As a vegetarian, I’ve eaten countless clumsy goat’s cheese and red onion tarts. For far too long this was the default restaurant option for people who wanted a vegetable-centered meal. It’s a mistake made by lots of chefs to assume that we’ll be satisfied by heavy, claggy cheese and pappy pastry. There is such a beauty to making a really good tart or quiche, with a crisp crust and just-set, flavour-packed filling. They have to be handled with the lightest touch.
This tart is a riot of pink beetroot, and it makes the most of their often-overlooked minerally tops, too. I adore them and the fuchsia kiss they impart. The beetroot tops here are the hero, grated and paired with slow-cooked onions, thyme, soft goat’s cheese, fresh mint and some walnuts, which toast as the tart cooks — and a final drizzle of honey. I use oats and almonds here to make my pastry, and less butter than you might expect. The result is a deeply flavoured buttery crust with delicate backnotes. Don’t worry if you can’t find the tops: you could use some spinach on the stem instead. At a pinch, you can use pre-made shortcrust pastry.
FOR THE PASTRY
50g rolled oats
100g spelt flour
50g ground almonds
150g cold butter, cut into cubes, or coconut oil
FOR THE FILLING
Knob of butter or coconut oil
1 red onion, peeled
and finely sliced
2-3 beetroot (about 250g)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
200g beetroot tops or leafy spinach, washed and shredded
1-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
4 large eggs
150ml milk (I use almond)
A small bunch of mint, leaves picked and chopped
100g goat’s cheese
2 tbsp honey
FOR THE GREEN OLIVE SMASK
15 fat green olives,
rinsed and pitted
1 spring onion,
A small handful of toasted
½ fresh green chilli, deseeded
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Sea salt to taste, if needed
Heat the oven to 180C. Blitz the oats in a food processor until you have a scruffy flour, then add the spelt flour, almonds and a pinch of sea salt. Blitz again. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add 2-4 tbsp of ice-cold water, a tbsp at a time, pulsing between each addition until the pastry comes together in a rough ball.
Form the pastry into a ball with your hands and wrap it in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Then, place the pastry between two sheets of baking paper and roll it out until you have a rough circle about ½cm thick.
Lay it over a 25cm loosebottomed tart tin and push the pastry down, until it’s snug, with no air bubbles. Trim off any excess pasty at the top, then prick the base a few times with a fork. Line with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans (or rice) and blind bake for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the baking beans, then bake for another 5-10 minutes, until golden and crisp. Set aside to cool.
While the tart is cooking, place a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add a knob of butter or coconut oil and fry the sliced onion for 10 minutes, until soft. Meanwhile, peel the beetroot and grate coarsely.
Add the garlic and thyme to the onions and fry for about 30 seconds, before adding the beetroot tops or spinach — you may need to add half first and allow it to wilt before adding the other half. Now add the grated beetroot and cook for 5 minutes, until there is no liquid left in the pan. Next add the vinegar and season well, then transfer the lot to a bowl to cool.
Beat the eggs with the milk, then add to the beetroot mixture and scatter over the mint. Pour the mixture into the tart tin, crumble over the goat’s cheese, break over the walnuts and drizzle some honey on top. Turn the oven down to 160C and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden.
Finally, make your tapenade. Chop together the olives, spring onions, walnuts, and green chilli on a cutting board until you have a rough salsa. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the olive oil and lemon juice. Taste and add a pinch of sea salt if needed.
Serve in generous slices with a dollop of tapenade and shock of peppery green salad leaves
Recipe originally published in The Sunday Times
Photo: Elena Heatherwick