Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Leek Tart

What fools those food writers think we be. Time and again I make a recipe and it is clear that there is twice as much sauce as should be, or stock, or sugar; time and again I look at a picture, and it is not what it claims to be. The latest offender is Maggie Beer. In her gorgeous if somewhat precious book, Maggie's Harvest, we have a full-page picture of a 'Pumpkin Picnic Loaf'. I asked my four year old to examine the photograph and tell me what was in the sandwich. 'Um, pumpkin,' she said. 'Feta or maybe chévre. Onions. Basil.'

Correct. My four year old can identify the ingredients in a photograph of a sandwich. And in the recipe, do we have feta or chévre? Onions? Basil?

No, we do not. Not a skerrick. The recipe calls for gruyere, not a white goats cheese; zucchini, not onions; and parsley. While the basil in the photograph could possibly be baby spinach leaves – also absent from the recipe – it could not by any stretch of the imagination be parsley.

Now, the recipe looks good. The sandwich looks better. But the disjunction between the two makes me mistrust the recipe and the writer, and I feel slightly miffed – how stupid do the editors think I am, that I can't identify the ingredients in a full-page photograph?

On the bright side, it gives me permission to make the sandwich the way I want – and when I make it, I will use chévre and onions.

As I think about not following recipes, I find myself recalling last night's leek tart and salivating. We had a dozen people for dinner, plus kids; so I made a green tart and a leek tart (doubling the pastry recipe to make two tart cases, of course), a cabbage and apple coleslaw, and a beet and pumpkin salad. Someone brought roast chickens, and that, plus 5 or 6 bottles of wine, formed the main course. Not too shabby for a Tuesday.

Every recipe I have seen for leek tart uses cream and, usually, egg yolks. As much as I love cream, I usually find it a bit rich in a savoury tart. So I made my tart with full cream milk and whole eggs, and it was simply delicious. The tart came out of the oven burnished gold, and the filling simply melted in the mouth. Perfect.

The recipe follows the Green Tart recipe almost exactly; even so, I will post it in full so you can follow it without referring to the Green Tart recipe.

Leek Tart

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

For the filling:
- 1 large, 2 medium or 4 skinny leeks
- a skerrick of freshly grated nutmeg
- 200g cheddar cheese
- 5 eggs
- 1 ½ cups milk

Make the pastry: 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.

Top and tail your leek(s). Slice down the middle, and fan out under running water to remove any trapped dirt. Shake and pat dry. Slice into half moons about ½ cm wide.

Melt 50g butter in a wide skillet. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt, and leave over medium-low heat to sweat for 30 or so minutes, or until the leeks are incredibly soft. Do not let them colour. Leave to cool slightly.

Grate the cheese. Beat the eggs lightly, then whisk in the milk with a skerrick of nutmeg.

Remove the tart shell from the freezer. Spread the grated cheese over the base. Spoon the leeks over the cheese, then gently pour the egg and milk over the leeks. Slip into the oven for 45 minutes or until the top is puffy and golden.

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

(Local: leeks, eggs, milk. Not particularly local: flour, butter, cheese, nutmeg, salt, pepper.)



  1. Hi Alison,
    I'm a consultant with Maggie Beer and while I can't claim the grand job of editing her books, I do have a lot to do with the lovely people behind the scenes who do their darndest to rectify glitches like you've picked up! Super frustrating I know. And for Maggie too! So I wanted to just jump in here and thank you for pointing this out so I can pass your comments onto Penguin. You're absolutely right, the photo does seem to speak of soft cheese, caramelised onions and basil, which sounds delicious in its own right, just a tad more helpful if the recipe matches the pic!
    Anyway, just a little note to say we're onto it, so thank you for throwing that one in the ring... it's a hefty tome to keep tabs on at the best of times so we appreciate all the help we can get!
    Happy cooking Alison,
    Kind regards,
    Cherie @ Maggie Beer

  2. Hi Cherie,
    I can imagine that editing such a large book is both joy and nightmare - but it is a very large photograph! So many people lack confidence in the kitchen; it's a big deal for them to try a new recipe, and if it comes out nothing like the photograph because they don't know the difference between gruyere and chevre then they find it very dispiriting (me, I just blame the author).
    Overall I am enjoying the book. This home cook is grateful to all good food writers (Maggie Beer staff included) for helping turn the daily grind of producing meal after meal into something a little more joyful.