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In praise of tarts - the savoury ones

"The differences between a tart, a pie and a quiche are a blur."

Yotam Ottolenghi

"There is never enough crust. The layer of puff, shortcrust or toasted crumbs seems plentiful till you bring your homemade pie to the table, It is only then, as plates are passed round, that you realise your handiwork has its shortcomings, and the beloved layer of pastry, it's topside crisp and dry, it underside soaked with gravy, is inadequate." Nigel Slater

So very true. He is talking about pie here rather than tart but the same principle applies. And his solution on this particular occasion was to make a kind of savoury shortcake with more of the pastry so that you could have just a bit of extra pastry as well. I suppose not very healthy, but certainly tempting. Often, no matter how delicious the filling of your pie or tart it's the pastry that you find yourself saving to last, whilst chasing the last flakes on the plate with your fingers. There is generally not a speck of pastry left on our plates. I see I am paraphrasing Nigel Slater here - he says it so much better than I.

"Nothing tempts like a tart. The buttery crust crumbles under your fork, the savoury filling quivers. You lift it slowly, carefully, from plate to mouth so as not to lose even the tiniest bit down your shirt. The pastry melts in your mouth, the filling dissolves on your tongue. A crumb falls, a crumb that you will rescue later with a licked finger. No roast, no cake, no fruit can tempt and please the way a slice of warm, home-baked tart does." Nigel Slater

The picture, by the way is a Salmon quiche from Recipe Tin Eats.

And it's often the pastry which really makes the dish - it must be something about the crunchy or crispy nature of it contrasting with the softer interior.

As you can see, today I am featuring Nigel Slater quite heavily, and I apologise slightly for doing so once again. Not too much though. It's because I regard him as one of my favourite tart people - along with Jane Grigson, who seems to have a tart for virtually everything, and also Belinda Jeffery. Do read Nigel Slater on tarts - it will make you want to go out and give it a go. He features a Smoked haddock and watercress version in that article and also some tomato tarts which are of the puff pastry kind.

This all came about because I'm thinking of making a quiche for dinner tonight, and I remembered that passage about not having enough pastry. Dinner tonight needs to be something comparatively light because David is going to his wine group and they always have lots of food to eat with the wine. Well that's what he says anyway. Quiche is a favourite dinner in this house, and they are rarely the same, because they are generally made from a fridge raid. So not only is it a very tasty meal, it is also satisfyingly frugal.

It's also a 'quick and easy' meal for me to make. This is because when I make the pastry I make a big batch of it, divide it into tart sized pieces and freeze them. Then all I have to do is retrieve a piece from the freezer during the afternoon. Heat up the oven on its pizza setting which makes the bottom nice and crusty (as does the small amount of polenta in the pastry - a trick from Jane Grigson that one); roll out the pastry and line the quiche tin. Bake pastry (9 mins with ceramic weights and 9 without); whilst it's baking prepare the ingredients whatever they might be and mix with three eggs and 300ml cream. Tonight I think it will be smoked fish based. Usually this preparation is over when the pastry case is baked, so in goes the filling, top with grated cheese, cook for half an hour. The whole process takes about an hour but actual work is only about half of that.

Today I have to make another batch of pastry but that won't take long either as I do it in my mixer.

There, are, of course, endless other varieties of tart made with all manner of different pastry. I guess the Cauliflower cheese filo pie I baked last week was really a tart rather than a pie for example as there was no pastry lid. It was very similar to the rustic/free-form/galette kind of tart in which you place your filling in the centre of your pastry (not precooked this time), and fold the edges over to keep it from oozing out everywhere.

Then there are the puff pastry open tarts on to which are dolloped various fillings, sometimes barely cooked. Divinely quick and very good for tomatoes which are otherwise tricky as far as tarts are concerned.

Here are some examples - one from Nigel Slater Pancetta thyme and fontina tart:

"a sheet of all-butter puff pastry. Pastry that I thaw and roll as thinly as I dare, scatter with nuggets of crisp pancetta, butter-softened shallots, a grating of parmesan or fontina and a few sprigs of thyme, then bake until the edges are puffed and golden. A tart I can slide straight on to a wooden board and bring out for lunch." Nigel Slater

- and two from the magazines - Creamy pumpkin and radish tart from Woolworths and Pizza tarts from Coles - just to show that this kind of thing is popular with the common man or woman as well.

Pizza tarts - well yes you can see how this kind of tart morphs into a pizza, which is, after all, a kind of tart - just a bread base rather than a pastry one.

Tarte tatin used to be just apples - then they found pears and quinces, and these days anything goes. Even Woolworths and its audience of the ordinary cooks of this world features one in this month's edition - a Vegetable tarte Tatin with feta which is used to demonstrate how you can use up all the bits of veggies you have that are going off.

From the sublime to the ridiculous - or is it the other way round? - I just had to include these three examples of art - yes art - the kind of food that normal people don't cook, but like to taste when they go out to posh restaurants. Try them if you like - I don't think the last two are actually very difficult. The Lauren Ko link is to an article about her book called Pieometry - the cover of which is shown below, together with an example from the book. There are others to view in the article. Haute cuisine I suppose, like Haute couture or high art of any kind. The other two are Plum tomato tart from Paul Foster and Mini minted pea tartlets from Howard Middleton - and that one really isn't very complicated.

As I started on this I also wondered when people started making tarts, where the word came from, and what is it's connection with tart as an adjective and tart meaning a prostitute - well maybe not quite a prostitute but almost. Well, different sources for the different meanings of what has ended by being the same word.

The tarts that we eat, are actually much later in development than I thought, although there would have probably been pizza like concoctions well before the 16th century which is when shortcrust came into being apparently.

"Tarts are thought to have either come from a tradition of layering food, or to be a product of Medieval pie making. Enriched dough (i.e. short crust) is thought to have been first commonly used in 1550, approximately 200 years after pies. In this period, they were viewed as high-cuisine, popular with nobility, in contrast to the view of a commoners pie." Wikipedia

The word here comes from the Old French - tarte which, itself comes from Late Latin - torta which was used to describe a round loaf of bread.

Tart, the adjective comes from Old English - teart meaning painful, sharp, severe or rough. There also seems to be some kind of connection with flaying and skinning. As to the almost prostitute it seems to have developed from a term of endearment such as jam tart, or maybe as rhyming slang for sweetheart:

"a term of approval applied by the London lower orders to a young woman for whom some affection is felt. The expression is not generally employed by the young men, unless the female is in ‘her best,’ with a coloured gown, red or blue shawl, and plenty of ribbons in her bonnet—in fact, made pretty all over, like the jam tarts in the swell bakers’ shops." John Camden Hotten 1864

Nobody really explained, however, how a term of endearment came to mean a slut, and other slightly different but equally derogatory uses of the term. As a term of endearment you can see the connection with the food though, as there is nothing more appealing than a tart.

"The crisp pastry, the luscious centre, those elusive crumbs, all sitting on their baking sheet in my kitchen. Nothing, but nothing tempts like a tart." Nigel Slater

And this is his Thin simple cheese and onion tart. You'll have to buy A Cook's Book for the recipe. It's not online as yet.

"Tarts, though easily made for everyday eating, always feel like a special occasion." My Custard Pie

“this most versatile and self-contained of foods” Tamasin Day-Lewis

Now I should go and do my fridge raid to see what is going into mine.


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