Chili-Grilled Eggplant and Roasted Pepper Tartlets in Poppy Seed Shells

I've been somewhat reticent about posting these all week, because sadly, I did not taste them. Dan and I made them last Friday night for the photography workshop I took on Saturday that I wrote about a couple of days ago. Yes. We drove with these babies on the freeway for many miles. I had the ricotta and the eggplant and pepper fillings in separate containers in a cooler and assembled the tartlets in the car. While it was raining. Thank you very much.

What I can attest to is that the fillings were really delicious. I've already written about the eggplant and pepper one, and have been enjoying it on crackers all week. Now here's the thing. We made four. Three in metal tart molds, and one in a creme brulee ramekin. The recipe called for rolling the dough to 1/4" thick, but Dan thought that was too much and I trust him completely. He happens to be a very skilled roller. So he rolled it out to 1/8" for the three, and 1/4" for the fourth tart. The fourth tart was assembled at home and left in the fridge and the other three went to Woodland Hills with us. It broke my heart to throw the three tarts away, but with a cheese filling - it had to be done. They had behaved as beautiful and mannerly subjects for the workshop and had made me proud. When I tried the fourth tart from the fridge, my heart sank as I winced through a mouth full of dough. Dan was right. 1/4" was WAY too thick. The poppy seeds and thickness of the dough overwhelmed the other flavors and the result was complete and total disappointment. But I have to wonder how the 1/8" would have tasted.

In any case, reticence is not my strong point, and these were so gorgeous, that I had to post them. If you decide to make them, do let me know what you think. And as a side note, the ricotta filling was so good. For something a little different, it would be great as a substitute for just about any recipe that calls for ricotta - lasagna, ravioli, etc.

                    6 tablespoons poppy seeds
                    1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
                    1/2 teaspoon salt
                    6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
                    1 egg
                    2 teaspoons cold water
                    1 recipe Ricotta Filling and dip
                    1 recipe Chili-Grilled Eggplant and Sweet Roasted Peppers

Preheat the oven to 350. Put the 4-inch tartlet pans on a baking sheet. Combine the poppy seeds, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse bread crumbs; this can also be done by pulsing ingredients in a food processor. Stir in the egg and cold water. Put the dough onto a lighlty floured work surface, knead it a couple of times, then form it into a flat disc.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Roll one piece of the dough out with a rolling pin to about 1/8" thick. Cut the dough to fit 2 of the tartlet pans. Gently press the dough into each pan and trim the pastry flush  with the pans to create a neat appearance. Roll the other half of the dough and line the remaining tartlet pans. Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake until light brown, 12-15 minutes. Put the tartlets on a cooling rack and let cool before removing the baked crusts from each pan.

Put each tartlet shell on an individual serving plate. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the Ricotta Filling into the center of each shell. Top with 1/3 cup of Chili-Grilled Eggplant and Sweet Roasted Peppers, mounding it slightly. Garnish with balsamic julienned roasted peppers. Serve the tartlets at room temperature, or, if desired, carefully place them on a baking sheet for warming. Heat in a 350 oven for 10 minutes.

For the Ricotta Filling:

                    1 cup part-skin Ricotta cheese
                    2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
                    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
                    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsely
                    2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
                    1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
                    1 tablespoon whole milk
Put all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir well to combine.

For the Chili-Grilled Eggplant and Sweet Roasted Peppers:

                    1 lb. eggplant
                    1/4 cup chili oil
                    1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil
                    1/2 tsp. ground cumin
                    1 medium red bell pepper
                    1 medium yellow bell pepper
                    1 small clove garlic
                    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat the grill to medium. Slice the eggplant into 1/4-inch-thick slices and put the slices on a baking sheet. Stir the chili oil and the 1/4 cup olive oil together in a small bowl. Lightly brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the oil mixture and dust with a little ground cumin and salt.

Place the eggplant and peppers on the grill. Roast the eggplant until soft and well marked by the grill, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the grill to cool. Roast the peppers until black on all sides, 10-12 minutes. Remove from the grill and let cool. Peel the black skin off the peppers and then stem, derib, and take out the seeds. Put the eggplant slices, the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil, half of each of the roasted peppers, garlic, and a little salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chunky, 5-10 seconds. Remove from the bowl and season with more salt if desired.

Cut the remaining roasted peppers into julienne strips and toss with the balsamic vinegar. Garnish the eggplant mixture with the julienned balsamic peppers. Store in the refrigerator covered for up to one week.

Makes four tartlets.

Adapted from Mary Cech, Savory Baking.

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