Cauliflower and carrot tart with pesto

I often get asked where I get my recipe ideas from. The answer is – all sorts of places; magazines, recipe books and menus are the most obvious sources of inspiration. Seeing something I like the look of but can’t eat is also a great starting point, as this really triggers my imagination and creative juices – these are the dishes that really surprise people. And then sometimes I just wake up in the morning and get hit by the thought “I wonder if……?”

That happened recently. I had been thinking of what to do with some lovely young fresh carrots that had arrived in my Riverford veg box; that must have stayed with me overnight as when I woke I had a picture in my head of a roasted carrot tart. I’ve done lots of different type of plant-based, whole-food and dairy-free pastry, but this time I wanted something slightly different, a stronger flavour that would complement the sweetness of the young carrots. So as I lay in bed my mind wandered over different veggies that would work in a pastry. The first thought was cauliflower, but having made a cauliflower pizza crust in the past that seemed to take way too much effort for the outcome, I dismissed this. But I kept coming back to it and it just seemed the obvious answer. The challenge was to make it less onerous and more tasty!

Cauliflower is an amazing veg, that’s for sure. One of the most wonderful things for me is how cheesy it can taste when roasted. I first discovered this whilst making a cauliflower soup and we still use a thicker version as a cheese sauce from time to time – check out this blog post from 2014 here if you want to see how. My kids (young adults really) love it, although we do debate whether using cheesy cauliflower sauce for cauliflower cheese could be considered a kind of cauli cannibalism!

To make cauliflower the right texture to form into a pastry it needs to be cooked. Boiling cauliflower makes it all watery and farty though, bringing back bad memories of soggy school dinners! So I steam the lovely florets until they are slightly soft and then leave them to cool before popping in the processor with the other ingredients.

Once combined with the ground almonds and flaxseed, the cauliflower becomes more of a thick paste than a traditional pastry, so you need to spoon it out onto the baking tray rather than roll it. If it seems too wet, then add some more ground flaxseed – every cauliflower is a different size and will have a different water content, so use your own judgement to get the right consistency. The thicker it is, the quicker it will firm up ready for the carrots to go on the top. And remember that flaxseed takes a little time to absorb water, so it’s important to leave the mix to settle before deciding if you need to add more. One other important thing to remember is to lightly grease the baking tray, even if it’s a good non-stick one, otherwise the crust will stick and fall apart when you try to lever it off (she says from disappointing experience!)

As the pastry cooks, it develops a wonderfully savoury flavour; if you want more a cheesy kick then add some nutritional yeast into the mix, but remember if you have a yeast intolerance, it might not be for you! After about 15 minutes of baking, the pastry should be lightly browned and firm on the top. Don’t try to flip it over or it will collapse, just arrange the roasted carrots on the top and pop back in the oven for the rest of the time. By now, the base should be crispy brown on the edges, firm top and bottom but still soft on the inside.

This may have been an early morning ponder, but I am really happy with this dish – it’s different, not too difficult and super tasty. Ticks all my boxes for a yummy recipe! Why not give this a go, and let me know how you get on?

Cauliflower and carrot tart with basil pesto (serves 3-4)
8 medium carrots
For the ‘pastry’:
1 medium cauliflower cut into florets and steamed
3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon garlic granules
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
For the pesto:
2 tablespoons walnuts
1/2 pack basil
1tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil
1 clove garlic crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place the steamed cauliflower florets into a food processor and pulse a few times until broken down. Add the ground flaxseed, ground almonds, garlic powder, salt and mixed herbs and blend until fairly smooth. Leave for 5 minutes to enable the flaxseed to absorb some of the water from the cauliflower and thicken the mix. Spoon the mix out onto a lightly greased baking tray and spread out into a rectangle approx 1 1/2 cm thick.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Scrub and trim the carrots and slice in half lengthways. Arrange on a separate baking tray. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top.

Place the carrots and cauliflower base trays in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or so until the base is lightly browned and the carrots start to soften. Remove both from the oven and arrange the carrot halves on top of the cauliflower base in a line, then return to the oven and cook for another 12-15 minutes until the base edges are crispy and everything is nicely browned.

Whilst the tart is cooking, make the pesto topping by placing the walnuts, basil, garlic and salt in a small hand blender pot and blitzing until broken down in to a thick paste. Add the olive or flaxseed oil and a little water and blitz until nearly smooth. Add more water if it’s too thick – you want it to be of a spoonable consistency.

Once the tart is ready, remove from the oven and leave to set for a couple of minutes. Spoon the pesto over the top in lines or dollops and scatter some extra basil leaves over the top if so desired. Cut in half and serve.

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