Dashing madly

In some ways, I’m a terrible college student. I’ve never been to a frat party. I didn’t sneak into bars underage and make out with cute boys I’d never see again. I never kept Ramen in my dorm and I didn’t order pizza until my junior year.

The pizza thing isn’t out of snobbishness – like everyone, I’ve got a soft spot for mass-produced dough, perfectly crunchy pepperoni, and those magical little puddles of grease I can never quite manage at home. It’s the Hamburger Dilemma. A solid inch of hand-ground angus topped with aged bleu cheese, arugula and red onion might be the be-all-end-all of burgers – but say what you want, I’m always going to have a soft spot for McDonald’s double cheeseburger (only like twice a year, though. They stay with you).

But for me, there’s a sense of deep satisfaction in watching the simple chemistry that can completely transform a handful of raw ingredients. That process is something I’m loathe to give up, even on nights when I’ve got a million things on my plate and dinner becomes little more than bites snatched in the space between tasks.

So tonight, when I was prepping crêpe batter and cremé pâtisserie and pie dough for tomorrow night’s party in between doing my homework and studying for Monday’s biochemistry exam and trying to find the section of the case problem that laid out the elements of an entrapment defense, I can’t say making dinner was exactly a priority.

I just slammed potatoes and tomatoes and some softened goat cheese on frozen puff pastry, showered it in Herbes de Provence and tossed it in the oven while I worked on other things, but taking the time to cook for myself allowed me to carve out time to do something I enjoy. It’s a way of respecting myself enough to do something that makes me feel special and cared for.

And hey, puff pastry tarts are basically pizza, right?

Busy Night Tarts

These tarts are what Alton Brown would call “refrigerator velcro” – just throw on whatever have that you think would be good together. Ricotta, onion, and summer squash with thyme or rosemary would be lovely, especially drizzled with garlic oil. As would sauteed mushrooms with garlic and roasted chicken dotted with bleu cheese. Or maybe charred corn kernels, green onions, and grape tomatoes smothered in sharp cheddar. Get creative! The only limit here is your imagination.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 or 3 oz goat cheese, room temperature
heavy pinch garlic powder
A handful of small waxy potatoes, boiled and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 roma tomato, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 egg, beaten with a tablespoon of water
heavy pinch dried Herbes de Provence, or other herb blend
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

On a well-floured board, lightly roll the puff pastry into a 11 or 12 inch square. Cut one inch strips from all sides, doing the two vertical sides first and then the two horizontal sides. Set the strips aside.

Place the square of pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and spread it with the softened goat cheese, leaving a 1 inch border on all sides. Sprinkle the cheese with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Place the slices of potato across the cheese in a single layer and sprinkle with salt. Add the tomato, again, in a single layer, then sprinkle the whole thing with the Herbes de Provence

Dip a pastry brush in the egg mixture and brush the two vertical sides of the exposed dough. Place two of the strips of dough you cut earlier over the egg mixture. Repeat the same process with the horizontal sides. The strips should overlap on the corners. Basically you’re making the first layer of one of those popsicle-stick houses, using dough as the sticks and the egg mixture as the glue. Paint the tops of the dough with the egg mixture so it’ll come out of the oven nice and brown.

Pop it in the oven and bake until the pastry is puffed and the top is golden, 20-30 minutes.