Renaissance Herb Tart
Since girlhood, I have loved reading about the Elizabethans. Multiple biographies and novels about Elizabeth the First, Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary, Lady Jane Grey, Henry the Eighth, the English Reformation and Henry’s dissolution of the Roman Catholic monasteries have added fire to my interest but not slaked it.
I love, and have loved, the drama, the danger, the gowns encrusted with pearls, the music and the politics of that pivotal era in English history. No detail is too small to interest me. In a small book on Elizabeth I by Sir Roy Strong, I learned that the Virgin Queen had beautiful hands and that in later life her teeth were black from eating sugar.
When I noticed a book on Elizabethan food at Haddam’s Brainerd Memorial Library, I borrowed it again and again, finally buying a copy this spring on Amazon. Francine Segan’s Shakespeare’s Kitchen: Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook (published by Random House in 2003) is a history book, a cookbook, and a cultural foray, all in one. I learned , among many other delectable tidbits, that the English “kickshaws” were the “quelque chose” of France, or, as we call them today, appetizers or “befores.”
On a mild March Thursday when I saw irises poking up through the frozen earth in my side gardens, I decided to make Segan’s interpretation of an Elizabethan vegetable pie: Lots of wilted greens, chopped herbs, some onion and fresh ginger, a bit of cheese and some currants, baked in a savory crust. I served the pie with a few slices of grilled chicken, a hunk of Irish soda bread, and a glass of red wine.
Reader, my husband was happy.
Here is the Herb Tart from Shakespeare’s Kitchen, and I followed the instructions exactly except for two things: I used frozen pie dough instead of making my own; and for the half cup of currants I substituted raisins. I also used my largest stainless steel sauté pan, one with deep sides.
Prepared or homemade crust sufficient for a 9-inch pie
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ½ pounds assorted baby greens, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped assorted herbs (such as flat-leaf parsley, mint, thyme, and basil)
1 cup grated semi-soft cheese
1 large egg, beaten
½ cup currants
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
- Roll out the prepared or homemade dough 1/8 inch thick on a floured work surface. Press the dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Refrigerate the crust for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the crust for five minutes.
- Place the onions and olive oil in a large sauté pan and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Raise the burner to high heat, add the greens and herbs, and cook for 1 minute, or until just wilted. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese, egg, currants, and sugar, and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.