We’ve been patiently watching a pot of baby beetroots grow on our balcony over the past couple of months.  On the weekend, when thinking of something interesting to try out for a brunch with friends, we wondered whether our home-grown baby beets might fit the bill nicely.  Cute though they were, when we pulled some up they were truly miniature – each the size of a plump blueberry!  We would have needed dozens and dozens to make the equivalent of 2 medium sized red beetroot!  So we supplemented the meagre handful of miniature beets with regular sized ones, and when I sliced one of the big ones open, I was just stunned that a root vegetable could be so gorgeously coloured, psychedelic-patterned, and slightly scary-looking at the same time:

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It was a good omen.  The beetroot roasted up beautifully sweet and tender, and were a perfect filling in this beetroot and feta tart.  As a special treat, I decided to make the pastry from scratch as well.  I hadn’t attempted it for years and years, but remembered that frozen shortcrust can often be just a little bit disappointing.  While it is a great convenience and time-saver, there’s always just something a bit inadequate about it: the shape isn’t right, you can’t get it the right thickness, it is too sticky or too dry.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s definitely a place in my kitchen for convenience foods – but I do want to recommend this basic shortcrust recipe if you want to make an outstanding pie crust.  The effect is amazing: crisp, a bit flaky, tasty and hardy.

I largely followed an old recipe from the archives at Orangette (a place well worth digging through for pie and tart ideas, I might add).  We found this tart to be an ideal balance of filling and pastry, and also great for a light meal as the egg and feta mixture isn’t too heavy as there’s only just enough to bind and flavour.  And while there are just a few simple ingredients, there are lots of steps for the recipe, so be patient as you read on (of course, you can make the pastry and roast the beetroot ahead of time, and just assemble on the day).  So when you have dear friends coming over, or when you just feeling like treating yourself, go the whole hog and make pastry, roast beets and glory in a triumphant pink pie.

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Beetroot and feta tart
Adapted from Orangette

For the pastry
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
250g unsalted butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup iced water

For the beetroot filling
2 medium sized beetroot
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
125g creamy feta, crunbled
pinch salt

To make the pastry: Process the flour, salt and butter in a food processer for 8-10 seconds until it resembles coarse meal.  With the motor running, add 1/4 cup iced water in a steady stream.  Pulse until the dough just holds together without being wet or sticky.  Do not process at this stage for more than 30 seconds.  Test if it’s done by squeezing a small amount between your fingers.  If it is still crumbly, add more iced water 1 tsp at a time.

Remove the pastry and divide in half.  Shape into two rough discs and wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill until you need to use it.  [Note you will only need one of the discs for this tart. Stash the other one in the freezer till next time; it should keep for a month.  To thaw it, put it in the fridge the day before you want to use it.  The dough should be cool (ie just cooler than room temperature) when you want to work with it.]

To make the filling: First, cook the beetroot.  Scrub the trimmed beetroot well and cut in half.  Seal in a couple of foil parcels, and roast at 200C for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.  Cool slightly, then cut into 5mm slices.  (Some people peel the beetroot too, but I’ve never found it necessary after a good scrub and roasting.)

Next, prepare the pastry case.  Turn down the oven to 190C.  When your pastry disc is just cool to touch, roll it out on a floured surface and fit it to a nice fluted dish (mine was about 25cm).  Don’t worry about the edges looking messy (if you want to you can trim it after cooking, though I never bother).  At this point, if you have time you can put the pastry in the freezer for 10 minutes or so to really firm up.  I did, as my beets were still going in the oven.  Apparently it is supposed to contribute to a crisper crust: but the freezing stage isn’t essential, so if you are pressed for time just move on to the blind baking stage.

To blind bake the pastry case, put down a sheet of foil over the pastry tart bottom and weigh down with some rice or dried beans, and bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes, until the edges look set and barely golden.  Remove the foil and pie weights, and bake the case again for another 6-8 minutes, until the whole case is lightly golden.  Remove from the oven, and cool slightly.  Turn down the oven to 180C.

In a jug mix together the milk, eggs, feta and salt.  Arrange the beetroot slices nicely in one even layer on the cooled pastry tart base, trying to fill in any gaps.  Pour over the milk and feta mixture.  Bake for 40 minutes to an hour, until everything is set and golden in spots.  Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

We ate this with a green bean, baby spinach and pistachio salad, and scrumptious pumpkin and chive bread brought by our visitors.  Yum!

Yield: one 25cm tart (plus, you will have enough pastry to make another 25cm tart, plus perhaps bonus scraps from each to refashion into a wicked dessert mini-tart – more on this later!)

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