Baked for lunch: savoury tarts

One of the ways I combat my baking addiction is by not eating very much before evening. No, I am not confessing a serious eating disorder on my blog! I’m just saying that I’m pretty strict about what I eat at work during the day – a healthy, never changing breakfast and a small, nutritious lunch. This means that at least I’ve compensated for the inevitable total loss of control that occurs when I get home in the evening and start eating everything in sight.

As a result, I’m not used to big lunches. When I do eat a large noontime meal, it makes me sleepy and zaps my afternoon energy. On the occasions when we go out for team lunches, I’m inevitably near-comatose by 3pm (a massive bowl of Tom Yum saw to that last Friday). Even on weekends I don’t eat much for lunch – we don’t really 'do' lunch in my family, as strange as that sounds! But from time to time I want to make a bit of an occasion of the midday meal, while still keeping it light. When this happens, I find myself going straight for a savoury tart. Our local gourmet deli and farmer’s market both sell fabulous little versions – everything from asparagus and pea to sundried tomato and mascarpone – which I sometimes buy for a Sunday treat.

But at £2.50 a pop, I figured I could do it cheaper and almost as well at home, using up some tired bits of last week’s veg that would soon be headed for the bin (yes, not only is this a tasty lunch, it’s a responsible one too!). I made two kinds of tart – roasted courgette and red pepper, and yellow cherry tomato, smoked cheddar and basil. But the beauty of this recipe is that your lunch possibilities are endless.

Some more filling ideas:
Smoked salmon and dill
Cherry tomato and bacon
Roasted butternut squash and pine nut
Caramelized onion

Savoury tarts

Makes four 5-inch individual tarts with any filling of your choice

Pastry:
250 g plain or all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
125 g unsalted butter
1/2 egg yolk (you don’t need to be too accurate about this!)
125 ml cold water

Cream filling:
250 ml single cream
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
pinch salt and pepper
pinch grated nutmeg

To make the pastry: Place the flour and salt in a food processor and give it a quick whiz. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal – about 10 to 15 seconds. Add the half egg yolk; with the machine on, pour the water slowly through the feed tube and process just until the dough clumps together into a ball (you may not need all the water so stop as soon as the dough comes together). Don’t overprocess! Flatten the dough into a round disk and cover with plastic wrap; place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to a couple of days.

When ready to make the tarts, remove the dough from the fridge and divide it into four pieces. Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll each piece to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. Ease each round gently into a tart tin and cut off any excess dough. Return to the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

To make the cream filling: Beat all the ingredients together in a large glass measuring cup until they are well combined.

To assemble the tarts: Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Remove the chilled tart shells from the fridge and prick all over with a fork, including up the sides. Get ready to blind bake the shells by lining the shells with foil (letting it overhang the sides by a couple of inches) and filling with pie weights or beans. Place the tins in the centre rack of the oven and bake about 2o minutes, until the edges are completely dry and beginning to colour. Remove the foil and weights and return the shells to bake about 5 more minutes, until the bottoms are completely dry and set but not yet coloured.

Remove the tart shells from the oven and add your filling of choice – don’t overload them. Pour 1/4 of the cream mixture into each tart, almost to the top of the shell without spilling over. Return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cream mixture is just set in the middle – when you press the middle of a tart with your finger it will feel spongy and spring back. Cool the tarts in their tins until they are cool enough to handle, then unmold.