Winter in India gives you the most amazing array of fresh vegetables that are not available in the scorching heat of the summer months. One of those is the sweet potato, or Shakarkandi. This has a fibrous and whitish, yellowish flesh, unlike the orange coloured flesh of its western counterpart, and has a whole lot of nutritional benefits that one would actually be surprised to hear of in a potato. A sweet one at that.
The sweet potato is very high in fibre and Vitamin A, B, C and D and potassium, magnesium, calcium and so on. However, none of this was at the forefront of my mind when deciding to make the dish. My brain just went ‘sweet’ and ‘potato’, lets try something new with it. I kept it simple with everyday ingredients.
So while browsing the vegetable market, I chanced upon these and decided to experiment with a savoury tart. At first I thought I’d add bacon, which is a really good option too, but after getting home, I realised that there was no bacon in the house. Since there was absolutely no intention of trekking it to get some, I decided to roll with the ingredients at hand.
The first tart I made (yes, didn’t get it right the first time), I added too little potato so the tart case was filled slightly more than half and everyone said that while it was very nice, the flavours did not come out enough (even then, the whole thing got polished off and actually ran short, and it even was a hit with my kids).
Okayyyyyyyyy. I got my determination on and made it again. Mind you, Making a tart is not one of those 30 minute quick meals wonders. It takes a bit of time and effort, as does everything that’s really worth having, but the end result is totally worth it. But I rolled up my sleeves, gave it a day’s break, and got down to round two. Seems it was worth the effort, because the verdict was that this one was much better. Very nice apparently.
The tart shell requires a bit of time and effort but once you practise this once, you’ll get the hang of it. I got the shortcrust pastry recipe from my TV baking guru Rachel Allen and can seriously say that this is one of the best and simplest methods of making shortcrust pastry.
The rolling of the dough between two sheets of cling film not only ensures that you don’t spoil the consistency of the pastry by adding more flour, but also ensures a hygienic process that involves minimal handling by hand and contact with countertops. I use Rachel Allen’s method for all my tart shells, swapping salt for sugar for the sweet tarts and I’ve never been let down. I’m not messing with perfection.
So here’s my concept dish for you to try. I hope you like it.
Ingredients (serves 6)
For the shortcrust pastry
200 gms flour
100 gms chilled butter cut in 1 cm cubes
1 tsp salt
1 large egg
Equipment: nine-inch diameter tart case with removable bottom
For the filling
350 gms onions chopped into 1/2 cm cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
(Sweet potato mash)
500 gms sweet potato (shakarkandi) boiled and peeled
1 heaped tsp salt
1 tsp grated nutmeg (Jaiphal)
6 pods of roasted garlic*
150 gms grated cheddar cheese
Six fat pods of garlic (can roast a whole bulb of garlic too and use the rest later)
1 tsp olive oil
Shortcrust pastry (pictorial steps at the end of the post)
- Add the salt to the flour.
- If you’re using your hands, rub the chilled butter into the flour and salt with your fingers till the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
- Whisk the egg in a small bowl and add to the mixture and mix till it just comes together and loses the dry flour look. Don’t knead into a firm dough.
- If using a food processor, add the butter to the flour and salt mixture and whizz till it looks like breadcrumbs. Then add the egg and whizz till it comes together.
- Tip the mixture over onto a sheet of cling film, wrap tightly pressing the mixture into a circular dough and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Remove from fridge. If the chilled dough is too hard, wait for a couple of minutes, it will soften. Place the dough between two sheets of cling film and roll to approximately 2 mm thickness. It has to be large enough to cover the entire tart case all the way to the top rim.
- Remove the top sheet of cling film and tip the rolled dough, exposed side down, into the tart case and line the case with the pastry properly, cutting off the extra bits that go over the top. Remove the rest of the cling film.
- Chill the lined tart case in the fridge for 10 minutes. This is optional but recommended.
- Remove from fridge and cover the pastry with parchment paper or butter paper. Fill with ceramic baking beans or uncooked rice or kidney beans (rajma) or chickpeas till it comes up the sides. (This is called blind baking and it’s done to ensure the pastry is not undercooked. Wet pastry with wet filling will ensure the pastry does not cook properly. Also, the purpose of the baking beans is to ensure the pastry does not bubble up from the bottom and the sides don’t shrink or crack while baking).
- Bake in the middle rack of a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 180°C with only the bottom heating on.
- While blind baking the tart case, cut off the tops of the garlic pods (about 0.5 cm from the top ) and place in the aluminium foil, drizzling the olive oil on top of it. Tightly seal the foil ends and throw in the oven alongside the tart case. Keep the garlic in the oven for 15 minutes longer than the tart case.
- Take the tart case out of the oven and remove the paper and the beans. Your pastry is done.
- Saute the onions in the 2 tablespoons of oil on medium heat till they become soft and deep brown. Make sure you keep stirring the onions every minute so that they don’t burn. lower the heat if you feel it is too high. Should take about 20 minutes. Set aside.
- Whizz the boiled sweet potato with the salt, nutmeg and roasted garlic in the food processor till you get a smooth mash.
- Add the eggs to the mash and whizz till well mixed.
- Remove the mash into a large mixing bowl and add the caramelised onions and 90 percent of the grated cheese, folding well with a spatula till they’re evenly mixed.
- Pour the mash into the tart case and spread evenly.
- Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top.
- Bake in the middle rack of a preheated oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 180°C with only the bottom heating on.
- Keep the pastry in the tart case for 10 minutes before removing from the case.
Important notes: Make sure your butter is chilled before adding to the flour to make the shortcrust pastry and the uncooked pastry dough is chilled before rolling. Cut the butter into cubes and refrigerate till ready to start assembling the pastry dough.
Please have all your ingredients (shortcrust pastry and filling) out and prepped before you start the process of assembling. If you do, your tart will be done in 1.5 hours. If not, you can easily spend the better part of your day running around like a headless chicken making a mess of your kitchen.
Follow the order of the recipe. You can boil and peel the potatoes and caramelise the onions first. Even do it a day before. Then make the pastry, throw in the garlic for roasting with the pastry while blind baking and then make the filling and bake the whole thing.
Pastry making is easier in cool temperatures. Hot and humid places will give you a bit of a headache and your pastry may end up becoming a bit sticky, which is why its important to keep chilling after every step of handling.
Shortcrust pastry pictorial: