When I was in Nice a few months ago with my friends Adam and Matt, I wanted to show them some of the more unusual local specialties, ones you wouldn’t come across unless you were actually in a certain region. French cooking is very regional, which is why you won’t find bouillabaisse in Paris or all that many macarons in Nice. And a lot of people visiting a certain town or city might not be familiar with some of the more unusual things that are only available there, like Socca or Panisses, simply because no one would think about eating them outside of the area where they originated.
In case you’re wondering, you can’t make a Tourte de blettes without Swiss chard (blettes). For one thing, if you did, then it wouldn’t be Swiss chard tart. So get that notion out of your head right now. And believe me, if you can’t find chard, I feel your pain. One fine morning at the market, I bought my big, beautiful bunch of chard from a big pile at the market to make this tart.
Then after cooking it down, I deduced that I needed more, a revelation which came after the market had packed up for the day. Well, I kid you not..I searched through eight supermarkets and three specialty produce stores in my neighborhood looking for Swiss chard (and one frozen food shop as well), and didn’t find a single leaf. One vendor tried to convince me that bok choy was “Italian” Swiss chard—but I wasn’t buying it.
So the next morning, I trudged up to another market not in my neighborhood, near rue Oberkampf, and found it. I don’t know what the moral of the story is, and although I’ve seen similar sweet tarts in Italy made with a variety stewed greens, called Torta di Verdura, I wanted to stick with the classic. And I don’t think that they make tarts with bok choy in Italy.
The Swiss chard I got was so big, I had to clean it in the bathtub (not to worry, I cleaned it to surgical standards before I gave it a wash). And speaking of big, I had these enormous shards of cinnamon that my friend Diane gave me a while back that I was waiting to use, and the spiciness of this Vietnamese cinnamon was so alluring when I grated it that now that I’ve used it, I’m wondering what the heck took me so long to finally grate it up?
You probably don’t need me to tell you that this tart isn’t for everyone. (If you’re one of those people, thanks for reading at least this far.) It’s not super-sweet and has a bit of Parmesan cheese in it, plus the dough made with olive oil instead of butter. But it sounds odder than it tastes, and folks make sweet desserts with vegetables all the time, such as Carrot Cake and Sweet Potato Pie, so it’s really not that much of a stretch, my friends.
I’ve seen Tourtes de blettes with apples tucked in there, and sometimes not. I used them in this one because I was apple picking this weekend and had an overabundance—to say the least, of apples to use up. (Why couldn’t I go Swiss chard-picking?) Although the two apples I used hardly put a dent in my basketload.
The tree I climbed to get these apples wasn’t marked anywhere telling me what kind of apples they were. But these were apples that were more croquant (crisp) than traditional baking apples, the kind that get squishy soft when you cook them. (But hey, they were free. So I wasn’t complaining.) But I recommend that you use apples that will cook until they’re nice and soft if you can.
The dough can be a bit tricky to roll, so I roll it between two sheets of parchment paper. It won’t look like a museum piece when it’s transferred into the pan, but you can use your hand to press it into place. And no one is going to see the bottom, except for real sticklers, but who wants to feed those kinds of people anyways?
Swiss Chard Tart (Tourte de blettes)
For the dough:
- 2 1/3 cups (325g) flour
- 1/3 cup (65g) sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
- 2 large eggs
- Optional: 2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk, (see Note)
For the filling:
- 1 1/2 pounds (.75kg) of Swiss chard leaves , (depending on your chard you'll need to buy about 2-pounds, 1 kg)
- 1/3 cup (60g) golden raisins
- eau-de-vie or brandy
- 1/4 cup (30g) pine nuts, toasted
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 ounce (30g) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated or free-flowing natural cane sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 medium baking apples
- Powdered sugar
- Powdered sugar
- Make the dough by mixing together the flour, 1/3 cup (65 g) sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the olive oil and the eggs, mixing until the dough is smooth.
- Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other, wrap each in plastic and shape the two dough portions into disks. Chill for at least one hour. (Dough can be made up to two days in advance.)
- Wash the chard leaves very well, in several changes of water, until the water is clear and there is no grit in the leaves.
- Put the chard leaves in a saucepan with a bit of water and a pinch of salt. Cover, and cook the leaves until they’re completely wilted, about 15 minutes.
- Drain the leaves and run cold water over them, turning them as you rinse. (This ‘shock’ helps set the color.) Once cool, squeeze the leaves very, very firmly to extract as much water from them as possible.
- Put the raisins in a small saucepan and pour just enough eau-de-vie or brandy over them to cover. Simmer for a minute or two, until the liquor is absorbed. Let cool to room temperature.
- Chop the Swiss chard and put it into a medium bowl. Coarsely chop the raisins and the pine nuts, and add them to the chard . Stir in the cinnamon, Parmesan, and 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar, then mix in the eggs.
- To bake the tart, preheat the oven to 350ºF. (180ºC)
- Lightly butter a 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom. (No need to butter if it’s a non-stick pan.)
- Dust both sides of the larger pieces of dough and roll it between two large sheets of parchment paper. About halfway through rolling, peel away the parchment and re-dust both sides of the dough with flour, then continue to roll the dough until it’s the size that will fit into the bottom of the tart pan and go up the sides.
- Peel away the top piece of parchment and carefully overturn the dough on to the tart pan. Peel away the other piece of parchment and use your fingers and the heel of your hand to smooth the dough into place and even it out. (I use my thumbs and heel of my hand to make sure it goes up the sides as best as possible.)
- Spread the filling into the tart pan over the dough, then peel and thinly slice the apples, and lay them in an even layer over the Swiss chard filling.
- Roll out the other disk of dough as you did the lower one, between two parchment paper sheets, and transfer it to the tart pan to cover the tart filling.
- Use your fingers to seal the dough at the edges to enclose the filling. A few gaps are normal.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the dough is golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and dust the top with powdered sugar. Let cool before slicing.
Related Links and Recipes
Apples: A Guide to Selection and Use (Ohio State University Extension)
Tourte de Blettes (Épices et compagnie; in French)