The beet and the coconut

It’s not unusual to plan a meal around one ingredient, I think. You find a beautiful cut of grass-fed beef or see a flat of ruby red strawberries and the wheels start spinning as you think about the best way to highlight their natural beauty. This sort of thinking influenced a couple of our meals this week.

Usually when I buy beets, both root and green are destined for a salad inspired by an episode of Lidia’s Family Table — roasted beets, boiled greens, and sliced green apple are tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with hard goat cheese, and seasoned only with salt & pepper. It’s simple and delicious, especially when the produce is at its freshest and most vibrant.

But wanting something different last weekend and thinking (incorrectly) I was prepared to deal with a certain amount of frustration, I decided on a beet tart adapted from this one. The process involved me buying my first tart pan from a store that fascinates and repels me in equal measure — New York Cake & Baking Distribution, conveniently located across the street from my office. I’m attracted to its bare bones design and singularity of purpose; this isn’t a place you go for a comfortable shopping experience with easily navigable aisles or readily located merchandise. No, you go here for baking supplies (pretty much anything at all) at a good price. Period. I’m repelled only because I’m woefully ignorant about baking and expect to be given the bum’s rush when I walk in. Insecure much?

And, you know, there’s a reason for my insecurity — I’ve never once made a pie crust that hasn’t frustrated me to the point of tears. Part of the problem is a lack of counter space, but mostly it’s simple inexperience. Is the dough too dry? Is it too wet? I DON’T KNOW! I think the problem you see above was a too-dry crust, but couldn’t say. My quick fix was to jam bits of dough into the areas where it broke apart, figuring the filling would hide my mistakes from sight, if not taste.

But what a filling it was! While the beets were roasting, I threw in a whole head of garlic, too, which I later sautéed with a chopped onion and copious amounts of thyme. Just meditate on that for a minute.

And then I topped that layer with an egg, crème fraiche, and goat cheese cheese mixture before the roasted beets and even more cheese found their way to the tippy top of the tart.

It was a lot of work, I won’t lie, and I don’t really know if I’ll be preparing the crust again since I’m such a numskull with the pastry-making, but that filling definitely will be featured again in future meals, the layers alone or in some combination. For you see, it was DELICIOUS.

OK, it looks a little pizza-like, but warm from the oven with the sweet caramelized onions, garlic and beets sandwiching that creamy filling, mmmm…

We polished off about half of the tart on the spot, calling it dinner, and put the other half away for quick lunches later in the week.

The other (and probably the more surprising) ingredient I planned a meal around was … coconut juice. I picked it up on a whim at the grocery one day and couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it, so it languished in the pantry for a few weeks. Then I thought — hey, Thai! So I broke out my new rice cooker and set about making coconut rice with brown basmati and a mixture of coconut milk and strained coconut juice. I was on a roll!

To top the rice, I defrosted about a cup of sofrito from my stash, thinking the cilantro and culantro would be right at home with the coconut, and made a thick stew with the addition of lime-marinated shrimp, shrimp stock, hot pepper paste, and the rest of the coconut milk/juice. I topped it all with thinly sliced green onions and toasted sweetened coconut to balance the tartness from the lime and have to say I was pretty pleased with the outcome:

But I think it could’ve used more heat and possibly a little funky fish sauce to bring the whole thing together. I’ll try that variation next time and report back to you.

And it doesn’t have anything to do with this post, really, but because ’tis the season, I have to show you what I did with my garlic scapes last weekend instead of grilling them.

I made a chickpea dip inspired by Mark Bittman’s white bean dip with lemon zest. I could eat this everyday. I just whirled together some canned chickpeas (drained of squack), the zest of one lemon, the juice of the same, quite a few chopped garlic scapes and harissa. While the machine was running, I drizzled in some good-quality olive oil until the mixture turned creamy; I topped it with more lemon juice, olive oil, and another sprinkling of harissa before we dove in. Yum.

recipe after the jump

Roasted Beet and Garlic Tart adapted from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small chunks
3 – 5 Tbsp. ice water

2 cups finely chopped onions
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed, plus 1/4 tsp. for sprinkling on tart
1 head roasted garlic
2 eggs
1/2 cup crème fraiche, or 1/4 cup each heavy cream and sour cream
1/2 cup firm goat’s milk cheese, shredded, plus 1 Tbsp. for sprinkling on top
2 Tbsp. minced basil
3 – 4 roasted and sliced beets (see NOTE below)

Make the crust: In a food processor, mix the flour, salt, and olive oil until the olive oil is thoroughly incorporated into the flour. Add the butter and pulse three or four times to break up and distribute the butter; when you are done, the butter pieces should be the size of small lentils. Add 3 Tbsp. ice water and pulse to mix. Pinch together some of the dough to see if it holds together. If it does not, add small amounts of water, pulsing to mix, until the dough holds together when pinched. Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and knead lightly until the dough holds together. Shape the dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Roll out the dough on a piece of well-floured parchment paper until it forms a 10-1/2 inch circle. Use the rolling pin to lift the dough and place it over a 9” tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough firmly into the sides and bottom of the tart pan. Trim the dough’s edges so there is just enough to fold under and cover the sides of the pan with a double layer of dough. Prick tiny holes all over the bottom crust with a fork.

Press a double layer of aluminum foil into the dough (this will prevent it from bubbling up when it bakes) and top with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights/beans and bake for 5 minutes longer or until the crust is set and lightly golden. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. Reduce the oven heat to 350°F.

Make the filling: Sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until the onion softens and turns golden. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook for 1 minute, mashing the garlic into the onion as it cooks. Spread the onion, garlic, and thyme mixture over the bottom of the baked tart crust.

Stir together the eggs, crème fraiche, cheese, basil, and freshly ground black pepper until they are thoroughly mixed. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the cooked onions. Arrange the sliced, roasted beets on top of the egg mixture. Sprinkle tart with 1 Tbsp. shredded cheese and 1/4 tsp. of crushed dried thyme.

Bake the tart at 350°F for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the eggs are set.

Remove the tart from the pan and serve hot or at room temperature.