Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Green Tart

Late in rainbow chard season, the leaves become extraordinarily wrinkly. I cut out the toughest part of the stem, wash the leaf, and find myself thinking always of old judges. The wet leaf hangs in my hand like a judge's wig, crimped and curled and ready to drape over head and shoulders. I think of red velvet robes and white ruffs; hooked noses and pinched faces with mouths like cats' bottoms, gavels held in gnarled and knobbly fists; or perhaps ruddy cheeks, a brandy-nose, and piggy eyes sunk deep in fat. I'm swimming in some Dickensian world of dark timber and ominous shadows; then the voice of one of my children breaks through, and I surface again to cook dinner.

It doesn't say much for my view of the judiciary. Perhaps I ought to accompany my husband – a lawyer – to court one day and see a young modern judge wearing slacks. But then where's the fun?

This week rainbow chard, beet leaves and warrigal greens made their way into a tart sort-of-thing. It's what I make when the egg carton's full and warrigal greens are surging over the garden path.

Green Tart
For the pastry:
- 120g flour
- 50g unsalted butter
- 3 tbs water
- pinch salt

For the filling:
- a bunch of greens. (This week I used about 500g greens, a combination of rainbow chard, beet leaves and warrigal greens*.)
- 6 anchovies (optional but good)
- a few strips of lemon zest, chopped very finely
- 200g cheddar cheese
- 6 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- a sprinkling of pine nuts (also optional, also good)

Make the pastry: (This is exactly the same base as Onion Tart.) Place the flour, a pinch of salt and the butter in a food processor. Process for 30 seconds, or until the butter and flour are incorporated; there will be no loose flour flying around. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, and process for another 30 seconds to a minute or until the mixture resembles tiny soft pebbles.

Flour the bench and a rolling pin. Tip the pastry onto the bench, and gently form into a flat disc with your hands. Roll it out, rolling from the centre to the edge and turning 90 degrees between each roll, until it fits your dish. (Mine is 25cm in diameter.) Drape the pastry over the rolling pin and lift it carefully into the dish. Pat into place. Trim the edges. Place the dish into the freezer, and leave it there until you need it.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Boil a pot of water. Wash your greens well, and chop coarsely. Blanch the greens in several batches, cooking each batch for a minute then scooping out to drain in a colander.

Warm a swirl of olive oil in a wide skillet with the anchovies. Push them around until they are a sizzling paste, then add the greens and the lemon zest. Stir to combine, then leave to cool. If you are worried about someone getting a chunk of anchovy, briefly pulse-chop the mixture in a food processor until combined, but before it is sludge.

Grate the cheese. Beat the eggs lightly, then whisk in the milk.

Remove the tart shell from the freezer. Spread the grated cheese over the base. Spoon the green mixture over the cheese, then gently pour the egg and milk over the greens. Strew pine nuts over the top, then slip into the oven for 45 minutes or until the top is puffy and there is just a very slight wobble in the centre.

Leave to cool for at least ten minutes, during which time it will set further, before serving.

*If you are using warrigal greens, also known as New Zealand spinach or tetragon, it is absolutely imperative that you blanch them first. They contain high levels of oxalates, which can cause a tightening of the throat, nausea and worse when consumed in large quantities. Blanching removes the soluble oxalates and also some of the salts. Leave the lid off the saucepan while blanching so that condensation does not drop back into the saucepan, and discard the blanching liquid.

For more on warrigal greens, see Wild Lime: Cooking from the bushfood garden. This book is out of print, so hard to find; but the author has more recently written the glossier Wild Food: 100 Recipes Using Australian Ingredients, no doubt also worth a look.

(Local: greens, lemon, eggs, milk. Not particularly local: flour, butter, cheese, anchovies, pine nuts, salt, pepper.)

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