I have been trying to write about Tasmania, and our recent visit, for at least a month; thinking about how to best capture that strange enigma of an island in words, thinking about which stories to tell.
I’m still thinking. So today, instead of wanderlust, I bring you tarts. These tarts sort of floated into my imagination as a mutated, vegetarian potato pie- you know the one: your standard shitty meat pie, topped with creamy swirly mashed potato and, if you are like me, smothered in tomato sauce. These tarts aren’t really like that at all.
They go more like this: buttery puff pastry and parsnip puree, with melted cheese and mushrooms squished in between and some chilli and parsley on top. They were the result of an over-excited purchase at the root vegetable stand of my farmers market and a sudden and frantic freezer clean out.
Suddenly and frantically are, I think, the best ways to approach cleaning. It sneaks up on you that way, there is no time to think about how shite it is to have to clean when you could be doing anything else.
So I came back from the farmer’s market with probably too many parsnips, specifically for a parsnip cake that called for… half a parsnip. I made the cake and then the rest sat forlornly in the bottom of the fridge, while I guiltily ignored them because the cake wasn’t all that great and it isn’t winter so I don’t want to eat roast vegetables and what the hell do I do with all these parsnips! Then I cleaned out the freezer. I found the puff pastry and, still in cleaning mode, frantically decided it must be used, right now.
I thought about the parsnips, remembered that potato pies were a thing, did some googling to see if parsnip tarts were a thing, didn’t really find anything and decided to do it anyway and see what happened.
And these little babies worked out great! They are rich, buttery, a little bit sweet and a little bit spicy. They are not too much though, the parsnip puree lifts them away from the possibility of stodginess.
I think these tarts would be very at home on a decorated table, among the sparkling wine and chocolates of a christmas gathering. Perfect for soaking up perhaps a little too much alcohol, and delicious enough that they warrant a return trip- or two- to the snack table (though, honestly, I never stray too far from the snack table…). And, if you happen to have a few sheets of puff pastry in the freezer- which, let’s be honest- everyone always does- they are pretty ‘quick n easy’. Perfectly conducive to holiday entertaining.
Enjoy the seasonal snack tables my friends!
PARSNIP TARTS- with a parsnip puree recipe from Neil Perry. Makes about 20 two bite-sized tarts.
To make the puree, peel, core and roughly dice the parsnips. Heat the butter and oil in a small saucepan with a lid and add the onion, garlic and chilli powder. Cook over a low heat, without colouring, for about 8 minutes, until soft and sweet. Add the parsnip, cook for another 5 minutes and then add the stock/water. Cover and slowly cook until the water has disappeared- about half an hour. Once the parsnips have cooked down, remove from the heat and cool slightly. Pass through a sieve, then season as you wish. Set aside.
Soak the mushrooms in hot water until they are soft, then roughly chop.
Cut the pastry into small rounds, prick with a fork and blind bake in small muffin trays. When the pastry is beginning to brown, put some mushroom and cheese in the base of each tart and return to the oven for another 5 minutes or so- until the cheese is melty and the pastry is cooked.
Remove from the oven, pipe some puree into each tart and sprinkle with chilli, chopped parsley and salt.
for the puree:
3 not too large parsnips
15g butter, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
half a brown onion (or one little pickling onion), finely diced
1 garlic clove
250ml chicken stock or water
a pinch or two of chilli powder
salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice to taste
2-3 sheets puff pastry (the better the quality, the better that tarts)
100g strong cheddar cheese, roughly chopped
10-15 dried shitaake mushrooms
fresh parsley, chilli flakes and sea salt to sprinkle