At a conference this past February I met author Anne Perry and a few days later to I found myself in a bookstore that had a copy of The Cater Street Hangman, first book of the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series1. The coincidence was too tempting to resist. I liked the book so much that I read the following three novels in the series: Callander Square, Paragon Walk and Resurrection Row.
Besides being good mysteries, the novels attract me because of their setting: Victorian England. They look at the life of that time with a modern sensitivity. The author explains some situations, because she knows that her readers are not familiar with the social norms of the time, for example the uneasy relationship between upper class people and the Police, some of the norms regulating the movements of servants inside the house where they work.
Thomas Pitt is a police inspector in London. In the course of the investigation at the center of The Cater Street Hangman, Pitt meets Charlotte Ellison, who belongs to an upper-class family. Given that the series is called "Charlotte and Thomas Pitt" you can imagine at least one of the things that happens in that novel, but there is a lot more involving in different ways Charlotte's two sisters, Sarah and Emily. As is usually the case with mysteries, it is difficult to provide details without spoiling the surprise for readers, so I will not say more.
The immediate inspiration for the recipe I provide below is Charlotte's adventures in the kitchen. Raised in a house where the cook and her assistants took care of purchasing food and preparing meals, Charlotte goes through a learning curve as she becomes responsible for both activities in the Pitt household, since her husband's salary does not allow them to have a maid. (Thomas is keenly aware of the situation and shows deep appreciation for his wife's efforts.)
One of the dishes Charlotte sets about to learn to make is the traditional savory English pie. She waits to cut it until her husband comes back home tired and ready to push aside the day's worries to spend some time with his wife (and later their daughter, Jemima). Charlotte's attitude is positive: she does her best, sees where she must improve, and moves forward. And yes, she is more into helping her husband in solving his cases than in mastering cooking, but she does both with positive energy.
I am not married to a detective, nor do I aspire to detective work, but approach my cooking projects with enthusiasm and determination. The latter is particularly useful when what comes out of the oven or a pot is not exactly what I expected. I take notes and revise the plan for the next iteration.
I prefer tarts over pies, so with a nod to Charlotte Pitt, I created a recipe for savory tart using a gluten-free crust made of ground cashews (anacardi), coconut flour (farina di cocco) and butter (burro), which is a variation on the recipe for Coconut Quiche Base from the book The Ketogenic Kitchen by Domini Kemp and Patricia Daly2. I am not following a ketogenic diet, but I like a lot of recipes in the book. My changes to the original have mostly to do with reducing the quantities to make a thinner crust, but also with the preparation.
Once I had the crust, I started experimenting with fillings and given the season, I reached for sweet peppers and zucchini, both abundant at the various farmers' markets where I shop. I described my favorite recipe for preparing those vegetables in a previous post3. I doubled the quantities, because I wanted a vegetable-rich tart. The addition of cheese makes it basically a complete meal. (I use my homemade fresh chèvre.)
The crust can be made and baked ahead. The vegetables can be cooked ahead as well. Assembling the tart and baking it can be done close to mealtime. The ability to prepare the dish in steps is another characteristics that makes it appealing.
For the crust:
- 60 g raw cashews
- 55 g coconut flour
- 1/8 teaspoon Harissa spice mix or sweet paprika
- A pinch of salt
- 55 g cold unsalted butter
For the filling:
- 4 tablespoons / 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 10 ounces / 280 g sweet onions, like cipollini or walla walla
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon Harissa spice mix
- 140 ounces / 400 g sweet Italian peppers
- 12 ounces / 340 g zucchini
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- 2 ounces / 55 g fresh chèvre
- 3/4 ounce / 20 g freshly grated cheese, like manchego or cheddar
Prepare the crust
Put the cashews, coconut flour, spices and salt in a food processor and process until the cashews are finely ground. Add the butter cut into small cubes and pulse briefly a few times times until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
To bake the tart, I recommend using a 9 or 9 1/2-inch / 23-24 cm fluted round tart pan with removable bottom, about 1 inch / 2.5 cm high, optionally lined with a circle or parchment paper (the buttery crust does not stick to the bottom, but as I cut it in the pan, the paper helps protect the metal surface from scratching).
Preheat the oven to 350 F / 177 C.
Put the crust mix in the tart pan and shake to distribute evenly. Press the mix to make an even layer all around. The butter should be soft enough at this point to allow you to easily shape the mix with your hands. Otherwise, wait a little bit. To keep my fingers less oily, I prefer the butter not to be completely soft.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crust turns golden at the edge (see photo below). Take out of the oven and set aside until ready to assemble the tart.
Prepare the filling
Slice the onions lengthwise into thin sections no wider than 1/4 inch / 1/2 cm and separate the layers so you have short ribbons.
Cut the peppers lengthwise. Carve out and discard the stem portion, and the seeds and ribbing inside. Cut each half in half crosswise and finally slice each piece into short ribbons no wider than 1/4 inch / 1/2 cm.
Trim zucchini top and bottom, quarter lengthwise, then cut into 1/8 inch / 3 mm slices.
Warm up the olive oil in a large skillet (I use a cast-iron one). Add the onion to the skillet, stir to coat and let cook on medium-low heat for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic. Continue cooking, stirring every now and then.
Five minutes after you started cooking the onion, sprinkle the spice mix and stir well, then add the peppers, stir and continue cooking, stirring every now and then.
Five minutes later, add the zucchini, stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Cover and cook on gentle heat until the peppers are of the desired tenderness (20-25 minutes). Every few minutes, uncover and stir.
When the peppers are ready, sprinkle the salt, adjusting the amount to your taste and stir, then remove the pan from the heat. Let cool, then add the chèvre and stir well to distribute it evenly.
Assemble and bake the tart
Preheat the oven to 350 F / 177 C.
Transfer the filling on the prepared crust and distribute it evenly. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top.
Bake for 30-32 minutes. Take out of the oven, slice and serve right away.
I cut the tart in the pan. The crust is crumbly and as a result the plating may not be pretty, but the first bite of the tart will make you forget everything else.
Once you have tried making the tart and decided that you like it, you can certainly play with the filling, particularly as sweet pepper and zucchini season is coming to an end on the Northern hemisphere. I have successfully used grated carrots (carote) and shredded cabbage (cavolo cappuccio) as alternative and the result has always been excellent.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post
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FTC disclosure: I have received the linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.