The leisurely family meal around our house on Sunday is more likely to be a breakfast affair than a Sunday supper. Though theoretically I love the idea of Sunday suppers, they haven’t materialized recently. Sunday breakfast , on the other hand, makes a lot more sense. Late risers of the household—Man of the House and College Boy, who may often be at home—are only too happy to gather ‘round the kitchen for a good ol’ bacon and egg feast. Sometimes it’s French toast, sometimes it’s waffles, sometimes it’s pancakes, but the common theme is that this family meal happens more towards the middle of the day than at the end and it has a lazy air about it. Homework, Sunday night travel, and various activities of a teenager gradually eroded our Sunday evening meal. So Sunday has become a good day to cobble something together from the freezer or the leftover shelf in the refrigerator
My mom began designating Sunday nights as ‘forage-and-fend for yourselves night’ once her children were grown, and I have adopted the same spirit of casualness without an actual duplication of her ritual. To be honest, I agree with Mom. I like to extend the laid back feeling of the day into the evening. I also hate waste. (I got that from Mom, too. She lived through the Great Depression.)
Speaking of which, have you noticed we’re still in a recession? I don’t know about you, but aside from my inherited and now ingrained dislike for wasting food, I don’t much like watching dollars go down the drain either. In her book Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Kathleen Flinn reports on how much people throw away. She experimented on herself by putting a sticky note on everything she bought and then adding it up when she tossed it. Not a pretty picture. I don’t have the patience for that exercise, but I sure can do the math in my head as I shove food down the disposal or throw it into the compost. Not only are there sad pieces of squishy lettuce in that pile, but also food that I might have put time into preparing. Double snap!
Remember I mentioned the leftover shelf in my fridge? Let’s talk about that. Do you have a place you stash things that need to be used pronto? I put mine front and center. I grew tired of throwing out all the weary looking stuff from the back of the refrigerator in one big purge before trash day. Instead I put them where I can see them, and when I want to procrastinate a trip to the market, I take a good look at what’s on that shelf and try to figure out what to do with it. That’s when knowing how to cook really comes in handy. I may incorporate bits and pieces from that shelf throughout the week in different meals, but on Sundays, I become more interested in using what is there, because I will probably shop within a few days and I’d like to start fresh.
So here’s what I found last week:
A hunk of goat cheese
A red pepper that was looking peaked
A few forlorn cherry tomatoes
Watercress that had seen better days
A lonely leek
A little cream from a recipe test that I know I won’t use for anything
End-of-the-road half-bunch of parsley
What to do? I could have made a stir-fry. Or an omelet. Or a vegetable “medley” to serve with some roast chicken. But wait, I didn’t have, and was not about to schlep to get, a chicken to roast. So, one route to take was to make a vegetable tart. I did have enough usable greens to make a decent salad, so it was a pretty obvious choice. What would you have done? Any suggestions?
Vegetable tart with goat cheese, peppers, and watercress
Makes 1 9-inch tart
Once upon a time a tart was called a quiche and the nomenclature was so overused that it became exhausted and buried itself in the retro food cemetery. But put the filling in a pretty tart pan and you have something to be excited about. Truth be told, just put it in a pie pan if you haven’t a tart pan—it’s all good. (And if you want to make it really easy, buy some prepared all-butter pie dough, no funny stuff.) You could use just about any leftover vegetable: cooked broccoli, asparagus, potatoes, even green beans. The vegetables should be cooked first, since they will not soften in the oven once they are combined with the tart filling.
Think through your choices—Asian flavors and goat cheese might not work very well. The idea is to use leftovers to create a whole greater (and better than) the sum of its parts, so choose discriminately. For example, the ginger root with mold on one end could still be trimmed and used, but it would not be compatible with the other ingredients here.
The base of the tart—that which binds it together—is eggs and cream or milk: for a 9-inch tart pan, use 3 eggs to 1 cup milk or cream. Whisk the eggs, then add the cream, salt, pepper, and herbs. Stir in the cheese (grated or in chunks if it is soft) and the cooked vegetables. Spoon the solid ingredients into the tart first, then pour the liquid over them, holding back a little. Don’t over-stuff the tart. If there is too much liquid, don’t use all of it (you will only waste a few tablespoons.)
For the tart dough
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut in thin slices
1 egg, beaten
1. Combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, and butter in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times until the butter is in small
baby-pea size pieces. Add the egg and pulse until the dough almost forms a ball. If it seems dry, add some cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time.
2. Empty the dough onto the countertop and press it into a round, flat disk. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid.
3. Remove the dough from the fridge. If you have made it several hours ahead of time, let it rest and soften at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Roll the dough into an 11-inch circle. Fit it into the pie pan, gently coaxing it into the corners of the pan without stretching it. Place the tart in the refrigerator and chill for 15 to 20 minutes.
For the tart filling
1 tablespoon butter
White part of 1 leek, thinly sliced (save tough green part in the freezer to use in stock)
1 handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch watercress, thick stems removed
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled and sliced (see tutorial below)
1 cup milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
Generous grindings of black pepper
1 handful of chopped parsley
3 ounces (85g) goat cheese, broken into pieces
1 9-inch tart pan lined with pastry (home made or store-bought)
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and tomatoes, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Stir in the watercress, and cook for 3 minutes, or until wilted. Stir in the roasted pepper. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
3. Whisk the eggs in a bowl until yolks and whites are combined. Whisk in the cream, salt, pepper and parsley. Stir in the cheese and vegetables. With a slotted spoon, fill the tart with the solid ingredients, including the cheese. Pour the liquid over them until the tart is full but not brimming. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until set (toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.)
4. Remove tart from the oven and set on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Remove the tart rim and slice into serving wedges.
Quick tip: To remove the rim of a tart or cake pan, set the bottom of the pan on top of a large can of tomatoes and release the rim. If the dough sticks to the edges, gently insert a knife in the sticky places. Voila!
Tutorial: How to roast a pepper
The point of roasting a pepper is to remove its tough skin and soften it. The bonus is a lovely charred flavor. You can roast it outside on a grill, on the flame of a gas burner, or in the oven under the broiler. The broiler method may be the most convenient any time of year.
To roast a pepper over a flame, simply set it on the burner and turn it with tongs until the skin is completely black and blistered all over. The same method applies to a charcoal or gas grill.
To roast under the broiler, halve the pepper and remove the seeds. Set the halves with the skin side up on a baking sheet and brush with a little olive oil. Set the baking sheet about 4 inches from the broiler element and broil for 3 to 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it and move the pan often if necessary. When the pepper is black all over (notice how it is blistered on the top pepper) remove it from the oven. You will notice, too how the flesh beneath the skin is not black at all.
While the pepper is still hot, place it in a bowl and cover the bowl with a plate. Let it cool in the bowl for a few minutes. The steam helps release the skin from the flesh.
Pull off the skin. Don't rinse the pepper under water, but rinse your hands if bits of pepper stick to them. Water will only wash away the flavor; a little bit of charred pepper is a good thing.