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#1034 - Savory Tarts and Pies for Spring
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At this time of the year, as we ease into warmer weather, our instincts lead us to eating lighter foods. High on the list of lighter fare are savory tarts, crisp flaky pastries filled with all sorts of good things. These are great for breakfast, lunch or as an appetizer, and they are tasty without being too filling.
You have a lot of options with tarts. You can make a full sized tart and cut it into modest slices, or you can make smaller individual tartlets, or tiny little tart cups filled with the featured ingredients.
The basic tart dough is Pate brisee, which is very easy to make, keeps well and is perfect for holding tart fillings. It is a short dough, meaning it has a high ratio of fat to flour. Fat, being butter in this case. Flour, butter, salt, a touch of sugar, and ice water. KEEP THE INGREDIENTS COLD! Puff pastry is also used, and fortunately you can buy it pre-made.
Tart pans come in two basic models: some are one piece, others have bottoms that lift out - very convenient. There are also many variations in size for individual tarts,including a shallow muffin tin. But they all have one common characteristic: usually the sides are shorter than a traditional American pie pan.
One of the important techniques in working with pate brisee is "blind baking". This is a technique which pre-cooks the tart shell so that it will stand up to liquid fillings. Because the dough will rise, you need to weigh it down. Tinfoil and "pie weights" are standard, but you can improvise with a mess of dried beans, a weighted down pie tin, or anything that will hold the bottom of the tart down.
One of the savory classics is the Alsatian onion tart. The ones that are baked right on the street in Alsace are flat, and recall quiche lorraine. The onion tart involves a flat sheet of puff pastry, rolled out on wax paper. Thinly sliced onions are gently simmered in chicken broth, then mixed with a custard mixture of heavy cream and eggs. You spoon this mixture onto the pastry, right up to the edge, and then garnish with crumbled bacon and shredded gruyere cheese. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, in the bottom half of the oven.
Full-depth savory pies are also fun to make. Most involve creating an egg-based custard to blend in with the other ingredients. Popular fillings include: ham and spinach; mushrooms, onions and cream; variations on chicken pot pie; peppers, cheese and sausage; and vegetarian pies made with onions, leeks, fennel and early potatoes.
Our friend Chef Michael Salmon from Maine's Heartstone Inn has this recipe for for a Stilton cheese and shrimp tartlet with pine nuts and pears.
Stilton Cheese and Shrimp Tartlet
with Toasted Pine Nuts and Bosc Pears
2 sheets pre-made puff pastry
vegetable oil 1 tbs butter
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (16-20 count)
4 oz. cream cheese
5 oz. Stilton cheese
2 egg yolks
2 tsps chopped parsley
3/4 cup heavy cream
kosher salt and white pepper to taste
1 batch chive infused beurre blanc
1 ripe bosc pear (or any other that you might prefer)
2 tbs roasted pine nuts
1. You will be working with 4 inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms. Roll out the puff pastry until it is about 1/8" thick. Cut 6 circular 5 1/2" pieces. Spray the pans with shortening, and evenly place the dough covering the bottoms and sides.
2. Cut 6 6" rounds of wax paper. Place one in each of the tartlet pans, and weigh down. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.
3. Cook the shrimp in the butter, one minute per side. Remove from heat and cool.
4. Mix the cream cheese and the Stilton in a bowl. Add the egg yolks, a bit of the parsley, the heavy cream and mix well. Season with salt and white pepper.
5. Divide the cheese mixture among the tarts, and place two shrimp on each. Put the tartlets on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for about 50 minutes.
6. Core the pear and cut into 18 thin slices. Place the tart in the center of the plate, and fan three pear slices beside it. Drop two tablespoons of the beure blanc on the plate, and sprinkle pine nuts and parsley.