Friday, June 13, 2014

Zucchini, Ricotta & Gruyère Tartlets

Summer....  it's almost here....  the season of picnics, pot lucks and casual parties of all kinds.  I love it.  I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for ideas for food appropriate for these kinds of gatherings.  Food that features the products of the season and at the same time is uncomplicated, flavorful and easy to eat.  If in addition to all these things it is packable and portable, it is perfect summer party food. 

Today's zucchini tart meets all these criteria.  Beautifully.  Since it is loaded with the zucchini that will be flooding the markets in the next few weeks, it is perfect summer fare.  But if you don't care for summer squash, the simple base of flaky pastry and creamy, garlic spiked ricotta would also make a wonderful showcase for some of the other abundant foods of summer...Japanese eggplant (sliced and roasted or grilled)....or vine-ripened tomatoes (roasted in the oven to concentrate their flavor and rid them of some of their abundant juices).   For more variety you can change the nuts, herbs and finishing cheese to suit your whim and your vegetable of choice.     

As for the stipulation that it be uncomplicated, if you can make a pastry crust, this tart is super easy to make. If making pastry is your personal nemesis, you can use purchased puff pastry instead.  I prefer it with a homemade crust—it bakes up a bit crisper—but commercial puff pastry is an acceptable substitute.  Just make sure you buy something made with all butter. 

To build the tart, simply roll out your crust, top it with a judicious smear of the ricotta mixture,

follow this with a thin layer of your cooked vegetable, give it a final scattering of a flavorful cheese (I've used finely grated Gruyère, but Parmesan or crumbled goat cheese would also be nice) 

and bake.  To serve, simply cut into finger food-sized squares. 

Because this tart is thin and flat, it is wonderfully packable and portable too.  It is small enough to fit in a medium-sized Tupperware-style container in its uncut form...and sturdy enough to be stacked (with parchment or waxed paper in between the layers)—just make sure the tarts are cool before you pack them.  The tart can also be cut into portions before being packed.  And since it is just as delicious at room temperature as it is when it is hot, it really is great take-along fare for a picnic...pot luck...or even a road trip.

Finally, if your plans don't involve a trip in the car, this little tart is elegant enough for your next dinner party.  Hot from the oven and cut into small portions it makes a fine passed appetizer. Cut into larger portions and paired with a salad, it becomes a nice first course.  And if you have no party plans at all, it's still a pretty great little tart to make....for lunch....or even a light dinner.   

What more can you ask?  Happy summer.

Zucchini & Gruyère Tartlets

1 recipe pâte brisée (below) or 200 grams (7 oz.) thawed, all-butter puff pastry
1 lb. small zucchini (about 4 oz. each) cut on a short diagonal 1/4-inch thick
1 T. olive oil
Salt & Pepper, to taste
125 g. (1/2 cup) whole milk ricotta
1 oz. (1/3 c.) finely grated Pecorino Romano
1 t. minced fresh thyme
1 small clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten with a teaspoon of water
2 T. walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 oz. (1/4 c.) finely grated Gruyère

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out into a thin (1/8 – to 3/16-inch thick) rectangle that measures at least 10- by 9-inches.  Chill 30 minutes while you prepare the zucchini. 

Place the zucchini slices in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat.  Spread the zucchini in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast in a hot oven (425°) until tender—about 20 to 25 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375°. 

Take the pastry out of the refrigerator and trim to a 10- by 9-inch rectangle.  Cut in half into two 5- by 9-inch rectangles, prick each all over with a fork and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash and chill while you prepare the cheese base. 

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Pecorino, thyme and garlic in a small bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Spread half of the ricotta mixture in a thin layer over each of the rectangles of pastry, leaving a quarter inch wide border of dough visible.  Scatter the walnuts over the ricotta, dividing equally between the two tarts.  Arrange the roasted zucchini slices in overlapping rows on top of the cheese.  Scatter the Gruyère over all.   (Tarts may be made a few hours ahead to this point.  Cover loosely and chill.)

Place the pan on the lowest rack in the preheated 375° oven.  Bake until the tarts are golden brown, well colored on the bottom and cooked through—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Transfer the finished tarts to a wire rack so they will remain crisp as they cool.  To serve as an appetizer, cut each rectangle into 8 (or more) small squares.  Makes 16 (or more) tartlets.

  • If using puff pastry, you may have better luck obtaining a fully cooked, crisp crust if you slide the tarts off of the baking sheet and directly onto the oven racks for their last few moments in the oven.
  • If you like, add the zest of half of a lemon to the ricotta mixture.

1 c. all-purpose flour (4 oz.)
1/4 t. salt
6 T. cold unsalted butter, sliced 1/4-inch thick (3 oz.)
2 to 3 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture has the look of cornmeal and peas. Drizzle 2 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 rectangle.  Wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.


Heather said...

Made this after our Picnic in Paris class. Amazing. Thanks!

Paige said...

Thank you for letting me know! I love hearing back from people that they have made something from class (or off of the blog) and that it turned out well.

ProfMicken said...

I've been eyeing this ever since you posted it, especially since we have some wonderful local ricotta that is tasty, creamy with a lower moisture content than that from the big brands. Now that our zucchini - finally - are starting to come in, it's time to make it.

In thinking about making this for a light dinner, would this be good on a thin pizza crust -- or does it really need the short pate brisee? (I also just re-read the post on your favorite summer pizza and that got me to wondering about this approach as a variation on that pizza.)

Thanks in advance for the advice.

Paige said...

Hi Kathy,

Did you see the Brussels Sprouts, Ricotta and Prosciutto pizza I did a couple of years ago? The ricotta definitely works as a pizza "sauce". I don't think the tightly shingled rows of zucchini would work great on a pizza though...I think the orderly effect would be lost...but I could be wrong.

The flavors of this tart would work great on a pizza. So, maybe smear the ricotta over the pizza crust (leave the pecorino out--it makes the ricotta tight and it would be difficult to spread on the yeast crust...but you need the salty-tangy flavor, so scatter it over the ricotta after spreading it) and then build the pizza with the remaining ingredients...just arranging the squash in a less solid, uniform way.

I hope this helps!

ProfMicken said...

Thank you! We'll do it!

Ethnic Food said...

Excellent post. Thanks for sharing