Last week, British food writer, journalist, and chef Nigel Slater posted to his socials a rather enticing photo of a butternut tart he made with smoked bacon, parsley, and Parmesan.
We’ve been fans of Slater since his 2009 cookbook, Tender: A Cook and his Vegetable Patch. It was one of the first cookbooks we’d ever owned that merged well those world of the personal memoir and the more traditional, recipe-driven instruction and featured truly stunning photography—both commonplace enough in the world of cookbooks now, but new for us in the aughts. We love vegan cookbooks and vegan cookbook authors, but, having been vegans for about two decades now, both of us tend to find more value and excitement in working from non-vegan cookbooks that are vegetable-centric, and Tender remains to this day, so many years later, one of our favorites.
Back to the tart, though, Slater posted it to promote a piece for The Guardian where he waxes poetic on the virtues and challenges of the butternut squash—“The marshmallow note of squashes, and particularly the butternut, needs taming with something savoury. …Such flavours balance rather than bully, calming the butternut’s one-note sugar hit.”—and shares two of his favorite butternut recipes, the tart being one of them. Seeing the recipe, full of milk, heavy cream, butter, cheese, and bacon, we saw a challenge in making a vegan version, but, with some of the cruelty-free products and dairy-/egg-replacements on the market these days, we thought we were up for it. The result was a rich, savory dish that we’re guessing will become a regular staple for us in these few colder Southern California months.
Recipe below, all derived from Slater’s original, which provided measurements in grams, largely, so there’s a little rough conversion there too (150 grams of flour is actually more like . If you haven’t yet tried Miyoko’s Vegan Cultured Butter (rich, coconut based, and made here in California) or Follow Your Heart’s new Vegan Egg, they’re both game-changers in the kitchen and highly recommended if you’ve been yearning for a new butter and/or egg replacement. Replacing the heavy cream Slater calls for, we’re using a homemade cashew cream, which is a constant staple for us. We talk through basics on how to make it with a previous recipe for fresh pasta, but, basically, it’s a matter of soaking a cup or two of raw cashews in water overnight and blending excessively with olive oil, a little sesame oil, nutritional yeast, raw garlic, and, ideally, some homemade brine and pickled cauliflower stem or something to give it some funk like that—you can simply salt and let stand some stem for a few hours and it’ll do; and just experiment—blend the ingredients, add things gradually, and taste-test as you make it. Then, for the bacon, we were torn between using something like Sweet Earth’s Benevolent Bacon and the shiitakes, but ended up wanting to go a little less processed, more whole foods. But, for the record, I’m sure a nice vegan bacon like that would work really well (and if you go that route, nix the aminos/soy, smoke, paprika, and sesame oil below). We don’t list it in the ingredients, but we had some fresh basil on-hand that we tore up and used to top once the tart was cooling—nice, but definitely not necessary.
We used a run-of-the-mill 6″ pie tin. Nigel claims this serves 6-8…. we ate half of it on our own in a single sitting, so I guess we’re just rounding out that over-eating American cliché?
For the pastry:
Miyoko’s Vegan Cultured Butter (or another dairy-free butter….but this one’s really good) 6 tbsp
plain flour 1.2 cups (we like King Arthur brand—they’re a founding B Corp AND make great products)
Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg 2 (instructions come with the product, but it’s basically 2 tbsp of the powder + .5 cups of cold water, whisked)
Follow Your Heart Grated Parmesan 4 tbsp
totally un-branded water 3-4 tbsp
For the filling:
small butternut squash (roughly 1 lb)
sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms 1 cup
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or low-sodium soy sauce .5 cup
liquid smoke (usually found near the barbecue sauce in the grocery store) 1 tbsp
smoked paprika 1 tbsp
sesame oil 1 tbsp
olive oil 1 tbsp
Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg 2
cashew cream 1 cup
unsweetened nut milk .25 cup
fresh parsley chopped, a small handful
Follow Your Heart Parmesan 2 tbsp
Start with the pastry—cut the butter into small dice-size pieces and rub into the flour with your fingertips until it has the texture of soft, fresh breadcrumbs. Alternatively, reduce to fine crumbs in a food processor. Here, the original calls specifically for egg yolks, but, from our reading on the subject, the reason for that is usually to provide more moisture to things like dough—FYH’s Vegan Egg mentions on their instructions that recipes calling for eggs and water often don’t need as much water, and we found that just using two equivalent vegan eggs, as called for above, worked totally fine. Anyone who follows through the links above will notice too that we’re siting two different vegan Parmesans that Follow Your Heart makes. Though each of those products have different tastes, ingredients, and textures, we’re guessing you could use one of the other, we just happened to have both on-hand. If you use each like we did, just use the grated one in the dough and the more shredded one to finish. Add the vegan eggs, the grated parmesan and the water, a tablespoon at a time, stopping when you have a firm, even textured dough. Pre-heat the oven to 390F°.
Next, slice your shiitake into small, thin strips and marinate in the mixture of aminos/soy, smoke, paprika, and sesame oil. Turn the mushrooms over to coat evenly, gently squeeze, turn again, and let sit for a half hour or so to fully marinate. Drain and then fry the mushrooms in the oil in a shallow pan until crisp. Remove from heat. (Again, skip this step if you’re using a pre-made vegan bacon.)
Peel the butternut, halve lengthways, discard stringy fibers and seeds, and then cut the meat into short wedges. Place the pieces of squash in a steamer basket and cook over boiling water for 8-10 minutes until relenting—soft but not falling-apart-soft.
Make the filling—beat the vegan eggs, cashew cream, and nut milk, season tot taste with salt, if needed, then add the chopped parsley. Place the dough in the pie tin and gently push in out to the tin’s edges and up it’s side, making certain you have pushed the dough deep into the corners and that there are no tears or cracks. You may need to add a little flour as you go if the dough thins out too much or is too sticky—that’s fine. Chill for 20 minutes in the fridge. Bake for 20-30 minutes in the pre-heated oven, until the pastry is golden, browning a bit at the edges, and dry to the touch.
Lower the heat to 350°F, place the pieces of butternut in the pastry shell, and then scatter over the crisped shiitake/vegan bacon. Pour in the filling and dust the surface with the grated parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes until the filling is just set. Remove from the oven and, as Slater says, “leave to cool until just warm (when tarts such as this are at their most delicious).” Cut, serve, enjoy.