Bess Feigenbaum's Cabbage Soup
Nigel Slater's Chicken Curry

Maria Speck's Artichoke Tart with Polenta Crust


Thank you so much for all your cheers, congratulations and excitement! Sometime in the last few weeks, the little guy in my belly went from being a very abstract sort of thing to a real person who likes to wiggle around like clockwork at midnight (oh dear) and whose face I cannot wait to see. I was waiting for this to happen, for the pregnancy to morph from something I couldn't really wrap my head around to something that makes my heart leap. Now that that feeling is here, it's even better than I imagined. I'm so lucky that I get to share our happy news with all of you fantastic people. I'm so lucky, period.

A few months back, actually, more like last summer, when Max turned 35, we had a bunch of friends over for brunch before retiring to our local beer garden down the block and sitting outside under the leafy canopy while drinking beers until dinnertime. (If you are planning a trip to Berlin, ever, make it in summer. It's magic.) While we were still at home, Max made a big pitcher of Pimm's and I put out a coffee cake of some kind and frittata, too, if I remember correctly, but neither one was really more than picked at because I'd also made this artichoke tart with a polenta crust and it was inhaled in record speed. Gone in a flash. Zip, boom, bang.


I got the recipe from Maria Speck's fantastic book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, a pretty incredible collection of recipes featuring whole grains such as rye berries and cornmeal and rolled oats and wheat berries and spelt flour, not to mention amaranth, millet and quinoa. Just as with Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain, Maria's book is less focused on the health aspects of whole grains and more focused on the delicious flavor that these ingredients bring to the table (har). She uses cream and butter with aplomb and has a beautiful way with words - each of her headnotes makes me hungry all over again.

(Full disclosure: I learned about the book after meeting Maria at a conference a few years ago and later blurbed the book after I'd read the proofs, stomach a-growling.)

Raised in Germany with a Greek mother and a German father, Maria has fused the whole grains of her German childhood with the gutsy flavors of her Greek heritage into every recipe she put into the book (along with a wealth of knowledge on each whole grain she uses). This means you get things like farro cooked with cream and served with grapes roasted in honey for breakfast or bulgur cooked in Aleppo-pepper-spiced tomato sauce for dinner. There's Greek-style cornbread (layered with feta and thyme, served with salad for lunch, perhaps) and a brandy-soaked fruit bread made with rye flour, spices and nuts.


The artichoke tart is brilliant for the pastry-averse or just those looking for a more wholesome version of a quiche or vegetable tart. You make a pot of polenta, flavoring it with broth and cheese (an egg adds body) and then pat it out into a cake or tart pan. Then you defrost artichoke hearts (or open a can, which is what I did because I've yet to find frozen artichokes in Germany) and cut them into quarters, laying them down on the polenta base. On top goes crumbled goat cheese and then a scalliony-herby mixture of eggs and Greek yogurt and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. And that's it.

After 45 minutes in the oven, what emerges is bound to make everything else on your brunch table pale in comparison. It did on mine. What I like especially about it is that it's hearty and savory, full of wonderful flavors (the artichokes really do shine through, as does the rosemary and creamy-sourness of the yogurt and goat cheese), yet it still feels relatively light. A big wedge of this won't weigh you down the way a piece of quiche, full of cream and sporting a butter crust, would. Also, I like the fact that the polenta crust makes people first do a double-take and then ask for a second helping.

I would have given you a photo of a slice of the tart, too, just for some cross-section action, but, uh, it happened again this weekend - the tart was gone too fast for me to react (or eat a piece!). Next time, I thought, I'm making one all for myself.

Maria Speck's Artichoke Tart with Polenta Crust
Make one 10-inch tart
Recipe from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups polenta
1/2 cup (about 2.5 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring the broth and water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly, and continue whisking for 30 seconds. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every few minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Stir in the cheese, egg and pepper.

2. Grease a 10-inch tart pan or cake pan with olive oil. Have a glass of cold water ready. Spoon the polenta into the pan and press it out, pushing it up the sides. Dip a wooden spoon or your hands in the cold water to help the polenta along. Set aside for 15 minutes and then form an even rim about 3/4 of an inch thick with moist fingers, pressing firmly. Don't worry if the crust looks rustic.

3. Put a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 F.

Artichoke filling:
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces artichoke hearts, canned or frozen
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Whisk the yogurt, eggs, scallions, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper together until well-combined. Cut the artichoke hearts into quarters and distribute them evenly over the polenta crust. Sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the artichokes and pour the yogurt filling evenly over the artichokes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

2. Bake the tart until the top turns golden brown and the filling is set, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes, though 40 is better. The tart can be prepared up to one day ahead.