Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Chard and Onion Tart

Swiss/Rainbow Chard is one of those vegetables that you often see growing on allotments. It looks a little like rhubarb and is a useful winter vegetable. (The picture isn't from my allotment I'm sorry to say but mine does look a little bit like this! Picture courtesy of Hollis Gardens)

I'd never seen it sold in any supermarkets so had absolutely no idea what it tasted like. At worst, it could taste like celery which, frankly, is The Devil's Vegetable and best avoided, but hopefully it would be nicer than that. I did some online research and spoke to a few people and the consensus was 'strong spinachy flavour', so I thought, "What the heck, I'll have a go".

It's a very rewarding vegetable to grow, just stick the seed in the ground and away it goes and slugs don't seem to like it very much, which is all to the good! So now, as ever, I need to find a use for it. Off I go again to the same Greenbox Company website where I found my Homity Pie recipe mentioned in an earlier post, and they have a whole bunch of recipes for Chard.

I made this recipe below last week and thought it was just so fabulous that I'd share it with you, but with more pictures than last time, so you can see how to do each stage, and just how easy it is!!! Apologies in advance to any American readers but the quantities are in metric, however there are easy-to-find-online conversion tables available, so here we go. Some of the pics have been taken using flash, some not.

Chard and Onion Tart
Serves 2 (large portions)

3 small onions, finely sliced
A decent handful of Chard leaves
6oz shortcrust pastry (half wholemeal, half plain flour is good)
Small pot Creme Fraiche/Sour Cream
Grated fresh Parmesan
Black olives
1-2 tbsp fresh chopped Thyme or decent sprinkling dried Mixed herbs
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 200C/Gas Mark 4

Make your pastry:
The maxim to remember when making shortcrust pastry is 'half fat to flour', i.e., 6 oz flour = 3 oz butter. And I've generally found that the size of the tin you're going to use dictates how much pastry to make - "well, dur..." I hear you cry, but if you have a 6 inch diameter tin, 6 oz of pastry will fit, 7 inches = 7 oz, and so on.

I like half wholemeal half plain flour pastry, and I'm using a 6 inch fluted loose-bottomed flan tin. So, in a big bowl, weigh in 3 oz wholemeal flour, 3 oz plain flour (don't bother sifting) and add 3 oz butter.

Mix it together with your fingers, rubbing the butter through the flour with your fingertips so that it eventually resembles breadcrumbs. This can take a little while but is necessary.

Next add a very small amount of water (it's easier to add water if you've not used enough, but you can't really add more flour if you've used too much because then the fat ratio won't be enough) and, again, using your hands, mix it up until it's a dough that leaves the sides of the bowl pretty clean.

Take your flan tin and using a piece of kitchen roll, grease the tin thoroughly. Next, add the pastry to the tin. The thing about wholemeal pastry is that it's incredibly difficult to roll (unlike plain white pastry), so the easiest thing to do is just take little bits and mould it into the tin, pushing it down so it's not too thick. Again, this takes a little time but is very easy to do as the bits of pastry mush into each other very easily without leaving a join. (I know the picture's at a funny angle but I was trying not to get my shadow in it!)

Prick the base with a fork then stick the tin in the oven for about 20 mins so that it can cook through first. This means that you shouldn't get a soggy bottom (and we all know how uncomfortable that can be...) when it gets baked for the second time with the rest of the ingredients in. This is known as 'baking blind'. The sainted Delia Smith recommends also brushing the base of the flan with beaten egg to form a seal - this does work but it's a bit of a faff and isn't really necessary with this recipe. The picture shows the pastry case before being baked.

So, while that's in the oven, you need to prepare your vegetables.

Peel, halve and then very finely slice the onions. In a largish pan (I use a flat-bottomed wok), melt some butter, add the onions and the thyme/dried mixed herbs. Cook this over a low heat so that the onions don't brown and they sweeten up.

Fill a largish saucepan with water and set it to boil. Wash your chard, the separate the fleshy leaves from the stalk by tearing them off. Chop the stalks into smallish pieces, then roughly chop the leaves. These are the chard leaves I used which, yes, I did grow myself, thank you for asking!

And these are the stalks once the leaves have been removed.

In this picture, the stalks have been chopped up (top right of chopping board) and the leaves are in the process of being chopped up.

When the pan of water is boiling, drop in the chopped stalks and boil them for a couple of minutes - this is because they're thicker than the leaves and need cooking first. Then drop in the rest of the chopped leaves and boil for no more than a minute. This is known as 'blanching'.

Drain the chard into a sieve or colander, run cold water over them to stop the cooking, then squeeze as much water out as you can. I use the back of a wooden spoon. You don't want the mixture to be very wet when it goes into the pastry case.

Then add the cooked chard into the onion & herb mixture in the large pan/wok. You may find that the chard has sort of clumped together into lumps, so now's the time to separate it out to get a more cohesive mix. Heat it all together thoroughly and season with a little salt (you shouldn't need much, the parmesan is salty and I use Lurpak Slightly Salted Spreadable Butter in my pastry, but it's up to you) and freshly ground black pepper.

By now the pastry case should have cooked so spread the chard & onion mixture onto the pastry and push down a little bit to make sure it gets into all the edges.

Add the chopped black olives - I used Black Greek Kalamata Olives from a jar but you can use what you like.

Grate fresh Parmesan over the top. Please, people, don't use the ready-grated stuff that smells like socks - treat yourself to a small piece of the real stuff, it's nutty and sweet and just delicious! You can also add it to any recipe that calls for grated cheese as it's so flavourful.

Now you add your creme fraiche/sour cream. The recipe I used actually says, "a few spoonfuls" but I had half a tub to use up so I did go a bit menkle with it. You might even want to cover the entire top which would, frankly, be fabulous if a little rich (although you could use the half fat stuff instead...). Just drop some spoonfuls on and spread it around a bit.

Then put it back in the oven (I'd put it on a baking sheet/tray as well, just in case there's any leakage although, if the mixture's not too wet, this shouldn't happen, but better safe than sorry...) and leave it there for 15 to 20 mins or so. This will basically just heat it through and melt the parmesan, and it looks like this when taken out.

I serve this with a very simple salad of just lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes but it would go brilliantly with a cold rice or pasta salad, or something fruity with couscous. The flavours are fantastic - the chard definitely tastes like spinach but it doesn't shrivel down to the nothing when you cook it and also doesn't leave that weird furry after-effect on your teeth like spinach does. The olives give a deep tang, the onion and herb mix is sweetly oniony and, err, herby(!) and the parmesan makes it all cheesy. The creme fraiche/sour cream cuts through the lot, and if you serve this with lettuce you won't need any mayonnaise!


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