Eric Akis: Savoury tarts to feast on

Puff-pastry shell is base for late-fall vegetables flavoured by yogurt, rosemary, maple syrup and balsamic vinegar

Eric Akis

Festive, savoury tarts are on the menu today, and they incorporate vegetables plentiful at this time of year. These tarts are not difficult to make and the process begins by using a type of pastry in a different way than you typically might.

That pastry is vol-au-vent, a round case of puff pastry also called a patty shell, which you can buy frozen at grocery stores, ready to thaw and bake.

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When baked, it has a hollow in the centre that can be filled with a saucy mixture, such as those rich with meat, vegetables or seafood.

I have often used them that way, but over the years, I have learned through tasty experimentation that those store-bought vol-au-vent, when rolled thinner, can also make a nice base for a single serving, savoury tart.

For today’s recipe I did that by spreading the pastry with a bit of Greek yogurt. Step 2 was to arrange a mix of par-cooked vegetables — onions, sweet potatoes, yams and brussels sprouts — on each tart.

To enhance the taste of those items, I sprinkled on walnuts, rosemary and crumbled goat cheese. Once baked, the tarts are drizzled with a balsamic/maple mixture, further enriching their flavour.

When all is said and done, you end up with attractive-looking, seasonal tarts that would make a nice dinner or lunch when served with a simple green salad and glass of bubbly wine. If you can’t have dairy, in the “Eric’s options” part of the recipe I provide alternatives to the yogurt and goat cheese.

Beyond taste, another nice thing about the tarts is that you can get them oven-ready many hours before serving them. Just keep them refrigerated until ready to bake and serve.

Holiday Vegetable Tarts

Savoury tarts topped with vegetables plentiful at this time of year, including yams, sweet potatoes, onions and brussels sprouts. Make a meal by serving the tarts with a simple green salad.

Preparation time: 50 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: About 90 minutes

Makes: Six (one tart each) servings

1 (300 g) pkg. frozen vol-au-vent (patty shells), thawed (see Note)

1 medium yam (about 3/4 lb and 2 1/2 inches in diameter)

1 medium sweet potato (about 3/4 lb and 2 1/2 inches in diameter)

9 to 12 small to medium brussels sprouts, loose leaves removed, bottoms trimmed, and then each cut in half lengthwise

2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil (divided)

1 medium to large white onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 large garlic clove, minced

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 Tbsp thick Greek yogurt or sour cream (see Eric’s options)

1/4 cup walnut pieces

2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

50 to 75 grams soft goat cheese, crumbled (see Eric’s options)

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Prick the yam and sweet potato several times with a fork. Set in a parchment paper-lined baking pan. Bake until tender, about 55 to 60 minutes. Cool yam and sweet potato to room temperature and then, with a sharp paring knife, carefully peel. Set yam and sweet potato on a plate and refrigerate until needed.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil the brussels sprouts twominutes, then drain well, cool in ice-cold water and drain well again. Line a plate with paper towel, set on the brussels sprouts, and then refrigerate until needed.

Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until quite tender, about five to six minutes. Mix in the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook one minute more. Remove onions from the heat and cool to room temperature.

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1. On a floured surface, roll the vol-au-vent into five-inch rounds. They don't have to be perfectly shaped.

Line a large baking sheet (mine was 18-by-13-inches) with parchment paper. Set one of the vol-au-vent on a lightly floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll the vol-au-vent into five-inch round (it does not have to be perfectly shaped) and set on the baking sheet. Roll the other five vol-au-vent as you did the first and set them on the baking sheet, not touching.

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2. Spread each piece of pastry with 1 Tbsp of yogurt (or sour cream), leaving a 1/2-inch border of clean dough around the edges. Top with the sauteed onions.

Spread 1 Tbsp of yogurt (or sour cream) on each rolled out vol-au-vent, leaving a 1/2-inch border of clean dough around the edges. Divide and top the yogurt (or sour cream) with the onions.

Slice the yam into 12 rounds. Slice the sweet potato into 12 rounds.

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3. Top onions with the yam and sweet potato rounds and halved Brussels sprouts. Season with salt and pepper, then top with walnuts, rosemary and goat cheese. Chill tarts at least 20 minutes before baking as described in the recipe.

Set two rounds of yam, and two rounds of sweet potato, on each rolled out vol-au-vent. Now set three or four half pieces of brussels sprouts on each vol-au-vent. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper, and then top with the walnuts, rosemary and goat cheese.

Refrigerate the tarts at least 20 minutes (this chilling will make the pastry puff better once in the hot oven, see Eric’s options).

When ready to bake the tarts, preheat the oven to 425 F. Bake tarts in the middle of the oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffed and rich golden around the edges.

Remove tarts from the oven. Combine balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and remaining 1 tsp olive oil in a small bowl. Drizzle some of this mixture on each tart, and then serve.

Note: Vol-au-vent is sold in the frozen foods section of most supermarkets. I used Tenderflake brand and the 300-gram box of it contained the six vol-au-vent needed for this recipe.

Eric’s options: If you can’t tolerate dairy, replace the yogurt or sour cream with plain cultured coconut milk, which is similar to those products in consistency. Replace the goat cheese with a non-dairy, cheese-style product, which you can crumble or grate on the tarts, to taste. You’ll find those products at most grocery stores.

You can get the tarts oven-ready up to day before baking them. Cover and keep them refrigerated until ready to do so.

For another hit of colour and taste, once baked and drizzled with the balsamic mixture, you could also top each tart with pomegranate seeds, to taste.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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