I came up with this combination when working as a chef on Arran. We had a beautiful ditchfull of watercress that grew like a privet hedge nearby and it was always a great pleasure to break the journey into work with 5 minutes pruning. Unfortunately, a gentleman who lived adjacent to the watercress patch took exception to its unrulyness and decided to dig the whole plant out one year. Honestly. I wish some people would just stay in suburbia and preen there hedges and lawns there, leaving real nature alone.
Depending on what you can find, and how nippy you like your tarts, you can sub in chickweed, sea beet, sea radish, fat hen, nettles, etc – any green leaf that cooks down nicely.
In an attempt to use make this recipe more ‘local’, I have successfully used goats cheese instead of parmesan. I do prefer the nutty saltiness of parmesan though.
For the pastry:
- 125g butter – very cold
- 250g white flour – sieved
- 50g parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1 teaspoon icing sugar
For the filling:
- 20g butter
- 500g watercress leaves. ie. stripped from the fibrous stalks – this can be a laborious process, especially if you don’t have a small child to enslave. Depending on your levels of patience, you may wish to take some short cuts and include a fair amount of stalk. All this means is the finished tart will not be quite such a fine consistency – it will still taste great. Reserve some of the pretty white flowers for garnishing.
- Juice of 1 orange
- 3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
- 300ml double cream
- 200g grated parmesan
- 25g pine nuts, chopped hazelnuts, or himalayan balsam seeds.
You will also require a 12inch diameter tart tin.
Make the pastry: Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grate the butter into a bowl containing all the other pastry ingredients and a good dose of salt and pepper (lots of black pepper – it goes really well with watercress). Mix and crumble with light fingers, keeping the mixture nice and cool. When fully mixed, add small amounts of water until you can form the mixture into a rough ball. The less water you add, the less your pastry is likely to shrink when cooking. Refrigerate for 30 mins. Roll out the pastry to the size of your tart tin and fit it in. This is not always as easy as it sounds, and if your pastry is good and short, you will probably have to do plenty of patching and moulding. Prick the base gently all over with a fork and return to the fridge for 20 mins. Cover it with baking parchment and add something weighty such as dried beans, rice or pasta for blind baking. Place in oven for 15 minutes, then remove weight and parchment and return it to the oven until it starts to look nicely toasted. (The parmesan and icing sugar should help it to toast/caramelise slightly)
Make the filling: Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan on a medium heat, add the watercress and orange juice and sweat it gently for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. It will reduce in volume quite considerably. When it is cooked, blitz it in a food processor along with any green liquid it has exuded. Place in a bowl with the all eggs, cream, all but a handful of the parmesan and a generous amount of seasoning (again, plenty black pepper) and beat together vigorously. The more air you beat in now, the more the filling will rise when cooked.
Pour the filling into the cooked pastry case and sprinkle with the reserved handful of parmesan and the nuts. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until it stops being really wobbly in the middle (some wobble is good though) and looks deliciously bronzed. When it has cooled a little, scatter the watercress flowers on top before serving.
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