Friday, August 16, 2013

Midnight Pie

Wednesday evening, just after midnight.  My partner is fast asleep on the couch, with a belly half full of soup.  He's waiting for the main course of our dinner, a zucchini tart, to finish baking in the oven.  I'm puttering around in the kitchen, wondering how I ended up spending four hours making said tart.

A book about how the French eat is partly to blame.  This book impressed on me that in France, spending hours preparing and enjoying three-course meals is part of their daily life.  This romantic notion made me wonder if I, too, could craft a slow meal microculture in my family.

The neighborhood pie shop is the other culprit.  A friend bought one of their strawberry rhubarb pies to our house, and our expectations were quite high, considering it came from a shop that specializes in making pies.  Just pies, nothing else.  Oh sure, if you like your pies with a skimpy, pancake-thin layer of fruit, then these guys were bang on.  Otherwise, if you're like me, you would have been left feeling very unsatisfied, maybe even a little cheated, wondering when will be the next time you could make a pie to prove that better pies do exist.

A few days and a cup of coffee later, I plunged my hands into a large bowl of flour and butter, and formed the beginnings of a tart dough.  The clock reads 8:45pm, and the evening sky cools to a deep purplish grey hue.  I haven't eaten a thing since lunch, but I already feel contentedly indulged.

Zucchini and Cheese Tart
Adapted from Martha Stewart (dough) and Smitten Kitchen (filling).
Makes one 9" tart.

This summer vegetable tart is a real knockout, and would look perfect on a patio table beside a Greek salad and watermelon slices.  If you want to spread the preparation over several days, this can easily be done by 1) preparing the tart dough in advance and keeping it in the fridge or freezer, and 2) letting the raw dough (prior to blind baking) sit in the fridge overnight.

For the dough:

1-1/4 cup (170 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
ice cubes and cold water

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar.  Mix in the butter with your hands, by smooching the butter across your fingers using your thumb, shaping the butter into thin slice-shapes.  Continue until the butter pieces are about the size of peas.

In a small bowl, stir a few ice cubes with 1/4 cup of cold water, and wait for 1 minute.  Remove 3 tablespoons of ice water, and add to the flour-butter mixture.  Blend it all together with a wooden spoon briefly until dough just starts to hold together.  Add a tablespoon or two more ice water if needed.

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface, and knead together just until a rough ball forms.  Flatten into a disc shape, and wrap in plastic.  Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.  At this point, the dough can also be stored in the freezer for up to a month.  It should be thawed in the fridge overnight before using.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Remove dough from fridge, and leave at room temperature for 10 minutes.  Discard plastic, and place dough on a clean, floured surface.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into a circle.  Be sure to turn and move the dough in between rolls to prevent it from sticking to the rolling surface.

Once your dough circle is at least 11" in diameter, carefully transfer it into the tart pan.  Push it down into the corners gently, and trim edges to fit.  Poke the bottom of the dough several times with a fork, and line the top with a piece of aluminum foil.  Fill with dried beans or pie weights, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is just barely browned.  Remove from oven, and remove foil and weights.  Using the same fork, re-poke the holes you made earlier, and cool the crust for at least 10 minutes before adding the filling.

For the filling:

1 large or 2 small zucchinis, sliced into 1/8"-thick rounds
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup soft chevre (though ricotta, cream cheese, or other soft mild cow/goat/sheep cheese should also work)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 to 2 tbsp milk, any type (such as skim, 2%, cream, even buttermilk)
1 tsp olive oil
1 to 2 tsp chopped fresh herbs (such as tarragon, basil, parsley, and/or dill)

Lay the zucchini slices out onto a clean tea towel.  Sprinkle salt evenly onto each slice, and wait 30 minutes.  Using another tea towel, blot away excess moisture and salt from the surface of the slices.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  In a small bowl, mix together garlic, ground pepper, chevre, parmesan, 1/4 cup mozzarella, and 1 tablespoon of milk.  If the mixture is too thick and not quite spreadable, mix in the second tablespoon of milk.  Spread onto the base of the crust as evenly as possible, using your fingers if needed.  Sprinkle on remaining 3/4 cup of mozzarella, and arrange the zucchini rounds on top.  Brush the zucchini lightly with olive oil.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until crust is deep golden brown.  Remove tart from oven, and immediately scatter fresh herbs on top.  Cool for at least 15 minutes on a rack, before slicing and serving.


  1. nice looking tart! i always feel like trying to make a 3 course meal for dinner but never do because it takes too long! maybe it's all in the planning and doing it regularly?

    1. Thanks! Yes, I agree... planning and routine would surely make 3-course meal-making easier. But I wonder if the key is in keeping it super simple?