (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick), or the circles will be too big. If you can only find a bigger squash, you can cut half-moons instead of circles, and that will be pretty, too. The lower half of the squash can be cut into crescents. I had enough left over to save these to eat on their own the next day, but they can be used to make a nice pattern on the pie, as well.

Coat a cookie sheet with thin layer of olive oil and spread the squash in a single layer. Lightly brush the tops with another thin coating of olive oil. Roast for about a half-hour, until squash starts to get brown and crispy. You might need to rearrange them when you turn them over (every 10 minutes or so). In my oven the outside objects on the tray get brown first, so I'll move them to the middle, to make sure everything cooks evenly. When they're quite crispy, remove to a plate, and let them sit while you prepare everything else.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, or turn the oven down, if you've just roasted your squash.

Toast the almonds, pumpkin seeds and garlic in a toaster oven, or at 425 degrees in a real oven for 5 or 10 minutes. The pumpkin seeds will get a bit brown and pop. You can leave the garlic in longer to get soft. Combine the almonds, pumpkin seeds, garlic, sage, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and cayenne in a food processor. Process until quite smooth. Add milk and eggs, and process again. Stir in cheese.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick. Spread this over a lightly buttered and floured 9- or 10-inch tart pan, trimming the extra dough from the edges. Pre-bake the tart shell for about 10 minutes, until it's firm and loses its shine. Remove from the oven.

Pour the pumpkin seed custard into the tart shell, spreading it in an even layer. Arrange the squash slices prettily on top. Cook for about a half-hour, until puffed and golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes and serve.


Recipe: Green Tomato Tarte Tatin

Based on the classic French dessert, this savory tarte tatin is a wonderful setting for fall's green tomatoes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Crust

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons frozen butter

1 large egg

About 1/4 cup ice water

Tomatoes

4 or 5 green tomatoes (firm but with a bit of give when you press them)

3 tablespoons salted butter

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 shallot, minced fine

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

For the crust, in a large bowl combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Grate in the butter and mix with a fork until texture is crumblike. Break in the egg and stir well. Knead with your hands, adding just enough ice water to pull it all together into a workable ball. Knead for about a minute, to be sure the egg and butter are well incorporated. Wrap in foil or plastic, and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it, at least a half-hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a 9-inch skillet with a metal handle, melt butter over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir until melted. Add shallot and thyme (if you're using dry). Cook until butter starts to brown and the sugar seems almost caramelized — about 5 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and white wine, and whisk into a smooth broth. Be sure to scrape all the good flavorful bits from the bottom of the pan.

Cook 5 or 10 minutes on a slow boil until the sauce is reduced and syrupy.

Meanwhile, cut the tops off tomatoes. If tomatoes are very juicy or seedy, give them a gentle squeeze to drain a bit. Cut the tomatoes lengthwise in half. Place them cut side down on the cutting board and cut them into wedges, angling your knife around the curve of the tomato.

Carefully transfer the sliced tomatoes to the pan in a pretty pattern, fanning the slices out as you do so, so that they lie more flatly against the sauce and the bottom of the pan. If using fresh thyme, sprinkle it over the tomatoes.

Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pan and cook about 10 minutes. You want the tomatoes to be soft but not falling apart. How long you cook will depend on the ripeness and variety of the tomatoes. Try not to stir the tomatoes, although you can give them a little nudge or shake the pan slightly if they seem to be sticking.

Remove the lid and continue to cook 5 to 10 minutes, until the pan is fairly dry, and the sauce is thick and syrupy. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll the pastry to be just bigger than your pan. I like this pastry a little thicker than usual tart dough — maybe 1/3-inch thick.

While the mixture is still warm from the stovetop, carefully place the dough over the tomatoes, tucking the sides in all around and folding them so they're a bit thicker than the rest of the dough. Prick the dough in a few places with a fork or knife.

Bake about 25 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the juices are bubbling out from under the sides of the pastry.

Allow to cool a few minutes, then very carefully turn onto a plate. Any pieces of tomato or juicy bits of sauce that get stuck to the top can be scraped off and added to the top of the tart.


Recipe: Apple And Parsnip Galette

The hazelnut crust provides a perfect crunchy casing for soft, sweet roasted apples and parsnips. Arugula and good cheddar add a sharp little bite.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Crust

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and ground (not too fine)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, frozen

Ice water

Filling

2 cups parsnips (3 to 6, depending on size)

2 cups sweet-tart apples (4 or 5, depending on size)

1 shallot

1 teaspoon each dried sage, thyme and rosemary, or 5 or 6 large fresh sage leaves, 2 sprigs fresh thyme and 1 small stem rosemary, all chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash nutmeg

1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar, grated

1 cup arugula, washed and finely chopped

For the crust, in a big bowl combine the flour, salt, peppers and hazelnuts. Grate in the butter and mix with your hands until you have a crumblike texture. Add ice water until you can form it into a ball. Cover in foil or plastic and refrigerate for at least a half-hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut parsnips and apples into 1/3-inch dice. Finely chop the shallot. Combine all with herbs, olive oil and balsamic vinegar until everything is well-coated. Spread in an even layer on a large baking sheet.

Roast until everything is starting to get soft on the inside and turns brown and caramelized on the outside, 20 minutes to a half-hour. Taste, and if it seems too tart, add a spoonful of brown sugar. Season with salt, black pepper and nutmeg, to taste. Stir half the cheese into the parsnip-apple mixture.

Roll out dough into circle, about 16 inches across and 1/4-inch thick, and put on a baking sheet or in a pie pan.

Put a layer of parsnip-apple mixture, then a layer of chopped arugula and finally the rest of the cheese.

Fold the edges of the dough over to make a rough circle, leaving a space in the middle for the cheese to peep out. Press the folds down slightly, to seal.

Bake about a half-hour, until dough starts to turn golden-brown, and cheese is melted and bubbly.


Recipe: Small Galettes With Spinach, Pear, Blue Cheese And Rosemary

These are lovely for a picnic, an appetizer or, with a salad or some soup, a light meal.

Makes 4 entree servings or 8 appetizer servings

Crust

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup rolled oats, toasted and processed or ground in a blender to make a crumbly powder

1 stick butter (1/2 cup) frozen

Ice water

Filling

3 ripe Bosc pears, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch dice

2 packed cups baby spinach, washed and finely chopped

1 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1 cup crumbled blue cheese

Salt and plenty of black pepper

For the crust, in a bowl combine all the dry ingredients. Grate the frozen butter in, mixing as you go. Bring everything together to make a workable dough, adding ice water as you do (1/2 to 3/4 cup). It won't be as smooth as regular dough. Set aside to chill for at least a half-hour.

Preheat oven to 400.

In a large bowl, mix other ingredients together well, mashing just a little as you go.

To assemble, take a golf-ball-sized lump of dough. Roll it into a circle about 1/8-inch thick. (It doesn't need to be a perfect circle.)

Put a golf ball-sized spoonful of filling in the center. Pull the edges up all around and press the folds of dough together. You don't need to seal the hole in the middle, but make sure the dough is quite well crimped all around it.

Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough and filling. (If you have leftover filling it makes a nice salad, and leftover dough makes tasty crackers.)

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes till the edges and bottom start to brown.


Recipe: Chard And Artichoke Tart With Crispy Eggplant Crust

You don't need pastry at all for this tart. Thin rounds of breaded eggplant form the crust. I serve this with a light sauce made with tomatoes, raisins, olives and green peppercorns.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Crust

1 large eggplant

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for baking sheet

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried, chopped

Small handful fresh basil, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 to 2 large eggs

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (I use about 3 slices whole wheat sandwich bread)

1/2 cup pecans

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh

1 teaspoon oregano, or 2 teaspoons fresh

Filling

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

3 cups chard, cleaned and chopped

5 artichoke hearts (I use canned in brine), chopped

3 large eggs

1/3 cup milk

Large handful basil, cleaned and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup mozzarella, grated

1/4 cup pine nuts

Sauce

3 to 4 ripe, medium-sized tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon green peppercorns

1/3 cup olives, pitted and chopped (I used kalamata olives, but you could use any you like)

1 teaspoon capers

2 tablespoons raisins

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 cup red wine

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Cayenne to taste

1 tablespoon butter

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Small handful fresh basil, washed and chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the "crust," peel 4 long slices of skin, lengthwise, then cut the eggplant in 1/4-inch rounds. Put the slices in a shallow dish and salt. Leave them for at least a half-hour, then blot up the eggplant juices that the salt has brought out.

Add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rosemary and basil to the eggplant slices. (Use more or less oil and vinegar depending on the size of eggplant.) Turn them from time to time, to be sure that every surface gets a chance to soak up the marinade. Leave for at least a half-hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put a generous layer of oil on a baking sheet.

Beat an egg and put it into a shallow bowl. Combine flour, breadcrumbs, pecans, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper in another bowl. Dip each piece of eggplant in the egg, to coat both sides, and then in the bread crumb mixture, to coat both sides. Arrange in an even layer on the baking sheet. Add another egg if necessary.

Bake about 1/2 hour, turning the slices occasionally, until browned and crispy. Set aside until you're ready to assemble the tart.

To make filling, in a large frying pan over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add garlic and cook until it just starts to brown. Add the chard with the water still clinging to its leaves, and the artichoke hearts. Cook until the chard is wilted and tender and the pan is quite dry. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a food processor or blender, combine the chard-artichoke mixture with eggs, milk, basil, salt and pepper. Process until roughly pureed. You don't want it to be completely smooth — the flecks of chard are pretty. Stir in the mozzarella.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly butter a pie plate. Arrange the eggplant slices, slightly overlapping them to form a sort of cohesive bowl. The pieces on the edge should stick out a bit like petals on a flower. Put the less well-cooked bits sticking out, because they'll get more cooked as you bake the pie.

Pour the custard into the eggplant shell, leaving some of the eggplant sticking out on the edges. Scatter the pine nuts evenly on top of the custard.

Bake for about a half-hour, until pie is puffed and golden and the pine nuts slightly toasted.

While the pie is baking, make the sauce. Boil a medium-sized pot of water. Cut off the very top of each tomato, and gently squeeze some of the seeds out. Cut a small X on the bottom of each tomato. When the water is boiling, drop the tomatoes in until skin begins to pucker — this should only take a few seconds. Fish them out with a slotted spoon. When they're cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and roughly chop the flesh.

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook until it starts to soften. Add garlic and cook a few seconds until it starts to brown . Add peppercorns, olives, capers, raisins and oregano. Stir and cook a minute.

Add red wine, scraping all the nice caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. When the wine is reduced and syrupy, add the tomatoes, paprika and cayenne. Bring to a slow boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until tomatoes are quite soft and breaking apart. Add a little water if necessary to keep it saucy — it will depend on the tomatoes.

When tomatoes are soft, add butter and balsamic vinegar and process or blend until smooth. Stir in the fresh basil. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with the tart.

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