This week, Dana reflected on influences, particularly those restaurant meals which inspire us in our own kitchens. This is a dish influenced by my own recent visit to the Porthminster Café, a breezy restaurant nestled below an ocean cliff just steps away from the stunningly blue water in St. Ives, Cornwall.
Headed by Australian chef and surfer Michael Smith, the Porthminster Café's menu mixes Mediterranean and Asian influences, and it's heavy on the local seafood. As a vegetarian, I had to skip many of these specialties, so I ordered the goat cheese tart. As much as I enjoy goat cheese tarts, they're so ubiquitous as the vegetarian option in English restaurants that my expectations were tempered. But when it arrived at my table in a light, crisp phyllo shell, I realized it was no ordinary goat cheese tart. Instead of the usual eggy filling, there was a single round of melty goat cheese atop layers of savory, grilled vegetables harvested from the restaurant's adjacent garden.
My home version does not include every component of that particular tart, and from reviews of the restaurant, it appears that their tart changes over the seasons – sometimes there's the addition of sun-dried tomato, other times sweet potato. But I tried to capture several of the things I liked best about that memorable tart: the light phyllo dough shell, the grilled vegetables, a hint of coriander, and a dollop of lemony hummus to complement the other Mediterranean flavors. (Olive tapenade would also be nice.)
For the goat cheese, I used a citrusy and somewhat nutty crottin, because I wanted a semi-firm texture (and it was the best choice at my local cheesemonger). However, other goat cheeses, from soft to crumbly, would also be delicious. The important thing is the tangy flavor that goat cheese brings to the dish.
Goat Cheese Tart with Roasted Eggplant, Zucchini, and Caramelized Onions
4 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 (12-ounce) ramekins
2 medium white or yellow onions
1 small eggplant (about 6 ounces)
2 medium zucchini
2 marinated artichoke hearts, quartered
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
4 ounces goat cheese, thinly sliced or crumbled
2 tablespoons lemony hummus or olive tapenade
For the Phyllo Shells
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Brush ramekins with melted butter.
Take a sheet of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Place second sheet on top and brush with butter. Cut layered phyllo into two rectangles. Place one rectangle on top of the other, rotating it 45 degrees. Gently press phyllo stack into a ramekin to make a cup shape. Repeat process to make second phyllo shell.
Place ramekins on baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack 15 minutes, then gently remove phyllo shells from ramekins.
For the Filling
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Caramelize the onions:
Peel onions and cut into thin slices. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deep brown and caramelized, about 30 minutes. (Related post: How to Caramelize Onions)
Grill the eggplant:
Slice eggplant lengthwise into ribbons about 1/4-inch thick and 1-inch wide. (The ribbons should be similar to zucchini in length and width.) Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and coriander. Grill until brown and tender, about 5 minutes per side.
Grill the zucchini:
Slice zucchini lengthwise into ribbons about 1/4-inch thick. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and coriander. Grill until brown and tender, about 3 minutes per side.
Assemble and bake the tart:
Place phyllo shells on baking sheet. Divide and layer eggplant, artichoke hearts, and zucchini in each phyllo shell, sprinkling thyme between each layer. Top with onions, then goat cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. If phyllo shells start to get too brown, cover loosely with foil.
Top each tart with tablespoon of lemony hummus or olive tapenade and serve with a green salad.
• To learn more about the Porthminster Café, visit their Web site
(Images: Emily Ho)