I grew up on Long Island, where winters are cold, spring is rainy and blustery rainy and summers are....well, sometimes they're kind of gloomy with clouds and rain and sometimes they're sunny and warm and humid. That's the weather that got programmed into my system. But so much of what was programmed back then seems out of date these days.
Sometimes I actually like those changes - like being able to dress more casually to go to work, or wearing flip-flops just about anywhere. And certainly the availability of fresh vegetables at any time of the year is over-the-top fantastic. I'll never forget the first time I saw a large, expansive grocery store. (The ones on Long Island where I lived, as well as the ones in Manhattan were small, as they were in old buildings.) It was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in this brightly lit emporium of food, there were large pyramids of peppers - one red pyramid, one yellow one, and one green one. Even if you didn't like peppers, you'd be drawn to them for the color alone.
Fortunately, I love peppers. And spinach. And just about anything else I find in the produce aisle. I didn't need to hear some health guru telling me that five servings a day was good for me. I think in a previous life I might have been a rabbit. I don't know. I just know that to me, a meal isn't a meal without veggies. But sometimes, fixing a standard meal - with a protein and veggies and some kind of starch just seems like too much work. I always bring my lunch to work, so it isn't a question of not being able to eat all of it. It's just that I've really grown to appreciate one-dish meals. So I go through phases. I was on a fritatta kick for a while. (Not so good the next day for lunch.) Then risotto took over. (Works better as left overs.) And now it's savory tarts. Oh my, do they ever make life easy for me! Cut off a slice, throw into micro, eat. Does it get any easier than that? And there's something so satisfying about biting into that buttery crust when it's raining outside. The weather people claimed it was going to rain again this week. How better to be prepared than have a tart at the ready?
I've said before that I'm not a baker and that my recent forays into baking seem like an aberration to me. In the past, if I were going to make a savory tart, I would have bought some frozen phyllo dough and used it to make the crust. But whoever this baker spirit is that I've been channeling these days has decided that it was time I got over my F.O.D. - Fear of Dough. Flour, water, salt and shortening. How hard could it be?
That's when I got out 2 cookbooks and decided to combine ideas to come up with a perfect tart. I used the Union Square Cafe Cookbook by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano for the dough, and Trattoria Cooking by Biba Caggiano for the filling. With variations, of course. What I wound up with was a heavenly tart crust - light, flaky, and slightly addictive, and a filling which is satisfying as is, and open to infinite variations, depending upon what you've got in the fridge.
For the dough:
2 C All purpose flour
1 tsp Kosher salt
12 TBS (1 1/2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into pieces
5 TBS ice water
Combine the flour and a half tsp of salt in a bowl. Add the chilled butter, and using your fingertips or 2 knives, blend until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Work in the ice water until the dough holds together. Form the dough into a smooth, flat disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Lightly flour a clean work surface and roll the dough into a 16 inch disk. Place the rolled out dough into a 10X2 1/2" deep cake pan or springform mold. Pressing with your fingertips, flute the top edges of the dough. Place in the freezer and chill thoroughly, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Line the tart shell with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans or pastry weights. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the dough is set. Remove the foil and beans and cook an additional 10 minutes, or until the dough is light brown.
While the dough is in the freezer, you can make the filling:
1 pound whole milk ricotta
2 pounds of fresh spinach, or one 10 ounce package of frozen spinach
3 TBS olive oil
4 ounces sliced pancetta, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 C grated parmigiano
salt to taste
If you're using fresh spinach, discard any stems and any bruised leaves. Wash the spinach thoroughly under cold water. Put the spinach in a large saucepan with 1 cup cold water and a pinch of salt. Cook until the spinach is tender, 7-8 minutes. If you're using frozen spinach, cook according to the package directions. In either case, drain well and squeeze out any water with your hands. Chop the spinach quite fine.
Heat the oil in a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring until it begins to color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, stir once or twice and set aside.
Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl with the parmigiano and salt. Add the ricotta and spinach, and mix everything until thoroughly combined.
Beat the egg whites in a medium sized bowl with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, then fold into the spinach-ricotta mixture.
Fill the prepared dough with the spinach-ricotta mixture, smoothing with a spatula. Reduce oven heat to 375 and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature before cutting and serving.
Kitchen Notes: I didn't have a 2 1/2" deep tart pan and I didn't want to use a cake pan or a pie pan, so I used what I had. This meant that I used a small container of ricotta, not the full pound. I also used the low fat variety, and it produced a firm filling - not watery at all. As you can tell from the photos, I had something red to throw in as well - in this case some red peppers, which I roasted first, then cut into strips, and cut those strips in thirds.
The other thing I learned somewhere (can't remember where), is that it's wise to cover the edges of the tart when putting it in for the final baking with the filling. Since the crust is basically baked, if you don't cover the edges you'll wind up burning them. I used aluminum foil, as I had curved pieces left over from cutting out those circles to fit into the bottom of the pan. Kind of a pain in the ass, as they want to fly off as you're putting it in the oven, but truly necessary. Someday, if it ever actually rains, maybe I'll get the hang of it.
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8 years ago