Cost: about £1.50 – £2, but really it’s a tart to make out of the bits and pieces left in the fridge by the weekend. Serves 4 as a main course or 6-12 as a side dish.
This tart was an unexpected delight – eaten in warm crumbly wedges outside for lunch on the lawn, and then leftovers enjoyed on the sofa the following evening. The pastry is from Nigella Lawson’s luscious How to be a Domestic Goddess, and it is my favourite for any savoury tart. She says that it is too friable for a large tart and makes little individual ones, but I’ve had reliably good experiences with making a 23cm fluted tart – it is golden, and as short and crumbly as a shortbread biscuit, very slightly flaky and with an almost-sweet edge from the semolina. Whilst it has elements in common with a quiche, the ratios of the filling are reversed to give a healthier, more flavourful tart – rather than ingredients fossilised in waxy dairy, here the pastry is generously heaped with a ribbony tangle of soft, sweet leeks, with nuggets of bacon and little juicy peas nestled within. The filling – eggs, cheese and milk (no cream) is lighter than for a quiche, and just keeps everything moist and in shape.
It has been a wonderful spring. Being off work, whilst dispiriting in some ways, has also been a blessing – with time to enjoy the garden and try to wrest back control of our 40-year neglected beds from the rampant weeds. Trying to figure out when to plant and when to plan to plant has made me dimly aware, for the first year ever, of when things grow. Being out and about in streets clouded with blossom feels like a gift and reminds me gloriously to thank the giver. God is good! Last week was a whirl of family coming to stay and running the first ever Holiday Club at church for 4-7 year olds – both a joyful delight. But by Saturday it was just the two of us at home, and I didn’t even feel like leaving the house to pick up any groceries. A quick trawl of the fridge uncovered a couple of leeks in the vegetable crisper, a wedge of mild cheddar and the remnants of a packet of inexpensive cooking bacon in the meat drawer. We pretty much always have cooking bacon about, frozen in small amounts that are used to provide a supporting role in a dish where vegetables are the star. We also always have frozen peas, eggs, milk, butter (or margarine, or lard) and plain flour in the pantry…so a plan began to form.
Recipe: Savoury Spring Tart
Start by making the pastry, which chillaxes in the fridge whilst you get on with the filling. Please don’t let the idea of homemade pastry put you off. It really is straightforward and much less effort than going to the shops to buy it! But this works with 250g of pre-made shortcrust too, (all-butter is nicest) in which case just start the recipe from the filling.
(adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess)
125g plain flour
1 Tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
25g lard, cubed
115g butter, cubed (for dairy-free, use baking margarine. The ratio of lard to butter can be as high as 1:1 depending on what you have on hand)
3-4 Tbsp iced water, to bind
1. Place all the ingredients except the iced water into the bowl of a food processor, and leave in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. During this time, grease the sides and base of a 23cm tart tin (ideally with a removable base), prepare the ice water and if you’re really keen, start chopping vegetables for the tart filling. Or do whatever you want! I didn’t mean to sound bossy.
2. Sprinkle a tablespoon of ice water into the food processor bowl and pulse in short bursts until the texture turns sandy, then add water in half tablespoons, pulsing for about 10 seconds each time, until the pastry starts to come together, then carry on pulsing without adding more water until it forms a single mass. Press together and wrap in cling film, and leave in the fridge to rest for 30 mins whilst you prepare the filling.
Leafy vegetables, like very finely chopped spinach, would work here, and I would have added thinly sliced mushrooms if I’d had them, but sweetly softened leeks and salty bacon are an especially lovely combination.
50 g hard cheese (I had mild cheddar – and again, if you have a bit more or a bit less, then that’s fine)
50g cooking bacon (or cooked ham, chopped up leftover cooked sausages or similar)
2 leeks (or three if very small)
Handful of frozen petit pois or peas
1 large egg (I happened to have a spare duck egg from the farm stall in Holloway Nag’s Head Market that sells farm eggs on Fridays and Saturdays but a large chicken egg would be fine)
1. Break up the cooking bacon in a large frying pan and cook on a medium high heat whilst you prepare the vegetables.
2. Halve the leeks by cutting them along the centre of the outer leaves – this makes it easier to fan the layers out under running water to remove the mud and grit. Then slice each half into slices 2-3mm thick and add to the pan, with a bit of butter if the bacon hasn’t given off much fat. Cook slowly, stirring, until the leeks are soft but not browned and season with a generous grinding of black pepper. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
3. Preheat the oven to 200C (non-fan) with a baking sheet in the centre of the oven and grate the cheese. Beat the egg and the milk together in a small bowl.
4. By this time the pastry should be ready to roll. I like to roll it out between two layers of cling film to minimise cleaning and maximise ease of lifting pastry into tin. Roll it out to the size of your tin – it should be the thickness of a pound coin. Remove the top layer of cling film, and carefully place the pastry into the tin (cling film on top!) and press gently into the corners. Any overhang can be trimmed neatly by rolling the rolling pin over the top of the tin, or else folded inside to make a double-thickness crust.
5. Prick the base of the tart all over with a fork and return to the fridge until the oven is ready. Then bake the tart blind (with a sheet of foil on the base, shiny side up and weighed down with rice that you keep for this purpose) on the hot baking sheet for 15 minutes until pale gold.
6. Mix the frozen peas and grated cheese evenly into the leeks and bacon, and combine with about two-thirds of the egg and milk mixture.
7. Remove the pastry from the oven and press the base down with a fork if it is puffy. Then remove the rice and foil and brush the base lightly with a slick of the egg-milk mixture (to prevent a soggy bottom!) and return to the oven for 5 – 7 minutes.
8. After this, the pastry should be firm and golden (but not too dark, closer to shortbread than digestive-coloured). Remove and fill with the vegetable mixture, and pour over the remaining egg-milk.
9. Turn the oven down to 180C and bake for 25 minutes until the filling is set and only just starting to colour on the top. Remove and let stand for a minute to firm up, before removing from the tin and slicing into generous wedges.
I would happily serve this as an outdoor meal in spring or summer, accompanied perhaps by a green or tomato salad, plus bread (heated up in the oven whilst the tart cooks) for a relaxed lunch. To ring the changes for this vegetable tart, using the same pastry:
- High Summer when the tomatoes are lovely – spread a layer of tomato purée from a tube and pesto from a jar over the blind baked tart and fill with halved cherry tomatoes, cut side up. Serve with very cold slices of mozzarella and fresh basil leaves.
- Autumn – spread with tomato purée and fill with roasted vegetables like aubergines, peppers and courgettes. Top with slices of halloumi for a more indulgent and substantial supper.