Crab-custard tarts help make a good time

Entertainment: Crusty first course is perfect for a small, friendly celebration.

Sunday Gourmet

January 02, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

For months, I had seen advertisements for extravagant ways to ring in 2000 -- cruises to exotic locales, package deals at fancy hotels in New York and other big cities, chartered airplane trips around the globe so that one could hear the bells chime at midnight in more than one spot.

My husband and I, however, decided to spend New Year's Eve with a small group of friends, enjoying good food and wine. We traveled to Boston and shared in the cooking for our fete.

My contribution was Crab, Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts, which were served as a first course. I've made these little tarts several times during the past few weeks, making adjustments with each testing to balance the flavors. The crusts are golden and flaky, and the filling consists of fresh lump crab meat napped with a savory custard mixture.

Bits of soft goat cheese and sliced cherry tomatoes make fine toppings. I am pleased not only that these tartlets taste so delectable but also that they can be prepared in advance. The rich buttery dough can be made two days ahead, and a day in advance the shells can be filled and baked so that all that is necessary at serving time is to reheat them and add the garnish of fresh herbs.

I love the look of these individual tarts, but if you do not own any small tart pans, you can make this recipe using a standard 9-inch pan. And, if you prefer, you can use lobster in place of crab with good results.

I hope that this past year has brought all of you much happiness and that the new year will do the same. May good food and its enjoyment be part of your future.

Crab, Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

Serves 8

PASTRY DOUGH:

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1 large egg yolk

3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

FILLING:

3 eggs

2/3 cup whipping cream

salt, freshly ground black pepper

6 ounces best-quality crab meat, preferably lump crab meat, picked over

2 1/2 to 3 ounces creamy goat cheese, broken into pieces

10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, stemmed and thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon or basil

To prepare dough, place flour, salt and butter in bowl of food processor. Mix egg yolk in small bowl with 2 tablespoons water. Process flour and butter mixture, pulsing machine off and on until mixture resembles coarse meal. Then, through feed tube, add egg and water. Add remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons water gradually by tablespoon until mixture is moist but not lumping together.

Remove dough to work surface and knead into ball. Flatten into disk and wrap in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate 30 minutes or longer. (Dough can be prepared two days ahead. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before rolling out.)

On lightly floured surface, roll dough into thin, 15-inch-diameter circle. Cut out as many 5-inch circles as possible. Gather dough together and roll out thinly again and cut out additional rounds so that you have total of 8 circles. Mold dough into 8 (4-inch) round tart pans and fold overhanging dough in to form extra-thick, high-standing sides.

Pierce bottom of each tart with fork, then line with sheet of aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Place on baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees on center rack 10 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake 10 minutes more.

To prepare filling, whisk together eggs, cream, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Divide crab among tart shells. Divide egg mixture evenly among shells.

Top each tart with bits of goat cheese and sliced tomatoes.

Bake at 375 degrees until crusts are rich golden brown and filling is set, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove. Cool 5 minutes. Salt top of tarts generously to season tomatoes. (Tarts can be baked 1 day ahead. Cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Reheat at 375 degrees until hot, 15 minutes or longer.) Garnish each tart with fresh tarragon.

Note: You can use a 9-inch standard tart pan for this recipe. Follow directions above, but increase baking time after filling and topping are added to 30 to 35 minutes until filling is set.

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