Friday, April 10, 2015

French Potato Tart…with Ham & Cheese



Shortly after I posted my winter vegetable crostata I ran across a link on my Facebook feed to a list of savory tarts that had been published in the New York TimesThe picture attached to the link was of a double crusted potato tart by David Tanis.  His tart is almost identical to one in Susan Loomis’s French Farmhouse Cookbook.  I had forgotten about this unusual tart…I haven’t made it in years…but after seeing it, it seemed to take up residence in the front of my brain.  Later, as I considered the remains of my Easter ham, it seemed obvious to me that this tart would be a great place to tuck a few slices of that leftover ham…along with a bit of  Gruyère cheese….


The main difference between Tanis’s version of this tart and Loomis’s is the type of potato and the amount of heavy cream   Loomis specifies waxy potatoes, while Tanis uses Yukons—which to me are starchy.  His version also uses four times as much heavy cream.  I suspect you can use as much—or as little—heavy cream as you like, but that you will get better results with less cream if you choose a waxy potato …and more cream if you use a starchy potato.  When I made mine, I had Russet potatoes on hand (which are starchy) and used twice as much cream as Loomis (and half as much as Tanis).  I was perfectly satisfied with the way mine turned out.  I mention all of this mostly to illustrate the flexibility of this tart. 

Because the tart is essentially nothing more than potatoes and pastry crust, it is important to season it well.  It should contain a generous quantity of garlic—2 nice fat cloves for 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of potatoes…and 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme.  Without enough salt, your tart will be bland, so when you toss the potatoes with the garlic, thyme and cream, taste carefully for salt—remembering that if you are adding ham and cheese (as I did) that you will need a little less. 


This tart makes a fine dinner…or lunch…accompanied by a salad or side vegetable of some kind.  We enjoyed ours with a shredded Brussels Sprouts salad (Buvette‘s is particularly good…I like to add a squeeze of lemon to this one), but it would also be very nice with a kale or a spinach salad…or a small fluff of baby lettuces.  Blanched green beans or asparagus—tossed with some herbs or a few toasted nuts—would be delicious on the side…as would a big pile of honey glazed carrots.

I admit that advocating the serving of a cream-laced pastry and potato concoction as the main event of your meal may seem a bit audacious in our current culture of—take your pick—gluten-, carb- or fat-avoidance….but I choose not to see it that way at all.  Rather, I think of this tart as a special and delicious treat in the midst of a sensible—“all things in moderation”—approach to eating.  Enjoy!



French Potato Tart with Ham & Cheese

1 recipe pâte brisée (see below), rolled for a double crust tart, bottom shell partially baked
1 1/2 lbs. potatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 T. picked fresh thyme, chopped
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1/2 c. heavy cream (or crème fraiche)—You may use as little as 1/4 cup for waxier potatoes and as much as a cup for more starchy potatoes.  A half cup is a happy medium, working well for either kind.
5 to 6 oz. ham, trimmed of excess fat and cut into a small dice
4 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated
1 T. unsalted butter, cut into four pieces (optional)

1 egg yolk
1 T. heavy cream


Peel the potatoes.  Using a mandolin, slice the potatoes as thinly as possible. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and add the garlic and thyme.  Season well with salt and pepper and pour in the cream.  Use your hands to mix, making sure all the potato slices are coated and that the seasoning is evenly distributed. Taste the potatoes and cream and correct the seasoning. 


Place the partially baked tart shell on a baking sheet.  Arrange the potatoes in two or three even layers, scattering the ham and cheese in between each successive layer.  Pour any cream remaining in the bowl over the potatoes in the crust, scraping well with a rubber spatula. 




Whisk the yolk and 1 tablespoon of cream together.  Carefully paint the rim of the bottom crust with the egg wash.  Using a 1/2- to 3/4-inch plain or fluted cutter, cut a hole in the center of the top crust.  Place the top crust over the potatoes, being careful not to stretch it, but allowing it to drape naturally over the surface of the potatoes.  Press gently along the edges to seal and to cut the top crust off flush with the edge of the tart pan.   Paint the top crust evenly with the egg wash.


Place the baking sheet with the tart on the middle rack in a preheated 375° oven. Bake the tart until the potatoes are tender and the crust is a beautiful golden brown.  Depending on the potatoes you use, this will take anywhere from 50 to 70 minutes.  Start checking the potatoes after about 40 minutes.  If you like, about 10 minutes before the tart is done baking, insert the four pieces of butter into the center of the tart through the hole cut earlier….the butter will melt and baste the potatoes in the center of the tart as the tart finishes baking.

When the tart is done, remove it from the oven and place on a sturdy bowl so that the rim can be lowered away from the tart.  Slide the tart off of the bottom portion of the tart pan and onto a wire rack.  Allow the tart to cool for five minutes before serving.  (Often the crust will release butter while the tart is baking, by removing the tart from the pan right away you are insuring that the crust will not become greasy or soggy by reabsorbing this butter.)

Transfer the tart to a cutting board or platter and serve warm or at room temperature.  Tart serves 6 to 8. 






Pâte Brisée
 (Savory Tart Dough)

2 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (265g)
5/8 t. salt
14 T. cold unsalted butter, sliced into 1/4-inch thick pieces (200g)
5 to 7 T. ice water (up to 100g)

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 5 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture.  Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary.  If, when you squeeze some of the mixture it holds together, the dough is finished.  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.  Divide the dough into two pieces—one (for the bottom crust) should be slightly larger than the other.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, pressing into a thick disk.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out, let the discs of dough warm up for a moment or two.  Butter a 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan and set it aside.  Flour the work surface and the rolling pin.  Begin rolling from the center of the dough outward.  After each stroke, rotate the dough a quarter turn—always making sure that there is sufficient flour to keep the dough from sticking.  Keep rolling and turning until you have a round of dough that is about 1/8 to 1/6 –inch in thickness and is about 11 1/2- to 12-inches in diameter.  Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half.  Slide the outspread fingers of both hands under the dough and gently lift it and transfer it to the prepared tart pan.  Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it.  Cut the dough off flush with the edge of the pan by pressing gently against the edge.  Chill the shell for at least 1/2 hour.

In a similar manner, roll out the second disc into a round that is at least 10 1/2-inches in diameter.  Transfer to a baking sheet and chill. 

To partially bake the bottom crust, line the chilled pastry with aluminum foil (dull side up), gently pressing it into the corners and edges.  Add a layer of pie weights or dried beans.  Bake in a 425° oven for 15 minutes, or until the pastry begins to color on the edges, remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry dries out and turns a light golden color—another 2 or 3 minutes.  Let cool before filling.


Notes:  If you have never made a basic pâte brisée, you might want to check out this detailed post on how to make short crust pastry.   Similarly, you will find a few pointers on partially baking a pie shell in my post about quiche basics.

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