Whores! Tarts!!

Whores!  Tarts!!

If I was a whore I would make a deal with my pimp:  lower my pay-out from 30% to 15% and I’ll bake him and the girls some special treats every day for lunch.  Of course, he would probably bitch slap me upside the face and yell, “Stupid ho, you’s don’t tell ME what to do, I’s yo MAN and you’s my WOMAN.  I gets 40% now, bee-atch.  Now go make me a sammich.”  I hear pimps like a good sammich. At that point I would probably be sad, and from my position on the floor, slumped up against an antique style curio cabinet (pimps LOVE a nice curio cabinet) I might even consider spitting on his white mock-croc loafers….but I wouldn’t actually DO it, because Big Daddy does pay my rent after all, and if he kicked me out on the street, well, who KNOWS whether I could ever find another respectable job after that?

Ah, whoredom.  The oldest known art and profession.

The term “puttanesca” generally brings to mind a salty, spicy spaghetti sauce with ingredients that many people find to be questionable, at best.  Literally translated, pasta puttanesca means “whore’s pasta”.  How this term got coined is a bit of a delicious and intriguing mystery, which just adds to the charm of briny olives and capers, salty anchovies and sweet tomatoes.  Well, because I just can’t help myself, let’s dig a bit deeper here and start with the etymology of the word.

It’s true that puttanesca means “whore”, but there’s more to it than that.  One theory is that that pasta puttanesca started out as pasta puttanata, which loosely translates into “rubbish pasta” – an excellent moniker for a dish which is made out of a hodge-podge of leftovers and pantry staples, don’t you think?  Then, of course, it may also be a bastardization of the Latin word putida which means “stinking” or reeking of rot.  Apparently the scent which emanates from a dirty brothel, alerting poor unsuspecting menfolk as to the whereabouts of those dangerous ladies of the night (ha! Helping them to find it, more like) is reminiscent of the smell of this fishy dish. Huh.

There are more delicate explanations as well…..well, sort of.  Some people swear that there was an underground movement in Italy during 1950′s, when brothels became property of the state.  Government workers only had one day per week to visit the markets and attend to their shopping needs, so many relied heavily on cured items and pantry staples…..like capers, olives, and canned tomatoes.  Here we have a sauce that comes together quickly out of leftovers and a bit of creativity, allowing the state hookers to put out a nice sup in between clients.  Or, as an alternate, rebellious ladyhawks who disagreed with the concept of being state property used prostitution as a cottage industry (well, less like a cottage and more like — aw crikey, I forgot that my Mom reads this site.  Sigh).  Since they couldn’t very well advertise their wares in public, they would leave a plate of puttanesca sauce on their window sills to attract mates, so that fellers in the know would follow their noses instead of – oh god, again.  I’m sorry Mom, but I can only keep it in for so long.

Puttanesca Tartlettes

Serves 4

  • 1.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup ice cold unsalted butter *
  • 4-6 tbsp ice water
  • 2 tbsp sundried tomato packed in oil or rehydrated **
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 1 can (184 g) chunk tuna
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 6 anchovies (about 1 tbsp, minced)
  • 6 kalamata olives
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp finely grated asiago cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Special equipment:

  • 4 small tartlette pans, each 5.5″ – 6″ in diameter.

* I’m generally a lazy slattern when it comes to baking, and I use salted butter for most things.  I know, I know, that’s unadvisable, but who keeps unsalted butter on hand?  And when you need to bake, well, you need to bake!  The thing is, salted and unsalted butter have different amounts of water and sometimes also different amounts of fat, so there are times when one should really pay attention to the type of butter they buy…….says the pot to the kettle.  For these tarts, for the first time since Moses was a child, I actually put in the effort to buy unsalted butter.  Frankly, it was the only thing I had to buy that wasn’t already in my fridge or pantry and god forbid that a day should go buy when I don’t fritter my money away.  Anyway, as always, the resulting pie crust was just that much better than usual.  Sigh.

** If you’re using whole sundried tomato halves, that would be about 2 large or 3 small.  I have wee little sundried cherry tomato halves that I pillage from my father’s cold storage room every fall, so a few scoops -well drained- did me just fine.

Whores!  Tarts!!

Cube your butter into relatively small pieces and put it in a medium sized bowl, along with the flour and salt.  Things that I have learned after many years of horrifically bad pastry crusts include making sure that the butter is COLD.  If it’s not well chilled and firm it gets too soft to cut it in, and you end up making a shmear of buttery flour which should be delicious but makes for poor pastry.  I have read some chefs that go so far as to chill their bowl and freeze their flour before making pie crust.  An inspired idea, true, but considering that I’m still proud of myself for buying unsalted butter, I’m really not hard core enough for that yet.

Whores!  Tarts!!

Using two knives or a pastry cutter, begin quickly cutting in the butter to the flour until the texture is mealy like coarse bread crumbs.  Drizzle in the first 4 tbsp of ice water and continue cutting the dough.  Pinch a small piece with your fingertips to see if it’s coming together and binding (rather than crumbling).  If not, continue adding the water 1 tbsp at a time until the dough starts to come together in a ball.

Try your best, despite trepidation or temptation, not to overwork the dough.  That means:
- no sweaty little paws get close to what will eventually be your flaky masterpiece.
- Work fast so everything stays cold.
- Be sure to cut and even to gently prod into a ball (when it starts to come together) but never knead, beat, or vigorously stir the dough.   All of which I have done in my sorrowful past.  And I wonder why I never had success….sigh……

At this point, gently press the dough into a rather flattened disc (about the size of a hungry man’s hamburger patty), wrap it in plastic and leave it to chill for a half hour.  This gives you some time to go watch Y&R in your reddest lipgloss, flirt with strangers on the internet, or re-hem that mini of yours which you can only wear for the first week after your last bikini wax.  You know, whatever tarts your let.

Whores!  Tarts!!

Preheat your oven to 425ºF.

Peel the plastic wrap off your dough and lightly flour your work surface. Roll the dough out until it’s a generous 14″ square and the dough is just slightly under 1/4″ thick.

Arrange your tartlette pans on top of the dough and cut a circle around each, about 1/2″ larger than the mold.  These pans have removable bottoms, which is just lovely.  If yours don’t that’s absolutely fine!  You’ll just want to let the tarts cool a bit before you strip them from their metal homes.  If you DO have pans like mine, I don’t suppose that I need to remind you to put the bottoms back in before filling them with pastry dough.

Whores!  Tarts!!

Gently press the pastry into the molds and trim any excess dough from the edges.  Prick the bottom several times with a fork and fill the molds up with pie weights or…dried beans.  Economical, true, and they do a fine job if I don’t say so myself!

Bake the shells near the bottom of your preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until they’re golden brown around the edges.  Dump out the beans/weights and let the shells cool for 1o minutes before you use them.

Turn the heat on your oven down to 375ºF as soon as the tart shells come out.

Whores!  Tarts!!

While the tarts bake, might as well prep the rest of the ingredients.  Finely mince the garlic and anchovies together, chopping and scraping with the side of your knife until they’ve formed a rather rustic paste (lower left).

If your tomatoes need to be rehydrated, do so.  You can soak them for 5-10 minutes in a bit of boiled water and that will do the trick just fine.  When they’re soft enough, cut them up into chunks about 1/2″ long by 1/4″ wide.

Use the flat part of a large knife to pound the olives and remove their pits.  Where the olive has naturally split, separate each into two halves.

Oh yes, and drain the capers.  They’re just happy to be part of the team.

Whores!  Tarts!!

Spread 1/4 of the garlic/anchovy mixture over the bottom of each shell, using either a small offset spatula or the back of a teaspoon to make sure the entire base is evenly coated.

Drain the can of tuna fish and divide it equally in chunks among the four shells.  Pile 1/4 of the tomatoes, olives, and capers in on top, really nestling everything in comfortably.

Whores!  Tarts!!

Beat the eggs with the milk and season them (sparingly) with salt and (generously) with freshly ground pepper.  Add the red pepper flakes.

Finely chop the herbs and whisk them into the eggs.  Divide the herby eggs among the tart shells – the mixture should be right up at the top of the shell.  Sprinkle 1/2 tbsp of asiago cheese on the top of each one, and they’re ready to bake.

Whores!  Tarts!!

Bake the tarts in the lower third of your oven for another 12-15 minutes until the edges are nicely golden brown and the eggy filling is set.  Just enough time to smoke another cigarette and call your ex-boyfriend to say you never really liked his mother after all and he still owes you a bottle of vodka.  Isn’t it FUN making tarts?

Whores!  Tarts!!

A good whore has to maintain her figure, and these lovely little tarts are a perfect light lunch with a small side salad of peppery arugula in a lemony vinaigrette.

Whores!  Tarts!!

The tender, buttery and flaky crust is the perfect fatty foil for the vibrant riches inside this little quiche.  Briny capers, salty olives, verdant herbs and sweet tomatoes – all with the fishy goodness of tuna, so that you too can smile sweetly and say, “Yes babe, that’s correct.  For dinner I made Whore Tarts.  Care for another?  And you can leave a $20 on my bedside table while you’re at it, sweet cheeks.”  After all, the piggy bank won’t save itself….

Whores!  Tarts!!

Whores!  Tarts!!
  • http://muskegharpy.blogspot.com/ Jacquie

    Thank you for the history of puttanesca–knowing its pantry staples like capers, olives, and anchovies it helpful. All the other definitions are just fun. I guess I’ll just alternate between puttanesca style and bonne femme style too keep the old man guessing.

    Do you have a problem with tart shell shrinkage? Mine always seem to shrink and crumble away from the sides (I do use pie weights) and crumble. It’s otherwise a fine dough/shell.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      I have had problems with pie shell shrinkage before, as well as lumpy pie bottoms (I was not born rolling pastry, to say the least) and found that it was usually because:
      1. The shell was not weighted properly to keep it’s shape.
      2. Too much fat in the dough (made for greasy, dense pastry as well).
      3. Steam was not able to escape.
      4. Dough was stretched and had not relaxed….which makes baking sound like a spa for pastry, but it actually does matter!!

      If your dough crumbles, it either did not have enough fat or enough liquid in the bind. I find that when you’re rolling the dough, if it rolls easily and smoothly rather than breaking or being petulant from the get-go, that’s a good sign.

      One recommendation which I’ve tried (with good results!) when I was nervous about the crust shrinking was to put another same-size pie dish overtop of the crust, so it’s sandwiched in between. Bake it this way for the first 5-10 minutes and then take the top shell off and weight it. That gives the pastry a chance to set in the correct position. If you do this, remember to add an extra 5 minutes on to the bake.

      Oh, and the resting! Yes, dough likes to rest. Even if you roll out the dough, lay it in the dish and let it rest in the fridge for a half hour, that allows the gluten to relax so you’ll have a better textured crust as well as one where the gluten doesn’t seize and make it tough.

      ….and now I’ll shut up. YOu ask a simple question, I give you an essay answer……sigh……

      • http://muskegharpy.blogspot.com/ Jacquie

        No, your thoughts are incredibly helpful. I always get skittish over the too much liquid thing. I always seem to err on the side of too dry. (My mother is a champion pie maker and would always chide me about the perils of too much water–I now have a pie crust complex).

        The resting thing sounds like a key. I manage to think about gluten when I make bread but never really anything else. Makes sense that gluten could be acting up. Thanks, I hope to make a blueberry tart/pie this weekend in celebration of your tip.

  • http://www.norecipes.com Marc @ NoRecipes

    LOL, love your in-depth history lesson and colorful intro. I’m new to your blog, but will certainly be back for more.

  • http://foodhappens.blogspot.com lo

    Oh, I do love me a good garbage pasta. I do.
    Bet I’d love these.

  • Anne

    I just happened to wander upon this particular recipe and found myself giggling at your description of what would ordinarily be a nice simple lunch. I love your descriptive, humorous writing style, not to mention the great recipe. You have another follower.

  • Ilona

    I’m gonna start making these -right now -! I guess that somewhere in the Netherlands, a certain kitchen will start to smell really good in about an hour or so. :)

    • Ilona

      Antd there it is, all packed up for lunch tomorrow!
      http://i53.tinypic.com/2eey2va.jpg

      (No olives peeking through though, I’ve cut those up in smaller pieces)

      • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

        Ilona, thank you for this! I don’t think there are many things that give Tina more pleasure than knowing she helped someone make lunch a half a world away. Truly.

      • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

        Ilona – seriously, you are AWESOME!! I can’t tell you how much we value feedback (positive or negative, they both have an excellent purpose) and it is great to hear that you have been enjoying some of these recipes as much as we have! Also, your pictures? DARLING. Thank you again :)