Monday, October 22, 2007

Spring herb tart

Away from the kitchen for more than a couple of weeks and these fingers start to itch, this brain begins ticking, whirring slowly into gear and then, oh dear, food itself becomes the very topic of dreams. Eating out every night in Spain, every day, too, had its charms (no washing up for starters) but the subconscious was not-so-subtly letting me know what it was craving. In lieu of actual cooking, dreaming about cooking took me by surprise.

Being surrounded by delicious salt cod and tuna dishes, inventive and awash with the most beautiful, grassy olive oil, anchovies both white and pink so succulent as to silence us on more than one occasion, snaffled up, alternating one pink, one white until the plate was empty was both wonderful and inspiring, yet each night, drifting off to sleep, vegetables, herbs and wholegrains took hold of my thoughts. Perhaps there’s something Freudian in that.

Notes from my journal this year are dotted with references searching for the perfect recipe for an all wholemeal (wholewheat) pastry. So often the dough is leaden, shrinks to nothing and tastes of cardboard. Holiday reading has happily fixed that. The idea of a tart, with a crumbly, buttery fibre-rich crust, filled with spring herbs, was sown.

Chervil is a pretty, wispy, girly sort of herb with a pale green, fern-like head of hair similar to, but finer still than, the feathery tops of baby carrots. It’s a spring tonic; a subtler version of parsley with the just the vaguest hint of anise. The classic use for it, then, is fines herbes a combination of equal quantities of finely chopped chervil, parsley, tarragon and chives. Sprinkled over a dish of perfectly cooked spring vegetables lightly drizzled with olive oil or topped, still-warm, with a spoonful of unsalted butter is reason enough to grow your own. I, however, am the chervil-killer, having tried to grow it unsuccessfully a record five pathetic times now. And it goes to seed as soon as you turn your back, before you can even utter the words, ‘I hope I don’t manage to kill this one before the holiday’s begun…’ Needless to say Prahran Market was able to oblige.

Holidays are marvelous, and there’s much more to tell, but it’s nice to be home.

Spring herb tart for 6-8
This is a Tarte aux fines herbes in essence, but as I can’t stand buying a bunch of herbs and using only a measly tablespoon or two (and watching the remainder wither away on the bench) it’s very herby and a little rougher around the edges than the classic-sounding name suggests. Spring herb tart it is then, and just the way home-cooked should be.

1 prepared tart shell (see below)
1 large bunch of spring onions
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
4 large sprigs of tarragon
1 handful of chervil leaves
1 handful of parsley leaves
1 handful of chives
4 eggs, free range (you know the drill)
250ml of double cream, preferably organic
1 large handful of grated cheese (Cheddar, Gruyere, Manchego, whatever)

Slice the spring onions thinly, greens and all, and crush the garlic. Heat the oil in a frying pan over low-medium and add the spring onions and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Strip the tarragon leaves, discard the stalks, and chop them finely. Chop the chervil and parsley finely, snip the chives into short lengths and add all of the herbs to the cooked spring onions and garlic, stirring well. Cool.

Beat the eggs lightly with the cream and plenty of pepper. Add three-quarters of the cheese and mix well.

Spread the spring onion-herb mixture evenly over the base of the cooked pastry shell. Gently pour in the egg mixture and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 20-30 minutes at 180 C (375 F) until golden on top. Rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Good hot, cold or somewhere in between, with a salad.

Wholemeal (wholewheat) tart shell
From an idea in Colin Spencer’s Vegetable Pleasures. Don’t feel that you need to use this particular pastry – by all means use your own shortcrust – it’s just that I had a eureka moment and thought you might be interested. It will crack and misbehave and you’ll end up with a patch-worked tart shell, but it’s worth the effort. The secret is the lemon juice (which helps to develop the gluten) instead of water (which is why pastry shrinks). Bear with me.

150g (6oz) of unsalted butter
300g (a fraction less than 12oz) of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour
Pinch of sea salt
1 lemon

Measure your butter and then wrap in foil and freeze for 30 minutes or longer.

Sift the flour into a bowl and tip any bran left in the sieve into the bowl. Add the salt and mix. Using a box grater, coarsely grate the ice-cold butter into the pastry and, working quickly and lightly, crumble the mixture between your fingers, or use a pastry cutter if you happen to have one, until it resembles breadcrumbs. (This takes more effort than with white flour, but be patient).

Squeeze the lemon and add all of the juice to the bowl. Using your knuckles, pummel the mixture into a crumbly paste and form into two balls. Again, be patient – it will be crumbly, but this is desirable. Wrap in greaseproof paper and pop in the fridge for 30 minutes – 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F).

Remove both balls of pastry from the fridge. Roll out, one at a time, as thinly as you can (about ½ cm is the thinnest I got to) and yes, it will shatter and break. No matter. Place as many whole pieces as possible on the base of a tart tin with a removable base. Fill the holes and cracks in between with enough pastry to completely cover the base and sides. Any leftover pastry should be kept – this is important.

Cover the base generously with a sheet of baking paper and fill with dried beans or ceramic baking beads, whatever you have. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the beans and paper and return the shell to the oven for a further 10 minutes.

When the shell comes out, the base will reveal cracks and even holes. Fill these, as you would a cracked wall, while the case is still warm, with the leftover pastry bits and cool completely before filling and continuing with the recipe.

This is my entry for the 105th week (can you believe?), of Weekend Herb Blogging, and event created by Kalyn Denny and hosted this week by my friend Susan, the Well Seasoned Cook.


Susan said...

Yeah! She's back, and in TOP form, too! Freud move over; let Jung have a swing at this. And let's talk about this girly, wispy chervil. I don't think I've ever had it fresh.

And speaking ?s, what is wholemeal? Is it like graham flour or wheatmeal? Sounds so crumbly and rustic, a perfect bed to cradle armfuls of herbs. Ideal.

Lucy said...

Susan, she's a pretty thing I tell you, and gently perfumed. The fragrance that rises from rubbing those leaves between the fingers does smell like home! Thanks for hosting. Glad I made it in time.

Ah, yes, I should have thought of that...wholemeal is what you guys call wholewheat I think - wheat flour that hasn't been refined, replete with bran and the like. Notoriously difficult to make un-leaden. But persistence sometimes pays off! Will fix the recipe straight away...

Cindy said...

Welcome back, Lucy! It must be the weather - we had an asparagus and mushroom tart (with our own buttery shortcrust recipe) last week.

I'll bookmark your wholemeal shortcrust recipe for next time. I appreciate the reassurances along the way - I can imagine this would otherwise involve some pouting and throwing of utensils when a puckered and holed crust emerged from the oven!

In case it slips through your catch-up on other blogs, Ed from Tomato is currently organising a Melbourne food bloggers' meetup for next month.

Lucy said...

Thanks Cindy! Nice to be home. I'm off to check out your tart (sounds gorgeous). Patience is really key with the pastry, and I approached it calmly (unlike my normal attempts...) and all was well!

Thanks also, love, for the link to Ed's meet-up...sounds like fun.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home Lucy, I've been missing your regular updates from the Nourish Me kitchen. Hope you had a lovely holiday.

Mmm, wholemeal pastry - well done you. I like a good bran-y pastry shell, but usually end up using a combination of white and wholemeal flour. I shall be giving yours a go.

KPB said...

Whoop! She's back! Yay! Shall now take a step back and read your returning post!

Anh said...

Lucy, welcome back! And you are back with a wonderful post!

I would love to try your lovely tart from pastry to filling!

Christina said...

Welcome home! Your dog is happy to see you, your house is happy to see you, and I'm so happy to read you.

Chervil is something I've only had in restaurants, but now I'm going to have to try my hand at cooking with it myself. I think I've seen it at one of the vendor's booths at my farmers' market. I love the idea of highlighting it in a tart like this.

Lucy said...

Kathryn, I've missed blogging in a strange let me know how you go if you do try it as I was so pleased with the result. The things that make me happy...

Kim, you are lovely! Good to be back.

Anh, thank you! It's perfect for this spring weather, and a good use for all those herbs that seem to be so prolific at this time of year.

Christina, it's such a pretty thing, well worth seeking out, delicate and with an ellusive flavour. Kinda green and tonic-like. Home safe and sound. Poppy is a very happy (if not slightly skinner) dog; Rosie the cat is fatter and grumpier than ever; and I am pleased that the garden has not been decimated by the searing sun in our absence!

Wendy said...

Welcome home Lucy! You've been missed. :)
Wonderful tart. Haven't ventured into pastry making yet. It sounds scary...

Lucy said...

Wendy, I've missed you too. AND I missed your birthday...Your 30's are the best years, I promise you. Don't be scared by shortcrust pastry! It's incredibly easy (though puff pastry is a whole lot of effort for very little reward) and tastes a damn sight better than anything you can buy ready-made.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lucy, Glad you had a good holiday - looking forward to hearing more about it once you've unpacked...

Your tart looks great - I'm going to have to get over my pastry phobia and give it a try!

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Lucy welcome home!!! You were missed, I can tell you! I know just what you mean about reaching saturation point with the food - and I must say, I think it happens to me more in Spain than anywhere else. Perhaps I just eat the most there! Or maybe it's all the big flavors. Regardless, I'm so pleased you're back safely, and I love this tart! Chervil's one of my favorites.
Can't wait to hear more about the trip!

Wendy said...

Heeded. Know what I'm doing Sunday afternoon now. :)

Jacqueline Meldrum said...

That spring herb tart looks real good! I haven't used chervil before, so that is intersting!
And, loved that plate!
I have added you to my list of favourite blogs!

winedeb said...

What a pleasant surprise to open up the computer today and see you have returned! I have been checking the past few days to see if you arrived safely home. Now I know you have!! I cannot wait to hear and see stories from your travels:)
Chervil - wish I could locate some for my herb garden. I have checked but I think I will have to order seeds. I love the description of yours. And your tart, oh my, so rustic looking! And I am way into that crust, one that I can probably make! My hubby has been asking for a tart, so I may just have to attempt your lovely one.
Well, welcome back Lucy!
PS - The color in your photos is stunning! So saturated!

Callipygia said...

Ah so lemon is the trick? I too have abandoned whole wheat crust for being too leaden, thanks for the inspirations.

Lucy said...

Sophie, there is still unpacking to can that still be?!?

Amanda, that is so very true! Italy; no problems at all (I could eat to my fill and then some and still miss the food on my return), but Spain? It was a little unvaried as well as well-flavoured as you say. I was ready to KILL for a vegetable dish by the end! More later, I promise.

Yeah Wendy! It's easier than you think - Delia is as good a place as any to start. My only real tip is never try to make a low-fat pastry...urgh...butter, the good unsalted stuff, is the only way to go. Good luck!

Holler, it's a sweet thing that plate - it has a large macthing coffee cup with a blissful mermaid snaking her way around the edge. Chervil is a ovely, fresh flavour - hope you manage to find some!

Deb, chervil is very hard to grow - it seems to like cool, wet weather, something we don't really get down here. I'll tell all about our travels when I get my head around being home!

Callipygia - it was a revelation the lemon; it really did work well. I really had all but given up hope of the perfect crust...

Kalyn Denny said...

It sounds just wonderful. I love it that you added more herbs to the tart, just my style too! I've never tried growing chervil, but it's not dry or wet either one here so I guess it's a lost cause!

bee said...

absolutely inviting dish. and your pictures speak volumes, as always.

Rosa said...

I'm so glad you're back! My daily blog fix wasn't the same without you. This pastry is intriguing and I'm glad it's balanced by some lovely rich cream and cheese!

Lucy said...

It just seems wasteful not to, doesn't it Kalyn? You, of course, are the undisputed queen of herbs and I kew you'd understand!

Bee, thank you!

Rosa, I must say that I feel the same way about needing to balance all that 'healthiness' with something rich and decadent!

Truffle said...

Lucy- so good to see you back! This looks sensational. Can't wait to hear all about your travels.

Simona Carini said...

I was very intrigued by the pastry shell recipe: you made me want to try and see how many holes I get. I share some of the feelings you nicely describe about being away, eating out and missing the cooking aspect of life.

Casey said...

This delightful-soundig recipe came just in time. We still have an abundance of herbs in our northern California garden, but one cold night will diminish their numbers dramatically, There is only a tiny bit of chervil remaining, but this seems like a great way to finish it up.
Welcome home!

Lucy said...

Thanks Truffle - great to be back in my own kitchen.

Sounds like a challege Simona!

Thanks Casey. Get chopping, I say. The latter stages of Fall must nearly be upon you and the chervil, well, it's not exactly mandatory - but you are among the few who can actually grow the damn stuff!

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, great recipe, can't wait to try it.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I too have tried to grow chervil several times, but no luck. Dill, too. I keep trying different spots in the garden. This year I just gave up!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

The lure of the kitchen is amazing, isn't it? This is a most lovely and flavorful tart, Lucy. Welcome back!

Lucy said...

Thanks Stephanie - always good to be home, no matter how far you've traveled.

You too Lydia! Am pleased it's a universal growing issue...and as for dill? I stopped bothering a long time ago...

It's a lure alright Susan, one I imagine that some women in the past would not have dreamed of perhaps; instead it may have been a nightmare. Lucky us, eh?!