When is a tart not a tart?
I think it is fair to say in Britain a tart is generally considered to have a pastry base but no lid. However, that which passes as a tart in Britain would be classified as a pie in the US. Then there is the filling. Does a ‘tart’ or open pie with a savoury filling automatically become a quiche (as in Quiche Lorraine) leaving sweet fillings involving fruit and/or custard to claim the name tart? Alan Davidson points out that tarts in Medieval times, such as those listed in the Forme of Cury, usually contained meat albeit often mixed with spices, dried fruits and sugar (think of the original mince pie).
For the purposes of this post I am using the word tart in both the savoury and the sweet recipes below. The first contains blue cheese, walnuts and pears. It’s most definitely a savoury recipe although the sweet pears compliment the metallic tang of the cheese beautifully (and perhaps harks back to a time when sweet and savoury fillings were intertwined). But what of the second sweet recipe? To all intents and purposes many people would consider this a pie as it includes a pastry lid. However, I am more than happy to go along with the original authors’, the Caldesi’s, description as a tart (it sounds far more elegant than pie in my book). I love the way the cinnamon pastry embraces the sliced pear giving it more of the appearance of a tart than a pie in any case.
Pear, Blue Cheese & Walnut Tart
Serves 4 as a main or 6 to 8 as a starter.
Ingredients for the walnut pastry
- 125g walnut halves
- 200g plain flour
- 100g unsalted butter
- 40g parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg
Ingredients for the filling
- ½ tbsp olive oil
- ½ medium onion, finely chopped
- 300ml creme fraîche
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 100g strong, blue cheese, such as Stilton, crumbled or roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp snipped chives
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 50g walnut halves
- 2 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
- Place the walnut halves for the pastry in a food processor. Blitz until finely ground then add the flour, butter and cheese. Process again until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs then, while the motor is running, add the egg a little at a time (you will probably need just over half an egg) until a soft dough forms. Refrigerate for an hour or so.
- Preheat the oven to 200℃. Roll out the pastry the best you can to line a 23-25cm deep, loose bottomed tart tin. This pastry is very crumbly and it will crack and break very easily. It will inevitably be necessary to make some repairs so make sure you roll the pastry out so that it is larger than the tin you are using. This way you will have sufficient pastry to make the repairs. Roughly trim the pastry so that you leave some over hanging the edges of the tin (you can tidy it up later). It doesn’t matter how ugly the inside of the tart case looks (you won’t see it after it is filled) but it is imperative that there are no cracks otherwise the filling will leak out. Lightly prick the base of the pastry case then line it with grease proof paper and baking beans (or rice). Bake blind for 10 minutes then remove the baking beans. Bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and trim the case so it is level with the top of the tin.
- Reduce the temperature of the oven to 150℃. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a gentle heat then add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent (about 5 to 10 minutes). Meanwhile, mix the eggs (plus any extra left over from making the pastry) and the creme fraîche in a jug. Stir in the blue cheese, chives and cayenne.
- Keep a few walnut halves aside (about 5 or 6) then roughly chop the rest. Sprinkle the nuts and chopped pears over the base of the pastry case then pour over the cheesy ‘custard’ filling. Place the reserved walnut halves on top of the custard then put the tart in the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes until just set (it’s fine if it still a bit wobbly after this time) and golden. Serve warm or cold with a little dressed salad on the side.
Venetian Pear Tart
This recipe is taken from Venice: Recipes Lost and Found by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi (Hardie Grant, £25.00, Helen Cathcart) who run the Cucina Caldesi and Caffe Caldesi in London. It’s a fascinating look at how the cuisine of this famous Italian city has been shaped by some intriguing influences over the centuries. Definitely one to put on your Christmas list if you are a fan of Italian cooking and food history.
Ingredients for the pastry
- 300g ’00’ or plain flour
- 160g unsalted butter
- 160g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- pinch of salt
Ingredients for the filling
- 5 large ripe pears, peeled, cored and roughly sliced
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp rum (optional)
- To make the pastry sift the flour into a large bowl and rub the butter into it using your fingertips until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, egg, cinnamon and salt. Mix well until you have a ball of dough (alternatively you can use a food processor for this stage). Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge for 30 minutes or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 200℃ and butter and lightly flour a 25cm loose-bottomed tart tin. After 30 minutes (if you chilled your pastry for longer, let it warm up a little for 20 minutes at room temperature) remove the pastry from the fridge, divide in half and roll into 2 circles. Line the tin with one of the circles of pastry.
- Layer the sliced pears into the pastry case, sprinkle over the sugar and rum (if using) and top with the pie with the second circle of pastry. Using a fork make some holes in the pastry to let the steam escape. Bake for around 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden.