Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ingredient Spotlight: Fennel - Savory Fennel Creme Tart

Market Fresh Fennel, Photo:NK
The clocks have moved forward, the days are longer, and the first day of Spring is upon us. 

Not a moment too soon. Overcome with warm weather anticipation, I set out yesterday to create a beautiful spring-ready appetizer that celebrates the bounty of seasonal produce that lies ahead.  

Our Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring dish uses a versatile veggie that bridges the gap. It also happens to be a personal favorite of mine - Fennel.  

Fennel is an amazing vegetable that hits its peak in mid Winter but is available from Fall all the way to early Spring. Another fun fact- Fennel is edible from top to bottom. The fronds, or delicate leafy greens atop the stalks, are lovely and herbaceous. They also make a beautiful garnish. Fennel's large white Bulbs, with the exception of their hard inner core, offer a mild licorice flavor and pleasant crunch when consumed raw. 

Once cooked, the Bulbs sweeten considerably and offer a subtle flavor that works with a wide variety of pairings. 

Cooked Fennel tastes, at least to me, like spring feels - warm, sweet, mellow. Ahhhhhh. 

I hope you like today's incredibly easy yet impressive Savory Fennel Creme Tart as much as we did. It's perfect warm or at room temperature and makes for a great make-ahead party offering or holiday appetizer. It may even pop up at our Easter celebration.

Finished Fennel Creme Tart, Photo: NK
Fennel, Photo: NK 
Fennel Creme Fraiche Tart
Serves 3-4 as an Appetizer

1/3 Cup Creme Fraiche
2 Tablespoons Half and Half
1 Tablespoon minced Fennel Fronds
1/8 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Pepper 
1 Egg, well beaten

Oil or Butter for greasing your baking sheet

1 Large Fennel with Stalk attached - Fronds (leafy tops) pinched off and minced (1 Tablespoon worth) and Bulb cut away (any bruised skin shaved off and discarded). Save some additional Fronds for garnish.

1/4 Cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

1 Sheet Frozen Puff Pastry, fully defrosted. (Puff Pastry usually comes two sheets to a package so if you like, you can easily double this recipe) *Be sure to cover with saran while defrosting to prevent drying.

Flour for dusting the Dough

Scoring and Folding the Puff Pastry Dough, Photo: NK
Defrost Puff Pastry for about 30 to 40 minutes. 
It should be room temperature. 

Preheat the oven to 390.

Boil a large pot of salted water. Cut off the Fennel Stalk and set aside. Add the Fennel Bulb to the boiling water and continue to cook for 15 minutes.

When Fennel is done, remove it and rinse with cold water. Dry the outside thoroughly and slice horizontally as thinly as possible. The slices will look roughly like rings. Discard the circles of hard inner core that you find. Take the remaining slices of fennel and pat dry with paper towel. Set aside.
Pinch in corners well and press into tart base, Photo: NK

Lightly grease a baking sheet with sides with butter or a tiny bit of Oil. 

Prepare Creme Filling by mixing the first six ingredients. 

To Prepare the Puff Pastry Dough, Flour a surface lightly and lay the Dough down. 

Arrange the Sliced Fennel, Photo: NK
Sprinkle the top of the Dough with some more flour. 

Cut the top third of the Dough off to form a rectangular shape (though you can also create any shape you choose).

Roll the Dough Lightly with a rolling pin until it is about 1/8 inch thick.

Move the Dough to the baking sheet and trim the edges of the Dough with a knife to make the rectangle more even. 
Add the cream. Don't overfill to prevent spillage, NK

Next, score the Dough all around the rectangle about a centimeter in from the edge.

Fold the scored edges in at a 90 degree angle to form a crust. 

Pinch the corners really well so they stay fused, also pressing the insides of the  corners into the base of the tart. 

Arrange Fennel all over the Tart (as pictured). Next, carefully pour in as much of the Creme as it takes to the cover the Tart (don't overfill). There will likely be some Creme leftover. 

Next, sprinkle Pecorino Romano Cheese 
all over the Tart.

Finish with an additional dash of Black Pepper.

Bake 40 minutes until crust is crispy and golden.

Cool a bit, clean up the Tart edges with a knife if any of the Creme spilled over (*see cook's note below), and garnish with additional Fennel Fronds. Slice, serve, and enjoy! 

The Finished Product - ready to slice! Photo: NK

*Important Cook's Note:  
You may use this same filling with puff pastry fitted in a tart pan or even in a prepared pie crust (though cooking time may change). Because I like to keep this tart nice and thin and prefer to prepare it without the use of a tart pan, there is a chance that some of the filling will flow over the sides of the crust as the tart bakes. This is absolutely ok! If any overflow occurs, simply allow the tart to cool a bit and trace around it with a knife to clean up the edges. It will come out looking just perfect so don't fret!    

Savory Fennel Creme Tart, Photo: NK

No comments:

Post a Comment