No, I don’t consider myself a foodie. Seriously, I don’t. Sure I like to eat, but come on, that’s just human nature. The species wouldn’t have survived very long if we were anti-eating. I like to eat good, high quality food, but I’m not going to freak if the texture or flavor of something I make doesn’t measure up to an ideal standard in my head. And I like to cook (well, on my good days), but I think I have too utilitarian of an approach to food preparation to be a foodie. Most of my cooking adventures are born out of the desire to make something that will taste good and be nourishing, without having to make an extra trip to the grocery store. And, If I see a recipe that looks inspiring, my first step is usually to figure out how I can do it with fewer steps, less complicated techniques, and fewer dirty bowls.
That said, now and then we all want to be a little bit impressive, whether it’s cooking for a date, a special party, or as was my case yesterday, for a potluck for a bunch of friends who actually are foodies. For these occasions, I have discovered that the best ways of being impressive are: making something actually complicated and unbelievable – probably involving phyllo dough, bringing a really nice big salad because that’s really hard to screw up, or making something that is visually impressive but is quite easy to make like a trifle (ie. layers of whipped cream, cake chunks, and berries) or a rustic tart.
A rustic tart – which can also be called a galette, except then I think you might have to work harder at making the edges look nice – is basically an open topped free-form pie crust that you can fill with anything you might put on a pizza, things even more adventurous or diverse than you would put on a pizza, or sweetened and spiced fruit like you would put in a normal pie or tart. It’s my current foolproof contribution to dinner parties. I brought one with sauteed leeks, mushrooms, tomatoes and boursin cheese to my work party. I made one with huckleberries and apricots to impress the boyfriend’s parents. I brought one with apples and a caramel sauce for Thanksgiving… They’ve disappeared in the blink of an eye every time!
For a savory tart, I just make dough for a single pie crust, and while the dough is chilling, I sautee an onion and an assortment of other veggies I dig out from the fridge (good choices are bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, spinach or other greens, artichokes, tomatoes – leave these fresh. I roll out the dough (covering it with a sheet of wax paper) into a circle directly on a cookie sheet, and then use a spatula or knife to slip under the outside inch of the crust to loosen it from the cookie sheet. I spread my sauteed veggies out onto the crust, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch between the veggies and the edge, and then I sprinkle it generously with whatever cheese I have on hand, fold the edges of the dough up to cover the outside of the filling, and bake for about 45 minutes. ( Like with a pizza, certain cheese and vegetable combinations tend to taste better than others – mozarella will go with most things as (surprisingly) will goat cheese, stronger cheeses go better with milder or sweeter vegetables. But, all things considered, it’s hard to screw up very royally).
I still have a lot of butternut squash around, so I decided to make a butternut squash tart with some leeks that I also needed to use up before they went droopy. The only cheese I had was goat cheese, which incidentally is exactly the cheese I think goes best with butternut, but I also definitely could have used blue cheese, fontina, or Gruyere if I’d had those around. Then, because I’d only used half of my squash for the savory tart, I realized I could use the other half for a dessert tart, which made me feel awfully clever. So, I mashed the rest of the squash with butter, maple syrup, and raisins (if I’d had any apples, I think I would have sliced those up, tossed them with a sprinkling of sugar and lemon juice arranged those on top), and made that into a second tart. Butternut bonanza! (For more on roasting butternut, click here)
Rustic Butternut Squash Tart with Goat Cheese (serves about 8 as an appetizer or side dish, 4 for a main course)
- Dough for 1, 9-inch butter pie crust, OR olive oil crust recipe that follows:
- olive oil crust: Measure 1 cup flour and 1tsp. salt into a mixing bowl. Measure 1/4 cup olive oil into a measuring cup, then fill to the 1/3 mark with cold water. Stir the oil and water with a fork to emulsify, then pour into the flour and stir until all the flour is moistened. Gather the dough and press into a ball. Flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for about 20 minutes.
- Filling: 1 medium butternut squash (only half goes into the tart)
- 2 leeks or 1 onion
- goat cheese
- olive oil, salt, and pepper
- thyme (optional)
- Roast the whole squash at 425 for about an hour, until soft and easily pierced with a fork.
- In the meantime, thinly slice the white and light green parts of the leek (remove the stringy bottom first) or your onion into thin rounds and sautee in a hefty splash of olive oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Then turn heat to low and allow to cook for another 5-10 minutes to begin to caramelize. When the squash is cooked, carefully (ie, don’t burn yourself!) cut it in half and remove the seeds. Scoop out the flesh and mix half of it (hopefully this will equal about 2 cups) with the leeks/onion and salt and pepper to taste.
- Roll out the chilled pie dough directly onto a cookie sheet into about a 12-13 inch circle, then run a thin spatula under the outer inch or two to loosen it from the sheet. Spread the squash mixture onto the crust, leaving 1/2-1 inch around the edge. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. thyme, if desired, and cover with hunks of goat cheese. Fold the edge of the crust up over the outside edge of the filling, scrunching it together in places to make it around the circle.
- Bake in the oven at 375F for about 45 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.