This time of year gives us some stunning pink sunsets & amazing natural colours to brighten up our meals on those frosty days. The fruits are dark, rich & intense; the vegetables are vivid, flavoursome & versatile. It’s Nature’s way of getting those essential nutrients into us via such attractive packaging (most of which you can eat too!). Working or not, lunches can often be random sandwiches with questionable fillings, or pasties filled with even more questionable meat. Sometimes we need to set aside half an hour to whip up something a bit more substantial than a shop-bought sandwich from the local garage on your way to work (I’m not judging, we’ve all done it).
There are some things I really don’t like – rude people, empty jars put back in the fridge & beetroot. Growing up, my parents ate beetroot & so did most of my friends, but I really couldn’t abide the taste. My Mum would slice it so prettily, lay it on a delicate plate surrounded by salads & dishes full of delectable delicacies, trying to entice me to taste some (it didn’t work). One so-called friend actually put it in a health drink to get me to try it (it didn’t end well). Then a couple of years ago, someone gave me a savoury tart recipe to try with beetroot in it, so I decided to give it another go. If I didn’t like it, my Husband would eat it (he likes beetroot). Plus, beetroot has all those important vitamins, minerals & heavy metals that are good for you (I don’t mean Metallica or Iron Maiden, I’m talking folic acid, iron & copper).
This savoury tart is crammed full of luscious cheese & finely chopped beetroot adorns the filling with beautiful deep amethyst & magenta colours. Everyone knows how much I love cheese, so I began my experiment with a positive attitude. I adapted the recipe, mainly because my experience with grating anything by hand usually ends up with me grating my knuckles or a fingernail. The original recipe had grated beetroot & just one cheese, so I’ve added a few more to give it a more rounded flavour & it’s good to use up various bits of leftover cheese (apparently leftover cheese is a thing in some homes!).
What you need:
For the Filling:
2 medium-sized Beetroot, drained & chopped finely
100g Feta Cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon Cream Cheese or Ricotta
1oz grated Parmesan
1oz grated Grana Padana
2oz grated Cheddar (mild or medium)
3 large Eggs
Splash of semi-skimmed Milk
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Fresh Thyme (just a couple of sprigs is sufficient)
For the Pastry:
6oz Self-Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
2oz Salted Butter (room temperature, cut into chunks)
1 large Egg
[You will also need a bit of extra butter & flour for preparing your tin]
What to do:
Preheat the oven to 180*C. Prepare your baking tin – I prefer to use a 12″ loose-bottomed flan tin. Butter the inside of the tin, making sure you get into any corners or edges (especially if it’s fluted around the edge), then sprinkle flour all over & tap out the excess. This recipe is really easy & quick to make, so you could always double the mixture up & make a large one in a Swiss Roll tin, or make smaller single portions in individual tins or silicone tartlet trays.
Make the pastry: tip the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the butter & crack in the egg. Get your hands in & mix it all together to form a firm dough. On a lightly floured worktop, roll out the dough to about 5mm thickness & make sure it is larger than the tin you are using (a couple of inches extra all around should be enough).
Using your rolling pin, carefully transfer the pastry to your prepared tin & lay it over the top. Gently pat it into the tin, being careful not to put your fingers through it. Push it into all the corners or fluted edges & then prick it all over with a fork (this stops it from puffing up all over the place). Don’t worry about cutting off the excess pastry too much – you can do this once it’s baked & this will leave you with a nice smooth finish to your pastry case edges. Usually, I just make a nice decorative edge of pastry instead, so it’s down to personal choice here.
Grab a sheet of greaseproof paper & screw it up, then unravel it & lay it over your pastry in the tin. In a previous blog, I’ve mentioned about baking blind, so if this is something you will do often then I suggest you get some ceramic baking beads. If not, use a couple of handfuls of dried pasta such as fusilli or penne. Tip them onto the greaseproof paper, then bake in the centre of the oven for about 10 minutes.
While that’s baking, prepare your filling. In a mixing bowl, add the three eggs & a splash of milk, then give them a quick whisk to break up the yolks. Add the grated Parmesan & Grana Padana, half of the Cheddar & Feta, plus the Cream Cheese. Give everything a light whisking using a fork to make sure everything is combined, then add a sprinkling of the black pepper.
Remove the pastry case from the oven & carefully lift out the greaseproof paper & baking beads. Leave them to one side to cool down before putting them away. If you used pasta, you can reuse this a couple of times so keep it for another time.
Sprinkle an even layer of the finely chopped beetroot pieces in the bottom of the pastry case & save a handful to one side. Pour the egg & cheese mixture into the pastry case, covering the beetroot. Gently dot the remaining beetroot pieces around the cheese filling, along with the grated Cheddar & crumbled Feta that you kept back. Strip some leaves from the Thyme sprigs (hold it upside down & run your fingers along the stem to release them all) & add a few to the top.
Return the tart to the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until firm & golden on top. Test it by touching the top – if it feels firm, it’s done. Leave the tart in it’s tin on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes. If you left the pastry edges on, carefully cut the excess pastry off from around the edges with a sharp knife.
If you have used a loose-bottomed tin, simply turn a small bowl upside-down & place the tart in it’s tin on top. The base will stay on the mug, the edge will drop off around the bowl below. Transfer the tart to a serving plate or chopping board, either leaving it on the base to serve or sliding a palette knife underneath to separate the two.
This beautiful beetroot tart is perfect for packed lunches & keeps for a couple of days wrapped up in the fridge or you can always freeze some. Serve in slices, either on it’s own or with a gorgeous green salad & well-buttered jacket potato. Even though I don’t like beetroot, I actually adore this & it adds a semi-sweetness to the soft, creamy cheese filling. Obviously, my Husband loves it too, so I make two & there’s plenty to go around.
Another version of this cheese-crammed tart is to use leftover vegetables from the fridge too, including any roasted veggies you cooked the night before (I’ve always got a jar of these, because I roast them up for pizzas). Got two or three rashers of smoked bacon in the fridge? Snip into bits, fry them in a drizzle of olive oil & chuck them in the bottom of the baked pastry case, add pieces of veggies – roasted peppers, courgettes, onion, they can all go in & no waste! Pour the eggs & cheese mixture over the top & bake as in the recipe above. Blissfully beautiful, the sweet peppers offset the tang of the cheese & the smokey bacon perfectly. Slice & share warm, or save for lazy lunches.
Have a go at making your own bejewelled beetroot tart for your packed or unpacked lunches & have a sandwich sabbatical! Stay hungry! 😉 A x