As we enter the home stretch for the end-of-year holidays, I thought I’d try and share a few more food preparations that you might consider including as part of your holiday table. Although this offering was included in my Thanksgiving menu, I hadn’t written about it yet. Entitled Spinach Tart, this is one of my go-to recipes where spinach is not the only greens choice, and it is a recipe that provides many options for creativity.
Many years ago as a young boy I used to visit my Sicilian maternal grandmother in her home in the Bronx, New York. The preferred route was a drive south along the Bronx River Parkway where I often observed older women gathering something from the grassy area adjacent to the parkway. They seemed to be holding what they were picking in the aprons they wore. Curious, but only many years later did I finally connect all the dots after reading a piece about polenta authored by Paula Wolfert, cook and cookbook author, featuring “Apron Greens.” These women were gathering young dandelion greens, which were later included on some level in their meal preparation. From this enlightenment I developed the approach to the apron-green tart, of which the spinach tart I share here, is just one example. Arugula, chard, cress, kale, mustard greens, beet tops, turnip greens, sorrel, or any combination you choose can be substituted for the spinach.
However, in order to have a tart you first must have the shell. There are many options for preparing a tart shell or pastry. Or, you could simply wimp out and purchase a packaged tart shell. My favorite, which has become the standard for any savory tart I make, is the quick and wholesome olive oil pastry. I discovered the recipe in a cookbook by Patricia Wells, the author, columnist and cook, entitled Trattoria, which I have been using ever since. It couldn’t be simpler, uses only three ingredients, does not have to be prebaked, and yields a perfect 12-inch shell every time.
Olive Oil Tart Pastry
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
Either in a large work bowl or directly on your board or countertop, make a well with the flour. Pour the liquids into the well and begin to incorporate with a fork. Once incorporated and the dough begins to come together, using floured hands, work the dough until all the flour is absorbed and a soft but not sticky mass is formed.
Place the dough on a well-floured surface, and begin to flatten using your hands. Next, flour a rolling pin and evenly roll out the dough until a somewhat circular shape of approximately 14 inches is reached. Fold the rolled dough in quarters and place in an 11- or 12-inch glass or ceramic tart dish (no need for the removable bottom type), and begin to press the dough all around until it is evenly distributed around the baking dish and an edge is formed. I usually use the tines of a fork to gently score around the circumference so that the crust adheres to the baking dish, and perforate the bottom to prevent and air bubbles from forming during baking.
The shell is now complete, and I place it in the refrigerator to set up while I prepare the filling.
With this tart variation, I used spinach as the green, mixing in garlic, sweet onions, button mushrooms, cheese, and eggs, topping with some breadcrumbs and additional cheese to form a crisp crust.
1 to 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
6 large white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 lb spinach leaves
5 large eggs
1-1/2 cups grated cheese, Asiago and Grana Padano used here, although there are many options
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
Prep all the ingredients, heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large work bowl, crack the eggs and whip with a little Half & Half or whole milk to form the custard base and set aside.
In a large saute pan over medium heat, warm the oil and once heated add the onions and cook until they begin to soften and lightly color.
Sprinkle the garlic over the onions and mix to incorporate, then season with S&P.
Distribute the sliced mushrooms and mix to incorporate. Sauté until the mushrooms soften and give up most of their water.
Finally, add the spinach, folding it into the vegetable sauté until it just wilts, which will happen quickly.
Remove the sauté pan from the heat, allowing it to cool slightly.
Pour the sauté into the egg mix, along with 2/3 of the grated cheese and thoroughly fold to combine.
Next, pour the mixture into the prepared tart shell, then sprinkle the remaining cheese, the breadcrumbs, and a little pepper over the top.
Place in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes or until the crust is browned, not burned, and the top of the tart is puffed and firm. The tart will settle once it is cooled, and once cooled you can slice it—it slices best at room temperature or cold.
The tart can be served at room temperature, or warmed in a 225-degree oven (after slicing) for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. It will make a nice side vegetable for your holiday meal, or works well as a starter course or a nice lunch, but I’ll leave that up to you.
I would enjoy hearing about what greens you place in your aprons, and what cheese combinations you explore. Would be glad to answer any questions you might have as well.