Potato and spinach tart with mature cheddar (tarte aux pommes de terre)

A pun is not the best place to start when constructing a recipe. But once I’d had the idea for “tarte aux pommes(de terre)” I couldn’t get it out of my head until I’d made it. The first iteration looked the part – all prettily layered – but didn’t really work as a dish. There was something there, though, and the presentation was too good to let slide; so I did it again, and hit on something that works rather well.

Potato and spinach tart with mature cheddar

Version one was a basic spinach tart with a potato hat on. There was dill in the mix, aping a spanakopita. But without the feta (I was cooking for my boyfriend, and he’s  lactose intolerant) it just doesn’t cohere. Cheese, though, cheese – that’s the key.

The problem with the first version was density, and the overpowering punch of the dill. Fair enough – we cut back on the dill. But that still leaves a big stodgy heap of spinach and leeks. However nice it tastes, there’s just no ducking the fact that it’s a pile of wet leaves. The texture really needs evening out.

Cheese won’t space out the spinach entirely, so it really needs breadcrumbs. Sure, they add heaviness to what’s already a fairly solid dish, but if we don’t overdo it then it’ll be spot on. Together, the breadcrumbs, egg, and cheese bind the spinach into a gooey, rich filling that stays moist, rather than an edible compost heap. Job done.

Potato and spinach tart, assembling the first versionIngredients:

  • Shortcrust pastry (the usual deal, make, buy, whatever)
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach (I used about 400g)
  • A leek
  • Eggs
  • Very strong cheddar (about 80g?)
  • Breadcrumbs
  • A clove of garlic
  • Cumin

Instructions:

Slice the potatoes fine, skin on. Go for about the thickness of a £1 coin. Slice enough to cover your pie tin in those cool, fanned-out tarte aux pommes style layers. Blanch these in salted water for a few minutes, until mostly done but not falling apart. Strain the potatoes, and lay them out on a clean tea towel to dry off.

Potato and spinach tart, assemblyWilt the spinach, press out the water, and chop – standard. Chop the garlic. Slice the leek fine, and soften it in oil or butter, adding the garlic when it’s most of the way done. Cook the garlic out, and put the mix to one side to cool. When both leek mix and spinach are cool, mix them together with the cheese, a sturdy handful of breadcrumbs, an egg, and a little cumin.

Grease a baking tin, and line it with pastry, then fill this with the spinach mix. Top the tart with potato slices, layered in concentric, overlapping rings.

Potato and spinach tart, pre bakingBeat an egg, and brush it liberally over the top of the tart before baking it in a hot over (around 200) for 30-40 minutes. I sometimes re-brush halfway through – it lends a lovely colour an gloss, and stops the pastry over browning.

A few minutes before the tart is done, sprinkle a little grated cheese over the top and return it to the oven.

I served this with a simple salad of blanched green beans, carrots, and toasted sesame seeds, tossed with harissa paste, puréed garlic, and a little oil and cider vinegar. The tart is quite heavy, so something fresh and light offsets it nicely.

The slight acidity of the cheddar work well with the weight of the pastry and potatoes, and the cumin sits in the background just offsetting a little. You really don’t need much to just underscore the earthiness of the spinach. The cheese on top isn’t entirely necessary, but it ties the flavours together and it looks splendid.

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