Monday, March 8, 2010

Chard tart

I don’t know about you, but I’m craving something green right about now. No salad, please–none of that plasticky lettuce that’s shivering on store shelves at the moment. It'll be a couple of months before we get the fresh stuff in the farmer's markets, longer still until our CSA starts delivering, so the thing that beckons most enticingly right now is chard–especially rainbow chard with those impossible, 80's colors. It’s shipped from California, yes, but even that long commute can’t stifle its exuberance. There's a beet-like minerality to it, and a faint sweetness that unfurls with gentle cooking. The ribs–the best part–are not to be thrown out, by any means. They take longer to soften than the green leafy parts, but when they do they're yielding and savory. Even my friend Kamila's baby couldn't stop eating the ones I sauteed the other night. 

In more fecund months we’re simply swimming in these greens, far fresher than what I get in a New York March, and shot through with even more dazzling veins of neon. I look back with regret to October, remembering how, more than once, I regarded with distain what seemed an unstoppable tide of greens in our CSA share.

I tried growing some myself, one summer in Connecticut, but was thwarted by a wise mama groundhog and her four fat pups–who set up camp under the boulder next to our garden, watched until the young chard reached about three inches high, then razed it to a verdant stubble. Varmints, our weekday absence, and a tree that spread its shade over the plot have mostly kept us from vegetable gardening, so I leave my chard growing to others these days. I can't help ogling the Seed Savers Exchange website now and then, though, and fantasizing about the packets I would unwrapping right now: Christmas in March.
I take consolation in the fact that I can still cook all the chard I want, and I want it most with eggs. Eggs are something we're always rolling in, thanks to the Tello's Green Farm egg share I pick up at my daughter's school–and my obsession with comparing eggs from various farms, forever in search of the firmest white and orangest yolk. Often, I'll float a cloud of poached egg atop a heap of sauteed greens and bacon, and splash it with hot sauce. But this week, I was in the mood for more of a ritual: the rolling and baking of a tart shell, the whisking of a custard, the sautéing of the greens, the assembly. A bit more labor-intensive, perhaps, but somehow more festive, and practical for tucking away in the fridge as tomorrow’s lunch (maybe with some tomato soup). 
Doesn't this sound like a quiche, though? It's not, exactly. There’s a fine line, but for me what decides it is the ratio of filling to custard, the relatively high proportion of cream to eggs, and the fact that I bake mine in flat tart molds (the kind with removable bottoms). I pack in as much chard as I can, leaving just enough pockets for the egg/cream mixture to fill out into a creamy binding. I make many variations of this tart through the seasons, such as mushrooms and sometimes asparagus, and I used to torture myself by baking hundreds of mini ones as hors d'oeuvre for catering events.

You will have to bake your own tart shell for this (unless you have a good store brand that's not sweet). Don't be scared if you've never done it before–if you're a passable baker, or even a careful novice, your fortitude will prevail. There are several approaches you can take. For me, nothing beats a flaky butter crust (see below). I also came across this olive oil crust from Chocolate and Zucchini, and I like to throw it into the mix during warmer months, when something less rib-sticking is in order.  

The recipe has three basic parts, so you can split it up over a couple of days, making the crust ahead of time and even freezing it, then assembling the whole thing when you're ready. If you don't overbake the tart, you can re-heat it the next day and it's still delicious. And green.

Short crust
  • 4 ounces cold, unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into small pieces
  • 1 3/4 cups flour (all-purpose or a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Ice water
Have a 9-inch or 10-inch removable-bottom tart mold ready–any shallow pie dish works, really. In a food processor, combine flour and salt, then pulse in butter until it's blended with flour in tiny, coarse pieces. Start pulsing in ice water a few drops at a time, until dough comes together in a shaggy ball. Do not add too much water–you'll probably only use a tablespoon or two. Once dough comes together, remove from food processor and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, preferably about an hour. (*note: you can also rub butter into flour with your palms if you work quickly)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. You'll need to blind-bake the tart shell. Let the dough come to room temperature for 10 minutes or so, then roll out into a uniform, thin sheet, somewhere between 1/16 and 1/8 inches thick. You can really go crazy getting it paper thin, but you don't need to. Nestle dough over and into the tart mold, pressing gently into corners and against sides. You can cut off excess around the top with a pair of kitchen scissors, or roll rolling pin over the top of tart shell to sever off edges. Press against sides one more time so the dough really sticks. Prick bottom slightly with tines of a fork, then refrigerate some more (10 minutes or so), until dough firms up a bit. Press together any dough leftovers and use for a smaller tart, or for patching any cracks in the baked tart.

Remove tart mold from fridge and press a sheet of foil on top of dough. Fill with some sort of weight, like dried beans, rice, or even pennies (great suggestion, Kamila!). Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or a bit more, until dough becomes golden brown. You can cool this shell and save, wrapped, for a day or so–or freeze for future use.

Chard tart
  • 1 large shallot or small onion, diced into small pieces.
  • 1 large bunch of chard or two small ones (2 bunches for large or deeper pie dish)
  • Butter or olive oil for cooking
  • 4 eggs (3 if using jumbo eggs)
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 pound feta, crumbled or sliced in thin slabs
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cut up chard by first slicing out ribs, then chopping them into 1/2 inch pieces. Rinse and set aside. Slice leaves in half lengthwise, then stack and slice into ribbons widthwise. Rinse in a bowl of clean water, then lift out and drain.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. Throw in a knob of butter or a couple of tablespoons olive oil, then add shallots. Sweat them a few minutes (don't brown), then add chopped chard ribs. Saute these, sprinkling on some salt, until they begin to soften but not brown, 5-10 minutes. Add greens to skillet. You want the greens to wilt and release their liquid, then for the liquid to evaporate. If you have a lid large enough, put that over them for the first 5 minutes or so, then remove. Stir so that all greens are in contact with heat at some point. Once they are uniformly wilted, stems are softened, and liquid is mostly gone, they are ready. Taste them and add salt and pepper to your liking.

Whisk together eggs, cream, and a little salt for a few minutes, until frothy. Set aside. Take out tart shell and put it on a baking sheet. Patch any cracks in the shell with a bit of leftover dough. Arrange greens into tart shell about 3/4 way to the top, then crumble feta over it or lay thin slices on top. Carefully and slowly pour egg/cream mixture over greens until they are almost, but not quite, covered. You do not want mixture to come up too high, or else it will expand and overflow during baking (if you have leftover mixture, add another egg to make creamy scrambled eggs). Gently press down any greens that are sticking way up, and put tart into middle rack of oven. Bake about 20 minutes or until custard no longer jiggles when tart is gently shaken. You want it to be creamy and just set in the middle–not rubbery–so begin checking after about 15 minutes, then every 5 minutes as it nears doneness. Cool for a few minutes before slicing.


  1. I'm not sure if it surprises me more that you were able to grow greens in your backyard or that there were groundhogs there. How sweet! (sort of).

    This tart looks lovely. I haven't seen anything like chard here, but I'm sure I can find a substitute. If nothing else, I'll use that crust recipe.

  2. Ha-thanks Leigh, I'll cook it for you next time you're in town. And by the way, the groundhogs were in Connecticut, not Brooklyn (no, it hasn't changed that much here since you left).

  3. I've made this last night and it was amazing. Did the dough by hand which was litttle time consuming but not too bad. I used 1 cup of whole wheet and 3/4 of regular, next time I will reverse it..I think.