Roasted Squash, Red Onion, Spinach and Cheese Tart

Is there anything better for a summer picnic than a rich, flavourful tart with short, crumbly almost biscuit-like pastry? I don’t think so; it’s one of the main reasons I look forward to lazy summer Sundays – feet up in the garden, tart on the table, a glass of fine wine to hand, the sun shining and the dog at your feet, with nothing much to do except relax. On days like these all is right with the world.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 for lunch

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small butternut squash, cut into 1cm cubes

2 small red onions, cut into 8 segments each with the root left on

300g spinach

100g strong cheddar, grated

3 large eggs

300ml double cream

parmesan cheese, finely grated


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.

While the pastry is chilling, prepare the butternut squash and red onions, then roast them in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until cooked through and starting to caramelise.

Put the spinach into a large pan on a high heat. There is no need to add any water, just keep stirring the spinach until it wilts completely. Tip into a sieve, squeeze gently and leave any excess moisture to drain.

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

Lightly whisk the eggs and cream together, then season with salt and pepper, whisk again. Cut the roots off the roasted onions and remove any parts that have been scorched. Arrange the onions, butternut squash and spinach in the cooked pastry case and scatter the grated cheddar cheese over it. Pour over the eggs and cream mixture, and 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 25-30 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, then remove from the tin and cut into slices.

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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