Monday, April 19th, 2010
We have had over a week full of sunny days perfect for being outside. I always feel I have missed something I can never get back if I do not spend time outside on gorgeous days like we are having now.
Little Jonathan wants nothing less, banging at the back door, grabbing at the door knob at every moment he is not eating or sleeping, unable to contain his enthusiasm for exploring all the nooks and crannies of our yard, smelling the flowers, and making full use of these newly balmy spring days.
“No, Jonathan, do not put rocks in the garden,” we seem to be saying over and over, as if on tape, on replay.
We went and picked out flowers at the nursery last week and Brian planted them by the mailbox and around the house. This means so much to me. We are slowly building a collection of perennials in our flower beds and I get excited each spring when I see the first wave of blooms unfold.
“I want to make something beautiful this week,” I thought to myself.
I’ve been a tart admirer for some time now, both savory and sweet. I love how tarts are so casually sophisticated, with their endless possibilities of fillings, carefully supported by a flaky, buttery crust, and adorned with beautiful, often avant-garde, garnishings. They are an ideal canvas for experimentation, as well as turning humble ingredients into art. Yet, in all their artistry, they remain perfectly suited for a simple lunch or brunch. Yes, tarts have a certain restrained panache. I like that about them.
“A tart will be perfect,” I decided.
When I was living and working in D.C. shortly after college, I would occasionally find myself in a la Madeleine cafe (do you know the ones?) sipping coffee, and encountering some of my very first tarts. I am quite certain they serve any number and variety of tarts there, however, those that stand out in my memory are of the sweet variety, made with a soft creamy custard filling and topped with a simple but elegant assortment of fresh berries. These petite tarts, or tartlettes, were one of my favorite treats.
I have not been to a la Madeleine in years, and truthfully I do not know how good the tarts are in reality, but that does not really matter. What matters is that the essence and concept of the tart made a strong enough impression on my subconscious to be carried into the present and push me towards giving it a go in my own kitchen this week, even if it took seven years to achieve this.
Yes, this was my very first homemade tart!
After plenty of poking around, I also honestly do not know if it would be more appropriate to call this a quiche, since it is baked with eggs, milk and cream, or, if since it was baked in a “tart pan” and is relatively slender and full of vegetables, if it may rightly pass as a savory tart. In the end, I simply like the sound of “savory tart” over that of “quiche.” So, for now – save being duly informed otherwise – I will call it a savory tart.
I couldn’t find a recipe that combined all the ingredients and flavors I was craving, so I decided to blend all my research into one recipe that consisted of a bit of everything I wanted. But lest you tune me out now, having already admitted that this was my first tart attempt, I am happy to share my concoction of inspiration – I’m sure you know many of them well - from this, to this, and this, and even a consultation with this.
I sauteed leeks and shitake mushrooms with thyme from our garden, bay leaf, and a splash of Vermouth and set them under a layer of small dice fresh spring asparagus, all blanketed by a surprisingly light tasting cover of egg, Greek yogurt, milk and cream, Gruyère, pinch of nutmeg, sea salt, ground pepper, and Parmesan.
For the crust I decided to use part whole wheat pastry flour to impart a nutty quality without adding weight, and an addition of grated Parmesan for additional depth of flavor and character.
Finally, I dotted roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes on top, which resulted in a welcome sour and chewy contrast to the overall delicate nature and flavor profile of the filling.
“That was different from any quiche I’ve ever had,” Brian said to me after we finished our first slices, making me a little nervous to hear what was to follow.
“It’s like I was tasting real quiche for the first time!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know how hard this is to make, but we could make this all summer long using the vegetables from the garden!”
I laughed. Apparently, at least one person has no qualms whatsoever in calling my tart “quiche,” just so long as it is not my last.
Gruyère, leek, asparagus, shitake, and roasted heirloom cherry tomato tart
1 recipe for savory tart crust to fit a 10″ tart pan
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (higher fat percent is preferable)*
1/2 cup half & half, heavy cream, whole milk, or combination of these*
1/2 t. sea salt
1 T. butter
2 1/2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 T. Vermouth or dry white wine
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh thyme
pinch or two of nutmeg – according to your preference for nutmeg
3 oz. Gruyère cheese (about 1 1/2 cups loosely packed)
1 oz. freshly grated Parmesan (about 1/3 cup loosely packed)
8 asparagus stems, cut into half inch diagonals
6 oz. leeks, white parts only, cut into thin circles (2 leeks)
4 oz. shitake mushrooms, washed, stems removed, cut in slivers
About 20 small cherry heirloom tomatoes, if available, or Roma/plum tomatoes (may sub thinly cut slivers of sun dried tomatoes)
1 t. balsamic vinegar
sea salt and ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Begin by preparing the tomatoes for roasting by cutting in half, placing in a bowl, drizzling with 1/2 T. olive oil, splash of balsamic vinegar, light sprinkling of natural sugar and sea salt and pepper, carefully mixing to coat, and laying tomatoes on foil on a cookie sheet with seeds facing up. Roast for 45 minutes and set aside.
Now make the tart dough, with the idea that by the time the dough is ready and had its 30 minute fridge time, the tomatoes will be out of the oven.
While the tomatoes roast and the dough sits in the fridge, saute leeks in the butter, 1 T. olive oil, bay leaf, and three sprigs thyme till beginning to wilt, about five minutes, and then add mushrooms, 1 T. olive oil, Vermouth, and salt and pepper to taste, allowing to cook another five minutes, or until leaks and mushrooms are just soft. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs. In the mean time, parboil the asparagus by boiling three cups water, and adding the asparagus to the boiling water for 1 minute. Rinse hot asparagus in cold water to stop the cooking. Whisk egg, Greek yogurt, 1/2 t. salt (and pepper to taste), pinch or two of nutmeg, and half & half together to combine. Finally, add in the Gruyère.
Fill the par-baked tart crust by spreading the leek mushroom mixture evenly over the bottom of the crust, then add the parboiled asparagus evenly on top. Next, pour the egg cheese mixture over the vegetables. Finally, sprinkle the top with the parmesan.
Place the tart in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. Remove the tart at 20 minutes, and add the roasted tomatoes evenly across the top. The idea is for the tart top to be partially solidified so that the tomatoes do not sink into the tart, yet the tart is still soft enough to cook around the bottoms of the tomatoes and keep them in place. Return the tart to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the top begins to brown and the tart is set. Allow to cool on a wire wrack for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Add extra sprigs of thyme for garnish.
* I used a 2% Greek yogurt, but mascarpone cheese or sour cream would likely make good substitutes and would yield a richer, creamier tart.
* I used a combination of whole milk and half and half, but thought it would have been nice a bit creamier – you may decide based on whether you want an overall lighter taste, or richer, creamier taste.
Savory whole grain tart crust with parmesan
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
3/4 cup pastry flour (can use regular all purpose flour)
1 T cornstarch
3/4 (.75) oz. finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 Tablespoons buttermilk
6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8-12 pieces
Lightly beat the egg yolks and buttermilk and set aside. In a food processor (or using a fork or pastry knife and a bowl, working quickly), combine flours, cornstarch, salt, and cheese and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add cold butter to the flour mixture and pulse another few times to turn mixture into sand like texture with some pea sized bits of butter remaining. Working quickly (you want to keep the butter cold without melting the little lumps and without strengthening the gluten by over handling the flour in order to produce a light flaky crust), pour the flour butter mixture into a medium bowl and add the beaten egg, stirring just to combine and bring mixture together. When mixture is beginning to clump together, dump onto a work surface and press dough together to form a ball. You may need to wet your fingertips with ice water a few times to add a small amount of moisture needed to achieve this. Try to handle the dough and add as little water as possible to make a cohesive dough. Flatten the dough into a 5 inch round, wrap in plastic wrap, place in the fridge for 45 minutes or up to 36 hours (allowing the gluten to relax so the dough will roll out more easily).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Turn dough out on well floured work surface and roll into a 12-13 inch circle with a flat rolling pin. Again, use ice water on the fingertips to solidify the dough, only if needed, and as small amount as possible. Roll the lightly floured dough over the rolling pin in order to transfer into a 9 or 10 inch tart pan. Gently push dough into the pan and use the rolling pin to roll around the edges of the pan to trim off the excess crust. Using a fork, prick the surface and sides of the dough. Par-bake the crust by placing in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove crust and allow to cool at least five minutes on a wire wrack before adding tart filling and baking further.*
* You may substitute regular whole wheat flour, but in that case, I would not use more than a 1:3 ratio whole wheat to white flour and would recommend white whole wheat flour.
Friday, January 15th, 2010
Whenever I try something new and it turns out wonderful, whether in the kitchen or elsewhere, I find myself in complete confusion as to why I had either a.) not known about it sooner, b.) not tried it sooner, or c.) let my “fear of the unknown” issues get the best of me. Oven dried tomatoes definitely fall into category A. Where have you been, you amazing, delectable – able to resurrect even the saddest out of season tomatoes to glorious vibrancy – all the winters of my life? But before I wax on any more poetically about my newfound perfect savory winter treat, I must back up for a moment and tell you a tale about resolutions, working out, and the irony of how I stumbled upon this wonderful discovery.
I’ve never done new year’s resolutions. Making resolutions feels like a recipe for failure, for which perfectionists and OCD types like myself have an innate strong distaste. I’ve always tried to work on new and old goals throughout the year, so new year’s resolutions seem like a carryover of what wasn’t accomplished in December, or the fall, or 2009 – or maybe the last decade. Besides, I tend to like challenges better anyhow.
Perhaps simply a matter of semantics, but a challenge feels like something I am competing against myself to conquer, rather than a resolution, which feels so insipid, flatline, and mocking to my internal personal interpreter. Resolutions tend to remind me of one of Albert Ellis’ infamous therapy quotations – “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.” Good mental health is certainly promoted when we shed a few “shoulds” in our lives. But I have digressed. This is really a story about how I started going to the gym last fall to work on getting back into shape after having my son, J.
You see, I have made no new year’s resolutions in this regard, but am still plodding along faithfully showing up at my local YMCA three times a week to move my arms and legs semi-rythmically in mouse wheel fashion beside several dozen other homo sapiens on the modern contraption known as an elliptical machine. I hate it. Except for the one thing that makes it bearable – Ina Garten, the Food Network and my white earbuds that connect me to the 12 x 12 screen attached to the machine.
So there I am, every other day, faithfully showing up to burn my minimum of 300 calories (I know, hardly a brownie’s worth of a workout), eating up all of Ina’s tips on how to cook everything in the oven, make simple dinners, and most recently, these fabulous oven dried tomatoes. And since Ina comes on at 5:00, right before I go home to make dinner, hunger pains are a regular side effect. But we don’t have cable at home, and if Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten is what it takes to get me motivated to go get on the mouse wheel, so be it – just don’t work out behind me if you think it might have the opposite effect on you.
I know these tomatoes in their original form in these pictures look lovely and perfect, but actually they were your typical winter tomatoes – orangey red, strangely mealy textured, and lackluster in flavor. But after sitting patiently in a 200 degree oven for a couple of hours, drizzled in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a sprinkle of sugar, it’s like these poor, bedraggled winter tomatoes suddenly found themselves. They emerged bright, tangy, a little juicy, and overall just plain amazing. I could not believe it. I feel like its my own personal little discovery and now I can have delicious tomatoes in the winter for the first time ever. Woohoo!
You can pair the tomatoes with any number of items – a caprese salad (as Ina did), use on top or in a quiche, make a regular old sandwich or grilled cheese amazing, sit on top of chicken or fish, or add to a pasta – as I did.
Oven dried tomatoes
Inspired by Ina Garten.
5-6 Roma or plum tomatoes, sliced into 1/3 inch circles, seeds removed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1.5 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
few cracks of freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
2. Place sliced and seeded tomatoes onto a baking sheet or pan covered in aluminum foil being careful to leave space between each slice.
3. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt, sugar, and few cracks of freshly ground black pepper.
4. Bake for two to two and a half hours. The tomatoes will still be moist, but have concentrated flavor. You may leave them in the oven longer if you would like them to be less moist, and eventually (after many hours) I imagine they would completely dry and be tasty in a different way, though I have not tried it this way. These tomatoes may be added to salads, pasta, sandwiches, quiches, sauces, fish, chicken, dips, cheese, or eaten just as is. My batch did not last long enough to test out in the fridge, but I hear they store well for a good length of time.
*For a simple caprese salad, alternate oven dried tomatoes with slices of fresh mozzarella, top with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar (if desired), a dash of sea salt, and sliced fresh basil leaves.