One day, as we were wandering the lovely open air market and back alleys of Antibes, France, we popped into a little boulangerie to grab a quick casual lunch. I spotted something that looked like it might fit the bill, a pastry stuffed with greens, so I thought it must be savory. What I did not realize until later was that what I thought was flour on top was actually powdered sugar, and that it was more of a dessert than a lunch entrée. Enter tourte de blettes (Swiss chard tart): a very unique southern French street food with a sweet-savory filling.
Back at home, I searched online, and I discovered the correct name of the pastry as well as a few recipes. I decided to follow David Lebovitz’s recipe here. I am an occasional novice baker, and I found the recipe easy to follow.
Blette means “Swiss chard” in French, and Lebovitz is not kidding when he says that you need a lot of it. Swiss chard is often abundant throughout the summer, but it first becomes available in about May. More about buying and preparing Swiss chard in this Bon Appetit article. I went to the neighborhood natural and organic grocer and bought two extremely large bunches of it, two overflowing produce bags worth, and I could not believe how dramatically it cooked down.
Since Lebovitz’s article clearly outlines the steps to follow, I will not re-list them here, but I will add a few musings about things that came up for me as I was trying the recipe for the first time.
Making the dough. I like to use a Cuisinart to blend my tart dough as it comes together so much easier. I do have one of those old-fashioned hand tools for mixing pie crust, but that is tedious. Also, re: Lebovitz’s note about adding whole milk, I definitely needed to do that to bring my dough together. I used a locally milled flour that was probably similar to the French kind.
Draining the chard. I tried to follow Lebovitz’s instructions to make sure to “squeeze the leaves very, very firmly,” but clearly I did not get enough of the water out because the tart released quite a bit of liquid while cooking. (I took a paper towel and pressed the cooked chard in a colander, but I was afraid I was crushing it and backed off. Be sure to follow this step of draining the chard thoroughly or you will have a “soggy bottom” crust. I did pour the excess liquid off the top after it cooked, but I think it made the crust a bit soggier than it would have been the next day.)
Rolling the dough. The parchment paper method did not work for me at all. I probably wasn’t doing it correctly, but the parchment kept slipping around making it impossible to roll out the dough. I ended up keeping a piece of parchment on the bottom, and using clear plastic wrap on the top to roll the dough. Also, in the future, I will be investing in the correctly sized tart pan. I only had a 7” on hand and it was smaller and taller than I would have liked.
A note about apples. I may be wrong, but I am fairly certain that the tourte de blettes I had in Antibes did not have apples. As Lebovitz mentions, sometimes the tourte contains apples, and sometimes it does not. I would probably not use apples again, because when the chard is at its best where we live (late spring into summer) the apples are at their worst, and I was unable to find quality tart baking apples.
Voilà! I’m not going to lie, my younger child was not a big fan of this tourte de blettes (having nothing to do with Lebovitz’s wonderful recipe and everything to do with the unusual combination of ingredients), and my foodie husband was disappointed it was too sweet and less savory than he hoped. But for me, the memory of tourte de blettes followed me home, and I simply had to try it once more. I appreciated this easy-to-follow recipe and the memory that took me back down a winding back street in the lovely beachside town of Antibes.
Cooking can be a wonderful way to relive travel memories or perhaps to dream of future travel destinations. Have you tried to re-create any unusual food memories from your travels back at home?