“I’d rather be shut up in a very modest cottage, with my books, my family, and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post which any human power can give.” -Thomas Jefferson, American badass (and forefather, and yeah, President – but mostly a badass)
Like everyone else these days, I’ve been trying to curb my expenditures a bit as we weather our devastating economic condition. One of my biggest indulgences is weekend brunch. Nothing makes me happier on Saturday and Sunday mornings than to roll out of bed, not even bother showering, barely comb my hair, and stumble down the street to one of the cozy brunch spots in a small neighborhood repertoire of establishments. (Shout-out to James, my most favorite-est of all!) Of course, like most New Yorkers, brunch is a way of life for me, and I tend to over-do it a bit. It can get a little price-y, so I’ve decided to do Saturday mornings at home like in the good ol’ days when my Daddy would make me and my sister fried eggs cooked in bacon fat.
Savory tarts like this one are really, really nice for weekend brunch at home. Everyone seems to love them, and you can chuck just about anything (cheeses, meats, vegetables, herbs) into the custard base and still wind up with something tasty. Think of it as an omelette in pastry. The possibilities are endless. It’s a great way to use up the produce from the previous week before it goes bad. You can also totally use store-bought pie crust if you don’t want to bother with the whole song and dance of making your own. But I will say this as a disclaimer: this pastry recipe, which is, in French, called pâte brisée (literally “broken paste” or “short paste”) is incredible. One of the three base classic French pastries: one savory (brisée), one a bit sweet (sucré) and one a bit more cookie-like (sablée), it’s not super hard to make (just a little time-consuming…) and has wonderful, flaky, buttery results. It’s so worth it. And anyway, making fresh pastry from scratch is an incredibly relaxing and lovely art. It’s grown-up Play-Doh.
My recipe below is, as is much of my cooking, an “elevated” version of something that almost everyone can understand. All it is, really, is bacon and eggs. I’ve just added sautéed leeks for a subtle and aromatic onion flavor and some chopped fresh parsley. I’ve also used some nutmeg in the custard. A little pinch of ground nutmeg in anything creamy does wonders for flavor. It’s one of those magical flavor affinity things that just always works because that’s the way that nature made it. And we love that around here.
For the pastry:
3/4 cup flour, sifted, plus extra for rolling
3/4 stick butter (6t tbsp.), cut into cubes approximately 1/4″-1/2″ wide and reserved in the refrigerator
1 large egg
Big pinch of kosher salt
1/2 tsp. water
Parchment paper and about 2-3 cups worth of dried beans, for blind baking
For the filling:
Neutrally-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola
2 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut into lardons approximately 1/4″ wide (NOTE: Sometimes it’s helpful to place the bacon slices in the freezer for about 30 minutes prior to slicing, as you will easily be able to make smoother, more even cuts)
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, dark leaves and roots removed, cut in 1/2 lengthwise, washed well to remove all sand between layers, and cut into half moons approximately 1/8″ wide
3 large eggs
3/4 cup half & half
Large handful of parsley leaves, washed, dried well, & chopped fine
Medium pinch ground (or freshly ground) nutmeg
Small pinch cayenne pepper
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1. First, let’s prepare the pastry. This is not as intimidating as you think, if you have a food processor, a clean work surface, and a dough scraper. (NOTE: Dough scrapers are invaluable in my kitchen, and you don’t have to get the fancy metal ones. The crappy plastic cheap ones are just fine to make great pastry. You can also sub out this whole pastry bonanza with the store-bought Pillsbury pie crust rolls. They work great in a pinch, but, of course, home-made is ALWAYS better.) To make the homemade version, dump the sifted flour and the big pinch of kosher salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to distribute evenly. Add the cold butter cubes and pulse until the mixture is the size of peas. Dump out onto a clean countertop surface and form a well. Quickly beat the large egg with a fork until smooth and pour into the middle of the well with the 1/2 tsp. of water. Swirl the liquid into the flour/salt well lightly until it can all come together in a ball. Turn very quickly about twice just to get the ball to come together, and then break off walnut-sized pieces of the ball and crush out away from you on the countertop surface with the heel of your hand, immediately scraping back up with the dough scraper and setting aside. Repeat with the remaining dough mixture. Once all dough has been crushed, form it quickly into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to rest.
2. Preheat the oven to 375º. While the dough is resting in the refrigerator, prepare the filling. Place a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add just enough of the oil to a sauté pan to coat the surface. When the oil is nice and hot (give it about a minute or so…..) add the bacon lardons. Stir to coat the bacon in the oil, and cook until most of the fat has rendered, but bacon doesn’t have too much color on it. If bacon begins to turn brown to fast and sizzle a whole bunch, simply turn the heat down and keep going. You want to render the fat off of the bacon sort of slowly here, so medium to medium-low heat is best, as the whole process will take about 5-7 minutes here. You want to wind up with bacon lardons that are slightly golden-brown and shrunken in size from the pieces you started with, and you want little brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
3. When bacon is ready, scoop out and place on a plate lined in a few sheets of paper towel. Allow to drain and cool down. Reserve a bit of the bacon grease in the sauté pan, but pour off any excess. Return the pan to the fire over medium-low heat. When the pan and grease are hot, add the sliced leeks and sweat until soft, but without any color, about 5 minutes. When ready, add the sweated leeks to the plate lined with paper towel and allow to drain and cool.
4. Prepare an 8-10″ tart pan with a thin coating of cold butter. Place buttered pan in the refrigerator while you roll out the dough.
5. After the dough has rested for at least 30 minutes, prepare a clean countertop with a generous, but even, sprinkling of flour. Unwrap dough and roll out on top of the bed of flour until dough is about 1/8″ thick all over. Sprinkle more flour lightly over dough and on rolling pin as needed. When dough is properly rolled out, roll it up onto the rolling pin and unwrap into the buttered tart shell. Tear off a small piece of excess dough from the excess overhang, and use this to press the dough evenly into the corners and sides of the pan. Trim away excess and use to patch any problem areas, or discard the excess entirely. Using the tips of a fork, lightly dock the pastry so it looks something like this. Cut a piece of parchment paper to a size just a little bit larger than the tart shell, and gently place on top of the pastry so the edges hang over a bit. Fill pastry shell with the dried beans, spread them out evenly in the shell, and place in the preheated oven to blind bake for about 10 minutes, or until the pastry is a chalky white color. Remove pastry shell from the oven, carefully remove the dried beans and parchment, and reserve on a rack to cool slightly. (NOTE: Blind baking is important. It helps the dough to set up properly before adding wet ingredients to it, and it gives a nice head-start to the pastry’s cooking time, which ensures you won’t wind up with a soggy, miserable piece of pastry under the filling. It will be flaky and golden-brown all over, and we like that .)
6. In a medium mixing bowl, crack in the 3 eggs and whisk together vigorously with a fork until smooth. Pour in the half-and-half and stir to combine. Add the leeks, bacon, chopped parsley, nutmeg, and cayenne. Stir to combine and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the filling mixture into the cooled tart shell and carefully place it back in the oven. Cook until the custard is set and the top begins to turn golden-brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack, and serve at room temperature.
Yield: This makes one 8-10″ tart. 8-10″ of yummytime, in other words.Printer Friendly