I don’t know about you, but I still feel rather pocket sized these days. Powerless. To be perfectly honest, it’s a feeling I often struggle with anyway. So, events, disasters, scares, all tend to bring it out full force. The voices on the news joining with the voices of fear and worry in my mind, amplifying into a din. A Greek chorus composed of squawking, insane parrots, on speed. Sometimes the mind is really not a good place to be. This is another reason why I cook. It is my meditation. I’m a horribly unreliable meditator. Just as bad about yoga and qi gong. But, cooking is the time when my mind quiets as I concentrate on the weight of the knife handle in my hand or the steam from a pot wafting up to my face as I stir.
It’s why I sometimes prefer to cook things that have a lot of different pieces. Chopping, rolling, shaping, shaking, layering. Dishes that are antithetical to the usual weeknight cooking demand to just get something good on the table quickly, and instead are a true-blue labor of love. I find tarts quite good for this. I love the feeling of rubbing together the flour and butter between my fingers and the thump of the floury rolling pin on the dough and the endless potential for fillings. Like this one, for example with its lightly crunchy, golden cornmeal crust and filling of tender caramelized leeks and sturdy greens all bound together with nutty, pungent Alpine cheese.
I created this tart last week for friends. It was in the line up of a few other, flashier tarts, and I didn’t expect so very much from it. But, it has subtly winning ways, and its unassuming but immediately striking deliciousness fills your mouth with every bite. It wound up stealing the show.
Unfortunately, right now when I am sharply feeling the need to focus on something tangible, to be embodied, to create something just a little intricate, like a tart, I have absolutely no time. So, for the moment I am trying to focus on other little things, tiny glimpses of beauty that shoo the fear back into a the corner where it belongs and remind me that we need to live with hope. Actually, it makes me think of part of a prayer from a lovely book of Celtic prayers I received as a gift a little while back. “Praise to you O Living One, who does not hold on to power, but gives it to us to choose. Help us to pay attention to every little thing we do, that even a cup of water given, or jar of pussy-willow set on table, will sing of your care for us…” And, maybe when I get some time this weekend, I’ll create a tart. I wish you could come over so I could share it with you.
Tart with leeks, kale and cantal cheese (serves 6-8)
Cornmeal pastry dough:
- 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (yes, I know that’s a lot, and you can use the standard 8 instead. But, I wanted to try out the technique I read about of using more which gives the crust amazing richness. I leave the choice up to you.)
- 1/4 cup ice cold water, plus a couple Tbs. more as necessary
- In a mixing bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar and nutmeg.
- Add in the butter, then working quickly rub it in with your fingers or cut it in with a pastry cutter until it is mixed in and you have lumps about the size of peas. Stick this flour and butter mixture in the fridge for 10 minutes (this is a step that I discovered accidentally by being called away from the kitchen, and have found that it really enhances the final texture of the pastry).
- Take the flour-butter mixture out of the fridge. Stir in the quarter cup water with a fork until the dough just comes together into a bunch of large dough clumps. Add more water 1 Tbs. at a time as needed to form the dough. Gather the pieces together and press them into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one slightly lager than the other, flatten them into discs, wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate them at least 1 hour, and up to overnight.
- When you are ready to make your tart, take the larger dough disc out of the fridge. If it is too hard to roll, let it sit at room temperature 5-10 minutes, but you don’t want it to get too soft. On a lightly floured surface, roll the larger piece of dough out into a circle about 1/8 inch thick. Lightly drape the rolled dough over a 9-inch round tart pan, press it into the pan and trim the edges. Wait to roll out the other piece of dough until the tart is filled.
- Line the bottom crust with parchment or foil and weight it. Bake in a 425F oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the weights and lining, return to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes. Then, set aside.
Leeks and greens tart :
- 1 bunch of kale, washed and tough stalks removed (you could also use another winter green, if you’d like, kale is just my favorite)
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
- 3 medium leeks, washed well and thinly sliced – just the white and light green portions
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup oacked grated Cantal cheese (or Gruyere)
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
- 2 eggs
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper
- prepared cornmeal tart crust
- Put kale and garlic cloves in a steamer basket and steam for 10 minutes. Allow to cool just enough to handle, then chop the kale well and smash the garlic to a paste.
- In the meantime, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. When the oil is shimmering, add the leeks. Stir and cook for 5 minutes over medium, then turn the heat to medium low and cook until the leeks are a lovely soft golden pile, about another 20 minutes. Turn the heat back to medium, stir in the kale and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes until the flavors have mingled and any extra liquid has cooked off.
- Transfer to a bowl. Allow to cool slightly, then stir in the Cantal cheese and lemon juice. At this point you can also preheat your oven to 350F. Taste the kale mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Then stir in the eggs and mascarpone until everything is well combined.
- Spread the vegetable and cheese mixture into the prepared tart crust. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the second piece of dough into a 9 inch circle (use a pie plate to trace and trim it into a perfect circle), cut a shape or slits in the top and lay this over the tart filling. You don’t need to seal the top crust with the bottom, leaving a space gives the tart another air vent, and adds aesthetic interest. If you prefer, you could also use the second piece of dough to make a lattice-work top. Or, if you want an open topped tart, then just save the second piece of dough for something else (actually you can cut it into little squares and bake it and it makes awesome crackers!).
- Place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom shelf of your oven to catch any drips, and place the tart on the middle shelf. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly and fragrant. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before attempting to remove the tart pan rim.
- Serve the tart warm or at room temperature.