My favourite season is, once again, upon us. I believe there is nothing so consoling for the soul as a crisp, autumn day. The light of the year is fading and somehow the sky seems a deeper blue, perhaps in contrast to the golds and russets of the landscape. In the following weeks the thermostat will begin dipping low enough that I may dust off my loaf tins and embrace the slow but reliable therapy of bread baking. All summer I long for the days when I can wrap myself in a blanket and clutch my teacup with both hands whilst I wait on rising dough. Rainy weekends are a welcome novelty, for now, and I know that I will use them to make unnecessary but beautiful layer cakes; the type I can take to those who are mourning the passing of summer, to cheer them up.
Along with an upsurge in cosy weather comes a surplus of warm and fuzzy seasonal offerings. The pumpkin is back, along with the rest of the knobbly and mismatched gourds; interestingly it is this family of vegetables with their unyielding, raw flesh and impenetrable skin that blend into the most silken of soups. Cruciferous and root vegetables have long replaced the salads of summer, lending depth and vigour to all manner of pies, bakes, roasts and stews. The humble celeriac is not to be underestimated, hiding it’s creamy, savoury notes beneath a rubble of soil and roots, just waiting to be immersed in nutmeg-flecked cream and baked long and slow until it softens to velvet.
Homely, reliable root vegetables will remain a fixture in our seasonal diet until spring. With this in mind it’s worth embracing their spectrum of earthen colours and promoting the likes of carrot and beetroot beyond side-dish status. Sweet, starchy veg work well alongside fresh and tangy counterparts; a little acid prevents cloying sweetness. Balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and apples all pair well, as do sharp cheese such as feta and goat’s cheese. My root vegetable tart is not a complicated or revolutionary dish, but it is a joy to bake. I always feel a glow of pleasure as I remove it from the oven and admire its golden crust and confetti of deep purples and oranges. The scatter of toasted walnuts and fresh thyme is an important part of the dish, providing texture and a comforting depth of flavour worthy of chilly autumn evenings.
Root Vegetable Tart
1 x sheet shop-bought puff pasty
150g fresh goat’s cheese
100g cream cheese
200g assorted root vegetables (carrots, beetroot, parsnip, celeriac or even sweet potato)
½ small red onion
30g chopped, toasted walnuts
1 beaten egg
juice 1 lemon
pinch black pepper
- Thinly slice the red onion into rings, place in a bowl and cover with the lemon juice. Leave aside.
- Use a vegetable peeler or very sharp knife to slice the root vegetables into thin discs. The thinner they are, the more evenly the tart will cook. They should be almost translucent.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan (unless your pastry packaging instructs otherwise)
- Combine the goat’s cheese, cream cheese and black pepper in a bowl until smooth.
- Line a rectangular baking tin with baking paper.
- Line the tin with the pastry, scoring all the way around with a knife about 1 inch from the edge, this will allow the edges to ‘puff’.
- Dollop the cheese mixture into the centre of the pastry and spread evenly to cover, avoiding the edges.
- Add the onion and root vegetable slices, taking care to layer them up evenly.
- Brush the edges of the tart with the beaten egg.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the pastry edges rise and turn golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before garnishing with the toasted walnuts, a little olive oil and a few sprigs of thyme.