Ceci n’est pas une quiche. It’s a Swiss Chard Tart with Gruyère and Anchovies. Quiche sounds so seventies, like the ubiquitous anonymous “white wine” that came into vogue as an alternative to cocktails during the same culinary epoch. Boring. White. Food. But a tart, a tart can play. Sweet or savory, rich or light, it has no rules beyond the obligatory crust, and inclination to use whatever looks good in the market that day. While not all of the produce we saw in Provencal markets was preternaturally perfect, most of it was really good, and there was always at least one vendor selling a spectacular version of what we needed, including these greens. The chard in the photos, by the way, is American, but still easily the equal of the French version, which tends to be a little more, well, petite.
We spent a lot of time in markets, in Cavaillon and Coustellet, with others on the trip eager to turn marketing trips into competitive scavenger hunts. Keeping everything straight–who was buying what and for which dish–could be a daunting and on occasion an item would slip out of the marketing basket–or never make it into the basket at all, especially since Jody and Tom* were often prepping two meals ahead. On Wednesday, for example, Jody had to shop for the next day’s picnic** in an olive grove hard by a local mill, as well as think about advance prepping for the the goodbye dinner Thursday evening.
After having finished an afternoon foray into the market in Coustellet, including a pause for a beer and a socca at the little open air concert organized to celebrate the 10th anniversary the market, we headed back to the van. Suddenly Jody cried out. ‘Wait! We forgot something!” Two somethings as it turned out: the flour for the Tartes aux Blettes (Swiss Chard Tarts) and the chickens she’d also planned on roasting for the picnic. We waited in parking lot as Tom rushed back to Gouin, the famous Coustellet shop that is both a restaurant and a vendor of all things culinary–poultry and meat–both raw and cooked, cheeses, patés, wine, whatever you need for a delicious meal. After 10 minutes, he returned with the news that not only did Gouin have chickens, but that they would roast the birds for us and have them ready and waiting the next morning. He winked at us. No one would ever know. The flour was a different story. The only place we’d be certain to find it in the late afternoon was the new nearby giant Super U. We arrived at the Super U ten minutes before closing, but we scored some bio flour, along with paper napkins, cornichons and a few other things.
After dinner that night in Amy’s kitchen, Jody pulled out the Super U flour and started making dough for the tarts. “This feels odd,” she said after a few minutes. She sniffed the flour. “It smells like chick peas or fava beans.” Amy put on her glasses, peered closely at the bag and pronounced that we’d bought farine d’épeautre, farro flour. Farro is a delicious grain, but it is very low in gluten. You can use it to make bread and pasta, but it’s usually a good idea to mix it with wheat or semolina flour for a bit more backbone. Too fragile to use on its own for a tart crust. Jody pressed the dough together in large blob, wrapped it up and threw it in the refrigerator. We’d have to go out early the next morning for flour in order to have the Tarte aux Blettes ready for lunch. She washed her hands, poured herself a glass of wine and sat down with the three of us. “Who wants to play Bananagrams?” she asked.
**Glass stemware, silver and real plates seem to be de rigeur for French picnics, as is a fetching alfresco environment. If there are no ruins handy, an operating olive press will do.
– TARTE AUX BLETTES-
Swiss Chard Tart with Gruyère and Anchovies
Makes 1 11-inch tart
(8 large or 12 small servings)
Use an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
Crust ingredients: (Makes ¾ pound of dough, enough for an 11-inch tart shell or a 9-10 inch pie crust)
- 1½ cups cold unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional, see note before directions)
- 9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch slices
- 3-4 tablespoons ice water
- 1 pound Swiss chard,
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion cut into ¼-inch dice, about 1½ cups
- 2 cherry peppers, finely chopped (the photograph has 1 but I used 2)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 5-8 anchovy fillets minced, depending on size and your taste, but don’t be scared to use 8.
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 cup crème fraîche
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh summer savory or thyme leaves
- 4 ounces grated Gruyère cheese
- 2 ounces freshly grated Parmigano Reggiano cheese
Note: We use this dough for both savory and sweet tart shells. Only use the sugar and lemon zest if you want dough. Add them right after the salt.
- Pour the flour into a mound on a counter top. Add the salt and toss well. Work the butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers until the butter is in small olive sized pieces. Add the water by starting with 2 tablespoons and tossing with your fingers to incorporate into the dough. Then add a tablespoon at a time The dough should be crumbly but just hold together when you grab a handful and squeeze it. You may not need all the water.
- Form the dough into a mound and then, using the heel of your hand, push the dough away from you, flattening out the lumps. Continue until all the dough is flat. Form the dough into a mound and repeat the process one more time. Do not work the butter completely into the mixture. The streaks of butter will make the crust flaky. The dough should be kind of shaggy.
- Shape the dough into a cake, wrap in parchment and refrigerate at least one hour to allow the dough to rest.
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- Place the dough on a floured pastry board, countertop, or plastic pastry sheet and roll it out to the desired size and shape. Be sure to roll the dough to an even thickness, otherwise the thin parts of the crust will burn while the thicker parts are still baking.
- Carefully fold the dough in quarters, transfer to an 11-inch tart pan and unfold. Ease the dough into the corners of the pan; if you stretch it to reach into the pan’s corners it will tear. Pull the dough up over the edge of the tin so it hangs over by about 1 inch. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, trim off any excess dough. (I save it and make little cinnamon swirls for Roxanne.) Then roll it to rest just over the edge and crimp the edge decoratively. The dough will shrink a bit as it bakes so this slight overhang will help it from falling to the bottom. At this point, put the crust into the fridge for at least 30 minutes or the freezer for 15 minutes. Chilling will help to keep the dough from shrinking.
- Cover the dough with baker’s parchment or foil and then fill the plate with weights so the covering presses down on the raw dough. You can use uncooked beans, rice, ball bearings, loose change or marble-shaped ceramic pie weights designed specifically for this purpose. The point is to fill the pan with something that will hold the dough down when it starts to bake.
- Bake for 15 minutes in the center of the oven. After 15 minutes carefully remove the foil and weights. If the edges of the crust have already started to brown cover them with foil. Continue baking until the crust is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Let the crust cool on a wire rack. As soon as it has cooled you can use it in a pie or tart recipe.
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Strip the leaves off the stems of the Swiss chard.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add the chard leaves to the boiling water and blanch until tender, about 3 minutes. Plunge them into ice water. When cool, drain and gently squeeze dry, not bone dry.
- Trim the gnarly ends of the stems, peeling away any strings that stay connected to the end. Chop the stems into ¼-inch dice.
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until tender about 4 minutes. Add the diced chard stems and cook an additional 4 minutes. Season with salt. Add the garlic and cherry pepper and cook 1 minute. Add the anchovies and chard leaves, season with salt and pepper and cook 3-4 minutes, tossing occasionally. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Beat the eggs and yolks with the crème fraîche, heavy cream and herbs. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover the bottom of the prebaked crust with the Gruyère cheese. Spread the Swiss chard mixture over the cheese. Pour the custard over the chard, gently push and prod the chard a bit to allow the custard to drain down to the crust, and then sprinkle with the parmesan. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Near the edges of the tart the custard should be set, but still a little wobbly in the center. It will firm up as it cools.
Everyone gets a little jittery about learning to make a pie crust from scratch. We’ve all made our share of pliable cardboard, but I’ve taught enough people how to make dough to guarantee that with practice, anyone can do it. I’ve listed the worthwhile bits of advice about the process below. It’s not complicated–you just have to practice.
- Be sure all your ingredients are cold, even the flour–put it in the fridge.
- Don’t add too much water–add it in stages, it’s easier to control.
- Don’t overwork the dough–it will look a little shaggy at first, but the flour will absorb the water and it will come together as it rests.
- Practice, practice, practice. It’s all in getting the right feel and if you truly want to master the technique, make a dough every day for a week. Measure the flour, salt and cut up butter ahead and put each recipe into a zip lock bag in the freezer. Make one dough first thing every morning and check it out when you get home in the evening. By the end of the week you will have all your doughs made for Thanksgiving. Just wrap them well and freeze them. You will take care of a weeks worth of Eleanor Roosevelt’s directive to “do one thing that scares you everyday”.
You’d never know it from the pictures, but France is still in the middle of a very tough economy. “Le Crise,” as it’s known there. Young people find it very hard to find work and everyone economizes. In that spirit, I did as the French would ordinarily do with this recipe–I used the Swiss chard stems. They’re beautiful, and there really is no reason to discard them. Waste not want not. As you can see by the pictures, I like peeling away the stem fibers before chopping them. (Would you expect any less from someone who peels her tomatoes?)
PHOTO NOTES: This is a very photo-heavy post. The first gallery is a walk-through on making a pie/tart crust–it doesn’t include a photo of the ingredients. We figured you already what butter, flour and salt look like. If you make your own crust, or use a premade tart shell, you might want to advance to the second gallery, which shows Jody making the tart after she already has a baked crust in hand.
Crust Gallery – Don’t the number of photos fool you. The first half of this process – making the dough and getting it into the refrigerator – shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.