A labour of love • 08.19.09
I have been literally dreaming of an Italian themed vegetable tart for weeks. I would wake up in the dead of night and think, “I should add some pine nuts!” Or, I’d zone out over lunch and think, “What if I carmelised the onions first?” I wanted to wait until late summer, when the vegetables were all in season and at their peak. So, while I waited, I day-dreamed of flaky pastry, layers of grilled vegetables, a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese, just enough to hold the layers together. And last week, I finally made my dream tart.
Well, I will certainly not be filing this recipe away in my “Easy to Make” folder. It won’t be added to my “Quick Weeknight Dinner” pile either. This took MUCH longer to make than I thought it would. In my dreams I quickly rolled out pastry. Gave veggies a simple grill on the griddle pan and threw the whole thing together in less than an hour. Reality was, as ever, much different than the dream.
It takes a LONG time to grill enough vegetables to fill a tart pan. Especially if you only have a little griddle pan to work with. I spent the better part of 2 hours cutting, brushing with olive oil, grilling, flipping, repeating. I’m thrilled that I tried this recipe when I did, because I was planning on making it for a dinner party in a few weeks. We’re having 6 people over, so I would need 2 tarts. There is no WAY I’m going to make this for a crowd. I’d have to start grilling the veggies tomorrow in order to get them all done in time.
Now, having fully trashed this recipe, let me totally blow your minds. You should really really make this tart when you have the time. It is wonderful. The pastry was as flaky as I dreamed, the grilled vegetables tasted even better than I imagined, and all my little additions (pine nuts! carmelised onions!) were ideal. This tart is a celebration of long, hot days and perfectly ripe summer vegetables. And if you don’t have time to make this during the longest days of the year, when the sun stays bright until 9pm and the windows stay open all night… when will you??
Italian Grilled Vegetable Tart
For the carmelised onions
2 brown onions, thinly sliced into half-moon shapes
1 tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
For the roasted peppers
2 peppers (red looks nice, but you can use any colour)
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
For the grilled veggies
2 small aubergines (eggplants)
3 small to medium courgettes (zucchini)
2 tbs olive oil
1 ready-made pastry case or frozen pastry
1 tbs basil, finely chopped
2 tbs pine nuts, toasted in a hot frying pan until brown
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Start by carmelising the onions in a large, deep frying pan. Place the pan over medium low heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is warm, add the onions to the pan and stir until the onions are coated with the warm olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and allow to slowly cook. If they are browning too fast, turn the heat down a bit. You want them to slowly brown and get sticky and sweet. When the onions have cooked all the way down and are nice and golden brown, remove them from the frying pan and allow to cool. This can be done a day ahead of time if needed.
To roast the peppers, preheat your oven to 350F (200C or gas mark 4.) Line a baking tray with tin foil (this just makes clean-up a bit easier.) Rub the peppers with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Place the peppers in the oven. Turn the peppers over every 15 minutes or so to make sure they char evenly on all sides. Once they are nice and charred, remove the peppers from the oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, peel the skins off the peppers and discard. Slice the insides of the peppers into long thin strips. This can be done a day ahead of time if needed.
Grilling the vegetables is easy, it just takes time. Start with the courgettes. Thinly slice your courgettes (zucchini) into 1/8 inch or smaller slices. I used my mandoline for this and it worked really well. Preheat a grill or griddle pan over medium heat and brush with olive oil. Lay slices on the grill and allow to cook for about 3-4 minutes, until there are golden brown grill marks on the slices. Flip over using tongs and grill for another 2 minutes. Remove and place on a plate lined with paper towel. Brush the grill with olive oil again and repeat with all the courgette slices. Then, grill the eggplant using the same process.
Defrost the pastry case if required. Roll the pastry case out and fit it into your tart pan. I used a tart pan with a loose bottom which helped make removal very easy.
Preheat your oven to 350F (200C or gas mark 4.) Line your pastry case with tin foil and weigh it down with pastry weights, or dried rice or beans. Blind bake your pastry case for about 10 minutes, or until it is no longer wet to the touch. Remove the tin foil and weights and place back in the oven for 4-5 minutes, until the pastry is just starting to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave the oven on.
Sprinkle the basil and 1/2 of the Parmesan cheese onto the blind baked pastry case. Next, place the eggplants in a layer over the basil. Overlap the strips of eggplant to form a solid layer with no gaps. Sprinkle this layer with 1/4 of the mozzarella. Then, add the carmelised onions in a layer over the cheese. Sprinkle the onions with the pine nuts. Then add the peppers in a layer over the onions. Sprinkle 1/4 of the mozzarella over the pepper layer. Then, add the zucchini, following the same pattern you made with the eggplants. Sprinkle 1/4 of the mozzarella over the zucchini. Top the mozzarella with the chopped tomatoes and sprinkle on the rest of the mozzarella and the rest of the Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Bake the tart in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown on top. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before removing from the tart pan. Allow to sit for 5 more minutes before slicing and serving.
PHEW! Longest recipe ever. I told you it took forever, but I promise it’s worth it!