I had wanted to write my next post on how to make pâte brisée, but I was not able to get enough good pictures of the process to make it very instructive. So I will save that for another time and instead share the recipe for the tart that I made with last night's dough.
Even if I hadn't brought some dough home from my class, I would have been able to make this tart for dinner tonight—I always keep pâte brisée on hand in my freezer. It's a good habit to get into. Pâte brisée freezes without any loss of quality and it thaws quickly—sitting out on the counter for a couple of hours or overnight in the refrigerator. If you keep it on hand it gives you a fantastic "blank canvas" upon which you can improvise dinner using your farmers' market finds.
This particular tart is a "free-form" tart (no tart pan required—just a cookie sheet)—also known as a galette or a crostata. To prepare a 10- to 11-inch tart you will need a batch of all-butter pie dough (pâte brisée) that weighs about 400 grams (14 oz.). Roll the dough out into a 15- to 16-inch round and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator while you prepare your filling.
You can fill your tart with any number of seasonal ingredients as long as they are pre-cooked. Because of the way the tart will be formed, you don't have the luxury of being able to pre-bake the crust. Pre-baking (or "blind baking") a crust is an almost foolproof method for obtaining a crisp bottom crust. Since you can't blind bake the crust for a free form tart, you need to make sure that the ingredients that you fill the tart with are not watery and will not produce more water while the tart is baking. Since vegetables (and fruits) release water as they cook, any vegetable or fruit that you put in the tart must be cooked first.
Underneath the main vegetable I like to have a creamy base of some kind. Most often I use a soft creamy cheese (herbed goat cheese, for example), but you could also create a soft bed with wilted leeks or onions cooked until they are almost a purée. This base provides yet another barrier to any liquid coming off of the vegetables that might make the crust soggy and it also provides a kind of "glue" to hold the vegetables in place.
Once you have decided on your base and your main vegetable, you can add herbs, olives, capers, additional cheeses, etc. As you are building your tart, keep in mind that a free from tart will be relatively flat. Don't pile up the filling too much. The tart should only be about an inch high prior to baking.
Finally, to make sure that the tart will have a nice crisp bottom crust, I bake the tart with the pan set directly onto a preheated baking stone. If you don't have a baking stone, place the pan with your tart on the lowest rack in your oven.
The tart I made tonight takes a large part if it's inspiration from a fabulous Swiss Chard tart in Suzanne Goin's book Sunday Suppers at Lucques. One of the big differences between my tart and hers is the creamy ricotta base underneath the vegetables. Her tart uses a combination of crème fraiche and whole milk ricotta, bound with an egg yolk. The final texture of this is not as creamy as I would like—due, I think, to the presence of the egg yolk that is subjected to the high heat required to set the crust. Instead I make a creamy base that is similar to one I saw André Soltner make many years ago as a base for Tarte Flambée (a traditional bacon and onion pizza from Alsace) . His base of ricotta and puréed cottage cheese is bound with a little flour and oil which results in a final texture after baking that is thick and creamy.
I was very happy with the way the tart turned out. I hope you will give it (or one of your own design) a try.
Spinach, Spring Onion & Goat Cheese Tart
1 recipe Pâte Brisée (see below)
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1 bunch spring onions (white and a few inches of the green), thinly sliced
1 T. picked thyme, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
9 to 10 oz. stemmed spinach, washed (Cook the spinach in the water clinging to the leaves in a covered pot. When the leaves have wilted, remove from the heat and cool. Squeeze out the excess liquid and roughly chop.)
2/3 c. Whole milk ricotta cheese
1/3 c. cottage cheese
1 T. olive oil
2 t. flour
Salt, Pepper & nutmeg
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
To roll out the dough, let it warm up for a moment or two at room temperature. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle that is about 1/8-inch thick and is about 15 to 16 inches across. Brush off the excess flour. Trim any ragged or uneven edges if you like. Transfer the dough to a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the spring onions, thyme, and garlic along with a pinch of salt. Cook gently until the onions are tender and translucent. Remove from the heat and add the chopped spinach, tossing to coat. Taste & correct the seasoning with salt & pepper. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
Place the ricotta and cottage cheese in the food processor and process until it is smooth. Add the oil & flour and process to combine. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.
Spread the cheese mixture in a circle in the center of the chilled pâte brisée, leaving a 2-inch border of dough. Toss the goat cheese with the spinach mixture and scatter this over the ricotta mixture . Pull up the edges of the crust and gently flip them over the filling to form a wide, rustic edge. Pleat the dough as necessary, pressing lightly into place.
Bake the tart in a 400° oven on the lowest rack (or in the middle with the sheet pan sitting directly on a preheated baking stone). Bake until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is crisp and golden brown—about 35 minutes. Slide the tart (with the parchment) onto a rack and let rest for 5 minutes (or cool until just tepid) before serving.
Tart serves 4 as an entrée, or 8 as an appetizer with a small salad.
Pâte Brisée (Short Crust Pastry)
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (200g)
1/2 t. salt
10 1/2 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (150g)
1/4 to 1/3 c. ice water
Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 3 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture. Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary. Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound. Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps. Continue until all of the dough is flat. Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do. Form the finished dough into a thick disk. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
Here's a close up view of a slice to show the nice crisp crust (even in the center) when the tart is built and baked properly: