We’re here again, at this time of the year, where for some it represents the ending of a bright summer and a transition into autumn, the season of pumpkins and Thanksgiving and auburn apples.
For us here in South America, it means that the cold, dreary winter is taking her last curtsey and the curtain will soon fall, opening again to reveal the prettiest season of all – one in which springs forth life from fresh soil, and where bright green leaves start peeking their heads out again. It’s the time when flowers of every kind begin to show, along the pavements, in the parks, and in every garden possible.
I’ve never been one to bother about the change in seasons – where I lived most of my life, in Singapore, we transition between hot-and-humid and less-hot-but-wet-and-still-humid throughout the entire year. In my home country, there is neither summer nor winter, much less spring or autumn. So it’s strangely weird that I feel a skip in my step when I glance at the bright blue sky, a pretty gift to us nearing the end of winter, which tends to entail grey and cloudy skies.
My sister Valerie has been here in Buenos Aires visiting me (and the horses, of course!) for more than a month, and I’m already getting so accustomed to her being here, that it’s hard knowing she will return to Singapore in less than two weeks.
But it’s still so lovely to think back and realize that in the harshest and driest of seasons, I have the amazing company of my sister to bring some Singapore cheer.
Val and I do very simple, basic, sisterly stuff together.
You know, going for long walks to Puerto Madero, hitting the cinema, watching crime shows on the couch (especially Criminal Minds and CSI), and heading out for meals. I was thinking about it the other day, and realized that this is the first time that I’ve spent almost more than half of winter with my family, since I moved to settle in Buenos Aires.
The only thing that we definitely don’t do together, is cooking.
So we’ve came up with an unannounced but practical arrangement – I cook, and she washes up.
The other day I dragged her to the supermarket so we could have some inspiration for dinner, but on most nights, it’s up to me to decide. When we’re not ordering in Chinese food delivery, I’m cracking my brain and stressing out over what to cook.
But on one of the nights last week, I gave in to my craving for the bright green vegetable that is called leek.
While it’s not exactly everyone’s favorite vegetable, I love every bit of it, from the slightly spicy onion sting, to the long vibrant green leaves which soften into a creamy white stalk, to the very practical fact that it’s so easy to prepare.
You take a few leeks, and rinse them very well, making sure to remove all remains of mud and dirt from their stalks and in between the leaves. Once the rinsing is out of the way, slice the leeks into thinly-shredded ribbons of green and white. In a saucepan, take a few tablespoons of butter, and let it melt over low heat until it transforms into a pool of golden liquid. Now’s the time to add in the chopped leeks, and stir those pretty ribbons gently until they turn slightly translucent, but are still green.
You could eat the leeks that way, straight from the pan, or better yet, if you can hold yourself back before devouring all those precious leeks, you could also make this amazingly easy tart.
If you’ve been around for a while, you might have realized that I’ve developed a fondness for free-form tarts, all of which have interchangeable names, like a galette, or a crostata, but basically all mean the same thing – a rustically charming tart that is beautiful in spite of being imperfect.
There’s something disarmingly attractive about such open-faced tarts, the kind which allows you to see its filling and is as easy and uncomplicated as it is delicious and satisfying.
And if you make this kind of tart, with a filling like this, I assure you, you’ll jump up and shout in joy once you smell and taste how wholesome it is. No kidding, guys.
Take the warm, freshly sautéed leeks from the pan, and mix them with slices of deliciously pink ham. Not much science involved here, just plain and simple mixing, but make sure to season it with a generous pinch of salt and pepper for some extra kick. And then, all that’s left is to scoop the mixture onto the middle of a pre-made pie crust, fold in the sides, and pop it into the waiting oven.
Those initial moments – seconds during which the aroma hits you and the warmth of the oven envelopes your face – those are moments of incredible delight.
And when you take this leek and ham tart out of the oven, you’ll find yourself gaping in awe at the differences in colors of the tart shell – some parts browner and other parts golden. You’ll breathe in deep, wonderful breaths of the concoction of soft green leeks and slightly crispy ham. And you’ll eat up the entire tart before you’ll know what hits you.
Trust me on that. Been there, done that.
LEEK AND HAM TART (Makes 1 medium-sized tart)
Adapted from Martha Stewart
1) 4-5 leeks, rinsed well and chopped thinly (both the white and green parts)
2) 200g of ham cut into small slices (if you’re vegetarian or vegan, leave this out).
3) 1 pre-made pie crust, shaped in a circle
4) 50g of butter (use margarine or vegetable oil if you’re vegan)
5) Salt and pepper to taste
1) Rinse the leeks well and chop them thinly, breadth-wise
2) Cut ham into small pieces
3) In a saucepan, heat up butter over low heat, and sauté the chopped leeks until slightly cooked
4) Mix cooked leeks with pieces of ham well, such that both ingredients are homogeneously distributed, and season with salt and pepper to taste
5) Pre-heat oven to 190 deg cel (375 deg farenheit)
6) Cover a baking sheet with enough parchment paper (large enough for the pie crust to go on)
7) Sprinkle parchment paper with flour and place pie crust on top
8) Pour leek and ham mixture in the middle of the pie crust, leaving about 5-10 cm of space from the diameter
9) Fold in the sides of the pie crust
10) Bake at 190 deg cel (375 deg farenheit) for about 10-12 minutes, or until crust turns golden brown
In a saucepan, heat up butter over low heat, and sauté the chopped leeks until slightly cooked:
Mix cooked leeks with pieces of ham well:
Such that both ingredients are homogeneously distributed, and season with salt and pepper to taste:
Sprinkle parchment paper with flour and place pie crust on top. Pour leek and ham mixture in the middle of the pie crust, leaving about 5-10 cm of space from the diameter:
Fold in the sides of the pie crust:
Bake at 190 deg cel (375 deg farenheit) for about 10-12 minutes, or until crust turns golden brown: