It’s no secret that I love aubergines, or eggplants as some of you call them, or … well for argument’s sake let’s call them melanzane, the Italian word. So, it’s no secret that I love melanzane and would probably eat them every day, if I could. When cooked properly, they have the same mouth-puckering strength as a quality mature cheese. It’s no secret that I love cheese, or fromage, or … well let’s call it formaggio.
This recipe was inspired by three separate events. Firstly, as you will know from the previous post, I was in Trieste last weekend, which is in the north-eastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. As always, I was on the look out for unusual local produce, and this time I found it in the form of an extraordinary cheese called formadi frant. Produced exclusively from milk from bruna alpina (alpine brown) cows, who live in the dolomites in the northern part of Friuli, its made by literally crumbling together other cheeses and melding them together with milk. Spices, predominantly black pepper, are added.
The second event was the house warming party of one of my friends in Trieste which was catered by an incredibly talented chef from Slovenia, just over the border from Trieste. One of the things he produced was a dish of stewed melanzane with chilli pepper. In my mind it would have gone perfectly with the formadi frant as I think melanzane and strong cheese are incredibly complementary flavours.
Finally, the third event was my cousin coming to dinner for which I needed to cook. There’s always pressure to produce something amazing when family or friends come to eat and so I have the idea of making a tart, based on my apple tart, but with melanzane and formadi frant. Therefore, I made a melanzane and formadi frant filling, reminiscent of the melanzane at the party but without the chilli (to be on the safe side as I had no idea if my cousin or her husband like spicy food), and then baked that in a shortcrust pastry case with added black pepper to tie the flavours in with the formadi frant.
If you want to make this at home, you can substitute either gruyere or grated parmesan for the formadi frant (unless of course you live in Friuli or have a Friulan deli near you). I bake my tarts using french pâtisserie rings, since it helps to avoid what Mary Berry—for non Brits, she’s the ex-presenter of the Great British Bake Off—would call a ‘soggy bottom’. But you could make this in a ceramic or metal quiche tin. Just be careful that the pastry is cooked underneath and to take it out of the tin as soon as you can.
Anyway, if you try this, let me know what you think in the comments and buon appetito!
On a side note, unfortunately my cousin never made it to dinner as she went down with the flu. To paraphrase Julie’s husband from the movie Julie and Julia, ‘more tart for me!’
Torta salata di melanzane e formadi frant
Preparation time: 2 hours (including chilling and cooling time)
Baking time: 40 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 40 minutes
For the salt and pepper pastry:
250g (1 1/4 cups) plain flour
125g (4 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
water as required
For the filling:
2 large aubergines
1 large onion
60g (2 ounces) grated cheese
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
For the topping:
1 tablespoon honey
Make the salt and pepper pastry:
1. Sift the flour with the salt and pepper into a large mixing bowl.
2. Add the butter and rub it into the flour with the tips of your fingers until its the consistency of breadcrumbs.
3. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add a little water.
4. Mix the water in with your finger tips and keep adding little by little until the dough comes together into a ball.
5. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Make the filling:
1. Heat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
2. Cut the ends off the aubergines and then cut them in half lengthways.
3. Score the inside of the aubergines with a knife and then drizzle with olive oil and a little salt.
4. Place them back together again and wrap tightly in tin foil.
5. Place them on a backing tray in the oven for one hour.
6. Allow them to cool completely.
7. When cool, unwrap the packages and scoop out the flesh of the aubergines with a spoon leaving just the skins. Discard the skins.
8. Chop the onion and gently fry it in olive oil for about ten minutes, occasionally adding water to stop it browning. Add the aubergine, cheese, and balsamic vinegar and gently cook for a further ten minutes. Allow to cool completely.
1. Heat the oven to 200° C( 400°F).
1. Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 25cm patisserie ring or tart tin.
2. Prick the base with a fork and refrigerate for another half an hour.
3. Fill the pastry case with the aubergine mixture.
4. Slice the remaining aubergine into disks and lay them on top of the mixture in a spiral until completely covered.
5. Paint a think layer of olive oil over the top.
6. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Halfway through, remove the patisserie ring so that the sides of the tart brown.
7. Once cooked, let the tart cool completely.
8. Melt a tablespoon of honey with a teaspoon of water in a saucepan. Cover the top of the tart with this using a pastry brush.