Welcome to the first of several posts featuring an ingredient I am obsessed with right now: preserved lemon. I am at a loss to explain to you how mere lemons and salt have the power to transform an ordinary dish into something absolutely thought-provoking, but somehow they do.
Often found in Moroccan and Tunisian dishes, these little flavor bombs are the kind of ingredient that make people scratch their heads and try (in vain) to figure out what in the world you did. I swear to you, it's magic! Here I've used preserved lemon to turn a humble tuna tart into something that deserves to be written - and spoken - with capital letters: Tuna. Tart.
I've been using these guys in everything lately, but I thought I'd post the tart first because I've got crust on the brain. Pie crust that is - today in class we made flaky pie dough and pate sucree, or sugar dough. Even though I am bone tired, I am minding this whole being-one-of-the-oldest-people-in-class thing less and less. There's zero social pressure - I'm not wasting my time worrying about whether or not the scrawny kid to my right thinks I look dorky in my chef's hat, or giggling with a girlfriend over our exploits, past or planned, while Chef is demonstrating the right rolling technique.
And thankfully, unlike my very young - albeit sweet - lab partner today, I don't have to fret over the fact that I couldn't get my acrylic nails off in time for class. You read that right. After watching her sadly struggle with her dough and the sticky, messy, crumbling Frankencrust she was cobbling together, I ended up helping her out and crimping the edges of her pie for her.
"I guess it must be my nails that's making this so hard," she said. Um ... you think? (Don't get the wrong idea, I'm no saint: It's my fervent and selfish wish that someone's around to take pity on me when it's time to decorate cakes.)
But back to this tart. The crust is simplicity itself: I used the same combo of olive oil, salt, water, and whole wheat, spelt, and AP flours that I used in my tuna tomato tart, a recipe I adapted from Citron et Vanille's gorgeous blog. For seasoning, I just used 1 T of black sesame seeds in the dough. The key to a good crust here is to not overwork the dough or it will get tough.
For the filling, mix together:
1 medium chopped onion
2 cans of oil packed tuna, such as Cento, drained
1-2 T Dijon mustard (to taste)
3-4 springs of thyme
1-2 T chopped preserved lemon, seeds removed (I bought my preserved lemons at Whole Foods, but you can also make your own.)
Pepper & Salt, to taste
*Very Important: Don't add the salt until you've tasted the mixture, as the lemons are very salty, even if you rinse them.
Next beat together 2 eggs, 1/3 cup of cream, and 1/3 cup milk, and mix this with your tuna mixture. Spread evenly over your tart, and top with some oil-cured black olives and a bit more pepper and thyme:
I'm not going to lie to you, I didn't think it looked too appetizing at this point, and I was afriad that perhaps I had pushed my magic lemons farther than they were willing, or able, to go. But I shouldn't have worried. After 35-40 minutes in a 375 degree oven, yucky miraculously emerged as yummy:
To check that your tart has set, make sure that when you tap the center with your finger, the middle is firm, not mushy and jiggly. The preserved lemon subtly scents the entire dish, offering surprising bursts of bright tangy zing that go perfectly with the earthy thyme, olives, and tuna. Served with a glass of wine and a nice salad, this is the kind of satisfying, flavor-packed meal that makes you forget it's not really that fattening at all. And given what I'll be baking and tasting this semester, that's a very good thing.