Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recipe: Compte, Polenta and Spinach Tart

Z. and I have been trying to eat more vegetarian these days, he is vegetarian almost completely (although by choice) and this decision was bourne out of his belief that the modern ways in which we farm animals is unhealthy and overly hormonal, as well as a need to be lighter and more clean-eating. He does have one meat day a month and I haven’t converted completely, nor do I think I would, but I do eat much more vegetables and much less, in particular, red meat then before. And no, it’s not the same, not even remotely so, vegetables don’t have the density and deep taste of meat, eating no meat makes me slightly grumpy and tired.

Being vegetarian, even part-time, is not at all easy, this is particularly for home-makers or women cooking for a large household. To be committed to it, you really have to overhaul not just the way that you cook but also the way that you grocery shop and stock your home. This is compounded if you have some people who eat meat and some people who don’t, or if you only have vegetarian food say, twice a week. One solution, I suppose, would be to eat meat if you wish, at lunchtimes, when you eat outside the home, but then just cook and stock vegetarian food at home for dinners.

A few things that I’ve come to notice, you need to change the sauces you have, of course, no seafood product and not as many meat-related sauces. Obviously, it takes awhile to slowly replace your pantry and it’s not always healthy, because it’s not easy to get vegetables to taste good. Many vegetarians just default to carbs, like oily Hokkien Mee, or worse, instant Maggi noodles. change is that you have to be properly set up for more steaming, if you don’t want to be perpetually eating stir-fried or roasted food or eggs, all the time. Eggs aren’t exactly that healthy, you won’t be ingesting as much fat as meat but probably just as much cholestrol. You definitely need to learn more tofu recipes, incorporate more beans, nuts and fruits in food, to find different tastes and textures without compromising on oil or sauces for flavours.

So being vegetarian, really takes a lot more time and effort but I suppose even that would remind you to be more concious and aware about what, and how much, you are eating. This recipe was something that I came across from Ottolenghi, one of my favourite places to eat in London. He is well known for encorporating world flavours, particularly vegetables and herbs, into his recipes. His recipes also tend to have many ingredients, so I’ve tried to simplify it. I would definitely put in the Compte, as it lends a very distinctive taste to the tart. Ottolenghi suggests using swiss chard but I had spinach, so I used that. I jumped on the chance to make this because it’s a good recipe to use up salad leftovers- I had a lot of fresh baby spinach, so I chopped and wilted them gently in a pan, if you do something similar, remember to squeeze out the moisture. I also added olives, shitake mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes because I had some and omitted any salt from the recipe, as the two ingredients are naturally salty. If you are really hard-working, you can also caramelize white onions and add them in.

Compte, Polenta and Spinach tart
For the pastry:

170g plain flour, plus extra to dust
60g quick-cook polenta
20g finely grated parmesan
140g unsalted butter, fridge-cold and cut into cubes
50ml water
A pinch of salt

For the filling:

200g comté, grated
200ml cream
3 eggs
10 kalamata olives, 10 shitake mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
¾ tsp black pepper
200g chopped spinach, (washed, wilted and drained)

In a food processor, work all the pastry ingredients except the water to fine crumbs, add the water and mix until it starts coming together – if it's still very crumbly and dry, add a tiny splash of water and pulse again. Tip out on to a work surface lightly dusted with flour, and work until the pastry comes together. Gently roll it out into a roughly 5mm thick round disc. Lifting the pastry with a palette knife, turn it around as you roll, then use a rolling pin to lay it in a deep, 24cm fluted tin. Cut off any excess hanging over the edges and use the offcuts to patch up any gaps. Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180C. Place a circle of greaseproof paper on top of the pastry case, fill with baking beans and bake for 20 minutes, until just golden. Remove the paper and beans, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 150C. While the pastry is cooking, mix together all the filling ingredients except the spinach, then pour into the cooked tart case and dot with spoonfuls of spinach. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the tart is just set and golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, remove from the tin and serve warm.

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