Up until yesterday, I had never cooked a fish tart…but I knew deep down inside that I needed to. The base idea for this one came from Savory Baking by Mary Cech. As I write this post, this book is listed for some ridiculously low price on Amazon. Not sure what the deal is, but it a great book for those that like baking things that are not necessarily sweet. Oh well, sometimes even good books get discontinued.
Anyway, with some adjustment of ingredients and spicing scheme, I ended up with something that was truly memorable. The tarragon and dill really shine against the curry, and, surprising, the crushed black pepper is pronounced without being overwhelming. The roast red pepper provides a little bit of interest and the lemon zest provides a great balance to cut through the staggering amount of butter that is used to assemble the phyllo. Definitely a huge win for a first effort and not one that a would change too much.
There is not much complicated about preparing this dish, but you do have to deal with phyllo, which can be a little bit tricky. If you haven’t used it before, be ready to be confronted with an odd, thin dough that looks a lot like paper. It is thin, fragile, dries out quickly…then becomes more fragile. On the plus side, when ample butter is layered between the individual sheets, it forms a crust that is amazingly flaky, but tight enough to hold steam in while something inside it (seafood in this case) bakes. The number one thing to remember with phyllo is to cover the surplus with a damp towel after you pull a sheet over to where you are working. This will keep the remaining sheets moist and workable. Your life will be better and your food more attractive, having avoided ripping and mangling the dough. Also, apply the butter gently. The sheets will try to rip and move, so just take it slow.
Get your filling and the chopped fish together and set them aside. I usually roast my red bell pepper because I don’t like the canned variety. To do this, simply char your pepper under the broiler and then set it aside to cool under a bowl. When it is cooled, the skin will come right off, leaving the beautifully roasted flesh. Yum. The example to the right is one that I roasted on my grill. To the uninitiated, the level of carbonization may seem extreme, but trust me, it is just right. Probably could have even gone further.
To assemble this thing, place a layer of phyllo on a parchment covered baking sheet (yes, use parchment if you don’t want it to scorch). Brush butter all over the sheet and then dust it with bread crumbs. Continue in this manner until you get between 8 and 12 sheets down. Place the filling on one edge and stack up the seafood and peppers. When all of this is neatly stacked along one edge, evenly spread the feta crumbles and the lemon zest.
Just prior to rolling, the whole thing should look like the picture to the left. This next part, rolling this thing up, was a little nerve-wracking. Phyllo is not ideally workable and can disintegrate readily if abused, so be gentle, but not timid with this step. You want to create a tight roll without disrupting the outer layers of the dough though excessive handling. Just start fro the edge and tightly roll the filling out over the remaining dough. It helps to have an extra pair of hands for this step, but rest assured that it gets easier as you go. Dust some more bread crumbs over the finished roll and you should be ready to bake in your 400 degree F oven. The roll should be done after 30 to 35 minutes and will turn a beautiful golden brown. I was really pleased with how well the ingredients steamed within the phyllo.
Before you slice into this beauty and toss it on plates, it is a good idea to let it cool for about 10 minutes. This gives the filling time to set up and also time for you to walk around it and admire your work. This is a really attractive dish that would be great to serve a a small dinner party. Given the amount of butter in this thing, I would be shocked if anyone could finish more than 2 pieces. We cut ours into chunks that were about 3 to 4 inches in length. Although we ate ours with a side of Cheese and Andouille stuffed Poblano Peppers, I think that a Greek salad would compliment the relatively mild flavor of this tart very well. Pan-seared summer squash with garlic would also be great. Enjoy and keep in mind, not everything is supposed to be health food!
- ½ lb. firm white fish, such as cod
- ½ lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ¾ cup cooked white rice (basmati)
- ⅓ cup frozen peas
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. fresh tarragon, minced
- 1 Tbs. fresh dill, minced
- ½ tsp. black peppercorns, crushed
- ½ tsp. curry powder
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 1 small roast sweet red pepper, sliced into strips
- ½ cup feta, crumbled
- zest from ½ lemon
- 8 to 12 sheets phyllo dough
- 6 to 8 Tbs. butter, melted
- ½ to ¾ cup bread crumbs
- Heat over to 400 degrees F. Set sealed phyllo dough out and allow it to come to room temperature.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine peas, rices, herbs, salt, and lemon juice. Set aside. Cut fish into bite-sized chunks; set aside.
- Prepare a baking sheet by placing a layer of parchment paper on it. Place one sheet of phyllo on the baking sheet and brush it carefully with butter. When coated, dust sheet with bread crumbs. Continue adding sheets of phyllo in this manner until you have accumulated a stack of between 8 and 12 sheets. It is useful to cover the phyllo dough you have not yet used with a damp towel so that it does not dry out and become very fragile.
- Spread rice mixture along the long edge of the pyllo and form into an even mound. place fish chunks, shrimp, and roast red pepper on top to form an even mound. Spread feta crumbles on top and then distributed lemon zest over the closest ⅓ of the phyllo sheet.
- Starting at the filled edge, carefully begin rolling the ingredients in the phyllo dough. Try to form and even and tight roll. This works better with two people.Finish roll with seam side down on the parchment. Dust top of roll with bread crumbs.
- Bake on center rack for 30 to 35 minutes. Roll will turn golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool about 10 minutes prior to serving. Slice into 3 to 4 inch pieces with a very sharp knife and serve.