There's something easy yet elegant about tarts. They are the little black dress of the pastry kitchen, the sophisticated city cousin of rustic, country-style pies.
And they make a fine alternative to the age-old Easter ham-or-lamb conundrum - although you'll still have to make choices, such as sweet or savory; main course or post-holiday buffet snack; regular or puff-pastry or gluten-free crust; fluted pan, pastry ring or free-form on a baking sheet.
The accompanying recipe can be made in advance. The tarts that need reheating will look just as nice as the day you made them. Present a few on a wooden cutting board with a big, beautiful salad, and lunch is served.
Virginia Willis is the author most recently of "Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company."
Recipe: Luxurious Smoked Salmon and Leek Tart
Dufour brand puff pastry is usually available in the freezer cases at Whole Foods Markets; it's made with butter and will taste better in this recipe.
Make ahead: The rolled-out puff pastry needs to be refrigerated for 30 minutes. It's best to make the tart the same day it is served; leftovers can be wrapped and refrigerated overnight.
- Flour, for the work surface
- 14 ounces frozen puff pastry dough, preferably Dufours brand, slightly defrosted
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon canola oil
- 3 leeks, white and light-green parts, cut in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into very thin half-moons, rinsed well
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
- 8 ounces best-quality smoked salmon, chopped
- Line a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, allowing for a few inches of overhang so you can use it to remove the tart after baking.
- Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the puff pastry dough to about a 10-by-14-inch inch rectangle. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to the lined baking sheet. The extra width and length of dough will form short sides of the tart. Use the tines of a fork to prick the bottom surface of the dough. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and stir to coat; season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are meltingly soft and tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat; cover loosely to keep warm.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Whisk together one of the eggs with the water in a small bowl; brush the mixture over the chilled puff pastry dough. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until pale golden, then remove from the oven. If it has risen, use an offset spatula or a clean kitchen towel to press down the pastry.
- Beat the remaining 2 eggs, heavy cream, nutmeg and tarragon in a medium bowl until smooth; season with pepper to taste. (Do not use salt, because the salmon can be salty.)
- Spread the salmon and leeks evenly over the still-warm crust, then pour in the egg-cream mixture, making sure it is evenly distributed. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the filling is set.
- Transfer the tart to a wire rack (on the parchment paper) to cool for 10 minutes, then use a serrated knife to slice it. Serve immediately.
NUTRITION Per serving: 240 calories, 7 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar
Makes one 9-by-13-inch tart (12 servings)