November 24, 2004
At the Bar à Veloutés I hosted a few weeks back, one of the little accessories you could choose to dip in your velouté was an Allumette Noisette-Thym, a hazelnut and thyme cracker shaped like a matchstick. These allumettes were a personal favorite of mine, because they happened to be a recipe I had created from scratch, simply based on the idea that we'd had and the feel/look/taste of the dough as I was working with it. I enjoyed their crunchy crumbly texture and deep flavor very much -- and was pleasantly surprised, too, for baking by instinct is usually a rather risky endeavour.
As I was working on baking a large amount of them (around 130) for the big day, I underestimated the yield of my basic recipe (always better than the other way around) and ended up making about twice more dough than I really needed. No matter, thought I, you can never have too much of a good thing, and I simply froze the excess (divided in small lumps) for later use : it would be nice to bake a little batch for an impromptu apéritif one of these days.
But then a few days later (while at the Opéra, of all places) a better idea knocked at that little door I have in the back of my mind, with a shiny brass handle and a sign that reads "Ideas : Enter Here". I welcomed it, sat it comfortably in the petit salon with a cup of tea and a few cookies, and listened : "You could use the leftover dough as a tart crust!", the idea said.
And the opportunity to do just that arose soon after, as Marie-Laure and Laurence came for dinner this past Saturday. Since I wanted the crust to really shine through, I topped the tart with a zucchini and mascarpone filling, which was subtly flavored and a good match to the hazelnut and thyme. I was also happy with the look of the tart, having tried to arrange the zucchini in a pretty sunray pattern.
And I really liked the idea that for once, it was the crust which expressed most of the tart's personality, instead of being eternally the supporting actor.
Zucchini Tart on a Hazelnut-Thyme Crust
- 140 g hazelnuts (skin-on for a nicer color effect)
- 140 g flour
- 1 egg
- 100 g butter, diced
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 kg zucchini (5 medium)
- 1 egg
- 1/4 C mascarpone cheese (cream cheese can be substituted)
- fleur de sel (or regular salt), pepper
Start with the dough. Chop the hazelnuts in a food processor until reduced to tiny chunks, small enough but not so fine as to be powdered. Add in the thyme and butter, and mix until combined. Add in the egg, mix again. Transfer to a medium mixing-bowl, and add in the flour progressively, kneading the dough until it is no longer sticky and can be rolled into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for a couple of hours. The dough can be frozen at this point, then thawed in the fridge before using.
Rinse the zucchini, and cut in sticks (one medium zucchini should yield about 16 sticks). Steam the zucchini sticks for about 12 minutes (I use bamboo steaming baskets), and let drain thoroughly.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F).
Roll out the dough on a floured surface or between two sheets of parchment paper. Transfer the dough onto a 24 cm (10-inch) pie mold (nonstick or buttered). I find it easier to work with one half of the dough at a time without caring too much about the shape, and then assemble pieces of the rolled out dough to adjust to the shape of the mold. Prick all over with a fork, top with parchment paper and baking beans if you have them, and put into the oven to pre-bake for ten minutes.
In a small mixing-bowl, beat together the mascarpone cheese and egg. Take the dough out of the oven, transfer onto a cooling rack, and spread the mascarpone mixture onto the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and pepper. Arrange the zucchini sticks in a sunray pattern on top, breaking the sticks in smaller pieces to fill the gaps.
Put into the oven to bake for another 15 minutes, or until the filling looks set. You can make this ahead and reheat the tart for ten minutes just before serving. Serve with a simple young spinach salad.
Note : the dough can also be used to make little crackers. Roll it out, glaze the surface with an egg yolk, sprinkle with fleur de sel, cut in the shape of your choice (sticks for instance), and bake on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet at 180°C (360°F) for about ten minutes, or until golden.
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