Due to circumstances beyond my control (and aren’t all “circumstances” always beyond our control?) I found myself not confirming that I could go to a dinner party that I very much wanted to attend. It was the annual “Sub-Zero” dinner with AJ’s cycling group, the day before the day before they took off to cycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money to fight AIDS (the day before the ride is called Day Zero, thus two days before is Sub-Zero). When I finally realized that I could rearrange my schedule to attend, the group told me that dishes were already assigned. My usual go-to position as “dessert guy” was taken up by others, which meant I had one of two choices. Bring garlic bread (ho-hum) or a vegetable side dish. I contemplate baking bread for the garlic bread, but since I recently had to create a new sourdough starter (as my last one died) whatever bread I made wouldn’t have as deep a flavor as I would have liked. The obvious choice was a vegetable side dish and though AJ suggested our basic go-to roasted vegetable dish, I decided to cheat and use my baking skills. I brought to the party a couple of Chard and Cheese Tarts with Extra Virgin Olive Oil Crust.
AJ and I had been running around all over San Francisco trying to do last minute shopping and errand running before AJ’s ride. One of the errands had me in the neighborhood of one of my favorite bookstore, where I had a little bit of used credit burning a hole in my pocket. A quick jaunt into the store had me leaving with a book that I have been wanting for awhile, but I just haven’t gotten around to getting, Tender by Nigel Slater. I already had the companion book Ripe, which was warm, gorgeous, and utterly charming and had been wanting to get Tender ever since I had seen a copy of it sitting on my friend Sabrina’s bookshelf.
I, of course, am behind the times as well, as Tender had come out last year around this time and I’m sure you already have it (if you don’t, go get it now). Tender focuses on vegetables and what to do with them in the garden and in the kitchen, while it’s companion piece Ripe is about fruit instead. Each volume is a beautiful telephone book thick (does anyone still have telephone books?) tome, filled with lush photographs and approachable recipes. As I flipped through my new acquisition, I stumble across the idea of a chard tart and I was smitten because, despite what this blog might imply, I don’t live on cake, pie and cookies alone. I adore chard.
Truth be told, I’m not sure where Swiss & Rainbow Chard has been all my life. I had only discovered its existence a few years ago, when it seemed to pop up at the grocery store, farmer’s market and everyone’s CSA. In fact, at this point, I feel like Swiss Chard is bordering on the edge of popularity like kale, the most over exposed leafy green in food blogger history. Thankfully I did not succumb to the seduction of the kale chip, and you will not find any kale chip recipes on this blog. But you will find me waxing poetically about Rainbow Chard, with their deep forest green leaves, and vibrant colored stems that seem almost unnaturally Crayola bright. Like a bird, I find myself attracted to bright shiny things and every time I see the pink, green, red and yellow stemmed bunch at the store, I find myself putting it in my basket and wondering what the heck do I do with it? Usually it involves chopping it up and throwing it in whatever soup I’m having.
Thankfully the combination of Nigel Slater’s book Tender, and the fact that I had to bring a vegetable instead of my usual dessert led me to this tart. True, many people at the party referred to it as a quiche, and yes, you can probably call it that, but in my mind, the quiche has more of an egg to crust ratio. This tart is shallow, with a thin layer of binding egg, cheese and cream, but with a generous filling of chard, green onions and green garlic. Either way, people seemed enamored with it, taking seconds (and in some cases thirds) of the tart. Thankfully, I had the forethought to make two of them.
The party itself was fantastic fun. Wonderful people, all getting ready for the ride, or there to support the riders, food galore, and at least five desserts, including a chocolate cake, carrot cake and an apple cobbler. The host, Robert, clearly wasn’t kidding when he said that dessert was covered. Of course, along with my tart, I had also brought along a dessert that I was testing out (that turned out quite nice). But that’s a post for another time. In the meanwhile, I wish AJ luck as he travels down to LA this week, missing him dearly, and anxiously awaiting our reunion in a week from now.
Chard and Cheese Tart with Extra Virgin Olive Oil Crust
By Irvin Lin
You can call this a quiche if you want, but it has more vegetables and greens than egg in it, which is always a hallmark of a quiche to me. There are a few specialty items in this dish that I used. Porcini mushroom powder can be found at high end grocery stores and specialty food stores. I love the umami punch it gives to the crust, but if you don’t have access to it, skip it (though it’s worth tracking down if you can). Herbes de Provence is a blend of dried herbs that often times made of rosemary, thyme, basil, savory, fennel and lavender (or some variation). If you don’t have it on hand, just use dried thyme or rosemary. Green garlic is a fleeting seasonal item that is early grown and picked garlic. You can get it a high end grocery stores or farmers markets. I love using it in dishes like this because you just chop it up and throw it in to bake without having to precook it, like regular garlic. It’s more mild and can even been eaten raw (I sometimes add it to salads). If you can’t find it, chop up five or six cloves of garlic and sauté them in some olive oil until softened and fragrant then add them to the vegetables instead.
Roughly adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender
140 g (1 cup) all purpose flour
90 g (3/4 cup) whole wheat flour
35 g (1/3 cup) shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon Porcini mushroom powder (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
57 g (1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold
60 ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil, preferable a nice fruity peppery one
1 large egg
1 to 3 tablespoons ice cold water
280 g to 340 g (10 to 12 oz) of Rainbow chard (roughly a large bundle)
2 green onions
1 green garlic
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pinch of cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicy)
pinch of ground nutmeg
50 g (1/2 cup) shredded Cheddar cheese
40 g (1/3 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
10 inch tart pan with removable bottom
Pie weights, dry beans or uncooked rice
1. Make the crust by combining the flours, Cheddar cheese, Porcini powder (if using) salt, Herbes de Provence, and black pepper in a medium sized bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and toss with the dry ingredients until coated. Flatten the cubes with your fingers until all the butter has been smashed. Start rubbing and squeezing the butter together with your fingers until the ingredients start to clump together. Add the olive oil and egg to the mixture and toss with a fork until a dough starts to form. The dough will seem dry and crumbly but will start to stick together as you mix it. Add one tablespoon of water to help gather the dough together. Add additional tablespoons of water until a dough forms. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a rough 12 inch circle. Fit into a 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom. This dough is very fragile, so don’t worry if you have to patch it together (I did). Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill.
2. Once the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 400˚F for 10 minutes. Prick the bottom of the tart crust with a fork and line it with a piece of parchment paper and pie weights, dry beans or uncooked rice. Place on a rimmed baking sheet or pizza pan and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment paper with the pie weights and place back in the oven to bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the crust seems dry to the touch. Remove from oven but keep oven on at the same temperature.
3. While the crust is baking, place a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Cut the thick middle stem out of the chard and save it for another use (I like to chop it up and add it to soup, like a colorful celery addition). Wash the chard leaves and them dry. Place the chard in the boiling water and cook it for 2 minutes, or until the chard is tender. Drain and rinse the chard in cold water to cool. Squeeze as much water out of the chard as you can. Roughly chop the chard into 1/2 – 3/4 inch pieces. Place in a medium sized bowl. Chop the green onion into 1/4 to 1/2 inch disks and add to the bowl (discarding the roots and the top tip of the green onion). Chop the white and about one or two inches of the green part of the green garlic into 1/2 inch pieces. Add to the bowl. Add the pepper, salt, cayenne pepper and nutmeg.
4. Toss all the ingredients together in the bowl with a large spatula (or your hands) and distribute the ingredients in the bottom of the tart evenly. Sprinkle the cheeses over the top of the chard. Add the eggs and cream together in a glass measuring cup with a spout. Beat with a fork until the eggs are incorporated with the cream and then pour the cream egg mixture over the chard evenly. Place back in the oven and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes or until the filling has set and starts to brown a bit on the top. Let cool for ten minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature.
Makes one 10 inch tart, serves 8 to 10 people