Ramps are a special treat in early Spring, when they appear in farm markets, CSA baskets, and even in some grocery stores. They have a unique flavor; stronger than a leek but milder than a yellow onion, they are often foraged but can be grown from seed as well. Chefs and foodies go crazy over ramps, probably because of their unique flavor and seasonality. I like ramps because I love green onions and leeks and anything green and pretty.
Tarts are a simple and delicious way to highlight this beautiful little vegetable. Americans tend to think of tarts as only sweet things, but they can be either sweet or savory. Unlike quiches, tarts are less eggy and feature light fillings and a crunchy crust. This tart is a crowd pleaser, with savory bacon and cheese custard filling. Dijon mustard adds a touch of bite, and I use the tart crust I learned to make when living in France with a little bit of cornmeal for extra crunch. This tart make a nice lunch or brunch with green salad or roasted tomatoes on the side. Give yourself enough time to let the prepared crust chill before rolling it out. Traditional tarts use a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom for the prettiest presentation, but if you can't find one a 9" pie pan will work just fine.
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1 tbsp. fine white cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
9 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" cubes
4 tbsp. ice water
1. Place rack in the center of your oven and preheat oven to 400F.
2. Add the flour, cornmeal, and salt to a large bowl or in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse or whisk a few times to combine everything.
3. Drop in all of the butter and either cut it into the flour with a pastry cutter or pulse in the food processor until you have little balls of dough and no visible butter. Do not overwork - you want crumbs, not a paste!
4. If you used a food processor, remove the blade and dump the dough into a large bowl. If your dough is already in a bowl, you are all set. Take a tablespoon of the ice water and sprinkle it over the dough. Work the dough a little bit with your hands to incorporate the water, then sprinkle another tablespoon or two and repeat the process. Once the dough holds together (just past crumbly but not stretchy or pasty) gather it into a tight ball. Wrap the ball with plastic wrap, then put it on the counter and press with your hand to form a disk. Place the dough in the refrigerator and let chill for 30 minutes.
5. Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and place on a well floured surface. Roll out until 1/4" thick and lay it in your tart or pie pan, pressing down to fit in the pan. Trim the excess dough and prick the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork.
6. Line the dough with a disk of parchment or foil, then place either pie weights or dried beans on top to keep the dough flat while pre-baking. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the paper or foil and pie weights or beans, and return to the oven to bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool while you make the filling.
For the filling:
4 oz. thick bacon, cut across into 1/4" pieces
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 bunch ramps, green and white parts, washed and roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
3 large eggs
3/8 cups (3 ozs.) light cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely cropped
2 tablespoons grainy dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup grated Gruyere or cheddar cheese
1. Lower the oven temperature to 375F.
2. In a large skillet cook the bacon over medium low heat until just crisp, about 7 minutes. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Pour off all but one teaspoon of the bacon fat and add the butter to the pan. Add all of the ramps and saute until wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until the yolks have just broken, then whisk in the cream, salt, and pepper to make your custard. Set aside.
4. Spread the mustard evenly across the bottom of the prepared tart crust. Sprinkle the thyme and grated cheese evenly across the bottom of the crust, then the ramps and bacon. Pour the custard over the filling. Carefully place the tart on the center rack of the oven and bake for about 1 hour, until the custard is set.
5. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes. If you are using a tart pan with a removable bottom, place the pan on a large can and gently slide down the outside ring. Then you can place the tart on your work surface and transfer it a serving plate. This tart is best served warm, but is also delicious at room temperature.