Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tarted-Up: A Leek/Apple/Thyme Appetiser!

The French are very fond of regaling their guests with a pre-dinner apéritif which consists of a beverage, usually alcoholic like kir or/and some savoury tidbits, either hot like gougeres or cold like a selection of nuts/crackers. Since the French like to spend time in the kitchen doing it right, the guests need to be able to stave off their hunger without spoiling their appetite so when the cook finally makes an appearance, somewhat stressed, though attractively so, with some flour on their person here and there and a few strands of hair out of place, they will not regard him as the main dish!  Just as importantly, pre-dinner drinks and snacks serve as a means to encourage conviviality.

Meanwhile the potager is brimming over with plump leeks and tons of thyme.

So as not to succumb--not yet anyway--to the lure of a cheesy leek and bacon quiche, I have decided to go the appetiser route and instead wrangle up a rustic leek tart.


  • Onions, sliced thinly, 1 cup*
  • Leeks, just the white & yellow parts, sliced thinly, 1 cup*
  • crème fraîche, approximately 1 heaping T
  • Butter, 1 T
  • Olive oil, 1 T 
  • Sugar, 1/4 tsp
  • Apple, Granny Smith, peeled, diced, 1/8 cup*
  • Lovage, diced, a few sprigs, or celery, diced 1/8 cup*
  • Thyme, fresh, minced, 1/2 tsp and sprigs for garnishing--it's worth the bother of getting fresh, any extra can be dried or frozen for future use.
  • Egg yolk, one mixed with a tsp of cold water for glaze
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Mustard, Dijon, approximately 1.5 teaspoons
  • Short pastry, if buying, get the best you can, enough for a 9 inch round
*cup is 8 oz, that is, American measure.

Complete instructions on how to clean leeks thoroughly can be found in this past post.  Gather the ingredients and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Put the butter and olive oil in a skillet over high heat until foaming--the olive oil will raise the burning point a bit, but still be careful not to burn the fat.   Toss in the sliced leeks and onions, finely chopped apple, and the sugar.  Stir over moderately high heat for a few minutes or until some edges of the onions and leeks are browned.

Then lower the heat as much as is possible, add the lovage/celery and let carmelize for about 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time.  The onions and leeks need not be fully carmelized as they are for French Onion Soup as they will spend some time in the oven also.

Put them in a mixing bowl.  Add the thyme and the crème fraîche bit by bit as the mixture needs to be moist without being soupy--more or less than the suggested amount can be added to get the right consistency.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Let cool.

Roll out the pastry on parchment paper to 1/8 thick and using a 9 inch pie plate as a template, cut around the edge of the plate with a knife.  Beat the mustard with a fork--to get it more fluid--and coat thinly the round with it, leaving an one-inch-wide brim around the perimeter.  Gather the scraps together into a small ball and put in the fridge.

Spread the filling as evenly as possible.

Fold the edge over, pleating it as necessary.  Apply the egg wash either with a pastry brush or with your fingers or with a piece of paper towel on the folded-over edges.  Using the edges of the parchment paper to carry it, put the tart on a shallow baking pan and place on the middle rack in the oven.

Take out the small ball of dough gathered from the scraps.  Roll out and cut out small rounds to make biscuits which can be dusted with powdered sugar after bakingAnother approach is to pair two rounds on top of each other, with some raspberry jam spread between them.  Cut off a small round opening on the top, letting the jewelled colour of the jam show--a rough-and-ready version of a Linzer cookie.  Put them in the oven.

Bake the tart for about 25 minutes until golden brown, rotating it if necessary halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning.  The small rounds should take less time, around 15 minutes.

I really liked how these turned out--fairly easy to slide off the serving plate onto individual napkins and truly tasty, a bit of tang, a bit of sweetness with a bright note of herb, luscious without being overwhelming.  They were best served warm or tepid, as when they become cold, their zesty appeal is somewhat subdued.  Any extra can be frozen, thawed, and re-heated gently, though the crust seems to get crumbly.

I dusted the biscuits well with confectioner's sugar; they reminded me of a baked version of Crusciki, a deep-fried Slavic pastry.

Damp and soggy conditions continue in the potager. My shipment from the plant nursery has been delayed by inclement weather. I am patiently trying to prune and prepare beds for planting between bouts of rain.  The daffodils are in full bloom though.

The buds on some bearded Irises are colouring.  There are already lots of sweet violets with their lush evergreen foliage in that part of the garden, and soon there will be bluebells and lilacs--blue on blue on blue on blue.  It's my favourite colour so I am not complaining!

Dayo is happy with how good this warm, wet winter has been for the grass.  Yum!

He also was very pleased with an art postcard sent from Tokyo by our favourite conceptual archivist, +Arthur Huang.  Apparently Dayo would have some competition from other felines as Tokyo has a huge cat population.  Arthur enjoys looking for such postcards among other things at craft markets, and one of his favourites is this one, which takes place monthly on the grounds of a shrine.

Conceptual Archivist?  You must mean Conceptual Artist, no?  He is a Conceptual Archivist because he has coupled his conceptual art with his love of collecting personal artefacts.   Among other projects, you can keep up-to-date with his work-in-progress, Houses for Light at his website.

Using several varieties of Japanese mushrooms, Arthur has adapted my recipe for mushroom soup à la forestièreHe is planning to make my minestrone soup soon.  If he can't get white beans or chick peas, he will substitute soy, fresh or dried.  In any case, I am sure it will be delicious!

À la prochaine!


Leek and Potato Soup
Twice-baked Potatoes With Leek Stuffing