This recipe is a gathering and combining of foods I love: nuts, cheese (especially feta cheese) and carrots. I cook and eat a lot of carrots; they truly are a workhorse in the kitchen. Crunchy and refreshing when eaten raw, shaved in salads, baked into cakes and you can braise, sauté and roast the heck out of them, and still, you have beautiful color, sweet taste and whatever texture you desire. And, carrots stand out in all seasons. Here, slender spring carrots are simply roasted and then pressed into a creamy filling made from feta, a touch of garlic and tart lemon. I used thyme leaves for a bit of herbaceousness, but you could use basil or dill instead. Be sure to roast the carrots until they’re fork-tender, so the tart slices cleanly. All of the cheese and vegetables are held with a crust made from ground, toasted hazelnuts. It’s a bit of work, preparing the crust, and I enjoyed the process of toasting, rubbing the skins and pulsing into flour. You could buy hazelnut or almond flour, or make a savory tart crust with wheat flour. Using nuts adds, well, nuttiness, and it goes well with the cheese. This tart is good made a day ahead, and would be lovely to bring to a spring gathering, served for brunch, or wherever people are relaxing and eating slowly. It’s best served cold.
Hazelnut, Feta and Carrot Tart
Makes one 9-inch tart
For the crust:
2 ½ cups hazelnut flour (see note on making your own)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the filling:
2 pounds carrots, tops trimmed and peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the feta layer:
8 ounces feta cheese
4 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Juice of 1 lemon (2 tablespoon)
Fresh thyme sprigs
Lemon zest, in thin strips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch square or round tart pan. Combine the crust ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Scrape the mixture out onto the prepared pan, spread it evenly, and then press firmly, being sure to push it up along the edges. Bake the crust for 28 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.
Place the carrots on a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Bake for 35 minutes, or until they are easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Combine the feta, cream cheese, olive oil and salt in a food processor and puree for a few minutes, until light, creamy and lump-free. Add the herbs and lemon and pulse a few times to combine. Keep refrigerated until ready to assemble.
To put together the tart, spread the whipped feta over the cooled crust. Arrange the carrots on top of the cheese, alternating sides to make a pretty design. Gently press into the cheese. Arrange thyme sprigs and lemon zest strips over top and refrigerate for at least three hours. Slice and serve chilled.
Note: To make your own hazelnut flour, spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Allow to cool, then rub, a cup at a time, in a clean kitchen towel to remove the skins. Puree in small batches in a food processor for 45 seconds, until completely ground. Keeps in a tightly sealed container, for three months.