Spinach and ricotta is a classic combination, but one that I’m only recently beginning to appreciate. I remember being given spinach and ricotta tortellini when I was little and not liking the spinach’s slightly grassy taste. More often than not it was watery, causing the cheese to split into horrible lumps or else was stringy and fiberous. It put me off for quite a while! However, I have since discovered that spinach and ricotta can also be a fantastic pairing and am now using it with gusto.
I first tasted this tart during a gluten free cookery demo a few weeks back and it tasted so good that I was determined to make it myself. At the demo they used a packed pastry mix, but never one to reply on packets, I scanned the ingredients list and then concocted my own using similar flours I had at home. The demo also taught me some new tips about how to approach gluten free baking that go against all ‘traditional’ baking techniques. You want to treat pastry as if it was bread dough – use soft butter, make a batter to start and then knead it until it becomes smooth. As there is no gluten to overwork there is no fear of it becoming tough or shrinking when baked. For bread dough you want to treat it like a cake mix – it should be very wet and poured into a loaf tin before proving and baking. If it’s too thick, it won’t rise and the bread will be dense. Interesting stuff!
Anyway, back to the tart. The pastry worked like a charm and resulted in a light, crisp pastry that I think I even preferred to when I used to eat standard party. It was lighter and less greasy. The filling came together easily and all the frying onion, garlic and balsamic made the kitchen smell wonderful. Ricotta is quite a bland cheese, and in a tart such as this it adds more of a texture than a flavour. However, its lightness results in a puffy, almost soufflé like textured filling that allows other flavours to shine.
A little red onion and sun dried tomato adds sweetness and bite to the tart, while the spinach makes it fabulously green and slightly earthy. It’s delicious warm, straight out the oven but I also enjoyed it cold the next day, when it turned a little more quiche-like. As a bonus it also freezes well, meaning you can stash slices of it away for when you’re short of time or lacking inspiration to cook.
If you’re not on a GF diet, I’m sure the filling would be equally delicious is a standard pastry case.
Spinach & Ricotta Tart GF
(Recipe adapted from Glutafin)
Gluten Free Pastry
225g gluten free flour mix (I used 100g white rice flour, 50g potato flour, 50g tapioca starch, 25g buckwheat flour)
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tbsp cold water
Spinach & Ricotta Filling
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
150g frozen or fresh chopped spinach
250g ricotta cheese
75g sun blush/dried tomatoes in oil
3 sprigs fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Method - Pastry
Have an 8inch/20cm tart tin ready.
Mix all the flours and the xanthan gum together in a bowl to combine.
Make sure you butter is soft, if not blast it in the microwave for a few seconds. Add to a mixing bowl along with half the flour mixture, the egg and water. Beat with a spoon or spatula to form a paste. (Yes I know this goes against all traditional pastry making!) Add the rest of the flour and bring the mixture together to form a dough, switching to your hands at the en. Knead the dough gently for 1 minute to ensure everything is well combined.
Lightly dust a work surface with GF flour and roll out the pastry to the size and shape of your tart tin, plus an extra 1-2 inches for the sides.
Use your rolling pin to help you transfer the pastry into the tin and press it down gently. Trim off the excess. Patch up any cracks with the off-cuts of pastry.
Place in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
Spinach & Ricotta Filling
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Finely dice the red onion, heat the oil in a frying pan, and gently fry the onion until beginning to soften. Crush the garlic and add it to the onion and cook for 3 minutes more.
Either chop your fresh spinach or defrosted and drain your frozen spinach. Add the spinach to the pan along with the balsamic vinegar and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
Cook over a fairly high heat until very little moisture remains. Remove from the heat and stir through the ricotta cheese. Lightly beat the eggs and beat them in too.
Chop the tomatoes and basil into small chunks and fold into the filling.
Spread the filling into the chilled pastry case and bake for 25-30 minutes until set, slightly puffed and the pastry is lightly golden brown.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Tastes great warm or cold the next day when it goes more quiche-like. Also freezes well in slices.
Makes 1 x 8inch/20cm tart