Monday, May 5, 2014

Leek & Goat Cheese Tart

Every year, sometime during March or April, I teach a class called "Everyday French".  It includes five classic—or classically-inspired—French recipes.  Three of them have appeared on my blog—Gâteau au Yaourt, Salmon with Asparagus, Peas & Herbs and an unusual Asparagus and Gruyère Tart.  The tart is really just a quiche, which makes it a nice fit for the class.  It is unusual in that it is baked in a pizza pan.  Baking it in this shape allows the asparagus to be arranged like the spokes of a wheel, creating a dramatic presentation. 

I mention all this because this class and this tart mean that every year—at least once—I will have a flat, pizza-shaped short crust pastry hanging out in my freezer (I always bring home the shell I roll out in class) just waiting for me to come up with a filling that works well with, or is shown off to advantage by, that particular style of shell.  I will probably always share it here.  Today's post is that post.

The asparagus well as an eggplant tart I posted a couple of years ago...are great examples of how this crust can be used to create a tart that is visually beautiful.  But this isn't the only use for this kind of pastry shell.  It also happens to be a perfect vehicle for fillings that are very thick.  Since the edge of this crust is quite low, care must be taken with more liquid fillings to keep them from overflowing.  With a thick filling, there are no such worries.  The filling of the spinach and artichoke tart I posted a few years ago is a good example of this kind of filling.  

This year it occurred to me that the filling of the traditional Flamiche aux Poireaux (a leek tart from the Picardy region of France) is also ideally suited to this crust.   To make the filling, a large quantity of leeks are cooked down in a generous amount of butter until they are soft and glazed.  They are then folded into a small amount of egg custard (just enough to bind)—along with cheese and, if you like, a cured meat like bacon, pancetta or ham.  The custard transforms the cooked leeks into a substance that is rich, thick and creamy.  Perfect for my crust.

Notice how the filling is thick enough that it "stands up"
 in the crust...even before baking.

I love leeks and I love this tart.  As I am posting it today, it is very, very good—much more than the sum of its parts—but the tart also takes well to any number of variations.  My favorite "classic" version can be found in Patricia Wells' book Bistro Cooking.  To the leeks and custard she adds Gruyère and ham and then bakes the tart in a standard removable bottom tart pan.  It too is delicious.  My version is largely drawn from one in Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook.  Waters bakes hers in a puff pastry crust—which I'm actually not crazy about (no matter how long you cook puff pastry, it always seems to have a thin, gummy layer in the middle).  For the filling she swaps out the traditional Gruyère with goat cheese (fabulous with leeks) and replaces the ham with pancetta.  The tart is excellent with the pancetta, but I find that I like it equally well without.  Sometimes I include it...sometimes not.  The most inspired addition to Waters' version is a topping of buttered breadcrumbs.  They add a delicious light, barely discernible crunch that provides great contrast to the creamy filling. 

The baked tart...with its gold-tinged breadcrumb topping.

If it happens that you are not a fan of Gruyère or goat cheese, you might enjoy Thomas Keller's version from his book Bouchon—he uses Roquefort...which is also wonderful with leeks—and no meat at all.

Obviously the most important part of this tart is the leeks...they should be abundant (don't skimp!) and cooked to melting tenderness.  Whatever your additions, if you love leeks, I predict you will love this tart.  If you have never tried leeks, you should give them a try...this tart would be a great place to matter what style of crust you choose.    

  Leek & Goat Cheese Tart

3 lbs. leeks, white and pale green portions only, halved and thinly sliced cross-wise (you should have a 6 to 8 cups of sliced leeks) and well rinsed in several changes of water

4 to 6 T. unsalted butter (see notes)

salt & freshly ground pepper
4 oz. pancetta (optional—see notes)
1 egg
2 t. Dijon mustard
1/2 c. heavy cream
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 12-inch flat tart shell, blind baked (see recipe below...and see notes)
1/3 to 1/2 c. fresh breadcrumbs tossed with 3 to 4 t. melted butter

In a large, wide, straight-sided sauté pan melt the butter over moderate heat.  Add the leeks along with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper and toss to coat in the melted butter.  Cook until the leeks begin to sizzle and steam in the pan.  Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight fitting lid, and cook until the leeks have collapsed and are very tender—this will take 30 minutes to an hour.  If there is any liquid remaining in the pan when the leeks are tender, increase the heat and cook uncovered until the liquid has evaporated.  The total volume of leeks will have shrunk by half to two-thirds.  Taste and correct the seasoning (be careful with the salt—bacon and cheese are salty) and set aside to cool.

While the leeks cook, render the pancetta.  Film a medium-sized sauté pan with water and add the pancetta.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated and the pancetta is crisp, lightly golden and sizzling in the rendered fat.  Transfer to paper towels and set aside.

Place the egg in a large bowl.  Whisk in the Dijon, a pinch of salt and several grindings of pepper.  Whisk in the cream.  Fold in the leeks, the pancetta and half to three-quarters of the goat cheese.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Spread evenly over the blind baked shell.  Crumble the remaining goat cheese over the top and follow with a scattering of the buttered bread crumbs, if you like.  Bake in a 375° oven until set and slightly puffed (a metal skewer or knife tip will come out clean)—about 25 minutes.  If the breadcrumbs/cheese aren't tinged golden brown, run under the broiler for a moment or two.  Serves 6 as an entrée or 8 to 12 as a first course with a small salad.

The original recipe calls for 6 T. of butter...this is how I make the tart...but if you feel you must, you may reduce the butter to 4 T.
The pancetta is part of Waters' original recipe, but it is optional.  I have also successfully made this tart with American bacon.  Use four ounces and slice the strips thinly cross-wise.  Cook until crisp and drain on paper towels.  You may also add 3 1/2 oz. of ham (American-style, or an air-cured European-style like Parma or Bayonne or Serrano).  Slice the ham thin and cut into a julienne or a small dice.     
If you like, you may replace the goat cheese with an equal weight of coarsely grated Gruyère.
This tart may also be baked in a standard, 10- to 10 1/2-inch removable bottom tart pan for a more traditional/classic presentation.  Use the quantities in the note at the bottom or the recipe.
The tart may be topped with the buttered breadcrumbs, an ounce of finely grated Parmesan, or left bare.

(Recipe adapted from Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook by Alice Waters)

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 15 to 20 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 5 to 10 minutes).

Note:  For pâte brisée for a standard 9- to 10-inch quiche, use 1 1/3 c. flour, 8 T. butter, a scant half teaspoon salt and 3 to 4 T. ice water.

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