I bought a tub of ricotta cheese to make spinach ricotta gnocchi, based on a dish I sampled in Switzerland recently while I was staying with my friend JY, her hubby, R and their darling black lab, Umbria. R used the fresh Baerlauch (bear's garlic) we picked by the river in Cham, a small municipality in Zug for his gnocchi. It was fabulous. I'd only ever eaten gnocchi made with potato and flour and not being a fan of potatoes, I find myself staying away from gnocchi altogether.
Since baerlauch is unavailable back home in Malaysia, JY suggested I use Spinach instead. I bought all the necessary ingredients: spinach, ricotta, flour, sage leaves and Gruyere cheese. And then I got side-tracked by another recipe for an olive oil tart crust which caught my eye. I love buttery-rich tart crusts but this one, from Chocolate & Zucchini seemed to get a lot of positive reviews. I had to try it. I just had to.
The gnocchi would have to wait till another day. Soon. Just not today.
The olive oil crust is a little simpler to put together than the classic butter shortcrust pastry crust. Because cold butter is not a pre-requisite, the dough doesn't have to be made with speed (before the fat melts as in the case of shortcrust). Also, the olive oil dough is much sturdier and as a result there is no fear that a soggy filling will in turn create a soggy tart base. There is also no need to rest the dough before rolling. If kneaded enough (just a couple of minutes should do) the dough should be pliable enough to be rolled as soon as it is mixed.
The filling is creamy and delicious, richly flavoured with the herbs. The smell from the herbs is practically intoxicating too!. The egg in the filling is optional, but it does help bind the creamy cheese together and give it a little form. An eggless filling will be a little softer (some thickened cream could thicken it a little). The nuts in the pastry and the Parmesan garnish adds texture and the garnish of red radish adds a little spiciness to the tart.
Olive Oil and Herb Crust
(Based on a recipe in Chocolate & Zucchini)
150g whole wheat flour
100g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp chopped chives
handful of walnuts, chopped fine
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp ice cold water
Mix the flours, chives and salt together. Add the oil and the nuts and mix into the flour: it should start to clump together in bits. Add the water, gradually, until the dough comes together in a neat ball. Knead for a couple of minutes.
The dough is now ready for rolling.
Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin and gently roll the dough till its 1/4 cm thin and gently lift it to fit the tart pan. Trim the edges, puncture the base with a fork and blind bake (180C) for about 15 mins or till it firms up.
2-3 tbsp chopped mixed herbs (I used chopped thyme, rosemary and parsley) - a little more to garnish, if you like.
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 egg (optional)
salt and pepper to season
Mix all the ingredients together well. Spread it into the tart case and bake for about 25-30 min or till the cheese is set and slightly golden.
Red radish, sliced thin
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (spread the grated Parmesan thinly on a sheet of parchment-lined baking tray and bake for about 12 mins or till golden. Coll and then break it up).