Tarte aux Blettes, that’s the menu title, since I think most people would see Swiss chard tart on a dessert menu and pass it over for the Chocolate Snowball. I remember ordering this tart in Nice, France way back in 1986, for professional curiosity of course. After that, also a long time ago, I tried making it, likely from a recipe in the old Time-Life Food of the World series; it must have been the Cooking of Provincial France book. I didn’t like how that recipe came out—tough crust and odd mix of flavors, and the chard was probably old and bitter. Nevertheless, anytime I see another version of this Swiss chard tart, I am tempted to try again. A quick Google search shows that there are plenty of recipes out there, including translations from Boulud and Payard.
David Lebovitz, my favorite blogger, posted his rendition last year, writing about his almost fruitless search for more chard in Paris, after he’d decided he needed more to complete the recipe. Two pounds of chard for each tart is a lot, much more than one bunch, making this tart most appropriate when gardens are overflowing with chard. So, when I was asked to prepare dessert for Utah’s Slow Food gala dinner, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to perfect my own interpretation; my audience would be captive, meaning they wouldn’t choose that rich warm chocolate cake from the menu instead, because there would be no choice. And the date was mid-September, when gardens in our high altitudes are peaking; I was able to beg 22 pounds of sweet fresh-picked chard, young and tender Blonde de Lyon chard from John at Ranui Gardens and rainbow chard with colorful stems from Daisy at Copper Moose Farm—two of our Wasatch back CSA farmers. I took David’s recipe and made it mine, with a sweet sugar cookie crust, no Parmesan cheese and fresh pears instead of apples. I served it with candied red chard stems and Moscato-poached Utah pears, both roasted to intensify their flavors, and crème fraîche sherbet.
Tarte aux Blettes
For the sugar cookie crust:
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
For the filling:
¼ cup poire william sweet pear liqueur
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 pounds Swiss chard well washed, stems and veins removed, red and yellow stems reserved (you will end up with about 1 ½ pounds of leaves after stripping away the veins and stems)
¼ cup lightly toasted pine nuts
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup organic cane sugar
1 ½ Bartlett pears, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon tapioca flour or starch
Make the crust:
Stir the flour and the sugar together in a medium bowl. Dice the butter into 1/2-inch pieces. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolk and the cream. Sprinkle over the dough, stirring with a fork. Mix with your hands until the dough comes together, and divide in two portions, one a tiny bit larger than the other. Gently form each portion into a flattened 4-inch ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Make the filling:
Put the raisins and pear liqueur in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside until the raisins are plump with the liqueur.
Put the chard leaves in a saucepan or skillet with about ¼ cup of water and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook the leaves until they are completely wilted and have shrunk incredibly. Drain the leaves and immediately run them under cold water to help keep the bright green color. When they are cool, squeeze as much water as you are able from the leaves.
Chop the cooked chard and put into a bowl. Drain any liqueur from the raisins and add them to the chard. Sip the pear brandy while you continue making the tart.
Chop the pine nuts coarsely and add them to the chard, along with the cinnamon, sugar and eggs. Mix well; set aside while you roll the crust.
Roll the crust and assemble and bake the tart:
The dough it must be worked by hand first or it will be too crumbly: Cut each portion of the cold dough into 1/2 cup portions and smear the pieces quickly with the palm of your hand–the motion is similar to kneading but more gentle.
Brush melted butter on the sides and bottom of a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, or spray with cooking spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll the larger portion of dough into a 12-inch circle, 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Use short coaxing strokes of the rolling pin and lift and turn the circle frequently, as often as every other roll of the pin. Use as little flour as possible, but dust the work surface and the rolling pin as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Transfer to the prepared pan by rolling the dough up onto the rolling pin and laying it over the pan. Ease the dough into the corners of the pan. Patch any tears by pressing the dough together with your fingers. Trim the edges, leaving one inch of the dough standing up above the sides of the pan.
Roll the remaining dough for the top crust. Make it a circle, 1/8-inch thick, a little wider than the pan. Set aside.
Spread the chard filling into the tart shell. Toss the pear slices with the tapioca flour. Arrange them evenly over the filling.
Fold the extended inch of pastry over the filling and pears. Brush this edge with water so the top crust will seal to it. Lay the top crust on top of the filling. Use your fingers to pinch off the excess dough and seal it the top to the bottom.
Cut 6 slits in the crust to allow steam to escape. Place on a large baking sheet and bake 40 to 60 minutes, until the top crust is golden brown. Some of the filling may leak; this is typical. Cool at least one hour.
Remove the fluted pan rim and bottom; you may need to slip a flat knife between the pastry and the pan bottom to release it. Center a 7-inch plate or a cardboard circle on top of the tart as a stencil and sift confectioners’ sugar over the exposed border. Serve at room temperature.