I would, however, not serve this as a dessert. To me, the sweetness mixed with the slight bitterness of the witlof makes this unquestioningly savoury. I would serve it with a leafy green salad with a sharp mustard vinaigrette, maybe with some cornichons and a piece of soft goat’s cheese as a gorgeous lunch. It may look intimidating, but I promise it’s pretty easy. Bake this in a good cast-iron pan, something around 28 cm (11 in) in width. Look for witlof that is still pale yellow; exposure to light will turn witlof green and bitter. This is important to note when storing in your fridge too. Keep it wrapped in a brown paper bag so the light won’t affect it.
When presented with this idea, the ﬁrst question most people ask is, ‘Is it sweet?’ or ‘Is it savoury?’ and the answer is, it’s both.
- 1 quantity flaky dough (recipe here)
- 750 g (1 lb 11 oz) witlof (approx. 5 heads)
- 40 g (1½ oz) butter
- ½ tbsp olive oil
- 1 egg, beaten with a little water
- 35 g (1¼ oz) caster (superﬁne) sugar
- 40 g (1½ oz) butter
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
2. Trim the ends off your witlof and split them in half lengthways. Season the cut side with salt. Take a large frying pan and place it on the stove over a medium-high heat. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to work in two batches. Add the butter and oil and place the witlof in the pan, cut side down. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until caramelised, then ﬂip over and cook on the other side for another 3 minutes. Take the witlof out of the pan and place on a nearby plate.
3. Next, make the caramel. Place your cast-iron pan on the stove and add the sugar. Warm over a high heat to melt and caramelise the sugar, stirring occasionally only once the sugar starts to take on colour. It might be difficult to see the colour if your pan has a black base, but you can also tell by the smell – it’s ready when it smells toasted and caramelised. When the right colour is reached, turn the heat off and add the butter and the vinegar. Mix well. Be careful, as the caramel will want to bubble up.
4. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and place a baking stone inside.
5. Add the witlof, cut side up, to the cast-iron pan, working in concentric circles with the stem end facing out. Discard any of the witlof liquid that was released while resting. Squeeze all of the witlof in, even if it looks packed, as they will continue to shrink as they cook. Place the sheet of dough on top and carefully (the pan will still be hot) tuck the edges in around the inside of the pan. Feel free to make a nice edge, but don’t fret too much as you won’t see it.
6. Brush the top of the dough with the beaten egg.
7. Place the pan on the baking stone and bake for 40–50 minutes until the crust is deeply golden and you can see the caramel bubbling up the sides. When ﬁnished, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Place an inverted plate on the pan. Take the pan by the handle, holding the plate ﬁrmly against the pan with your other hand. Quickly and carefully ﬂip it over, then lift the pan off. Allow the tarte to rest and cool for 10 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve immediately.
Images and text from Always Add Lemon by Danielle Alvarez. Photography by Benito Martin. Hardie Grant RRP $50.00