Roasted summer vegetables tucked into tartlets

These zucchini and tomato tartlets with a cheddar crust, which call for turning up the oven to roast the vegetables, are perfectly timed for autumn’s arrival. PHOTO: NYTIMES
The diced zucchinis and tomatoes are tossed with rosemary, salt, red pepper and olive oil. PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - A summer vegetable quandary: My favourite way to eat zucchinis, eggplants and peppers is to roast them until their sugars caramelise, their centres collapse and they turn floppy, rich and sweet. But my least favourite thing to do in summer is to crank up the oven to achieve this glorious state.

September's arrival, however, with its crisp afternoons and chilly evenings, means I can turn up the heat and never regret it.

My roasting method for these juicy vegetables has remained pretty constant over the years. I cube or slice them, then toss them with loads of olive oil and salt, and a few sprigs of whatever branchy herbs are nearby (rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, oregano, marjoram - you get the idea).

Then I roast everything at somewhere between 200 deg C and 230 deg C, depending on how fast and brown I want them. It is what happens after they come out of the oven that varies.

Often the answer is nothing. I will eat the contents of the pan without even bothering to put them on a plate. But on more ambitious days, I will mix the vegetables into a salad; drizzle them with yogurt herb sauce or tahini sauce; or nestle them under mozzarella, manchego or blue cheese on crostini. And they are absolutely wonderful tossed with pasta and anchovies or with polenta and Parmesan for a more filling meal.

Here, I have taken the vegetables even further, turning them into a filling for elegant individual tartlets.

You can use nearly any roasted vegetables for this, but I especially like the combination of zucchinis and tomatoes, which can be cooked together in the same pan. After roasting, I toss the vegetables with some hot honey for sweetness and spice, and vinegar for tang. Then I layer them with herbed ricotta in a cheddar-spiked pastry, each tart tucked into its own muffin cup, where it bakes up golden and very savoury.

You can make the filling and dough ahead if you like, but these tartlets are best served on the same day as baking, preferably while still warm from the oven when the ricotta is at its creamiest. And if you do choose to make this all in one day, roasting the vegetables and then baking the tarts does mean you will have your oven on for quite a while. But as jacket weather approaches, a warm, cosy kitchen is not a bad thing.

Zucchini and Tomato Tartlets With a Cheddar Crust

For the crust

1½ cups/170g all-purpose flour
½ cup/65g whole wheat flour
½ tsp fine sea salt
1½ sticks/12 Tbs/170g cold unsalted butter, cubed
¾ cup/55g sharp cheddar, grated
1 large egg, whisked

For the filling
3 medium zucchini, about 900g, trimmed and cut into 1.2cm cubes
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
2½ Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
¾ tsp fine sea salt, more as needed
⅛ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1½ Tbs hot honey, more for drizzling if you like. If you do not have hot honey, substitute regular honey mixed with a pinch or two of cayenne
1 Tbs tarragon vinegar or white wine vinegar
¾ cup fresh ricotta
1 large egg
3 Tbs chopped chives
small garlic clove, grated
⅛ tsp black pepper

For the topping
2 to 3 Tbs heavy cream or milk, for brushing the tops
6 Tbs finely grated cheddar

1. Prepare the crust: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flours and salt. Pulse in butter and cheddar until mixture resembles chickpeas. Drizzle in whisked egg and ice water 1 Tbs at a time, up to 6 Tbs, pulsing occasionally until mixture is just moist enough to hold together. Form dough
into a ball, wrap with plastic and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate at least two hours.
2. While dough chills, prepare the filling. Heat oven to 220 deg C. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss zucchinis and tomatoes with rosemary, salt, red pepper and olive oil; spread mixture out into one layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until vegetables are tender and golden, for 40 to 50 minutes. Stir honey and vinegar into the hot vegetables, then let cool completely.
3. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray or use a non-stick muffin pan. Roll out dough to a 30cm by 40cm rectangle, trimming any rough edges. Cut into a dozen 10cm by 10cm pieces and gently press each piece into the holes of the muffin tin, leaving the four corners hanging over the edges. Chill dough for at least another 15 minutes.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together ricotta, egg, chives and garlic. Season with a large pinch each of salt and black pepper.
5. Divide ricotta mixture into the bottom of each tart, using about 1 Tbs each. Top with the roasted vegetables. Fold edges of crust over filling. Brush tops of tarts with cream or milk and sprinkle with cheese. Place muffin tin on a baking sheet and bake at 220 deg C until bubbling and golden, for 20 to 25 minutes. Drizzle tarts with a little honey (about ½ tsp a tartlet) if you like. Cool slightly before serving.

Serves 12

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