Zucchini and other summer squashes are truly versatile veggies. But I rarely think of baking them—perhaps due to the scorching heat when they’re in season locally. While some baked goods seem invented to hide the stuff rather than celebrate it (zucchini “bread”?) you can really get your fill on its flavor by slicing into layers upon layers of zucchini inside this savory tart’s shell. Its texture becomes something almost like custard inside, and a crust of cheese to top it all off can’t hurt in addition.
This is a very simple recipe if you have the patience to bake something. It’s also a good way to use up those slightly bruised, maybe not-so-perfectly-prime summer squashes in the back of your fridge (as with apples and pie). I assumed pie-making duties for my friend Diana‘s birthday picnic last weekend, after our resident baker extraordinaire Karol had to sit this party out. As per birthday tradition, we’d asked Diana to name a few of her favorite foods / requests to bring to the picnic spread. Although this savory vegetable tart probably wasn’t what she was imagining when she included “pie,” it’s what I could best make from the glut of assorted summer squashes I’d received in my last Local Roots CSA batch.
These summer squashes—a mix of crookneck and zucchini—were actually fresh enough to enjoy raw, slivered in a salad, perhaps. Using a mandoline, you can make uniformly thin sheets of them easily, but if you don’t have one, just slice across their length into discs instead. Their shape won’t matter once it’s tucked into the tart.
Since I’m not a pie perfectionist, I didn’t do anything crazy with the crust: just a basic pastry of butter, salt, AP flour and a little bit of water to bind it into a ball. (Once you’ve done this enough times it’s easy not to even think about it, and I usually just eyeball the proportions and cut the flour into butter with my hands until it seems about right.)
A sprinkle of herbs de Provence seemed right for the filling; the fresh herbs could wait for the last garnish to finish.
Once the dough is chilled, you don’t really have to bother to roll it out if you can press it fairly evenly into the bottom of a pie pan. But again, I am not a pie perfectionist (Karol would probably cringe at this suggestion).
Finally, to give it some zing, I scattered some crumbled goat feta across the top. This was some good stuff from Lynnhaven goat dairy, found at the Greenmarket, and it seemed less sharp in taste than your average sheep’s milk feta, and a bit creamier, too. (I grabbed it because it was pre-crumbled, rather than the blocks sitting in liquid or the logs of chevre.) Try this with crumbles or shreds of any cheese you like instead.
This was the only “pie” at the picnic—if you can even call it that—and more so than fulfilling the request, it made a handsome addition to the spread if I do say so myself. Sure, it’s not the kind of thing you might make for yourself on a Sunday morning, but if you’re trying to entertain or make an edible present, it doesn’t have to take a huge amount effort to create an attractive baked good.
Zucchini and Feta Tart
(makes 1 9-inch tart)
for the crust:
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut to small cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-2 tablespoons cold water
for the rest:
3-4 medium-sized summer squashes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon herbs de provence (or dried thyme and other herbs you like)
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
about 4 oz crumbled feta
chopped or slivered fresh herbs for garnish (optional)
Combine the flour and salt and gradually cut the flour mixture into the butter with a pastry cutter or your hands, until the chunks of butter are no larger than a pea. Add a tablespoon of the water at a time until there is just enough moisture for the dough to hold together into a ball. Cover the ball with plastic wrap and let chill for 30 minutes (or up to a day ahead).
Trim the summer squashes’ ends. Using a mandoline, slice them into uniform sheets about 1/8″ in thickness (or, slice across their length into uniform discs about 1/8″ in thickness). Toss the sliced squashes with the olive oil, herbs de provence and the 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the pastry and press it into a 9″ pie pan. Arrange the summer squash into the pan, layering them evenly atop one another. Scatter the crumbled feta on top. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the edges are golden-brown. Let cool several minutes or up to a few hours, and top with the optional fresh herbs before serving.
(for 1 tart, or 8-10 servings)
6 tablespoons butter (at $6/lb): $1.00
1 1/2 cups flour: $0.50
3 summer squashes: $2.00
4 oz crumbled goat feta: $7.00
2 tablespoons olive oil: $0.25
salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon herbs de provence, few snips of herbs from windowsill plant: $0.25
Six brownie points: Each slice is densely packed with pure summer squash, which are full of vitamins and minerals galore. You’ll still have that buttery, rich crust, but at least in the case of savory pies or tarts, there’s no added sugars to speak of.
Seven maple leaves: As mentioned, squashing some less-than-beautiful squashes inside a pie or tart is a good way to use them up to keep from wasting, and you can certainly use up of a good amount of veggies when baking them down like this. They’re in season now until fall, so pile up on them whenever you see good ones at the farmers market, endlessly versatile veggies that they are.