At last we've got round to trialling one of the recipes from the vegetarian-themed episode of The Cook & the Chef. Since Beth commented on her success with Maggie's leek and aubergine tart tatin, I decided to have a go too - I need only the faintest encouragement to plan pastry for dinner! Luckily I was working from home on this day; it gave me the opportunity to prepare the pastry dough and sugar syrup early.
The pastry dough was done with a swift pulse of the food processor and handily used up a bit of my leftover sour cream. The sugar syrup started out with promise, but ended up the bane of my afternoon. It's made up of a quintessentially Maggie Beer Barossa-based combination of water, sugar, verjuice and vino cotto. Verjuice is an acidic juice of unripe grapes, while vino cotto is another grape-based product that seems almost entirely to be Maggie's domain. We actually already owned some rarely-used Maggie BeerTM verjuice and I elected to substitute the vino cotto with balsamic vinegar.
The syrup ingredients taste fabulous, all sweet and tangy and hinting at the caramelised tart to come, but reducing them to one sixth of their original volume was dangerous business. I wasn't too concerned by the bit of bubbling that went on during the first 15 minutes of reduction - it's just speeding up the evaporation, right? - but once I lapsed into inattention it shifted rather rapidly to burnt sugar. It wasn't so much bubbling any more as fizzing and expanding! Its colour was still lovely but when the molten sugar had cooled down enough for a taste, this was one of the most horrible, acrid things I've ever sampled. I unhappily filled the saucepan with warm water and the syrup stiffened into some kind of Poison Toffee, cemented stirring spoon and all.
So I began again, this time using a heat diffuser on the stove, never allowing the syrup to unleash a single bubble. It took a lot longer and I anxiously took the syrup off the heat when it still had the volume of about 3/4 of a cup (I should have been aiming for 1/4 cup). This later proved to be the undoing of this upside-down tart, rendering the crust soggy and impossible to flip in one piece (see the second less glamourous photo above).
While this tart turned out to be a lot of trouble, it was undeniably tasty. The pastry and eggplant in particular were out of this world and perfectly offset by the goats' cheese. I'd certainly consider making a variation on it again - perhaps something with a blind-baked, right-way-round crust, double the eggplant and half the leek, and a sparing drizzle of verjuice and balsamic vinegar. No syrup. Oh no, certainly no syrup.
Maggie's burnished eggplant and leek tart
(by Maggie Beer, as presented on the Cook and the Chef)
125g plain flour
100g butter, cold
~60mL sour cream
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup verjuice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 leeks, with the mostly white part sliced into 3cm cylinders
1/4 cup verjuice
1 large eggplant
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped lemon thyme
120g goats' cheese
2 tablespoons chopped mint
To make the pastry, chop the butter into small cubes. Place the flour and butter in a food processor, blending until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream, a bit at a time and blending with each bit, until the dough begins to come together. Note that you may not need to add all of the sour cream (I didn't).
Tip the dough onto a lightly floured bench and bring it together into a smooth ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate it for at least 20 minutes. If you're making the pastry well in advance, allow it to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before trying to roll it.
Next, make the sugar syrup. Stir together the sugar, water and verjuice in a small saucepan on low-medium heat. Gently reduce the mixture to about a 1/4 cup in volume, being careful not to burn it. Stir through the balsamic vinegar and set the syrup aside.
Cut the eggplant into large chunks and soak them in a large bowl of salted water for half an hour or thereabouts; this will prevent them from soaking up too much oil.
This is a good time to preheat the oven - aim for 180°C.
If you have an oven-proof frypan, this recipe will now make good use of it. Since we don't, I used an ordinary frypan and a pie dish. Heat some olive oil in your frypan and add the leek chunks; arrange them so that the circular cut sides are touching the pan. Cook them until they're golden brown, then flip them over until the other end's also golden brown. Transfer them to the pie dish and bake them in the oven until they're just tender. Take them out and set them aside; turn the oven up to 200°C.
Drain the eggplant chunks and plonk them in the frypan with a little extra oil. Brown them nicely on all sides, pour in the verjuice, and continue to cook them until all the liquid has evaporated or been absorbed. Arrange the eggplant in the pie dish, interspersing the pieces with the leek. Sprinkle over the mint and lemon thyme. Drizzle the lot with the sugar syrup.
Roll out the pastry so that it's a bit larger than the pie dish and use it to cover the tart filling, tucking the edges in. Bake the tart for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and bake for a further 30-35 minutes. Allow the tart some time to cool down. Flip it upside down onto a plate and garnish it with dabs of goats' cheese and a sprinkling of mint.