Makes one 14”x5” rectangular tart, or 8-9” round tart
There’s something very impressive about a vegetarian tart. That crisp, golden pastry, filled to the brim with soft, burnished clouds of cheese, peppered with bright vegetables and the green flash of fresh herbs, all melded together in the heat of the oven to form a beautiful work of art. You can fill a basic tart with almost anything, scattering it into the pastry as roughly as you like: it will still look splendid when you bring it to the table. A simple tart of vegetables and cheese is very easy to put together, but will impress dinner party guests and taste miles better than any soggy quiche you can buy in the shops.
This version uses fresh, vibrant Swiss chard, sautéed with red onion and mixed with goat’s cheese, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and lemon thyme. It’s bound together by a mixture of eggs, comforting nutmeg and creamy milk, baked in the oven until firm and golden. The combination of tangy cheese with the soft greens and salty tomatoes is absolutely wonderful. Add those toasted nuts and fragrant thyme to top it off, and you have something really quite special that celebrates all the best flavours of the Mediterranean. I like to serve this with a simple salad of rocket and baby plum tomatoes, dressed with some olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper – the sweet acidity of the tomatoes is lovely against the rich cheese filling and the buttery pastry.
I’ve used shop-bought pastry in this (make sure to use a good-quality all-butter variety), which cuts down the prep time and means this tart can be put together in very little time, but you could definitely make your own shortcrust if you’re so inclined, perhaps flavouring it with some crushed walnuts or parmesan cheese to make the tart even more special. You can also experiment with the ingredients: try spinach or leeks instead of chard, blue cheese instead of goat’s, add some fresh tomatoes or figs, use walnuts instead of pine nuts and rosemary instead of lemon thyme – it’s great for using up odds and ends in the fridge, or a seasonal glut of vegetables. It also freezes very well, so you could even make two and save one for later. Consider this a blueprint for the ultimate vegetarian tart, and experiment to suit your tastes.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. On a floured worksurface, roll the pastry out to half a centimetre thick. Use to line the tart tin, pushing the pastry into the corners with a ball of spare pastry. Trim the edges but let them overhang a little (you can trim them again after baking; this stops the case shrinking). Line with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans (I use old dried beans), then bake for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and paper and bake for another 5 minutes, until the case is golden brown. (Tip: it helps to put the tart tin on a removable oven tray while baking, so you can just remove the whole tray from the oven when filling the tart, rather than having to precariously balance a full tart tin).
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and gently fry the onion until softened. Slice the chard stalks into 1cm lengths, then add to the onion and cook for a couple of minutes. Slice the leaves into 1cm strips, then add to the pan and cook over a medium-high heat until the chard has lost all of its water and is dark green and wilted (around 10 minutes). Season the chard well.
In a jug, beat together the eggs, milk, nutmeg, the leaves of half the lemon thyme, and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Remove the baked tart case from the oven (see tip above) and trim off any overhanging pastry with a sharp serrated knife. Spoon the chard mixture into the tart case, spreading it out evenly, then pour over the milk and egg mixture. Crumble over the goat’s cheese, sprinkle over the tomatoes and the rest of the lemon thyme leaves, then scatter over the pine nuts.
Bake for around 30 minutes, or until the filling has set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before serving, sprinkled with a little more freshly grated nutmeg and lemon thyme, if you like.