I just unearthed some old files, two of which were noteworthy. One was filled with menus I’ve kept over the years from memorable meals out or from restaurants I was reviewing for a local weekly newspaper many years ago. The menus were grease-stained and creased and typed in every imaginable font and printed on every imaginable kind of paper and they brought back many, lovely memories.
The second file was full of clippings. They are mostly from the New York Times and are lengthy articles with gorgeous recipes with vast ingredient lists. I guess the fact that this file ended up in an unmarked box in the basement for over 10 years is noteworthy in-and-of-itself . . .. Ironically, the title of the first piece in the file is “In a Berkeley Kitchen, A Celebration of Simplicity.” The menu discussed in this piece is: brine-cured roast turkey, fresh oysters, terrine of foie gras, bagna cauda, pork sausages, and cranberry upside-down cake. Simple?
It’s not that I don’t occasionally cook fancy meals or that I no longer like reading about elaborate, delicious feasts, it’s just that in my professional life of Cook With What You Have I am focused on demonstrating how truly simple and satisfying the plainest of dishes can be. Whether you’re short on time or money or both, it is possible to bring good, real food to your table occasionally and possibly even often. I actually think Alice Waters (of the above piece) would sign on to this too. . . . it’s just that she has access to ingredients and means many of us only dream of. . .
In any case, the recipe I want to talk about today is kind of a happy-medium between “Alice Waters simple” and “really simple”. It’s a Swiss chard tart I’ve been making for a while now and it’s both refined and rustic, quick as tarts go, but still a bit more work than a fast soup or pasta. It calls for lemon zest and nutmeg (the fancy ingredients) but if you have neither on hand, it’s dandy without too. It, like this recipe and this one, showcases one of the must abundant, prolific, and tasty vegetables in our region. And ironically, the tart dough recipe comes from David Lebovitz, who was the pastry chef at Alice Waters’ restaurant Chez Panisse for many years. I love savory tarts and have been making them more since the discovery of this tart dough that does not require blind baking (baking just the crust first, filled with dry beans or pie weights) and is incredibly easy to handle thanks to the egg in the dough. I’ve also written about this Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart that uses the same crust. So if you’ve been put off by tarts and the finicky doughs that crumble and break, try this. It makes you look really accomplished and fancy and is delicious. And if you’re really short on time you could even skip the crust and just bake the custard and veggies in a cake pan or cast iron pan until slightly puffed and cooked through.
Swiss Chard Tart
Preheat the oven to 425ºF
1 recipe Tart Dough (recipe follows)
1 large bunch of chard, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk
Zest of 1 small lemon (optional)
3 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan (or Gruyère or just plain old cheddar if that’s what you have)
A few pinches of ground nutmeg (optional)
Heat the butter in a wide skillet; add the onion and cook it over medium heat until it is translucent and soft. Add the garlic, and the chard leaves by handfuls, if necessary, until they all fit. Sprinkle in a large pinch of salt. Turn the leaves over repeatedly so that they are all exposed to the heat of the pan, and cook until they are tender, 5 minutes or more.
Make the custard. Beat the eggs; then stir in the milk, lemon peel (if using), grated Parmesan, and a few scrapings of nutmeg. Stir in the chard and onion mixture. Taste and season with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Pour the filling into the prepared tart shell and bake until the top is golden and firm, about 40 minutes.
–Adapted from David Lebovitz
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or ¾ cup apf and ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour)
4 1/2 ounces, about 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water
Make the dough by mixing the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and use your hands, or a pastry blender, to break in the butter until the mixture has a crumbly, cornmeal-like texture.
Mix the egg with 2 tablespoons of the water. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten egg mixture, stirring the mixture until the dough holds together. If it’s not coming together easily, add the additional tablespoon of ice water.
Gather the dough into a ball and roll the dough on a lightly floured surface, adding additional flour only as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
Once the dough is large enough so that it will cover the bottom of a 10-inch tart pan and go up the sides, roll the dough around the rolling-pin then unroll it over the tart pan. “Dock” the bottom of the pastry firmly with your fingertips a few times, pressing in to make indentations. (I occasionally forget to do this with no ill effect so don’t sweat it if you forget.) If you don’t have a tart pan you can use a 9 or 10-inch pie pan too. The recipe for the dough is pretty generous so will fit a pie pan too.
Happy Cooking and Eating!