Monday, November 15, 2010

Just Dandy

For anyone that thinks the good times are over once winter hits (culinarily speaking, that is), I have proof positive that you can turn almost any of your favorite warm weather dishes into bright and impressive winter dishes. And even better, they're not just place holders to get you through the winter months--they're actually tasty enough to entertain with. For many, nothing says spring like a tart or quiche that's resplendent with the lush green veggies of spring (this particular example comes to mind). But the truth is that dishes like tarts and quiche are the perfect canvas for showcasing winter's bounty (or lack thereof), because they're light and relatively easy to infuse with flavor. You can go the hearty route, throwing in everything from squash or pumpkin to brussels sprouts, cauliflower or parsnips, or keep it elegant by using mushrooms, leeks or my personal favorite, fall and winter greens. 

I used an asparagus and potato tart recipe from Jamie Oliver as a guide, but diverted from it substantially while making the dish a second, third, and fourth time. I knew the cheddar cheese in the recipe was strong enough to stand up to winter ingredients, so I kept that and actually went so far as to buy an extra sharp white cheddar for some added tang. Where I diverted from the recipe was in the make-up of the batter, which was a little too potato-heavy for me, and almost felt like eating mashed potatoes. To remedy this, I removed an entire potato to let the egginess come through a little bit, making the batter lighter and more quiche-like. Then I swapped out the spring-time asparagus for the more winter appropriate dandelion greens. I like to get them as small and tender as possible for this dish so you don't have to worry about removing the tough stem. For any larger leaves that sneaked in (which I confirmed with a copy editor is in fact the actual past tense of "sneak"), I removed the thick stems and finely chopped the leaves, placing them on the bottom of the tart, along with some of the cheese, which was also folded into the batter mixture.

I did go ahead and keep the phyllo dough crust from the original recipe (despite it making the recipe a bit more complicated) because the crunch goes so well with the soft interior of the tart. Overall it's a really great recipe that can be adapted to incorporate any seasonal veggie. I chose the greens because they didn't need to be pre-cooked or softened, and would completely cook through in the 20 minutes that the tart takes to bake. But in the future I'm already planning on a mushroom and leek tart using the same basic recipe. I'll just have to soften up the mushrooms and leeks in a skillet with oil or butter and carry on the same recipe from there. So if you're feeling a little less bright as the days get darker earlier, give a recipe like this a try and add in a some of your favorite veggies. Hopefully it'll make your dark days feel the littlest bit lighter.

Dandelion Green And Potato Tart

2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and dried (tough stems removed from larger leaves)
8 ounces phyllo dough (about 12 sheets)
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
3 large eggs
1 (8 ounce) container heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook potatoes in salted, boiling water until tender, about 15-20 minutes. 

2. Meanwhile, carefully layer the sheets of phyllo pastry into an ovenproof dish, brushing each with butter as you go, and letting about 1 inch hang over the side of the dish. Try to get at least 3 layers of pastry, but the more you do the more crispy crust you'll have. Put a clean, damp kitchen towel or paper towel over the top of the pastry covered dish and set aside.

3. When the potatoes are done, drain and mash them with half of the cheese. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, heavy cream, remaining cheese, nutmeg, black pepper and salt. Combine the potatoes and the eggs mixture.

4. Add the chopped dandelion greens to the pastry covered baking dish so they are evenly spread out. Pour the batter into the dish, and top with 5 or six small, tender dandelion greens (as shown above). 

5. Tuck edges of pastry into the dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes until set and slightly wiggly in the center. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!


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