Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cauliflower and Green Pea Tartlets

I've been experimenting a lot with vegetarian tarts (ha!ha! I am tickled silly by the double entendre here), trying to figure out how to make really tasty vegetable pastries without using eggs. I do love quiches and custardy tarts but there are many in my family and some among my friends who do not eat eggs. 

It isn't difficult to make a tasty tart (I'm still chuckling). Once you get the crust right - sturdy and yet crumbly, buttery - the fillings are just a matter of matching flavours that go together. Mushroom and onion, leek and potato, broccoli and cheese, beetroot and ricotta .... it's pretty straightforward. 

The real challenge is making these ingredients come together or rather, bind so that they don't just fall out of the crust as you bite or cut into it.  Most of the time, I rely on an egg custard to do this. 

Soft cheeses are great binders: mix ricotta/cream cheese/goat or cottage cheese with some herbs (and seasoning) and spread in on the base of the tart and the vegetables will be anchored on securely, for example. 

But what if you don't want so much cheese. Cauliflower, pureed into a thick, chunky paste, is a delicious alternative - this I discovered this morning. 

I had a whole head of cauliflower that had been sitting in my fridge for about a week. I was going to make a mash with it but then I looked at a ball of frozen shortcrust pastry sitting there too and decided today would be the day for using up leftover ingredients.

It turned out to be a really good idea: the past week has been a really busy one at work and as a result I didn't cook much at all. Actually, I didn't eat much either, although, unfortunately this hasn't translated into looser clothes or a lighter me. Grrr.

Anyway, I ended up with three ingredients: the cauliflower, frozen green peas and oyster mushrooms. There was also a couple of sprigs of thyme and about a two-inch slice of Gruyere cheese in the chiller.
I couldn't believe my luck. These were perfect for a tart!

I borrowed a rectangular tart pan from Jane of The Wayward Oven because, well, it looks so elegant and I wanted to make elegant tarts (still a little funny As a result, I had a little extra pastry which I used to make some mini tartlets ,,, you know, one-bite (or two) wonders?

I pureed the cauliflower with some cream, cheese and some mushroom stalks, diced and sauteed in butter - I added these in last as I wanted them to be a little chunky in the puree. I seasoned with puree with salt and pepper and this was the binder. 

I steamed some green peas and stirred half the amount (about a half cup) into the puree and left the rest (coated with a little butter) for the topping. 

I also chopped some toasted walnuts and added it into the puree, just for some crunch.

The heads of the mushrooms (I used oyster mushrooms), I shallow fried till they were almost crispy and then placed on top of the tart to bake. They ended up crunchy and, dare I say it, meaty. 

To my joy, the tart turned out really good. The cauliflower puree (which I was afraid would be too mushy for a tart) was yummy and the peas, nuts and mushrooms just added texture and also flavour. 

Cauliflower and Green Peas Tart

500g cauliflower
3 tbsp cream
1 cup green peas
1 cup oyster mushrooms
1/3 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
handful of walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 springs thyme
salt and pepper
knob of butter
olive oil
1 tbsp plain flour

For the pastry.
300g plain flour
150g butter, chilled and cubed
pinch of salt
4-6 tbsp ice water

Start with the pastry. Whisk the salt and flour together. Add the cold butter and rub into the flour (or whizz in the food processor/mixer) until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water a little at a time until it comes together as a ball of dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 mins.

Boil/steam the cauliflower till soft. Drain and toss in olive oil. Roast (200C) for about 20 mins or till the tops start to brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

Steam the peas till cooked.

Separate the stems of the mushrooms from the tops. Dice the stems. Lightly coat the tops with the flour. Heat about 2 tbsp oil in a skillet and, when hot, fry the mushrooms (a little at a time) till they are almost crispy. Drain.

With the remaining oil, saute the stems until they are nice and brown. Drain.

When the cauliflower has cooled, puree it with the cream. It should be a little thick. Add the stems,half the peas and the cheese and pulse a couple more times. Season and stir in thyme (leaves only).

Coat the remaining peas with softened butter.

Preheat the oven at 180C.

Roll the pastry out thin and mould it into the tart case. For mini tartlets, cut circles out and then mould.

Using a fork, puncture the base of the pastry. Blind bake the pastry shell for about 12-15 mins, till the base is firm but not golden.

Remove from the oven.

Spread the puree into the tart case. Top with the fried mushroom tops and, if you like, grate some more cheese on top.

Bake for about 20 mins or till the puree starts to set.

Remove and let cool. Garnish with the remaining buttered peas, and, thinly slice red radish slices.

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