I find it hard to pick my favourite vegetable, but jostling at the top of a very verdant list (alongside green beans, peas and broccoli) is silverbeet. If only for its determined reliability; it’s pretty much always in the garden. And right now, it’s pretty much the only thing in my garden! So I wanted a special way of cooking it.
Making anything into a pie, tart or quiche — essentially, pairing any produce with pastry — lifts it out of the ordinary. So I could think of no better way of treating those dark crinkly leaves than this tart.
I first made this after watching Hugh Fearnley–W whip it out in about 30 seconds on his River Cottage vegetable series (allow me to digress a moment: I love River Cottage shows, just for the scenery. Sometimes I don’t care for the food, or Hugh. I want to live in that bucolic valley. I want a farmhouse, an Aga, a vegie plot and a rambling country lane just like that. Is it ever unpleasant in that lush, abundant part of the world?).
Of course in real life a tart takes longer than a TV segment to prepare, but making pastry, slowly cooking onions, then assembling layers are pleasurable tasks you don’t mind spending time over.
This tart is also very easy to make; my only hardship has been rolling out pastry in a cold winter kitchen. I resorted to thumping the dough out with my marble rolling pin, using its heft to my advantage. I was worried that such aggression would make for a tough end product (and that my kitchen benchtop might collapse) but this pastry is morishly short no matter what you do to it (including, surprisingly, reheating it in the microwave, which usually spells a floppy death for pastry).
Finally, the flavours are simple. There are times when you want spicy, cheesy, garlicky meals. There are times when you want ‘the lot’. Then there are times when you want merely silky golden ribbons of onion cooked gently with lemon thyme, the iron-y darkness of silverbeet, all coddled in an unassuming eggy custard, and held in a fine pastry. It’s not bland, it’s soothing and homely, and focusses our tastebuds on those few precious ingredients.
Hugh’s onion and silverbeet tartAdapted from the beet top/chard and ricotta tart in ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day!’. The original recipe specified a 24 cm springform tin, and a baking time of 35 minutes.
First the prep, which you can do ahead of time.
- First make the pastry: in a food processor, whizz up 125 gms plain white flour, 125 gms plain wholemeal flour, a pinch of salt, 125 gms chilled butter (you can also rub it together with your fingers). With the processor running, dribble in about 75 mls cold milk, more or less, until the dough comes together. Remove from the food processor, knead to bring together again, then wrap in cling film and chill for about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, finely slice two medium onions and chop or crush a couple of garlic cloves. Take your time to cook these down gently in olive oil; you want a lovely golden translucent colour without any crispness. Towards the end, squeeze in the juice from half a lemon and stir thru some fresh lemon thyme.
- While the onion is cooking, prepare your silverbeet (we can do lots of things at once!). Chop 300 gms of silverbeet, stalks and all, and steam until just done. Remove from heat and squeeze as much moisture out as possible (I have left it draining in a fine sieve overnight).
Now for the assembly.
- Preheat your oven to 180.
- Roll out the pastry to a size that will fit a 20 cm springform tin, with the pastry about 4 mm thick.
- Line the tin with the pastry, leaving any messy or overhanging bits for now. Line with foil and baking weights, and blind bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove foil and weights, prick base of pastry with a fork, then return to oven and bake for 10–15 minutes, to get a gentle golden colour (you may need to put foil around the edges to protect them from burning).
- Meanwhile, whisk together 3 large eggs, 150 mls thick cream and 150 mls milk. Have your onion and silverbeet to hand, as well as 100 gms of ricotta.
- Once the pastry shell is ready, remove from oven and sit on a small baking tray (this makes it easier to put back in the oven once filled). Place the onion on the base, then layer with the silverbeet, blob or crumble in the ricotta, then carefully pour over the egg mixture. You can also trim any messy or overhanging pastry edges at this point if you are so inclined (as you can see, I'm not).
- Put your tart back in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Then get impatient, crank up the heat to 200, protect the pastry edges with foil, and bake for another 30 minutes or until the eggy custard is cooked and golden.
- Remove from oven, allow to stand for a few minutes before unclipping your springform tin and serving.