Rarely are tarts seen alone. We tend to bring them to the table in the company of other small dishes for a summer lunch: radishes on a dish of ice; a coarse, piggy terrine; a bowl of leaves and herbs; or a wedge of cheese. And yet they can be a main dish, if the filling is substantial and it is served with generosity. In the spring of 2018, I made a tart that would pass as a principal dish.
Satisfying enough to be offered as you might a pie, with a single green vegetable on the side. The result was a saffron-hued butternut and bacon tart, served with nothing more than a big blue and white bowl of peas at its side. The recipe hit the spot and I have been making it ever since.
Note: In theory, there is little need to peel the butternut squash, but I do here. The skin, however tender, seems at odds with the gentle texture of the tart filling. Add as much water as you need to make the pastry easy to roll, but it is worth remembering that the less water you put in the less likely it is to shrink in the oven.
For the pastry
For the filling
Make the pastry: cut the butter into small dice and rub into the flour with your fingertips until it has the texture of soft, fresh breadcrumbs. Alternatively, reduce to fine crumbs in a food processor. Add the egg yolk, the Parmesan and the water, a tablespoon at a time, stopping when you have a firm, even-textured dough. Set the oven at 375° F.
Peel the squash, halve lengthways and discard the fibres and seeds (you should be left with about 350 g). Then cut the flesh into short wedges, each weighing roughly 35 g. Place the pieces in a steamer basket and cook over boiling water for 8–10 minutes until soft. Cut the bacon into pieces the size of a postage stamp then fry in the oil in a shallow pan until the fat is translucent and just starting to crisp. Remove from the heat.
Beat the eggs, cream and milk, season, then add the chopped parsley. Place an 8-inch round tin with a removable base on a baking tray and line with the pastry, making certain you have pushed the dough deep into the edges and that there are no tears or cracks. Chill for 20 minutes in the fridge.
Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans, then bake for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and return the pastry case to the oven for 3–5 minutes or until the pastry is dry to the touch.
Lower the heat to 355° F. Place the pieces of squash in the pastry shell, then scatter over the crisped bacon. Pour in the custard and dust the surface with the grated Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the custard is just set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool until just warm (when tarts such as this are at their most delicious).
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