picnic fare: leek and smoked cheddar tart

May 15, 2010

Here’s the thing with tarts and pies. In England, we’re much more into our savoury pies than our sweet ones. Steak and Ale, Leek and Mushroom, Pork and Apple…we’re all about the savoury pie with some mashed potato and gravy.

You say “pie” in these parts and people’s minds will immediately jump to “cherry” or “blueberry” or some such thing. Same goes with tarts.

So, when I was dreaming up summer picnic ideas and meals for hot nights (when you want to sit outside and eat something that frankly tastes better lukewarm or cold), a lovely savoury tart was immediately where my mind went.

Finding a decent recipe? Not so easy.

Luckily for me, the Guardian web site exists and has a whole host of recipes that make me tick for their Englishness and simplicity.

Here’s one of them but it comes with a disclaimer and that is that I effed it up. I burned the leeks because I was too busy mending my tart crust and simultaneously making something else altogether. Concentrate people! It’s not rocket science, but no-one wants a burnt leek tart. No, they do not.

So, I used the small amount of leeks that I had left and subbed in some asparagus. I would have much preferred the leekiness to be stronger, so it wasn’t the perfect sub. The recipe below is for the original version. Don’t worry, more exciting pies and tarts (sweet, savoury…the lot) to come this summer!

Leek, and Smoked Cheddar Tart
adapted from Allegra McEvedy

Makes eight fat slices in a fluted tart ring with a push-up base (11in x 1.5in)


  • 2.2 lbs leeks
  • 1/2 cups (1 stick) butter
  • Bunch of fresh thyme stalk, tied with string
  • 6 eggs
  • 10 fl oz heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups smoked cheddar, grated
  • 1 packet of shortcrust pastry or make your own*


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 340F. Roll out the pastry and line your tart case with it; always keep a little ball of pastry aside for emergency repairs after blind baking,** rather than chucking away the trimmings. Stick in the freezer for about five minutes to firm up.
  2. Trim the leeks; if they are thick then quarter them lengthways before slicing roughly 1cm thick, thinner ones can just be halved lengthways before slicing. Then wash them thoroughly – there’s nothing worse than biting on grit.
  3. Melt the butter in a wide pan on a medium heat, then add the leeks. Turn the heat up to high, add the thyme, season and put a lid on.
  4. Take the tart case out of the freezer and bake blind for 10-15 minutes. Once it is beginning to brown, mix the yolk of one of the eggs with a tablespoon of cream, brush this all over the base, sides and crown of the tart and put back in the oven for a couple of minutes until shiny and golden (now is the time to plug any holes with that spare ball of pastry).
  5. Stir the leeks regularly for a further 20 minutes (keeping the lid on between stirs) or until they are well softened and all the water has come out of them. Turn the heat down if they are starting to catch.
  6. Crack the eggs into a big mixing bowl, including the lone white, and whisk in the cream and mustard. Stir in the cheddar and then tip in the hot, softened leeks, discarding the bunch of thyme. Season well, ladle the mix carefully into the tart case and cook for about half an hour, until light golden brown on top, and the egg has set. Let it sit for 10 minutes before tucking in.

* To make your own shortcrust pastry:
from BBC Recipes


  • 1 cup plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (8 tbsp or one stick) butter, cubed
  • 4-6 tbsp cold water


1. Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and add the cubes of butter.2. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs with no large lumps of butter remaining. Try to work quickly so that it does not become greasy.
3. Using a knife, stir in just enough of the cold water to bind the dough together.
4. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for 10-15 minutes before using.
5. Alternatively using a food processor, put the flour, butter and salt in the food processor and pulse until the fat is rubbed into the flour.6. With the motor running, gradually add the water through the funnel until the dough comes together. Only add enough water to bind it and then stop.
7. Wrap the dough in clingfilm as before and chill for 10-15 minutes before using.

** What the hell is blind baking?! I hear some of you cry! I cried the same thing! Well, non-baking friends, I did some research on your behalf: blind baking is basically just baking a pastry base partially before adding the ingredients. It firms up the pastry base so that it is a little crustier and stronger and can hold moist ingredients without going soggy during the cooking. No one likes sogginess. Am I right?

I’m right. So there. Blind bake your heart out.

Personally, I thought that all this little gem needed was a fresh and crisp salad on the side. Some peppery mixed greens perhaps? With a little honey-balsamic vinaigrette type thingy? Yes. That’ll do nicely. White wine on the side? Don’t mind if I do.

This will keep for 3 days and it tastes cracking cold. Ideally, I would actually let it reeeally cool down before serving it. It just gets so firm and good that way.

So, wrap it up in some silver foil and take it on a picnic.

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