Parmesan, Leek and Thyme Tart

There are some foods I go back to again and again: a rich, creamy lasagne for comfort; a creamy Thai curry for its unctuousness; bangers ‘n’ mash for its echoes of childhood and, in spring, a soft, rich tart with a crumbly, almost biscuity pastry because, well, there are few things more enjoyable than lunch in the garden on a sunny spring day.

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RECIPE – Serves 6, generously, for lunch 

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

75g unsalted butter

6 small leeks, finely sliced

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

the picked leaves of 5 thyme sprigs

50ml vermouth

300ml double cream

1 whole egg

3 egg yolks

50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated, and a little more to grate over the top


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

Cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for a few minutes.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While the pastry is baking, prepare the filling: melt the butter in a very large pan then add the leeks, salt and thyme leaves. Stir thoroughly, turn the heat right down, cover the pan and sweat the leeks for 20 minutes until very soft. By the end of this time, your pastry should be out of the oven.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Add the vermouth to the leek mixture, turn the heat up and bubble the liquid for 5 minutes or so, uncovered, until the liquid has nearly all evaporated.

Lightly whisk the egg, egg yolks and cream together, then season with salt and pepper, add the grated Parmesan then whisk again. Add to the leek mixture, stir thoroughly then pour the mixture into the tart case and shake gently to level it off.

Finely grate some Parmesan over the top, this will give it a deliciously cheesy taste and aroma. Put the tart back into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, for twenty minutes then carefully remove from the tin and cut into slices. This is delicious warm, or at room temperature.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.

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