I recently noticed our refrigerator sprouted leeks. I usually do the food shopping, so this confused me. Had I purchased these leeks some weeks past at a farmers' market? They seemed to be in good shape, so that was unlikely.
My first encounter with a leek was in Paris. I was visiting Meg, and she brought a beautiful bundle of leeks home from the market. I was a little grossed out by the sight of all the dirt in and on the leeks (having not entered my cooking phase yet), and agreed skeptically to try a soup she was making with the leeks, potatoes, and bacon. After the first bite, I was converted.
Back to the mystery leeks - of course my wife was the culprit. She's become something of a leek fiend herself these days. I think it was the same soup (minus the bacon) that brought her into the camp. She claims to have brought the leeks home becasue they should be viewed as a staple, much like potatoes or onions.
I know better than that, though. Leeks in the refrigerator were more than just an everyday staple. They were a request and a challenge from my wife. "Make me something tasty," they say. I decided to take up the challenge and make a leek tart with the assistance of a block of Roquefort cheese.
Roquefort is the king of blue cheeses, if you ask me. There are partisans of Gorgonzola (gor-GON-zo-la as my wife says it), Maytag and Stilton, but the moldy wheels of cheese from the damp caves of Roquefort are more complex and alive than any other. This is not to say that Roquefort cheese is subtle. There are subtle aspects to its flavor, but the main "blueness" of the cheese is very pronounced.
This is a once a month at most kind of tart. There is so much butterfat in this tart that the sight of it may actually make your heart hiccup. Look at the ingredient list below - butter, cream, cheese, more butter - C. Everett Koop is putting out a contract on me as I type this.
But boy, is it delicious. I'll confess that I added too much Roquefort to this tart, but a dollop of sour cream takes away some of the saltiness. And with the caloric content of a slice of this tart, the sour cream qualifies as a light treat.
Leek and Roquefort Tart
1 1/2 cups flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1/4 cup or less ice water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
4-6 leeks, white and light green parts only
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
pepper to taste
4 oz. real Roquefort blue cheese
8 tablespoons sour cream
With the crust, cold, cold, cold is the key. The more I learn, the colder my crusts get before baking. The idea is that if the butter is cold and the dough stays cold, the dough will form with layers of dough and unmelted butter. In the oven, the butter will melt and "fry" the crust so it becomes nice and golden brown and crispy. It also will release steam to provide some separation of the layers of the dough which will add to the flaky crisp feel you want.
Freeze your butter. I shaved it down into small pieces after it was frozen, but you can cut it into tiny bits before freezing if you prefer.
Mix the four and salt together with a fork. If you'd like to put any dried herbs in the crust, now would be a good time. Add small gobs of frozen butter into the flour and mix them in with either a pastry cutter or a big fork. Try not to touch the mix with your warm hands.
Add about 1/8 cup of the ice water. Cut it in with the pastry cutter or large fork. Working quickly, start to form the dough into a ball. If it won't hold together add more water, a teaspoon or less at a time untl it just keeps its shape. Return to the freezer for ten minutes.
Now you can preheat the over to 375 F.
Meanwhile, trim the bottoms off your leeks and trim the dark green tops off. You may discard these or save for soup stock. Dang. I wish I'd saved mine for soup stock. I just thought about that now.
I don't bother rinsing the leeks at this point. Slice the leeks lengthwise and then them into 1/4" semi-rings. Put these semi-rings into a big bowl of cold water and swish the leeks around. Let sit for five minutes and dirt will start to settle off the leeks. pull the leeks out of the bowl with a slotted spoon or strainer and dump the water. Repeat the process and you should have nicely cleaned leeks. Pat the leeks dry and set aside for now.
Back to the crust. Pull the ball of dough from the freezer and roll it out carefully into a 13" circle on a well floured surface with a well foured rolling pin. You may need to fold it back up and start the rolling over once or twice if it doesn't cooperate.
Again, the key is to keep the dough cold. If you feel the dough getting too pliant, put it back in the freezer for a few minutes and continue after its chilled again.
Once the dough is rolled out, transfer it to a 12" tart pan with a removeable bottom. Trim any excess and use the excess to patch any holes or thin spots along the edges. Use a fork to make ten or twelve sets of holes in the bottom of the tart. This prevents the crust from puffing up.
Put the crust in the 375 F oven for twenty minutes.
In a skillet, melt three tablespoons of butter and add two tablespoon of olive oil. When the butter begins to foam, add the prepared leeks and sprinkle a pinch of salt over them. Toss to coat the leek with oil and butter. Sautee over medium-low heat for ten minutes until the leeks soften up. They don't need to be meltingly soft, but should yield easily to the bite.
In a bowl, mix three egg yolks and one whole egg. Beat until mixed well. Add a cup and a half of heavy cream, 1/2 a teaspoon of nutmeg, and pepper to taste and mix well. You can add salt if you wish, but remember we're adding a very salty cheese to this tart.
When the leeks are done, add them to the bowl with the custard and mix well.
Pour the leek and custard mix into the pre-baked tart shell. Crumble the roquefort cheese all over the top of the tart. I used a full four ounces. You may want to hold some of that cheese back if you're not as much of a salt fiend as I am.
Bake the tart at 375 F for approximately 25 minutes. Start checking at 20 minutes. If the top has not started to go golden brown, raise the temperature to 425 and bake an additional few minutes until the top of the tart is the desired color. Ovens vary and depending ona whole host of factors including whether your oven is gas or electric, and if the day is humid or dry, you may need to bake the tart longer.
Remove finsihed tart from the oven. Remove the side from the tart and cool on a cooling rack. Don't remove the bottom of the tart pan just yet. After ten minutes the custard will set up. Remove the tart from the rack and the bottom of the tart pan to a cutting surface. Cut into eight slices, and serve each slice with a 1 tablespoon dollop of sour cream on top.
Call your cardiologist in the morning.