taste: feta and roasted vegetable tart

that's feta, not marshmallows, just to be clear

This is adapted from a Delia Smith recipe, via my mother, and has undergone quite a few changes on the way. It makes for a fabulous summer lunch dish, and serves eight comfortably. It smells fantastic during preparation (it’s one of those dishes that draws people to the kitchen long before it’s ready, to ‘help’) but the quantities are flexible, so you can safely sample as you go. I am the first to admit that I’m no tart expert, but I love this kind of dish. I have also never stuck to that rule of not serving guests something you’ve never made before. This was brand new to me, and my guests loved it, even though I almost lost the whole thing through a gap in the tin (and my own clumsiness). Probably don’t try it if you have never made pastry before. But as long as you start this at least two hours before you want to eat, it’s a breeze. Pastry is only intimidating when you have to rush it.

So let’s get it out of the way. Add a large pinch of salt to one and half cups (7oz/200g) all-purpose flour, and keep the flour to hand for rolling out. Cut one and a quarter sticks (5 oz/150g) cold, unsalted butter into the flour, trying not to handle it too much. Rub the fat into the flour (or use a food processor if you’re fancy) until it reaches that knobbly-breadcrumb stage, without too many big lumps of butter. Drop one egg yolk into the flour mixture and combine, then add iced water by the spoonful until the pastry comes together. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Get the oven hot – preheat to 425 F (220 C, Gas 7), then assemble and chop your veg and toss into a roasting tin. I used two red peppers, two courgettes/zucchini, (I’m in England at the moment so am trying to be ingredient-bilingual) one bulb fennel, and a generous handful of shallots (about six small ones). You can substitute a large onion if you don’t have shallots, and play around with these ingredients and proportions, though I must make a plea for the aromatic and unexpected fennel.

summer veg selection

Cover the veg with a few good slugs of olive oil and scatter over a handful of fresh thyme leaves – about a tablespoon once they have been pulled from their stems, but as much as you like.

ready to roast

Season generously and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, turning once or twice, until everything is soft and golden at the edges.

When the veg are in, take the pastry out of the fridge and let it warm up on the counter for ten minutes or so. Lightly butter your tart tin*, which should be about 12 inches in diameter and an inch and a half deep, then roll out the pastry into a circle wide enough to fit comfortably over the tin. Use a Silpat if you have one, or just lay a big sheet of greaseproof paper on the counter – these make it easier to lift the pastry and drape it over the tin.

don't sweat the perfect circle...

Press down into the edges, filling in any gaps, and trim the excess. Chill again for at least 15 minutes, or half an hour if you have time.

Turn the oven down to 400 F/220 C/Gas 6. If the veg are roasted to your satisfaction, take them out; if not, shift them to a lower shelf to make room for the pastry case. Prick the pastry case gently with a fork, line with foil and baking beans (I use dried chickpeas) and bake blind for 12 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the foil innards, and return to the oven for three to four minutes. When everything’s ready, remove it all from the oven – you don’t need to worry about keeping anything warm here.

*A word about loose-bottomed tins. If you use a loose-bottomed tin as Delia recommends, make sure you hold it by the sides. I was doing great until I took my blind-baked pastry case out of the oven balanced it on my hand, so the side detached and slipped down over my wrist, breaking the crust, and leaving a big enough gap for the custard to seep out. Hence the emergency shoring-up with layers of foil, and disaster just about averted.

Back to the tart. Prepare the custard filling by beating together three eggs, three-quarters of a cup (180 ml) heavy cream, and two peeled, finely chopped cloves of garlic (you can do this earlier if you have a preparation lull). Set aside.

Distribute the vegetables over the pastry base and top with a pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in half, and about 10oz/275g feta cheese, cut into chunks. Pour the custard over – it will puff up, so don’t go right to the rim.

Place the tart on a baking sheet and put another baking sheet on the shelf below to catch any drips. Return it to the oven (this is the hardest part of the whole operation) and cook for about half an hour, until the custard is set (poke it gently to test) and the feta chunks

are golden at the edges.

the near-perfect summer tart

Serve at room temperature with a big green salad, new potatoes, chilled white wine, and in a garden if you can swing it.

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