Seasonal Eating: Nettle Goat Cheese Tart
by Valeria Necchio
London, UK – There is a reason behind my continuous movings — from Bra to London via Venice – and silly though it might sound, the reason is cheese. Back in Bra last year, I was campaigning in defense of raw milk cheeses, here in London I am selling them from behind a cheese counter while chatting about them with customers and oh, yes, tasting them.
I couldn’t have been more happy when I saw that Sarah included Cremont, a goat cheese, in her recipe outline for Potato Leek Gratin. I knew I could relay off this ingredient pretty easily. Often times I take home from work samples of cheeses to try, and many times I end up using them in a dish. In addition, springtime is really the best season for most goat’s cheeses (yes, cheese is seasonal too!), and in the store we just started to have some pretty excellent ones. What a great coincidence!
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A few days ago, I took home a sample of Chabichou to taste before dinner. However, I forced myself to not eat it all and to include it in my recipe outline. Chabichou AOC is a traditional French goat’s cheese (also called chèvre) made from whole goat’s milk and produced in the Poitou-Cherentes region. It can be eaten fresh, when the cheese is mild and milky, or affiné (aged), when it has developed a more complex and enhanced flavor profile. It is pretty versatile and it can be enjoyed raw as an appetizer or at the end of a meal, grilled, melted and in salads. What I had in my hands was an aged Chabichou, so I had to make sure that the rest of the ingredients weren’t too overpowering, but rather had a delicate and subtle flavor.
To me, seasonal eating is something that relates to a specific time and place, but also to memory. Springtime cooking, for instance, has always been synonymous with wild herbs and vegetables. As a kid growing up in the Italian countryside, I went gathering hop sprouts, wild asparagus, wild garlic, dandelion and nettle with my grandma or my uncle every year. Our spring table featured risotti, frittate, stir-fries or savory tarts made with these ingredients. I may have cultivated this ancient human instinct for gathering and foraging a bit too much, as I try to practice it even now that I live in London! As a matter of fact, during my daily walk around Wimbledon Park (which is where I live) I spotted some nettles growing between trees in the shade. I stopped immediately, memorized the exact position, and then ran away. The next day I went back with gloves, scissors and a bag, and gathered as much as I possibly could.
My recipe started to come together just then. I thought about going the traditional route and making a frittata with nettle and goat cheese, or maybe a good risotto. But after a second look at Sarah’s gratin, I thought I could relay off the baking technique, too. So, I made a savory tart instead. I wanted the crust to be rustic and to reflect the nature of the filling. No commercially available pastry dough has satisfied me in this respect. Don’t get me wrong, ready-to-use puff pastry or pie dough are great options for an impromptu, quick meal –they just lack that rustic, down-to-earth flavor that I often crave in a tart. So, I made a wholemeal and olive oil crust myself, which is surprisingly easy to make and requires only a few ingredients. I simply used what I had in my pantry: organic olive oil, organic whole wheat flour, salt and chives from my balcony. As for the filling, I wanted my nettle to be the protagonist. I simply added a couple of eggs (free range cotswold legbar from Clarence Court) and some Neal’s Yard Creamery organic crème fraiche (I am totally addicted to it) to bind all the ingredients together, and some sliced goat cheese on top for some flavor boost. Perfect –and inexpensive. Are you considering foraging, too? Good idea!
Nettle Goat Cheese Tart
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Yield: 4-8 servings
For the tart crust:
- 2 cups (8.8 oz) whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1 Tablespoon chopped chives
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup very cold water
For the filling:
- 1/2 cup crème fraiche
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1 Tablespoon chives
- 4 handfuls nettle
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup sliced or crumbled goat cheese (I used half of a Chabichou)
- In a large bowl, combine flour with salt and chives. Add the oil and mix with a wooden spoon to incorporate, then add the water little by little and keep mixing with the spoon and then with your hands until the dough comes together. Shape into a ball, cover with clean film and store in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, rinse and drain the nettle.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook for a few minutes, until golden. Add the nettle, reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid. Mix with a wood spoon every now and then, until nettle is tender and cooked, about 4 minutes.
- Remove the garlic clove and set aside.
- Prepare the filling: in a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the crème fraiche. Add salt, pepper and chives to the egg mixture. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375° F.
- Take the dough out of the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough using a rolling pin. Give it a round shape and roll it until it is about 3mm thick.
- Grease a 10-inch tart pan with some olive oil or butter. Transfer the rolled dough into the pan and press to let the dough adhere to the edges and the corners. Remove any exceding dough.
- Fill the shell with the cooked nettle, then pour the egg mixture evenly on the whole surface. Move the pan to spread around. Top with goat cheese slices or crumbles.
- Fold the edges of the tart shell toward the center.
- Bake for about 40 minutes, until the shell is crisp and the filling settled.
- Remove and let cool 10-15 minutes before serving.
Valeria Necchio graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences with a master’s degree and immediately took off on a path connecting her interests of food, blogging and photography