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Savory Tarts

Simple, hearty vegetable pies showcase backyard produce

Caramelized French Onion Tart

Caramelized French Onion Tart

SOMETIMES, I get great ideas when wandering in the garden. But, I'll be the first to admit that some of my best ideas have also come to me while in a kitchen store. So it's hard to say if it was a recipe or the fluted removable tart pan that first inspired me to try baking a tart. All I know is that at this time of year, I fall in love all over again with savory tarts. What could be more elegant than a shallow, flower-like shell on a plate, filled with fragrant roasted vegetables and served with a crisp side salad?

A French tart, quiche or open-faced pie starts with thinly rolled dough fitted into a straight-sided metal tart pan. These pans may just be the coolest kitchen devices ever because the sides come off easily, revealing perfect fluted edges. What's more, the whole tart can go direct from oven to table.

Savory tarts are easy, satisfying and delicious, and much simpler to prepare than you could imagine from a cursory look at the ingredients list. For one thing, once you master a basic crust, and you follow the recipe, you can mix and match with local and seasonal ingredients from your garden to your heart's desire.

This time of year, try a medley of slow-roasted eggplant, summer squash and caramelized onions, infused with piquant herbs and a base of black olive tapenade (Roasted Vegetable Tart). Or, keep it light, with shredded carrots and roasted red peppers, layered with a creamy sauce spiked with tarragon, ideal for lunch or a light dinner (Tarragon-Carrot Tart).

While it takes an artful eye to compose a beautiful tart, the trick is in the pan. Tart pans come in all sizes and shapes, as well as a choice of tin, ceramic or nonstick-coated stainless steel. Whether it's the recipe that leads you to the tart pan, or the other way around, you're sure to fall in love with both. And in the process, you'll impress your guests with a stunning presentation.

Tart Crust

You'll love this easy dough recipe which is wonderfully pliable, and can be rolled out right away or chilled for later. Season it with herbs to perfume the kitchen with a sweet aroma as it bakes, or leave the herbs out to use for a fruit pie.

  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt or sour cream

In a food processor fitted with a steel cutting blade, blend the white and whole-wheat flours, and salt. With the food processor running, add one piece of butter at a time until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few pea-sized pieces. Turn off the machine and stir in the yogurt. Pulse just until the dough comes together in a ball. If not using right away, wrap the dough in plastic and store in the refrigerator.

Variations:

  • Add dried herbs (such as thyme or tarragon) to the flour before blending with other ingredients.
  • Add 1/4-1/2 cup cheddar cheese or another hard cheese for more flavor.
  • Add 1/4-1/2 cup chopped nuts, grains or cornmeal for more texture .
Assembling the Tarragon-Carrot Tart

Assembling the Tarragon-Carrot Tart

Tarragon-Carrot Tart

Makes one 9" tart

  • 1 prepared crust (see recipe above, Tart Crust)
  • 4 medium carrots, grated (about 3 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons Sherry cooking wine (or rice wine vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 sweet red onion, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 sweet red pepper, roasted, seeded and thinly sliced.
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

Prepare the crust: On a lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough into a circle about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to a lightly buttered 9-inch pie tart pan. Prick the dough with a fork in several places, and line the dough with aluminum foil weighted with dried beans, rice or commercial pie weights. Bake until the dough looks set but not browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the filling: Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil; add 1 teaspoon salt and the carrots. Cook for one minute — just to set the color. Drain in a colander. Transfer the carrots to a medium bowl and douse with 1 tablespoon Sherry. Melt the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the carrots and cook for 1 minute to meld the flavors. Cool slightly.

Assemble the tart: Using the back of a spoon or a pastry brush, paint the mustard inside the pastry shell. Sprinkle with grated cheese, and spread the carrots and the sliced peppers evenly in the pie shell. Whisk the half and half with the eggs, tarragon and remaining 1 tablespoon Sherry, season with salt and pepper. Pour into the pasty shell. Place the tart on a baking sheet; bake about 30 minutes, until the custard is firm and the edges are golden brown, Cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Caramelized French Onion Tart

Makes one 10" square tart

  • 1 prepared crust (see recipe above, Tart Crust)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 large onions, very thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar or Marsala wine
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup chives

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Prepare the crust: On a lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough into a square about 1/8 inch thick. Gently press the dough into the edges, and then roll off the extra dough with the back of a spoon or the rolling pin, so the dough is even with the top of the tart pan.

Prepare the filling: Heat the oil over a low heat in a large skillet. Add the onions, toss with the salt. Cook slowly for about 15 minutes, stirring often. Once the onions release their moisture, turn up the heat to medium and douse with the Balsamic vinegar (or Marsala wine). Sprinkle with the sugar and the pepper. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, for another 10 minutes, until the onions caramelize. Keep a close watch so they don't burn. Stir in the garlic, thyme and rosemary.

Assemble the tart: In a small bowl, combine the egg, ricotta, cheddar and chives. Spread the mixture evenly onto the crust and scatter the caramelized onions on top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before slicing into squares and serving.
Vegetables prepared for roasting

An assortment of vegetables, ready for roasting

Roasted Vegetable Tart

Makes one 10" square tart

  • 1 prepared crust (see recipe above, Tart Crust)
  • 4 cups vegetables, trimmed and cut into chunks of similar size, about 1/2". Good choices include leeks, eggplant, broccoli florets, fennel and summer squash
  • 1 sweet red onion (1/2 cup), cut into chunks
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons Tapenade, recipe below, or prepared black olive spread
  • 2 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Tapenade

You can buy tapenade, an intensely flavored olive spread, in a jar, or you can make your own.

  • 3 cups of pitted black (Kalamata) olives
  • 3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons of Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves of garlic

Combine all ingredients in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or a blender and pulse for a few seconds, until smooth. The paste will be slightly granular. Transfer leftovers to a jar and store in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Prepare the crust: On a lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough into a square about 1/8 inch thick. Gently press the dough into the edges, and then roll off the extra dough with the back of a spoon or the rolling pin, so the dough is even with the top of the tart pan.

Prepare the filling: In an oven-proof baking dish, spread the vegetables (except the garlic) in a single layer and nestle the garlic head among the vegetables. Crush the rosemary with the palms of your hand to release oils, and sprinkle over the vegetables, along with thyme, salt and pepper. Pour the olive oil over the vegetables, with a small drizzle over the garlic; toss to coat. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure everything cooks evenly. Remove from the oven, and set aside to cool.

Assemble the tart: Using the back of a spoon, spread a thin layer of tapenade on the bottom of the crust. Arrange the roasted vegetables (except the garlic) evenly on top. With a scissors, cut off the top of the garlic and squeeze the roasted garlic onto the vegetables. Top with the goat cheese and Parmesan. If there is any juice left in the bottom of the pan from roasting the vegetables, spoon a few tablespoons over the vegetables. Bake on a baking sheet for 25 minutes. Let the tart cool a few minutes before removing the bottom section of the pan; slice into squares and serve warm.

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