Provencale Vegetable & Feta Cheese Tart
My first visit to the Provence and the beautiful South of France was a truly wonderful experience! The only other visit to France I had made to that point, was one of those typically touristic Paris trips, with "haricots vert" avec this and "haricots vert" avec that in faux-fancy tourist menus. As an old friend of mine used to say, "non e non e non!"
In the Provence, I experienced a whole different style of cuisine, down to earth, rustic, unpretentious and delicious! None of those fancy butter and white wine sauces, the fussy, oh-so-artistic presentations and the ludicrously luxurious ingredients- but just good, plain, home cooking. In a French kind of way of course...
I remember eating a tarte, not a quiche, bound together by a cheesy egg batter (which would also have been delicious), but a simple mix of freshly cooked vegetables in a pie crust. And thinking "wow!" The flavors were so fresh and distinctive and the ingredients all had a little bit of bite and texture left to them. And they just tasted of... well... exactly what they were! I loved it! I loved the way that all of the individual flavors did not merge into one new flavor, which as I already mentioned in the case of a classic quiche CAN also be delicious- but that the experience of eating it was like a tasting menu all around the garden- accentuated of course by the typical herbs of the region. It was more than just tasty it was really fun to eat!
Anyway, I decided to use egg plant as the main ingredient in my tarte this evening... mainly because my colleague Peggy brought me a HUGE eggplant this morning... after I had already bought one of my own this weekend! Oh well, I thought, I will save the larger one for a Sicilian dish I have in mind for later in the week, and use the other, smaller one along with some peppers and zucchini and make myself a tarte of my own and I made it like this:
Step one was to turn on the oven, to get it nice and hot to bake that puff-pastry crust. And no, I didn't make the pastry myself!
What I did do, was to dice the egg plant, some red, yellow and green peppers, a little zucchini and a small shallot and to slice a half stick of celery too. I started off by browning the egg plant in a dry non-stick pan. Sounds weird, but works! The egg plant begins to brown nicely all by itself- and after 2-3 minutes of this, I began to add the other ingredients- the celery, peppers and shallot went in next, along with some finely chopped garlic and a splash of olive oil. After 2-3 minutes in the oil, when they were beginning to brown, I deglazed the pan with a little white wine and a splash of water. I seasoned with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and a good pinch of Herbs de Provence. Once everything had been sautéed for 9-10 minutes and was beginning to soften nicely, I turned off the heat and turned my attention to the pastry!
I lined my pie dish with greaseproof paper, so that I could lift the whole thing out later and slice it more easily, then laid in the base first, a little larger than needed, so that it overlapped and formed the outer edges of the pie casing. I then cut strips of pastry and placed them around the outside edge,working from the bottom-up and adding one strip after another until the outside was double thickness all the way to the top. I then spooned in the vegetable mix and pressed it down firmly. Next step was to dice some Feta cheese and halve a few cherry tomatoes and press these into the top layer of the tarte. I seasoned with a hint more salt and pepper and popped it into the oven for 15 minutes at 350°F.
After 15 minutes, I fetched the tarte out, gave it a sprinkle of fresh thyme and a drizzle of honey and popped it back into the oven, under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to give it a glaze and a yummy sweet touch to accent the Feta cheese and the eggplant... very simple indeed!
This was wonderful piping-hot and was small and so delicious that I finished it off in one go... but you know-I am sure it would have tasted equally good served cold in the morning. Alas, I will never know for sure... unless I make another one of these some time. And you know what? Somehow I think I will...