A few years ago, mamma had a couple of never ending plants of silver beet and swiss chard in her backyard. Every time I went over for a visit, we would share a delicious meal that invariably had silver beet or swiss chard in it (or she would encourage me to take home a bunch). My favourite has always been erbette con le patate (silver beet and potato smash), which my father loved. I remember having a big plate of erbette con le patate, and drowning the huge mound with mamma’s meat sugo. The never-ending plants were eventually uprooted and now I buy colourful rainbow chard or swiss chard whenever it is in season. My favourite way to cook it at home is in a pie or savoury crostata.
I was planning to make tiny tartlets with the chard and a combination of ricotta and feta cheese, but having only a tiny bit of feta and no ricotta, I had to improvise. I layered grated Parmesan cheese and balsamic onions on the savoury pie shell under the greens and scattered on some toasted walnuts and feta. The flavours balanced beautifully. I made it again, this time in a large pie – it was a bit messier to eat – but really good. I scattered on fresh dill just before serving and Mark and I polished off two-thirds of it.
I made my own shortcrust pastry but you could easily use the store-bought variety. I used a mixture of kale and chard in the pie, but any greens such as spinach, silver beet or a combination would work. The tartlets were terrific served cold the day after they were made and would be an impressive addition to a picnic lunch.
Balsamic onion, silver beet and walnut tartlets
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
250g (1 cup) plain flour
3/4 tsp salt
2-3 tbsp cold milk
400g (2 cups) Swiss chard/kale/spinach or other leafy greens
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 large egg
50g (1/4 cup) Parmesan
75g (1/3 cup) feta
50g (1/4 cup) walnuts, roughly chopped and toasted
1/2 lemon, zest only
Fresh dill for garnishing
To make the pastry, place the flour, butter and salt into a bowl. Incorporate using your fingers to make a crumbly mixture. Don’t worry if there are a few chunks of butter visible. Sprinkle on the milk and knead it a couple of times until the mixture is cohesive. Place the ball of pastry on a sheet of cling wrap (or baking paper). Place a second sheet of cling wrap (or baking paper) over the pastry and using the heel of your hand, flatten it. Now use a rolling pin and make a rough circle with the pastry. Place the pastry in the fridge (still covered by the two sheets of cling film) and allow to rest for about an hour.
Whilst you are waiting for the pastry, start preparing the filling. Heat a glug of olive oil in a medium sized frypan over medium heat and add the onions. Once they have heated through, reduce the heat and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and allowing them to soften without browning. Add the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, giving them a good stir and cook for a few more minutes. Set aside to cool.
To prepare the leafy greens, wash the leaves, removing the stalk for larger varieties and cut into strips. Heat a large pot of salted water and blanch the greens until they wilt. Drain and set aside. Heat a glug of olive oil in a large frypan and cook the garlic on medium heat until fragrant. Toss the cooked leafy greens with the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and set aside. When cool, stir through the lightly beaten egg.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll it out (I keep it between the sheets of cling film to roll) and cut into 8 small circles that will fit into your tartlet cases – I use those with a removable base (or a large circle the size of your pie tin). There is no need to line them. Place the pastry inside the cases, pressing down on the base and the sides. Allow the pastry to come slightly higher that the sides of the cases and trim as needed. Prick the bases with a fork. Place them in the fridge (covered) for 15 minutes. Blind bake the pastry cases (using dried beans on a pieces of baking paper as I did or with pie weights) for 10 minutes (tartlets) or 15 minutes (pie). Remove the beans/weights and bake for a further 5 minutes (tartlets) or 10 minutes (pie). Remove from the oven and allow the cooked pastry to cool for about 10 minutes.
To assemble the tartlets or pie, place grated Parmesan cheese on the base, then some balsamic onions and lastly the leafy greens. Scatter on the feta and walnuts. Bake for 15 minutes (tartlets) or 30 minutes (pie). Scatter on lemon zest and dill fronds before serving. The tartlets can be eaten warm or cold and will keep one or two days in the fridge.