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Fennel Sausage and Egg Tartlets

Delicate pastry shells filled with sausage and eggs make an elegant first course for a formal brunch. The pastry can be prepared in stages over three days: Make the dough one day, roll it out and line the pans the next day, and bake the third day. Other favorite sausages can be substituted for the fennel sausages.

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 Tbs. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

For the filling:

  • 1/2 lb. fennel sausages, casing removed and meat crumbled
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions:

To make the pastry by hand, in a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture. Using a fork, toss to coat with the flour. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Drizzle with the egg and toss with the fork until the dough is evenly moist and begins to come together in a smooth mass.

To make the pastry with a food processor, combine the flour and salt in the processor, and pulse 2 or 3 times to mix. Add the butter pieces and process until the mixture resembles coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add the egg and process just until the dough gathers into a ball around the blades, about 15 seconds.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a disk. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each piece into a 5-inch round. Line four 4 1/2-inch tartlet pans with the dough. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Preheat an oven to 375°F.

Line each chilled tartlet with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans, uncooked rice, or ceramic or metal pie weights. Bake until the pastry begins to turn light brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the weights and foil. Return the tartlets to the oven and bake until the pastry is dried out and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the filling: In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, cook the sausage meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until no trace of pink remains, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Scatter one-fourth of the sausage over the bottom of each tartlet, then top each with 1 egg. To prevent the egg yolks from breaking, crack each egg into a saucer, then slide it onto the sausage in each tartlet. Season with salt and pepper. Bake until the pastry is golden brown and the eggs are set, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese and parsley, dividing evenly. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Breakfast and Brunch, by Georgeanne Brennan, Elinor Klivans, Jordan Mackay and Charles Pierce (Oxmoor House, 2007).