Monday, 5 July 2010

Tourte de Blette


I came across this pastry creation on holiday in Nice last summer. We ate dinner sitting outside at this tiny little restaurant (I believe it was called Lou Balico), and gorged ourselves on the 25 euro set menu. I remember eating delicious deep-fried aubergine slices, a salad with bacon and goat's cheese, and a plate of roast lamb served, rather bizzarely, with spaghetti and pesto. Except no ordinary spaghetti and pesto: we were given the pestle and mortar from which to help ourselves - it weighed a ton and was about as big as my head. Everything was delicious, but by the time dessert came around I was too full to even contemplate it. The waiter explained that the dessert of the day was "tourte de blette". Blette, he translated, is what we call Swiss chard.
Weird? I thought so. I ordered ice cream, and to this day regret it: the tourte arrived, and turned out to be possibly the most delicious dessert I have ever sampled. The pastry was flaky and covered in sugar crystals, and the filling was sublime: it didn't taste at all like chard, more like sweet apples. It had raisins and nuts in it, and I wished I had ordered one instead of my ice cream. Instead I had to be content with nibbles from one that wasn't mine. Alas.

So when I found a beautiful bunch of rainbow chard at the market a couple of days ago, I just had to give it a go. I'd never really tried or cooked with chard before: it's not that easy to find. However, it keeps cropping up in Yotam Ottolenghi's writing, which makes me think it must be worth tasting, as he is one of my culinary idols. It tastes rather like spinach, but looks much more beautiful. After trawling the internet for a recipe (again, not easy, as most are in French and even then they're not ubiquitous), I settled upon one that looked good.


So. I made pastry, which I have never done before but which was pretty easy as I used the food processor. It's quite a rich pastry and on its own tastes like shortbread - definitely no bad thing - I've been breaking bits off the pie and nibbling them all day (dangerous, just leaving it out on top of the counter...). The filling was my entire bunch of chard, boiled for 15 minutes, drained, squeezed dry and chopped (it's almost sad to see how little a huge bunch of greens becomes when the water is squeezed out). To this I added some raisins soaked in rum, some toasted pine nuts, some sugar, the zest of a lemon and a couple of eggs. This mixture went into a pastry-lined pie dish, some sliced apples went on top, and then the pastry lid went on, brushed with beaten egg. Into the oven for half an hour. It was very easy to make.

I ate it with vanilla ice cream last night, and also for lunch today. It was nice yesterday, but oddly is even better for sitting around all day. I think the flavours have improved. The recipe I used suggested laying the apples on top of the chard mixture; I think it would be improved by mixing them in. Once you get past the slightly odd sensation of sweet spinach, the whole thing is delicious - almost like rhubarb and apple. Left for a day, it loses all spinachy-ness and just tastes curiously delicious and very moreish. The raisins and pine nuts are what makes it, I think. A very bizarre sounding dessert, but delicious and one that I think I will make again - but change the recipe slightly to what I have suggested  below. An immensely satisfying foray into Provencal cuisine, I think. I am really pleased with the end result.

So, here is my recipe:

For the pastry, sift 420g flour (I used self-raising because I had run out of plain, and it made a lovely light pastry), 100g sugar and a pinch of salt together. Rub in 225g butter (can be done in seconds using a food processor). Add the juice of half a lemon and 2 eggs, and knead briefly to form a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least an hour.

For the filling, blanch 900g swiss chard (or a mixture of chard and spinach) in boiling water for around 15 minutes, until the stalks are tender (less time for spinach). Drain in a colander and, when cool, squeeze out as much water as you can with your hands. Then chop finely. Mix with the zest of a lemon, 40g toasted pine nuts, 100g sugar, 2 eggs, 1-2 cooking apples (peeled, cored and finely chopped), and then 50g raisins which you've boiled in 2tbsp rum until they've soaked up all the rum (you could probably use brandy or kirsch or whatever, depending on what you have alcohol-wise). 

Roll out two thirds of the pastry to line a buttered pie dish (mine was oval and about 30cm diameter. You have to sort of guess what size you'll need. Spoon the filling into the pastry crust and roll out the remaining pastry to form a lid. Join the two together by pinching with your fingers. Use a fork to make patterns around the edge, and prick holes in the top. Brush the top with beaten egg and bake in a pre-heated oven at 170C for 30 minutes until golden. Eat warm with vanilla ice cream.

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2 comments:

  1. Interesting fact - swiss chard is actually the same plant as beets. Chard has just been naturally selected for extraordinarily large leaves and very small roots (where as beets have been cultivated for the opposite). One of my very favourite vegetable dishes is steamed beet leaves with a bit of butter and fresh sea salt. Its the reason I only ever buy beets with pristine tops still attached.

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  2. Also, my partner's entire maternal family swears by cream washes over egg washes. It just... makes the pastry exceptionally light and flaky. I don't know why it works, but it just seems to! O.o

    I also forgot to mention above that this looks intriguing and delicious.

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