Last year it seemed as though I was never out of the Netherlands. Between studying in an achingly cute university town for several weeks and business trips back and forth to the Hague, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, tulips and windmills seemed to dominate the landscape of 2009. I am back in the Netherlands again now, for two weeks, staying in an airy light-filled apartment with exposed beams. I am travelling by bike to my LLM classes and churning out goat cheese frittatas for breakfast from the tiny apartment kitchen, by night working on my ‘day job’. To say I am enjoying it would be an understatement. It is my very own ‘American girl in Paris’ moment, except of course that it is more ‘Irish/Australian girl without sleep in Leiden’.
That being said, I am mostly uninspired by the culinary landscape of the Netherlands. There are two exceptions though: the use of chicory ‘San Choi Bao' style-starters piled with mild blue cheese or tiny morsels of veal, and the availability of complex dark bitter beers. The quality of beers produced by Dutch craft brewers is amazing, most notably for me the De Molen brewery and especially the glutinous Mout and Mocha. Even the large commercial breweries Heineken and Grolsch produce seasonal beers for the Dutch market, which while not of craft quality are certainly more interesting than their insipid offerings elsewhere.
While the substance of the food may be less than enchanting, the way it is enjoyed is. Even last September, with the days taking on a ear-(and nose!) chilling edge, cafés and bars along the canals served meals terrace style, with diners’ bikes lined up along the railings, without so much as a lock between them. My Pashley Princess would scarcely last ten minutes in Dublin in similar circumstances. In fact, chances are it would end up in the Royal Canal as opposed to patiently tethered waterside waiting my return.
This tart was inspired by canal-side seasonal eating last September, though poached beetroot is still available vaccum-packed in supermarkets, and Dutch butternut squash seems to be a staple at markets and groceries across the country, so food mile guilt aside, this autumnal dish can be enjoyed even in the depths of winter.
Tbsp melted butter
8 sheets of frozen filo pastry, defrosted
150g soft goats’ cheese/boursin/feta or mixture of the three
100g ricotta, drained
1 egg, lightly beaten
200g butternut squash, peeled and cubed
200g beetroot, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsp pine nuts
3 sprigs of thyme, plucked, stalks discarded
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice of 1 lemon or half a preserved lemon sliced very finely
Roast the beets and squash by tossing cubes in olive oil and seasoning. Sprinkle with thyme sprigs and place in a 180°C oven for 20 minutes. If using pre-poached beets, there is no need to roast, just remove from juice and chop roughly.
While vegetables are roasting, brush a 20cm round loose-bottomed tart tin with some of the butter. Lay a few sheets of filo across the bottom, slightly overlapping. Brush the overhanging filo with more butter. Continue layering with filo, brushing with butter as you go. Set aside.
Crumble the feta/goats cheese/boursin into a large bowl and mix with the rest of the filling ingredients, including the vegetables, but except for parmesan. Season and spoon into the filo case. Shave parmesan over the top of the filling.
Scrunch overhanging filo to form an edge. Bake at 180°C for 15 minutes or until the filo is golden and crisp. Serve with Ballymaloe relish and a brun beer. Certainly won't win any beauty pagents, more La Trappe may help.
Bit of an uggo.