Leek and caper tart
Au Hazard Balthazar, an austere, scathingly honest film, feels beautifully simple and full of meaning at the same time. Much has been written about the possible meanings of the film, and in particular about its function as a religious parable. In this light, it does seem packed with symbolism: Balthazar has seven owners who could represent the seven deadly sins, the seven stations of the cross; he endures great suffering and is called a saint; the film is bathed in images of wine and bread, and in beautiful shots of hands. And yet aside from all of this, beneath all of this, Au Hazard Balthazar is the life story of a donkey. The film begins with a ringing of bells, and Balthazar as a foal, suckling from his mother on a beautiful hillside on a beautiful day.
He’s given to some children as a pet, and they seem to love him. The next shot shows him many years later, as an adult, surrounded by a group of men who beat him brutally. And so the film goes, Balthazar passes from owner to owner, some are crueler and more abusive than others, but none of them are kind, none care about the donkey. The film is, in many ways, a study of human cruelty and indifference on every level. It’s a very depressing and pessimistic view of mankind. And yet there’s something transcendent and very nearly hopeful about the film–about the fact that somebody made an empathetic film about a donkey, about the chance to look at our world from a different perspective, and about the great beauty of the film itself. Ultimately, the bread and the wine don’t feel like religious imagery, to me, they feel very human, and they remind us that religion addresses our very human needs and frailties. And the beautiful disembodied shots of hands, which could be from paintings of saints, are living human hands, reaching to one another with kindness or cruelty or grace. At the end of the film, the wounded donkey is surrounded by sheep, they stream around him like a river, showing him the first real compassion and kindness that he’s experienced in the film. You feel such love for the donkey and for the sheep, who have found something that all the humans in the film have missed, when they clutter their lives with boredom and casual cruelty and self-imposed misery. I think as humans we tend to make everything hold meaning for us as humans, but what the sheep and the donkey know feels deeper than allegories and metaphors and stories humans need to tell ourselves, it feels fundamental and honest and beautiful, and the movie ends the way it began, with the ringing of warm bells.
I think my favorite thing we’ve gotten from the farm this summer is leeks. They’re supposed to be a peasant food, they’re supposed to be something that the characters in Au Hazard Balthazar might eat when they’re down on their luck. But they’re quite expensive around here! So it has been a treat to get thin, beautiful, sweet bundles of leeks from the farm. I decided to make a big flat tart with some of them…almost like a pizza with a pastry crust. I sauteed the leeks with thyme, capers and white wine, and then made a custard of eggs, milk, and two kinds of cheese. I suppose gruyere would be the ideal cheese to use here, but it’s beyond our budget at the moment, so I used a combination of sharp cheddar and mozzarella.
Here’s Ride Your Donkey by the Tennors.
2 cups flour
1 t salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 stick cold unsalted butter, frozen
In a large bowl combine the flour, pepper, and salt. Grate in the butter and then mix with forks or your fingers until you have a coarse and crumbly texture. Add just enough ice water to pull everything together into a workable dough. Knead for about a minute to be sure everything is incorporated, and then wrap in foil and chill for at least half an hour.
Lightly butter a large baking sheet with a rim. Roll the dough out to fit the sheet, and press it onto the sheet, building up the edges to make a sort of crust.
Preheat the oven to 425. Put the tart shell in the oven for about five minutes, just till it loses its shine and feels slightly firm to the touch.
Meanwhile, make the FILLING
1 T butter
2 t fresh thyme
4 small leeks, white parts mostly, cleaned and sliced in half lengthwise and then into 1/4 inch slices.
splash of white wine
2 t capers
1/3 cup milk
1 (+/-) cup grated mozzarella
1 (+/-) cup grated sharp cheddar
dash nutmeg & mustard powder
1/2 t salt
lots of black pepper
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the thyme, stir and cook for a half a minute, then add the leeks. Stir to coat, and cook until the leeks are soft and starting to brown, about five minutes. Add a splash of wine, scrape the bottom of the pan, and continue to cook until the wine is reduced. Set the leeks aside.
In a large bowl beat the eggs and milk with the cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg and mustard powder.
Spread the leek mixture into the pre-baked crust. pour the custard over, and then dot the top with cherry tomatoes.
Bake until puffed and golden, 20 – 30 minutes. Let cool slightly and then slice.