Squash Apple Cheddar Tart
When I was living in Belfast, I giggled a little at some of the culinary cultural differences that popped up regularly when I visited the Tesco for groceries or went out for a bite – take away or sit in – with classmates or coworkers. I worked in a small café that made “toasties” (think homemade grilled cheese meets Hot Pocket) filled with what I considered to be outrageous filling combos. I wish I could remember some of the more shocking flavor marriages, but the one that’s stuck with me the most is cheese and apples.
The Brits seem to really like putting apples and cheese together. Perhaps I was still a bit of a backwoods babe with not a lot of diverse food experiences under my belt or maybe every American feels the same at first, but I really thought putting these two things together was weird. Then I had dinner one night at a friend’s (who just happened to be the daughter of a real live duke; yes, I was enamored as she was exactly everything a duke’s daughter should be) where we nibbled on a block of high-quality sharp cheddar and apple slices while we sipped a fantastic French white. It was one of those “a-ha!” moments, one that chisels your spiritual silhouette just a little more and leads you down new roads.
I’m still not overly fond of most cheeses with apples, but any time I hear cheddar + apple, my stomach growls just a little in anticipation. Can’t explain it. Just does. So, naturally I had spied this recipe for Squash Apple Cheddar Tart in the Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden book way back when I bought it and it was the first page to be dog-eared. But I made myself wait for the heart of winter to indulge, figuring it would give me something to look forward to during the doldrums of cold-weather eating.
I smacked my lips in anticipation and wasn’t the least bit disappointed (aside from my own stupidity in allowing it to get just a bit overdone). The squash has a silken texture with subtle flavor against the smoky onions and the tart apples. And of course the cheddar was the tiara on top. I had a slice right out of the oven and enjoyed it for sure. But I liked best the slices I had out of the fridge the next day for lunch. It was just the change of pace I was looking forward to and an excellent dish for showcasing winter produce: cheese, squash, apples and onions are all easily sourced locally, even in January.
Squash Apple Cheddar Tart
Adapted from The Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden
1 medium winter squash (butternut works well)
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1 C. thinly sliced onions
1 t. dried thyme
1 T. vegetable oil
1 C. thinly sliced apples (unpeeled)
2 t. all-purpose flour
1 C. grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 T. bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ready to bake pie crust (9 inch)
Prepare the squash by cutting it in half, scooping the seeds out and peeling it with a vegetable peeler. Cut the squash into half inch cubes and place in a microwave safe bowl with a tablespoon of water. Steam in the microwave for about 6 minutes or until soft. Use a potato masher or fork to mash until relatively smooth (some clumps are okay). Mix in a little salt and pepper and freshly ground nutmeg if desired. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Gently sauté the onions and thyme in the oil for about 15 minutes or until they are soft and golden. Meanwhile, toss the apple slices with the flour. In a separate bowl, toss together the cheese and bread crumbs.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 inch tart pan with nonstick spray and line it with the rolled pie crust. Prick the bottom with a fork in several spots. Pre-bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and layer the ingredients into the shell as follows: the squash, the sautéed onions, the apple slices and the cheese mixture.
Bake, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for another 20 minutes until the crust is golden and the top is bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes a nice lunch with a mixed greens salad.
(serve 6-8 )
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