Spinach tart

Spinach tart (Food styling by Lisa Schumacher, Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune) (March 23, 2011)

A favored uncle gave us our first subscription to Gourmet magazine in our middle-school years. Photographs of luscious vegetable tarts and rich quiches made our mouths water. We saved up for a set of tart pans. Then we practiced and the family offered opinions.

Decades passed and we forgot about quiche and tarts, while we cooked pasta, made salsas, taught ourselves all manner of Asian cooking and pretty much grilled everything.

A recent trip to Paris woke up our savory tart memories. There, we saw all manner of tony gourmet shops and tiny neighborhood grocers selling stunning savory tarts and quiches. Whole asparagus nestled in egg custard, diced ham and broccoli in a cheesy mix, tender baby artichokes and olives on flaky pastry — the gorgeous assortment tempted.

Back home, re-creating these beauties felt daunting. First, the crust. It needs to be par-baked so the tart sports a flaky, crusty bottom. Second, the richness. Some recipes called for both whole eggs and added yolks in addition to cream.

But we wanted to move these savory treats to less rarified atmosphere, so we gave ourselves permission to use prepared crusts. To reduce the rich egg and cream mixture, we upped the amount of vegetables in the filling and used skim milk in place of cream. The result? A hearty tart with just enough richness to hold together.

Almost any cooked vegetable works in a savory tart. Here we offer a sauteed spinach and red pepper version and another with corn and poblano chilies.

Serve with a mixed green salad and French bread. Then, pour a glass of wine and dream of traveling — or at least a picnic in the sunshine.

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The method

To make the preparation less daunting, and to work in advance, break it down into four easy segments:

1. Par-bake the shell.

2. Prepare a generous cup of cooked seasoned vegetables.

3. Shred 1 cup of melting cheese.

4. Add seasoned eggs and bake.

Tips and touches

An 8- or 9-inch pie pan can be substituted for the tart pan.

For par-baking, use parchment or foil and inexpensive dried beans to line the tart shell; this prevents bubbling. The beans can be used again (after they are cool, store them in a labeled bag.)

Par-baked tart shells can be frozen up to several weeks; thaw at room temperature before filling.

Vary the shredded cheese to taste, for example, try smoked cheese with roasted vegetables, Swiss or gruyere with leafy greens, sharp Cheddar with ham.