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Italian cuisine includes many different varieties of vegetables and they are cooked in every conceivable way.  Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are popular in southern Italy and cabbage, asparagus and potatoes are more popular in the north. Recipes for savory pies appear in the oldest Italian cookbooks, often with the popular ingredients of the day.

Vegetable pies are great to make for lunch and light dinners. They are also good for entertaining, either as an appetizer or as a lunch entrée with salads and other finger foods. These pies also make a perfect vegetarian main dish for a dinner party and the leftovers are terrific lunchbox fare, hot or cold.

These pies can also be economical because, you can use ingredients, you have on hand that you want to use before they spoil. These recipes are easy to make and can be even easier if you make the pastry in advance and keep several in the freezer for when you need them .

I like to keep these recipes healthy by using whole wheat flour and olive oil in the pastry dough and lower calorie ingredients in the tart fillings.

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Whole Wheat Tart Pastry

Yeasted crusts are more rustic than buttery short crusts. They’re also easier to manipulate — they don’t crack or tear. Remember to roll this out thinly, so that it doesn’t become too bready.

Makes two 10-inch tarts.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached flour (more as needed)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water, add the sugar and allow to sit until the mixture is creamy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and the olive oil. Combine the flours and salt and stir into the yeast mixture.

You can use a bowl and wooden spoon for this, or a processor or a mixer by combining the ingredients using the paddle attachment. Work the dough until it comes together, adding flour as necessary. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for a few minutes or use the mixer’s dough hook, adding flour as necessary, just until the dough is smooth — do not overwork it. Shape into a ball.

Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in size, about one hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently knead a couple of times and cut into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball without kneading it. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for five minutes. Then roll out into a thin round to fit a 10 inch pan, as directed in each recipe.

You can make the dough a day ahead and refrigerate it. If not using right away, freeze the dough to prevent it from rising and becoming too bready. The dough will keep for a month in the freezer, if it’s well wrapped.

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Spinach and Onion Tart

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 whole wheat tart pastry (1/2 recipe), recipe above
  • 1 ½ pounds fresh spinach, stems removed or 3/4 pound baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup low-fat milk
  • 2 ounces Italian Fontina cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
  • 1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan (1/4 cup)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan and line it with the pastry. Keep it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until it is tender and beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Add the spinach, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Stir together just until spinach begins to wilt. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and whisk in the milk. Stir in the onion and spinach mixture and the cheeses. Pour into the pastry-lined tart pan and place the tart pan on a baking sheet.

Place in the oven and bake 40 to 45 minutes, until the tart is set and beginning to color on the top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make Ahead: You can make the filling through Step 3 a day ahead and the crust can be made weeks ahead and frozen.

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Zucchini and Feta Tart

Ingredients

  • 1/2 of the recipe for the whole wheat tart pastry, recipe above
  • 2 ½ pounds zucchini, ends trimmed
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dill
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint or parsley
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan and line it with the pastry. Keep it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Grate the zucchini using a food processor or a hand grater. Place in a large colander, salt generously and let drain for 1 hour, pressing down on it occasionally to squeeze out the liquid. After an hour, take up handfuls and squeeze out moisture (or wrap in a kitchen towel and twist the towel to squeeze out the moisture). Place in a bowl.

Heat oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes; then add the garlic. Cook, stirring, for one minute. Transfer to the bowl with the zucchini. Stir in the herbs, feta, eggs and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the pastry-lined tart pan and place the tart pan on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake 40 to 45 minutes, until the tart is set and beginning to color on the top.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Cabbage and Caramelized Onion Tart

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, cut in half root to stem, then thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small cabbage, shredded or chopped (about 6 cups)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 eggs
  • ¾ cup low-fat milk
  • ½ cup, tightly packed (2 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 whole wheat tart pastry (1/2 recipe), recipe above

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they begin to sizzle and soften, about three minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt and the garlic. Stir everything together, turn the heat to low, cover and cook slowly for 45 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are very soft, sweet and light brown. Remove to a bowl and cover.

Heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat in the skillet. Add the cabbage. Cook, stirring often, until it begins to wilt, then add salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until the cabbage is tender. Stir in the onions, simmer together uncovered for about five minutes or until there is no longer any liquid in the pan and remove the pan from the heat.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan and line with the dough.

Beat the eggs and milk in a bowl and season with salt (about 1/2 teaspoon) and pepper to taste. Stir in the onions, cabbage and cheese. Combine well. Pour into the tart pan and place the tar pan on a baking sheet. Bake 40 to 45 minutes until the top is lightly browned.

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Mushroom Tart

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the crust
  • 2 shallots or 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 oz white or cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 8 oz shiitake or wild mushrooms, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • Salt 
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 whole wheat tart pastry (1/2 recipe), recipe above
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup low-fat milk
  • 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
  • 1 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup)

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a 9- or 10-inch tart pan with the dough. Using a fork, pierce at regular intervals to allow for even baking. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to prebake and fill. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet to allow for easy handling. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the bottom of the crust with olive oil and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside on the baking sheet.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet or a wide saucepan and add the shallots or onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir together for about 30 seconds. Add the fresh mushrooms, rosemary and thyme and turn up the heat, slightly. Cook until the mushrooms begin to sweat, then add a generous pinch of salt. Stir for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat as the mushrooms continue to soften. Continue to cook until the liquid evaporates. Remove from the heat, stir in freshly ground pepper to taste and the parsley.

Beat together the eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk the milk into the eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the mushrooms and cheeses. Mix together well and pour into the crust.

Place in the oven and bake 35 to 45 minutes, until set and lightly browned.

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