I have to confess, I'm a bit forgetful as a cook. Not to say that I forget to add ingredients while cooking, rather I forget to buy ingredients in the first place. Often I have to phone Mark in a panic and ask him to run to the market to pick up, say, a container of chicken stock or a bunch or parsley or an onion or whatever. It's probably why I'm so anal about my mis en place. By preparing and setting everything out in little dishes I'll know before I get started that I'm missing a key ingredient. Usually when I forget something it's because I'm heading over to Annie's for one of our little cooking gatherings. Such was the case last weekend. Annie and I had decided to revisit pasta making, our first experience having been less than successful, and to go with our home made pasta, the plan was to do a really interesting sauce that Jamie Oliver demonstrated on his new show a while back - leeks braised in wine and stock. The whole dish then gets tossed with strips of prosciutto and then showered with crisp ciabatta and dried porcini breadcrumbs. The recipe calls for 5 fat leeks and it wasn't until I was two blocks from Annie's house that I realized that I'd forgotten them in my refrigerator. Curse words ensued. I dropped off my load at Annie's and then promptly headed to the nearest market for 5 MORE fat leeks. The meal was great (sorry for not posting it. The prospect of photographing the process while being covered with a dusting of flour was a bit much to consider. Some other time) but now this left me with five leeks at home.
So what am I going to do with so many leeks? A soup seemed boring. I liked the idea of a tart or something. I found this recipe on the Food and Wine website. It was created by Laura Chenel, who, if you don't know, is a pretty big deal in the world of cheese. As the interesting and informative Food Snob's Dictionary puts it: "Laura Chenel (is) the Godmother of American goat-cheese movement. Starting out as a hippie back-to-the-lander in pre-affluence Sonoma County of the 1970s, Chenel, who professed to "belong to (her) goats," learned how to make chevre in small batches and in 1979 became the first commerical goat-cheese producer in the United States, with Alice Waters among her early paying customers."
As someone so known for goat cheese, it's sort of surprising that that tart uses Gruyere instead. Well that seems to have been the point of the article, to show Ms. Chenel's versatility. Of course, you could totally switch out goat cheese for the Gruyere. In fact I may do that next time.
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium leeks, halved, cleaned and thinly sliced on an angle (for a great tip on cleaning leeks, see below)
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups Gruyère cheese, coarsely shredded
4 thin slices prosciutto
On cleaning leeks: I recently learned a new leek cleaning technique,, courtesy of everyone's favorite Brit, Jamie Oliver. In the past I'd always trim off the root end, slice the leeks and then submerge them in cold water, jostling them around to wash away any dirt. Then they'd need to be fished out and drained in a colander. This new (to me) method is much quicker, easier, and doesn't require filling the sink or a big bowl, a fact I love, as my small kitchen has precious little counter space.
Start by trimming off the dark green tops of the leek and then slice off the roots, keeping the end of the leek in tact. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Under gently running cool water hold the leek with the root end UP, then separate the layers of the leek with your fingers, letting the water wash away any dirt or grit. (Holding it the other way, the dirt would get pushed further down into the leek.) Shake out the excess water from the leek and then proceed with your slicing. That's it. Don't you love that? Or maybe you already knew, in which case I wish you'd told me years ago.
Preheat the oven to 475°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 13-inch square. Fold the corners in and lightly roll the pastry into a rough round. Transfer to a baking sheet; refrigerate.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the leeks and most of the thyme, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and the edges of some of the leeks have gotten slightly golden, about 5 minutes.
Remove the puff pastry from the fridge and sprinkle half of the cheese over the pastry, leaving a 1-inch border. Spread the leeks over the cheese.
Scatter over half the remaining cheese then drape with the prosciutto; sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Season with salt and pepper and the rest of the thyme. Fold up the tart edge to form a rim.
Bake for 15 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Keep an eye on the tart in the last few minutes - the bottom can easily get too dark. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes. If need be, blot any excess fat with a paper towel. Cut the tart into wedges and serve with a nice, light salad dressed simply with a basic vinaigrette (minced shallot, dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper)
Since leeks and any form of smoked/cured pig are natural companions, there is no way this couldn't be a taste sensation. It's one of my favorite types of dishes, a study of contrasts. The leeks are soft and sweet, the melted Gruyere, nutty, and the prosciutto is salty with edges that are just slightly crisp. Although it may look like a pizza, once you bite into it, the crust suggests something very different - flaky light and very buttery. Although to be honest, you could totally use these toppings on a regular dough-based pizza.
The tart works well as a light dinner but it would also be great sliced into smaller wedges and served as an appetizer or for a brunch. Thinking back to one of the pizza's they serve at Pizzeria Mozza, it might be interesting to crack an egg over the center of the tart during the last 5 minutes. As good as it is as is, I can only assume how much better it might be topped with some just cooked egg white and little sunny pools of runny yolk. Am I right?
Serves 4 as a light dinner, although I couldn't stop eating it so it ended up serving about 3