Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chard, not Charred

A few years ago when I announced to Harry that I was making a chard tart, he heard “charred tart,” and was forced to be a bit skeptical. I quickly reassured him that I was, of course, referring to Swiss chard, the dark, leafy greens that are a little bit bitter, a little bit tangy, flavorful but delicate. The most recent bunch of chard we received in a CSA box is known as rainbow chard, simply because, I believe, the bunch consisted of several varieties with different brightly-colored stems.

It was hard for me to know what to do with a bunch of chard when I first subscribed to the CSA. I suppose it could be simply sautéed with garlic and then maybe splashed with a little vinegar and served alongside a protein and a starch, but that used to call up painful images of the blobs of canned spinach that greens enthusiasts of a previous generation insisted were good for me. (I have been able to get over this and will serve greens this way, but not, for the love of all that is good and decent, from a can.) I did find an interesting recipe in Eating Well magazine for a savory tart with chard, ricotta, feta and kalamata olives, however, that allowed me to feature the greens in a little more sophisticated manner.

While this tart, which bears some resemblance to a quiche, may be more sophisticated than a pile of sautéed chard, it is also more complicated. There are several steps to the process, but the good news is that you can prepare for the next phase while waiting for the previous one to be done. For example, you can de-stem and chop the chard (save the stems and sauté them separately), while waiting for the crust to bake, then sauté the greens while waiting for the crust to cool, then prepare the remaining ingredients while waiting for the greens to cool. I don’t know what you can do while waiting for the tart to bake. Have a glass of wine or read a cookbook, I guess.

Along with a filling packed with chard and cheese, this tart has a very good, and pretty easy-to-make crust. Instead of cold shortening or butter, this crust is made with olive oil, which makes it quite forgiving to work with. (It is actually quite similar to the homemade crackers I tried out this spring.) The dough is soft and molds together like Play-Doh, so after rolling it out, you can press the scraps into the pan to cover any thin spots or reinforce the bottom. Flavored with thyme and black pepper, it also tastes very good, and is delightfully crunchy, too.

I’ve made this tart a few times now, so I’ve got the routine down in good order. One problem I had with the original recipe was that there was too much filling for the pan. For one thing, it’s difficult to measure Swiss chard in volume, so it was hard to know whether I was putting in the right amount. I’ve adapted the ingredient list to include a measurement of mass of the chard, so, if you have a kitchen scale, (or have any faith in the produce scale at your market) you’ll know you’ve got the right amount of chard without having to try to cram it into a measuring cup. Also, I decreased the amount of ricotta cheese to reduce the volume even more. This worked well, and there’s still enough gooey stuff in the filling to hold the tart together. In fact, since the crust can actually be quite thick and still be crispy, smaller servings of this tart can be picked up and eaten with the fingers.

Dark greens always seem to be a good match for feta cheese and briny olives, and this tart offers no exception. It’s pretty heavy on the chard, which is the seasonal star after all, and with the reduction in the ricotta that I made, I’m wondering if the chard could have used a pinch of salt. The cheeses and olives tend to cover that arena pretty well, and there’s no added salt in the original recipe. You might want to taste your cheese and olives and make a judgment about how much brininess they may contribute. I’ve added an optional pinch of salt to the recipe below, but that’s one of those few ingredients that are often up to the cook’s judgment anyway. Exercise your own expertise, and, of course, don’t char the tart!

Chard Tart with Feta Cheese and Olives
Adapted from Eating Well Magazine

For the Crust
You can use dried thyme in the crust, but only use about ½ teaspoon, as the flavor can be quite strong.

¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil, preferably extra virgin
5 tablespoons cold water, divided

1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the whole wheat pastry flour, all purpose flour, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir in the olive oil and 4 tablespoons of water. If the dough is still dry, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of water.

2. Bring the dough together into a ball, kneading gently. Press the ball into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 15 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prepare a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom by lightly oiling it or spraying it with cooking spray. (If your pan has a non-stick surface, you may not need to do this.) On a floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a circle (roughly) about 12 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to the tart pan and press it into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Trim away any extra dough and use it to patch any holes or press it into the bottom of the pan.

4. Gently prick the surface of the dough on the bottom and sides with a fork. Place the tart pan on a large baking sheet for ease of handling. Bake at 400 F until just beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack at least 15 minutes. (You can prepare the remaining tart ingredients while the crust is baking and cooling and you can leave the crust on the baking sheet.)

For the Filling
It’s actually best to leave a bit of water on the chard leaves after washing them. The extra moisture helps to steam them as they cook. If your leaves are too dry, you can add some water to the pan.

1 tablespoon olive oil, preferably extra virgin
12 ounces chard, any variety (about 6 cups)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
pinch of salt, optional
2 large eggs
½ cup part skim ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. Leave the oven on and at 400 F. Remove the stems from the chard and chop. Set aside. Chop the leaves as well. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chard stems and cook until tender and just beginning to brown, stirring often, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, about 1 minute more.

2. Add the chard leaves (and a pinch of salt, if desired) and cook, stirring often, until all of the liquid has evaporated and the leaves are tender and wilted. This will take about 4 minutes. If the pan is too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. Remove from the heat and allow to cool while preparing the remaining ingredients.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, ricotta, lemon zest and pepper until smooth. Add the cooked chard, olives and feta cheese and stir until well combined. Pour the filling into the baked crust.

4. Bake at 400 F for about 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the filling looks set rather than watery or runny. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before removing the outer ring from the pan and cutting into wedges.

Makes about 6 main dish servings or about 10 appetizer servings. Leftovers can be covered and kept in the refrigerator and re-heat fairly well in the microwave.

Other recipes like this one: Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon (great with the season’s fresh corn!), Spinach and Feta Souffle

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