Given my sieve of a memory, there aren’t very many recipes I keep in my head. Tart crusts, though, are easy — and, if my memory fails, flexible.

For a 9-inch tart, use a cup of flour, a pinch of coarse salt, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, and 2 tablespoons ice water. If you need more moisture, add a little half-and-half, cream, or beaten egg yolk.

For a 10- to 12-inch tart, just up the ingredients to a cup and a half of flour, 6 tablespoons butter, and a tablespoon or two more liquid.

These quantities work for me because there’s not so much butter that I feel guilty making tarts frequently. But flexible recipe that this is, you could up the butter by as much as 4 tablespoons for a 9-inch tart — a cup of flour and a stick of butter may be easier to remember, if you too have mommy brain.

Put the flour and salt in a food processor and whiz briefly to blend. Cut the butter into pieces, add, and pulse the processor until butter is in very small pieces. Add the liquid and pulse until the mixture just comes together; I start with the water but usually end up adding a tablespoon or two of half-and-half (if you use all water, you get a tougher crust that’s more likely to shrink). Don’t use too much liquid; the dough shouldn’t be dry and crumbly, but the more liquid, the more your crust will shrink.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, roll thin with a lightly floured rolling pin, fold the dough gently in half, and transfer it to the tart pan. Tenderly fit it, without stretching, into the crease of the pan and press gently into the sides. Roll the rolling pin over the top to cut off the excess; use to patch any tears or gaps if needed.

Chill it for 15 minutes in the freezer, or, covered, for several days in the fridge, or, wrapped in a freezer bag, in the freezer for a month.

If even that seems like too much, you could simply press the dough into the tart pan, though you’ll probably get a thicker and somewhat tougher shell that way. Or just cut the rolled dough into small rounds and bake them as flat shells if you lack a tart pan.

Many tarts need shells that are at least partially baked. To do this, put the chilled tart shell (on a baking sheet, if you like, to make handling it easier) in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. I vastly prefer to line the shell with foil that hangs over the top and fill the foil with dried beans or pie weights, but you can always just prick the shell thoroughly (to prevent puffing) and bake it straight — just be prepared for the sides to slump a bit (less so if the crust was thoroughly chilled first).

If you want a crisp shell, take out the beans, prick the bottom with a fork to let out trapped air, and bake it for 5 to 10 minutes more, until the bottom is dry.
Truly simple — it took you longer to read those directions than it will to make one.
And then, what to fill the shell? There isn’t a single minute in the day that a tart can’t improve. Breakfast can be sweet or savory. My mother’s plum kuchen eases me into the day, while savory tartlets make a sophisticated brunch without requiring wide-open eyes; try browned sausage topped with eggs poached or scrambled with herbs, then piled into baked shells and topped with shaved cheese. Or spoon leftover rice pudding into tartlet shells for a rich breakfast, brunch or dessert.
Lunch and supper tarts can’t go wrong with filling ideas borrowed from sandwiches; almost any meat or vegetable and cheese combination tastes better in a tart. Try mushroom and tomato; ham and cheese (brie and proscuitto, or sprinkle a tart shell with crumbs of rye bread, then top with thinly sliced ham and grated Swiss mixed with a little Dijon); caramelized shallots, roasted red peppers and brie; sliced, sauteed mushrooms topped with a filling for stuffed mushrooms; asparagus and Swiss; brie, raspberries and caramelized pecans; or roasted mushrooms, feta, scallions and roasted pepper.
If you get scared about making up fillings and figuring out how to bake them, just fill a fully baked tart shell with cooked fillings or ones that don’t need cooking, such as cream cheese whipped with scallions and dill and topped with thin slices of smoked salmon or seafood salad. The filling may seem familiar, but the crust makes it special.
Ditto for dessert: With strawberry season coming, try lining a crust with cream cheese whipped with powdered sugar and lemon zest, then folded into unsweetened whipped cream. Top with sliced, sugared strawberries. Or lightly paint the bottom of a tart shell with chocolate melted with a little cream. Let it set, then fill with lime or orange-rosemary curd and top with dollops of whipped cream. For a touch of drama, try making black-and-white tartlets, topping baked shells with side-by-side white and dark chocolate mousses.
Despite my preference for baking sweets, I’ve had a strong hankering lately for tomato tarts. As soon as the days get over 70 degrees, I dread the looming heat of summer, but I do crave summer’s vegetables. A tomato tart can be nothing more than sliced tomatoes laid in a crust, dusted with fresh herbs and sprinkled with Parmesan. But the most recent ones I’ve made show the value of a bit more effort. First, inspired by a recipe in “Art of the Tart” by Tamasin Day-Lewis, I made a tart with a proscuitto puree under the tomatoes with a scent nearly as luscious as it tasted. On the down-home end, I made another tomato tart topped with a Cheddar-mayonnaise mixture that puffed slightly and melted to a sweet creaminess.
Tomato tarts ask just one thing of their makers: Please, give them a thoroughly crisp shell. I have tried to trust recipes that call for unbaked or only partially baked shells, and regretted it every time. Good tomatoes are juicy tomatoes, and juicy tomatoes make puff pastry or unbaked tart shells taste like a limp-fish handshake.

Cook’s notes: Once you’ve mastered a basic tart shell, try varying the ingredients a bit, substituting a bit of cornmeal or semolina for the flour to add crunch and flavor, or using cream cheese in place of some of the butter. For a truly crisp shell, remove the beans or pie weights from a partially baked shell, brush with a little beaten egg or egg white, then finish baking.

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