Do you know what I'm scared of? Global warming. Contracting a toe fungus at the nail salon. Getting old. Grover from Sesame Street. Flying. Making pie crust.
In my experience, fears usually fall into one of several categories. Global warming and getting old are among those almost-too-big-and-terrible-to-think-about fears that are best addressed by professionals—in this case NGOs staffed with youthful idealists and metaphorically by poets, respectively. Toe fungi and Grover from Sesame Street are both things that could inflict harm. Flying in a plane and pie crust are frightening because they're illogical: A metal canister carrying hundreds of people traveling 36,000 feet in the air without anything holding it up? Madness. Flour and shortening and water coming together to form a flaky, buttery pie crust? Not in my experience.
But most of my fears are unavoidable, or not as bad as their alternative: I'm getting old right now as I type this; my unpedicured feet are far more frightening than any toe fungus could ever be; Grover is out there, lying in wait; my fear of spending the entire winter in Vermont trumps my fear of flying.
And I've tried to conquer my fear of making pie crust, but the results have just reinforced my anxiety: quiches baked in shells that tasted like cardboard; crusts that were spongy or tough, never tender or flaky. So I avoid recipes that call for a crust, which means I don't often make pies, or quiches, or tarts. And while I don't care too much for most dessert pies, I do love a good quiche, or a savory tart filled with vegetables and cheese.
So I was quite pleased several years ago to discover a recipe that bills itself as the Easiest-Ever Roasted Summer Vegetable Tart, a recipe that involves savory vegetables and cheese BUT NO PIE CRUST. Neither Grover nor air travel are involved, either.
(This name is an overstatement, of course—the Easiest-Ever Roasted Summer Vegetable Tart is the one someone else makes and serves to me while I lounge on the couch drinking wine, which would make this one the Second-Easiest Roasted Summer Vegetable Tart.)
The secret is puff pastry. While store-bought pie crusts tend to suck it, store-bought puff pastry is delicious, and while every female in my family except me can make a beautiful pie crust, according to the cookbook from which I've adapted this recipe "almost no one (not even most pastry chefs) makes puff pastry." Hallelujah.
Hallelujah! Puff pastry has risen! When baked it transforms from a thick, sticky dough to a flaky butteriness that is not only better than cardboard, it rivals any pie crust I've put in my piehole. And there's nothing to be scared of. Top it with roasted vegetables, sprinkle with goat or feta cheese, and you'll never have nightmares of pie crust again.
A few notes:
* I use Dufour puff pastry because it was recommended to me, and it's delicious. Dufour is made with butter (vs. shortening), but if you're vegan, there are other options.
* Puff pastry comes frozen and takes awhile to defrost, so move it from the freezer to the fridge a few hours before you plan to start cooking.
* The original version of this recipe was vegan (I added the cheese, because if there's one thing I'm not afraid of, it's fat) and easily could be again.
* The original recipe calls for making two tarts, which uses only half a package of puff pastry. I usually roast extra vegetables to make three or four tarts (the tarts reheat well), but it can make for a crowded oven, so I've used the original proportions here. Two tarts and a salad will serve two or three adults for dinner, or they can be cut into squares and served as an appetizer.
* The original version of this recipe calls for cutting the vegetables into thick planks for roasting and then carefully layering those planks on top of the puff pastry; the second time I made this I cut the vegetables too thin, they fell apart a little while roasting, and I ended up chopping the roasted vegetables before putting them on the pastry—they don't look as pretty, but the cheese disguises any major flaws, and I've done it this way ever since. But if you're going to forego the cheese (scaredy cat!), I would make sure the vegetables are all at least ½ an inch thick so they'll hold their shape when roasting and can be placed daintily on the puff pastry.
Second-Easiest Roasted Summer Vegetable Tart
From A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen
1 14-ounce package frozen puff pastry
6 plum tomatoes, halved or cut in thirds lenghwise, depending on size
4 medium shallots, halved
1 medium zucchini, cut in half crosswise, each piece cut lengthwise into ½-inch-thick planks
1 medium eggplant, cut crosswise into ½-thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced thyme
Goat or feta cheese
1. Defrost the puff pastry according to package instructions.
2. Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the tomatoes and shallots on one rimmed baking sheet and the zucchini and eggplant on another. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper. Roast, turning the vegetables once, until golden brown in spots, about 40 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the oven but don't turn the oven off.
3. As soon as the vegetables go into the oven, unfold the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and remove the paper liners. Cut the pastry along the seams into four rectangles. Put two rectangles aside for another use. Roll the remaining two rectangles into 7-inch squares. Transfer the rolled puff pastry squares to a large baking sheet and refrigerate until well chilled, about 30 minutes.
4. When the vegetables come out of the oven, scrape them into a bowl and toss with the oil and thyme. Adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Either roughly chop the vegetables and spread them on the puff pastry, leaving a ¾-inch border around the edges, or layer the eggplant and zucchini slices over the puff pastry and then top with the tomatoes and shallots (using the same ¾-border). Sprinkle the tarts with goat or feta cheese (or a combination of both).
5. Bake the tarts until the pastry is browned, about 25 minutes. The tarts can be served immediatly or transfered to a cooling rack and served at room temperature.