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Pepper and Onion Frittata Tart

by Corby Kummer

August 1995

The people who put together the Atlantic Online asked me for a suitable recipe for the launch of Windows 95, suggesting a souffle--they're a skeptical lot. The most appealing egg recipe I found from a book about to appear is this pepper and onion frittata tart, from Nick Malgieri's How To Bake, to be published in October by HarperCollins. Not exactly a souffle, but very eggy. As it happens, I've been thinking about eggs a lot lately. Having edited Thomas Moore's "The Cholesterol Myth" (September, 1989), the Atlantic article that told people that dietary cholesterol might have little to do with blood-cholesterol levels or how long you live, I advocate the regular inclusion of eggs in the diet. They offer perfect protein that the body can use immediately, and they taste wonderful.

Also, an old college friend, Margy Levine, who lives in the historic Boston suburb of Lexington (she got back in touch after browsing America Online) recently invited me to see the decorative chickens that she and her husband, Jordan Young, had bought, partly to amuse their four-and-half-year-old daughter, Meg, and partly for a source of their own eggs. The hens and one rooster were handsome beasts, their dark-green and beige speckled and lustrous feathers as splendid as their names: Buff Orpingtons, Black Giants, Silver-Laced Wyandottes, Speckled Sussex, and Araucanas.

One of the eggs with which I happily went home was a green that is suspiciously fashionable--just like the mildly olive-drab greens that Martha Stewart is making popular as part of her paint and home-decor line based on her long-standing collection of decorative chickens. My friends were very, very careful to point out that they ordered their chickens (which arrived parcel post, a long American tradition; for about a week after hatching the chicks can live on the nourishment the yolk provides) before the issue of Martha Stewart Living featuring Martha's chickens on the cover hit the stands. In a rare nonscientific lapse, born of greed and hunger, I recklessly mixed the colored egg with its plain brown brethren, so I can't report on whether there is a flavor difference. The corn and tomato frittata was lovely.

Nick Malgieri is an exceedingly skilled baker and teacher who long headed the baking program at Peter Kump's Cooking School, in New York City. He has inspired many students who have fanned out across the country to work as pastry chefs, and his new book is a comprehensive guide to both yeast doughs and pastries. As delicious as the savory recipes look, the cookies and cakes are really irresistible: I immediately want to try Irish Currant Cake, Lemon Macaroon Cake, Hazelnut Gugelhupf (also eggy, and unusually made without yeast), and Chris Gargone's Chocolate Chews, made with semisweet and unsweetened chocolate, chocolate chips, and walnuts and pecans.

Cornmeal is my favorite grain in a dough, and this pie dough will work with many kinds of quiches and even pies. The filling can be varied to include many of the other fall vegetables now turning up at farmer's markets, but bell peppers and onion, themselves sweet, are especially good with the slightly sweet dough.

Cornmeal Dough for Savory Tarts

3/4 cup bleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

1 egg

(About 12 ounces dough, enough for a 10- or 11-inch tart)

The combination of flour and cornmeal makes this dough easier to roll and form than one made entirely with cornmeal. Yet the cornmeal contributes to its distinctive flavor and color to the dough. I like to use this with the Pepper and Onion Frittata Tart (see below) and with any filling variations that include sweet-tasting elements, such as peppers or tomatoes. It is also good with any of the quiches.

You may find cornmeal dough a little difficult to roll since the cornmeal makes the dough less elastic and coherent than an all-flour dough. If it starts to break apart, just patch it into place in the tart or pie pan--it will be fine.

1. To mix the dough by hand, combine the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and stir well to mix. Cut the butter into one-tablespoon pieces and add to the dry ingredients. Toss once or twice to coat the pieces of butter. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your hands or a pastry blender, continuously pinching and squeezing it. Occasionally reach down to the bottom of the bowl and mix all the ingredients evenly together. Continue rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarsely ground cornmeal and no large pieces of butter remain visible. Beat the egg in a small bowl and pour over the flour and butter. Stir in with a fork and continue to stir until the dough begins to hold together.

To mix the dough in a food processor, combine the dry ingredients in a work bowl fitted with a metal blade. Pulse 3 times at 1-second intervals to mix. Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces and add to the work bowl. Process, pulsing repeatedly at 1-second intervals, until the mixture is fine and powdery and resembles coarsely ground cornmeal with no large pieces of butter remaining visible, about 15 pulses in all. Add the egg to the work bowl; pulse 10 times or so, until the dough forms a ball.

2. Scatter a teaspoon of flour over the work surface and scrape the dough out onto it. Press and knead the dough quickly 3 or 4 times, until it is smooth and uniform.

3. Press the dough into a circle. Sandwich it between two pieces of plastic wrap and press it into a 6-inch circle. Refrigerate the dough until firm, or until you are ready to use it, at least 1 hour.

STORAGE: Keep the dough in the refrigerator up to 2 days, or double-wrap in plastic to freeze it. Because the dough is thin, it will defrost quickly at room temperature when you intend to use it.

Pepper and Onion Frittata Tart

1 recipe Cornmeal Dough for Savory Tarts (see above)


3 medium red, green, or yellow bell peppers (about 1 pound total)

1 medium (about 4 ounces) red onion

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 cup whole-milk or part-skim ricotta

4 eggs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Equipment: One 10- to 11-inch tart pan

(One 10- to 11-inch tart, 8 to 10 servings)

The cornmeal crust on this tart gives it a vaguely southwestern flavor. If you choose to use a variety of peppers in this tart, use only red and yellow for they have a sweetness that green peppers lack.

1. Prepare and chill the dough.

2. To make the filling, slice the peppers and onion thin. Heat the olive oil in a wide, shallow pan and add the vegetables. Season with the salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring and tossing frequently, until the vegetables are wilted, about 10 minutes. Stir in the marjoram, pour into a mixing bowl, and cool. Place the remaining filling ingredients in a food processor and process for about 1 minute until smooth.

3. Set a rack at the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

4. To make the crust, place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and scatter flour over it. Roll the dough out into a 13- to 14- inch circle. Fit the dough into the pan and trim away all but 1/2 inch of the excess around the edge of the pan. Fold the excess back into the pan. Press the dough firmly against the bottom and side of the pan, then using the thumb and index finger of one hand, press against the side of the crust and down on the top edge to make the rim smooth and even.

5. Combine the ricotta and pepper mixtures, correct the seasoning if necessary, and pour into the crust. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the filling is set and the crust is baked through. Cool on a rack.

6. To unmold the tart, stand the tart pan on a large can or canister and allow the pan to fall away. Slide the tart from the pan bottom onto a large, flat-bottomed platter.

SERVING : Serve the tart warm or at room temperature. It gains flavor as it cools a bit.

STORAGE : Keep the tart at room temperature until served. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for longer storage.

HINT FOR SUCCESS : Cook the peppers and onions slowly to avoid burned patches of skin and consequent bitterness.

VARIATONS : Add a pinch or two of dried hot pepper flakes to enliven the flavor if you and your guests like hot food. Omit the ricotta for a less rich tart.

Go to Kummer Article Index

Copyright © 1995 by Corby Kummer. Recipe copyright ©1995, Nick Malgieri. From How to Bake by Nick Malgieri. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. $35.00 paperback/$45.00 hardback. 480pp. ISBN: 0-06-016819-6<.p> All rights reserved.
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