Ricotta Leek Tart with Tomatoes

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If there’s one thing I hate it’s living up to stereotypes. In college I never told people (read: a specific breed of men) that I liked to cook. It was the best way to avoid the inevitable women in kitchen “jokes”, not that it stopped them. As someone who now makes her living in the kitchen I have fantasies about telling such ignorant louts. (These fantasies are essentially channeling Colette from Ratatouille.) There’s something icky about matching up with these stereotypes, like you’re failing to be a fully complex human being.

But to my shame some stereotypes are accurate. Specifically, I’m terrible with technology. I like to say that I’m as good at computers as the average 50 year old, but my Mom is in her 50s and is more proficient than I am. And let’s clarify that this is a me thing, not a gender thing. The other week Aaron and I went over to our friends Anne and Brian. Aaron quickly fell into conversation about tech with Anne, while Brian and I skipped off into their basement to check out their foundation with a marble. As we hurried away Anne quipped that it was computer skills verses actual skills. Our two groups each trouble shot in our own ways- Anne figured out the computer problem at hand, and Brian and I expertly decided their foundation was sound.

All this is to say that this post almost didn’t go out today, because I couldn’t get my camera and computer to synch. I still haven’t solved the problem, and my own personal IT guy (Aaron, who in addition to bar tending used to work for an actual big tech company) has yet to troubleshoot it for me. But today I did discover, after owning my computer for almost a year, that my laptop has an SD port. Problem solved? Absolutely not. Workaround found? Yes. Good enough for me? You know it.

My reticence towards technology spreads to the kitchen sometimes. I know how to sous vide and use liquid nitrogen, but I forget about them both for long stretches of the time. That kid of cooking is deeply impractical for daily life. I have a high speed blender, and I love it, but not nearly as much as I love my chef’s knife and bench scraper. I’m much more interested in fermentation than spherification. At work it’s fun to play with ideas and techniques, but at home I love the simple and the rustic.

Rustic is the adjective I’d chose for this tart. It’s made with an olive oil tart dough, which comes together with less fuss than a butter crust. There’s no cutting in the butter, and no worries about temperature. The crust is sturdy, well suited to the type of thing to make and then leave in the fridge for a week’s lunches.

I’ve paired this tart dough with a sort of faux-quiche. Ricotta and eggs make a lovely, sturdy custard, creamy and substantial. The  custard is filled with leeks, which bring sweetness, and topped with cherry tomatoes, provide brightness in both taste and color. It’s delightfully old-fashioned,  the sort of thing people might bring on classy picnics, with champaign and designated picnic baskets. I initially made this in hope for a classy picnic of our own, but the weather has not cooperated. Instead we have been steadily chipping away at this tart for lunches (me) and dinners (Aaron) in the safety of our apartment, tasting sunshine in its absence. 

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Ricotta Leek Tart with Tomato

I would highly recommend making this ahead of time, as it keeps so lovely. 

Serves 6

1 parbaked olive oil tart shell, recipe below
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced and well washed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup (8 ounces, 226 grams) ricotta
3 eggs
sea salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a sauce pan over medium heat warm the olive oil. Add the cleaned leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, with a pinch of salt until the leeks have softened, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix together the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, thyme, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the softened leeks. Pour out into the prepared olive oil tart shell.

Gently spoon the filling around the shell so that it’s level. Place the cherry tomato halves into the filling, cut side up. Press down gently so that the cut side is level with with the filling.

Bake for 40 minutes, until filling is set and the tomatoes have shrunk and concentrated a bit. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve room temperature or cold.

Olive Oil Tart Dough

Makes 1 tart shell

3/4 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cold water

Whisk together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in olive oil until the dough begins to clump together, then stir in the water. Using your hands, form the dough into ball, kneading it together if necessary. Wrap in plastic then refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and roll out onto a well-floured surface until it’s an even circle a few inches longer than your pie dish. Transfer the dough to the pie dish, patching up any holes as they occur. Crimp the edges of the tart dough down and trim as necessary, then prick the bottom of the tart a few times with a fork.

Bake the tart dough, uncovered, for 20 minutes. The tart shell should be firm to touch. Set aside until you’re ready to make the tart.

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Leek and Spinach Quiche


I spent a long time thinking about what I wanted to make to officially mark the beginning of spring. Eggs always represent spring to me, with their promise of life and their thick, vivid yellow yolks. Sweet leeks and crisp spinach, which both grow nicely here for most of the year, would round out the eggs. And because spring is not summer, it calls for some baking and a bit more fat. A quiche, then,  with a butter crust and nutty gruyere and sips of heavy cream. And the day that I baked this quiche, this celebration of spring, I was rewarded with a fat flurry of snowflakes. As Anne Lamott says, if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.

The beginnings of spring in Minnesota resembles playing tug of war. You step forward into the sun, and then are pushed backwards towards the snow. It keeps going like this, inching forward a bit more every time, until finally with an almighty shove you topple into the season. I’m looking forward for this game to end. I have a fat bunch of seed packets to plant in my garden and a closet full of skirts and sandals to wear. In the meantime, restaurants all around are starting to clean off their patio furniture. Aaron and I have been taking long walks around Lake of the Isles in the brilliant sunlight and changed out the flannel sheets from our bed. Spring, we’re ready for you. Please be ready for us.

I enjoy eating quiche all year round, but I love it best in Spring. It’s an elegant meal (I included a quiche in 2 of the 3 Easter dinners I’ve cooked), but it’s also a simple one. It’s perfect for both Spring and psedu-Spring. You make a crust, bake it, fill it it, then bake it again. And while it’s not a 30 minute meal, most of the time is inactive time. I like to make the crust the day before I plan on baking quiche. The day of it’s as easy as assembling the filling, baking, and eating.  I eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, until I’m left quicheless. It’s a sad state to be quicheless, to face a breakfast routine of toast and peanut butter over one of flakey crust and airy custard. I’m planning on making this again just for breakfast leftovers.

Leek and Spinach Quiche

If you have a preferred pie crust recipe, then you could easily substitute it in for this one here. I would just decrease the sugar and make sure you only make enough for a single crust. Or you could just make a double crust recipe and save one crust for a future quiche. On second thought, do that. This recipe stands up well to improvisation, so please make this your own.

Crust:

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into fine chunks
ice water

Filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced
6 cups (8 ounces) packed baby spinach, roughly chopped
salt
4 eggs
1 cup cream
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated gruyere cheese
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar until well combined. Add in the butter, and using a pastry knife or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture. If you’re using the pastry knife cut and move the knife until the butter is about the size of peas. If you’re using your fingers (my preferred method), rub the butter into the flour until the butter is well distributed and about the size of a pea.

Use a fork to mix the flour and butter together. Slowly, slowly, slowly add the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, mixing with the fork the whole time. You want the dough to be just moistened enough to hold together, but not so much that it feels wet. The amount of water you’ll need depends on your flour, the water content of your butter, the air in your kitchen, and your confidence, but it should sit somewhere between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup (4 to 8 tablespoons). If there are patches that are drier than others pour the water over those dry patches. The dough is ready when it just holds together. If you think you’re almost there, give it a squeeze. If it holds together on its own it’s ready. If it doesn’t, add another tablespoon.

Gather your dough into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Wrap this disk well and refrigerate for at least an hour. You can refrigerate the dough for a few days, or freeze for a few months, as long as it’s wrapped well.

When you’re ready to roll out your dough dust a clean surface with flour. Unwrap your dough and place on the surface. Use smooth, long strokes of a rolling pin to roll the dough out onto the surface. Every few strokes, turn the dough a quarter turn to make sure it’s rolling out evenly, and not sticking to the surface. If you’re having trouble with sticking, add a bit more flour.The dough is ready when you have a smooth, even expanse of dough about 12 inches in diameter.

Fold your dough into quarters and place in a 9 inch pie pan, then unfold. Center the dough, and trim off the overhang to about 1 inch. If you have any holes, now is the time to patch them with the extra dough. Crimp the ends of the dough to an even pattern, and poke the bottom with a fork half a dozen or so times. Return the dough to the fridge for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Place a sheet of parchment paper over the dough, and cover with a weight such as dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove beans and parchment paper and return to oven for 8 minutes, until the crust is golden and smells of butter. Remove from oven, and reduce the heat to 350.

While the crust is baking, wash the leeks in several changes of clean water. When the leeks are clean and drained, warm the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks to the olive oil with a pinch of salt, and stir well. Let the leeks cook for a few minutes, until they’re starting to wilt and smell sweet and onion-y. Add the spinach, and cook for another few minutes, until the spinach is wilted. Set aside, and let cool. Drain any liquid you can easily drain.

In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs. Add the cream, cheese, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooled vegetables, and mix well. Pour into the pie crust and return to the oven.

Bake until the crust smells toasty and the filling is set, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.

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