17 July 2013

Aubergine and cherry tomato tart

I know!  It's that rare beast, a vegetarian recipe on Jenny Eatwell's Rhubarb & Ginger.

I do try to include the odd vegetarian recipe from time to time, it's just that the carnivore in me often gets the better of it and I wind up throwing in something meaty at the last minute.  I'll try to do better, honest!

Well, this tart definitely qualifies as vegetarian - you could even use vegetarian parmesan cheese, if you so wanted.  If you choose Jus-Rol puff pastry, you'll find it is Vegetarian Society approved and even suitable for vegans!  So I think we can safely say that this is very definitely a recipe that is vegetarian friendly.  Hurrah!

I can't remember where I saw the thing that gave me the inspiration for this tart, except I saw an article somewhere online about char grilling sliced aubergines - and the photograph accompanying it showed lines of aubergine slices laid down slightly overlapping each other and I thought "that looks like they're on a tart".  Oooooh!  That would be good!  What could I put it with?  And that was how it happened.

I came up with the cherry tomato idea before the pesto, in fact.  I knew that cherry tomatoes - particularly the Aramatico type that are available at the moment - would be a lovely counterpoint to the relatively bland but smoky aubergine.  What it needed, though, was something to provide a basic, underlying flavour that the vegetables could ride upon.  Cream cheese seemed too rich, although I liked the cheese idea.

I didn't want anything too squishy, as the aubergine would be doing a good enough job there without any help.  Equally, I didn't want anything too overpowering - like chilli.  I gave some serious consideration to red onion marmalade, but rejected it on account of the sweetness.  I began going through what I had in the fridge - and hit upon the pesto.  That gave the herbiness that would provide good depth to the flavour, with a little bit of cheese influence too.  It was strongly flavoured, but you wouldn't need to use too much so it wouldn't be too squishy and compromise the crispiness of the tart base.  Perfect!  I then hit upon the ruse of adding some grated parmesan to the tart while it was still hot from the oven - and the recipe was born.

It received a mixed reaction from the assembled throng, in that I loved it and consider it to be one of the best tarts I've come up with to date.  Hubby liked it - but was disappointed that, to his taste buds, the pesto overpowered the aubergine.  Son & heir hated it because he finds aubergine too much of a challenge and isn't keen on cooked tomatoes at the best of times.  Hey ho!

I really enjoyed the contrast between the sweet acidity of the cherry tomatoes against the creamy blandness of the aubergine and had no difficulty picking the aubergine flavour out of the whole melange.  I felt that the pesto gave everything a good base flavour that didn't interfere and the parmesan on top added that salty bite that brought the thing alive.  The whole tart was just bursting with umami - that elusive flavour profile that can be so hard to find, but when you do, it's worthwhile hanging onto!  

The textures were great, with the crisp lightness of the pastry, the soft aubergine and crunchy grated parmesan.  I had a piece cold the following day for lunch and it was just as good, hence it is here on the blog for you to try.  I suspect it will get mixed reactions, but you'll know what your family like - so bear that in mind when deciding whether to try it.

I'm not so sure that this one is either teenager or child friendly either, but as I say, you'll know your family's tastes better than I ever will.

I served our tart with a mixed salad including feta cheese and green olives, which made hubby happy and a potato salad made using Cornish crystal new potatoes.  Well, I loved it - and I hope you do, too.


Ingredients :

2 smallish aubergines (eggplant, to those of you from over the water!)
3 tbsp oil (I used a combination of sunflower and rapeseed)
1 x  320g roll of puff pastry
1 tsp of green pesto
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese.

Method :

1.  Slice both aubergines into small slices (approx 5mm or thereabouts) across the round, rather than along the length.  Keep the slices in piles so as to prevent oxidisation (discolouration, in other words) and brush the top slice of each pile with a little oil, which also prevents oxidisation.

2.  Heat a griddle pan, or failing that a plain old frying pan or even a barbecue, until blisteringly hot and lay as many slices as will fit, oil side down, onto the pan.  Lightly brush the top sides with a little oil, ready to be turned.

3.  Once the underside is either charred or browned (depending on which pan you use), flip them over and repeat on the other side.

4.  Remove to a large plate and lay each slice slightly overlapping the next, around the plate so that they have a chance to cool.

5.  Repeat until all the aubergine slices have been used.

6.  Place the empty pan in a safe place to cool down!  You won't need it again.

7.  Line your baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper, or non-stick tin foil, or just plain use a non-stick baking tray.  Lay the sheet of puff pastry down flat upon it and, with a sharp knife, draw a line - not piercing through the pastry - around the rectangle to define where the crust will be.

8.  Spread the inside of the rectangle with the pesto, making sure to spread it thinly or you won't taste the aubergine.

9.  Place slices of aubergine in an attractive display onto the top of the pesto.  I used three lines of slightly overlapping slices.

10.  Sprinkle the cherry tomato halves over randomly, but making sure they are evenly distributed.

11.  Season well with sea salt and black pepper, then place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/gas 4 for around 25-30 minutes.

12.  As soon as the pastry is golden and risen around the edges, remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle the parmesan over the top so as to allow it both the heat and the time to wilt a little prior to serving. 

Serve warm, not hot, with a mixed salad.

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