We had a delicious Spinach & Artichoke Tart for dinner this evening. Inspired by the flavors in spinach-artichoke dip and made up entirely of ingredients that I happened to have in my pantry, the tart gradually took shape in my mind as I went about my work today. It is unlikely that my pantry will ever again contain by chance this exact combination of ingredients, but we enjoyed the tart so much that I would purchase all of these ingredients again, just to make this tart.
I came up with the idea of a spinach tart for dinner in the first place because I still had a large bag of spinach from last week's farmers' market in my refrigerator. Since tomorrow is market day, I really wanted to use it up. And because I always have eggs and cheese on hand, it occurred to me that I could make something quiche-like.
The other reason I thought of a tart is that I knew I had a tart shell in my freezer that was left over from a class demonstration. I always tell people that keeping short crust pastry in the freezer is a great time saver, and tonight's dinner was proof of that. Short crust pastry can be frozen either as a disc of dough to be thawed and then rolled out. Or, if you have enough tart pans, it can be rolled out and frozen in the pan (either raw or baked). If I hadn't had this shell in the freezer, my dinner would more than likely have gone in the direction of a frittata (which would have been good too...).
The particular tart shell that I had on hand had been rolled out in a rather unusual shape. I have a favorite asparagus tart that I make in a pizza pan. The wide flat crust is a perfect vehicle for displaying asparagus arranged like the spokes of a wheel. I had been saving the shell to make that particular tart when the asparagus came into the market, but decided that since it was handy, I would use it today. I'm glad I did, because if I had had an ordinary shell, I would have stopped thinking about dinner once I had decided on spinach quiche and then just made an ordinary quiche.
But I continued to think about it because as I envisioned a wide flat tart of nothing but custard, spinach and cheese, I began to think that it seemed kind of plain and boring. I felt it needed something else to sort of break up the monotony of the surface. As I thought about possible additions, I remembered that I had a couple of artichokes tucked away in the refrigerator. I had purchased them because they were on sale for a dollar a piece and I just couldn't pass them up at that price. As soon as I thought of the artichokes, I began to think about spinach-artichoke dip.
I know that most people make spinach-artichoke dip with just Parmesan cheese, but the recipe that I use includes goat cheese. I don't always keep goat cheese in my pantry, but I happened to have some today because I love goat cheese with artichokes so I bought it when I made my spur of the moment artichoke purchase.
The final "find" in my refrigerator was a partially used container of crème fraiche—something I love but only have around when I have purchased it for a specific use. I had only needed a quarter cup for my original purpose, so I had three-fourths of a cup left over—with no intended use in sight. This seemed to me to be perfect for the amount of custard I needed to fill my flat tart shell. I imagine that heavy cream (which I almost always have in my refrigerator) would have been good too, but the crème fraiche was great because it provided the slight tang that is usually present (from sour cream) in spinach artichoke dip.
I guess I shared the way this tart came together today because for each of us, there are days when the cupboard is "bare" except for an odd, seemingly unrelated, assortment of ingredients. But of course the ingredients aren't really unrelated—they are in our pantry because we like them. So with some careful consideration...and an available blank canvas (pasta, eggs, short crust pastry, pizza dough, salad greens, etc.)...it is entirely possible to come up with something for dinner that is not only tasty, but memorable—something I would call a definite "keeper".
Spinach & Artichoke Tart
10 oz. stemmed spinach, washed
1 egg plus 1 yolk
3/4 c. crème fraiche
1 clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne
1/4 c. Parmesan or Pecorino (or a combination)—about 3/4 oz.
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
Salt & freshly ground Pepper
In a large covered pot, cook the spinach in the water clinging to the leaves. When the spinach has collapsed, remove from the heat and spread on a baking sheet to cool. Squeeze out the excess liquid and roughly chop. Set aside.
Lay the artichoke halves cut surface down on a cutting board and slice 1/4-inch thick. Cut any of the slices that are unusually large in half—the goal is uniformly-sized chunks of artichoke.
Place the egg and yolk in a medium-sized bowl and whisk to break up. Add the crème fraiche, garlic, cayenne, parmesan and salt & pepper to taste. Whisk until smooth. Stir in half of the goat cheese along with the spinach. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Spread the spinach mixture over the pre-baked crust, making sure that it stays within the raised rim of the crust. Scatter the artichoke pieces, followed by the remaining goat cheese crumbles, over the tart.
Bake the tart in a 400° oven until the custard is set—about 20 minutes. If you like, slide the tart briefly under the broiler until the surface of the tart is sizzling and beginning to brown. Place the tart on a rack and let rest for 5 minutes (or cool until just tepid) before serving.
Tart serves 4 to 6 as an entrée, or 8 to 12 as an appetizer with a small salad.
Pâte Brisée (Short Crust Pastry):
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (200g)
1/2 t. salt
11 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 1/4 c. 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.
To roll out, let dough warm up for a moment or two. Butter a 12- to 13-inch pizza pan and set it aside. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle that is about 1/8- to 1/6–inch thick and is about 15 inches across. Trim any ragged edges. Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half. Transfer it to the prepared pan. Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it. Fold the edges to form a ½-inch rim of a double thickness of dough. Chill for 30 minutes.
To blind bake, line the pastry with aluminum foil or parchment paper, pressing it into the corners and edges. Add a layer of pie weights or dried beans. Bake in a 400° oven for 10 to 18 minutes. When the pastry begins to color on the edges, remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry dries out and turns a golden brown (another 10 minutes or so).