As we reach the end of summer, I'm thankful for the following:
- days that reach only 75 degrees with no humidity to frizz-out my hair
- open windows
- wrapping up for a cool summer's night supper on a patio with friends or family
- warm, sunny walks through the neighborhood with my dog
- too many golden sweet pear tomatoes to know what to do with
- this Italian ham and spinach tart
The first evening that I feel a slight chill in the air is when a part of me, that I try to suppress, feels the dread of an inevitable winter. It's hard to imagine the images of snow drifting over the hot, baked top deck where my tomato plant keeps bearing tiny, golden fruits with no signs of stopping. Still, I look forward to the change where light summer meals shift to autumunal comforts.
I think this dish sits smartly on the fence of summer and autumn, although Jamie Oliver places it squarely in his "winter" section of his cookbook. I personally feel like it can fit into any season and therefore, should be celebrated here, right at the end of August.
My version turned out more of a quiche than a tart, but I will attempt to make this thinner and more delicate on the next attempt. That's right, I said next attempt. For those of you who know my cooking well, and let's be honest, the only person who really knows my cooking on a day to day basis is Martin; you'll know that I don't like to make many things twice. Of course I have a few staples that are on repeat, but I grew up in a house where a menu of about 15 dinner meals were in constant rotation. Don't get me wrong, there were some delicious highlights:
- hungarian pork chops with mushrooms and egg noodles
- tuna surprise (on nights when Mom was frazzled)
- mac n' cheese
Yes, it's true. I grew up on the above and mostly ate pop tarts or toaster strudels for breakfast. I did not escape unscathed. In fact, many of you know my affinity for meatloaf, but thank God, I've left the tuna surprise behind. The moral of this story is that I have a passion for the variety of food in my life. I get bored easily. I will occasionally take down an avocado, cottage cheese and tomatoes as breakfast for weeks on end, but that's where it stops. Dinner is different- it has to remain exciting or I'd be reaching for the cereal instead of cooking up something new.
I also like anything rich and savory, like this tart, along side a crisp, fresh salad with an acidic kick of vinaigrette and a few crunchy apples. If you're ambitious OR you really want this tart to be top notch, make your own savory shortcrust pastry like I did.
Savory Shortcrust Pastry
Adapted from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver
500g or 2 1/3 cups of organic plain flour
200g or 1 cup of cold lard or butter, cut into cubes
50g or 1/4 cup of freshly grated mature English Cheddar cheese
a sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
2 large, free-range or organic eggs, beaten
a splash of milk
flour, for dusting
Put the flour, lard, cheese and a generous pinch of sea salt into a food processor and pulse for 20-30 seconds until the mix is crumbly and fine. Add the rosemary and thyme. Pour in the eggs and add the milk. Pulse for a few more seconds until the mix comes together. Scoop your dough out of the food processor on to a clean, floured work surface and pat it a few times to make it compact- don't knead it.
When you have it flat and round, wrap the dough in cling film and place it in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Italian Ham and Spinach Tart
Adapted from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver
1/2 x savory shortcrust pastry recipe (see above)
a knob of butter
3 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 cups of fresh spinach, nettles, swiss chard or borage, washed, thick stems removed
a few sprigs of fresh marjoram or oregano, leaves picked and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups of creme fraiche
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for grating
3 large free range or organic eggs
1 cup of cooked smoked ham, torn into shreds or chopped
First, make your pastry dough (above). Remove from fridge and place on a floured surface and roll it out with a floured rolling pin into a rectangular shape about 0.5cm or 0.2 inches thick and big enough to line a shallow baking tray about 12x16 inches or 30x40 cm
Grease the tray with butter and line it with the pastry. Trim ay excess off the edges of the tray and leave half an inch overhang. Pinch this into a rustic edge - it will also keep it from shrinking. No need to fill the case with beans or rice before baking it blind. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and chill in the freezer for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Remove the tray from the fridge and bake your pastry case for 6-8 minutes, until lightly golden. Next, heat a glug of olive oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onions on a low heat for 10 minutes until soft and sweet- don't let them color. Turn up the heat, add the garlic and the spinach and most of the marjoram. Season lightly and give it a good stir. Take the pan off the heat when the spinach has wilted (this will only take a few minutes.)
To make the filling, mix the creme fraiche, parmesan, eggs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread the spinach mixture over your pastry case. Sprinkle over the ham and spoon the creme fraiche mixture over the top, smoothing it with the back of a spoon. Grate over a generous helping of the Parmesan and sprinkle the rat of the marjoram on top. Finally, drizzle a little olive oil over it and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
The top will be golden and bubbling and the filling will have set.
Serve with a salad of watercress with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette with a few thin slices of apples tossed in.