You can make a spinach tart simply by combining frozen spinach with Béchamel and placing it (cold) in store bought pastry. You can improve this by starting with fresh spinach boiled in water for three minutes, shocked in cold water, and chopped. To improve the texture you simply pull the the stems from the blades before boiling. Each step changes the dish. Start where you feel comfortable.
To make Béchamel you cook flour in butter until it’s the color you like, then add cold milk all at once and whisk or stir quickly. In two to thee minutes it will thicken. That’s Bechamel. To add flavor you could add bacon, onion, herbs with the butter and saute them a bit before adding the flour. Or, in place of all or part of the milk, you could use stock or soy.
Each ingredient is customizable.
Tier one (you must use)
2 Tablespoons All Purpose flour per cup of liquid **see note at bottom of page
Up to 2 Tablespoons butter (you could use other fats to impart different flavors, for example olive oil)
1 Cup milk (if you add hot liquid to a hot roux, it will not mix and you will have lumps)
Up to one cup blanched, chopped spinach
Tier two (suggested)
Up to 1 Tablespoon bacon, diced.
Up to 2 Tablespoons onions or shallots minced
Salt and pepper to taste (white pepper will keep the color of the sauce, black pepper is visible).
Tier three (optional)
A pinch up to 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
Minced garlic to taste
Up to 1/2 cup of mushrooms (added with the spinach)
Up to 1/2 cup of cheese (mixed in at the end of cooking)
Cream (to enrich the sauce at the end of cooking)
An egg yolk (to enrich the sauce at the end of cooking)
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add your onions, shallots, garlic, bacon and cook until the onions are translucent or the bacon is as you like it. Add the flour and mix it into the fat — a flat bottomed spoon/spatula is easiest. This is called roux. When the roux is the color you like (most often pale white) add all of the cold liquid at once and stir or whisk quickly. Once it boils it will thicken, add the spinach and whatever other mix ins you’re including. Check the consistency. If it’s too thin, mix flour and butter together until it forms a paste and begin to mix that in until it is thick enough. If it is too thick, add more liquid. When it’s perfect add the nutmeg and salt and take it off the heat to cool.
Taste again. Is it rich enough for you? Is the mouthfeel full? If not, consider stirring in cream. If you have an extra egg yolk, consider adding it after the mixture cools. If you plan to serve these cold, taste the sauce when it’s cold to make sure the seasoning, especially salt, is correct.
When you’re ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 400 Fahrenheit and lay out a pice of pastry. Fold the pastry in half and note where the center is, that is where you will place the cold filling. Place the filling, spread near the edges, fold again to made sure you can close it.
To seal the edges together you can brush egg yolk or beaten egg white around the edges and poke all around with the tines of a fork. Or, you can use water in place of the egg. To enhance the color during baking you can brush on egg yolk, egg white, milk, or olive oil.
Bake the tart for 15 minutes at 400 degrees to puff the pastry, then turn the heat down to 350 and cook 30 more minutes or until it is sufficiently brown.
Nutmeg has a natural affinity with milk. It was a staple in the kitchen until recently. You add just a pinch to 1/4 teaspoon, but that little bit makes an impact.
** Note about ratios:
The general ratios for Béchamel are from Julia Child. If the sauce is too thick, simply thin it with liquid. If it’s too thin, thicken in with a paste of butter and flour.
- Thin sauce or soup: 1 tablespoon flour per cup of liquid
- Medium thickness: 1 1/2 tablespoons flour per cup of liquid
- Thick sauce: 2 tablespoons flour per cup of liquid
The darker the color of the roux, the less thickening power it has. Traditionally bechamel’s roux is very pale, but to add flavor you can brown it, just use more flour.
Note: This also works in Savory Pies.