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A QUICK LEMON TART FROM ITALY

Quick Lemon Tart

One of my favourite books in the last few years has been Helena Attlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow. It is a happy mix of food, history, art and Italy thus covering many of my interests; it is also beautifully written and so withstands many readings without becoming tedious. 

The book traces the development of the growing of citrus fruits throughout the Italian peninsular and specifically the lemons for which Italy is justifiably famous. In the UK, the vast majority of our lemons are imported from Spain and whilst they are reliable workhorses in the kitchen (or in the gin), for me they lack the added dimension of fragrance and flavour that some with Italian lemons, specifically those from the area around Sorrento or from Sicily. 

Unfortunately for we cooks, Spanish lemons tend to be at a more economical price point and I use them for the majority of food where lemon is a supporting act, rather than the star of the show. Where a dish has lemon as the main act, I do try to find and use Sorrentine or Sicilian lemons, especially if I am using the zest. This part of the lemon is where I feel the main advantage lies in Italian lemons; there is something deeply aromatic and almost woody in the zest that out-performs the Spanish cousins. A further advantage is that tend to be somewhat larger so do go further.

I have a vast repertoire of lemon dishes (although I cannot abide lemon meringue pie!) and have been in pursuit of the perfect lemon tart for many years. Mercifully, the wonderful Felicity Cloake has now written up the perfect tarte au citron in her fab book Perfect Two. It is however, not a recipe to be hurried or done in a spare half hour, as the author herself says, so much I love this recipe and commend it wholeheartedly, I have also been searching for a quicker, more “do-able” tart and this is it. It is a variation on a torta al limone as found in the iconic Italian cookery book, The Silver Spoon. Now I love this book, despite it being roughly the size and weight of two house bricks, but it does have shortcomings. It makes no concessions to one’s experience (or lack of) and thus assumes you know how to undertake certain cooking processes and can tell when something is done. The prime example of this assumption is that it never specifies what size cake, tart or flan to to use. In other words, you will have learned all the basics from your mother and/or grandmother and this is just to provide you with ingredients and (approximate) cooking times!

I have to admit that I got this recipe wrong a couple of times but I’d like to think that I’ve ironed out all the wrinkles and have also added additional information that might be helpful. It has a simplicity that showcases Sorrentine or Sicilian lemons to perfection and I like to serve it with creme frâiche or home made (or very high quality bought) vanilla ice cream.

If you don’t feel like making pastry but quite fancy making the tart, do feel free to use an all-butter bought pastry but in this case, I would blind bake it first (see recipe)

A Quick Lemon Tart

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 30 minutes cooking

Ingredients

  • Pastry (as per my Rhubarb Almond Tart)
  • 250g plain flour or Italian Tipo 00
  • 125g unsalted butter, very cold from the fridge and cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium free range egg, lightly beaten
  • 100g icing sugar
  • tiny pinch of sea salt
  • Filling
  • 3 medium free range eggs
  • 140g caster sugar
  • finely grated zest of two unwaxed Sorrentine or Sicilian lemons
  • juice of one Italian lemon
  • 150g softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • A well buttered 21cm loose bottomed flan tin. I have neither the inclination nor space to collect flan tins in every possible size, so I use a loose bottomed sandwich tin for this; no fluted edge but I can live with that. Happily, both are about 3cms deep.

Instructions

1

Pre-heat the oven to 160C fan

2

To make the pastry, place the flour and butter in a food processor and whizz until fine breadcrumb stage

3

Add the sugar, mix briefly and add the egg and salt

4

Whizz until a soft dough is achieved; tip out of the processor and form into a flattened ball, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes

5

When time is up, roll out to fit the flan tin and press the dough gently into the tin

6

Unusually for flans, this recipe doesn’t require baking blind first but somehow (miraculously!) avoids a soggy bottom, at least in a fan oven

7

If you are using bought pastry, increase the oven to 170C, prick the base of the pastry lightly with a fork, line with baking parchment and baking beans; put in the oven for 20 minutes, remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for another 5 minutes

8

After removing the case from the oven, reduce the heat to 160C

9

Beat the eggs with the caster sugar in a large bowl until the mixture becomes creamy with a small amount of foam on top

10

Stir in the lemon zest and juice and then stir in the butter, mixing well

11

Pay attention at this point as if you over mix, the mixture can curdle, which doesn’t affect the flavour but will affect the texture; it’s probably safer to mix by hand at this point rather than use a mechanical mixer

12

Pour the mixture into the pastry case and bake for about 30 minutes until golden and firm to the touch

13

Cool in the tin then dust with icing sugar, remove from the tin and serve with creme frâiche or ice cream

Notes

This looks very pretty topped with raspberries or halved strawberries, too. I have also tried this as a blood orange tart with some success (but I do love lemon!) in which case I like to sprinkle with cocoa powder, as indeed I did for the lemon tart in the photo

 

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Spring/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

A SPRING RECIPE FOR PORK

Pork chops with apple and creme frâiche

As you know I am someone who tries to eat seasonally and reasonably locally, although I am not going to apologise for buying avocados or olive oil. Traditionally, pork has not been much of a spring meat, which I think is a shame as while the weather remains unpredictable during March and April, I think free range organic pork is a splendid choice.

Our local butcher recently had beautiful pork chops, with a fair layer of flavour – adding fat so I snaffled a couple. Once home, however, I then had the “what do I do with them” problem. Pork chops have flavour at the more delicate end of the range and frankly, can also be dry, if not cooked carefully. For that reason, I am not a fan of the plain grilled pork chop, so I consulted better cooks than I to decide how to get the best from them.

I have a quite a fair size cookery book collection which is something of a double edged sword when it comes to consulting them, as it can take so long to look through them. There is also the serious risk of becoming completely engrossed in a book I haven’t opened for a while and losing sight of my original need to look in the book in the first place! Anyway, my fingers hovered around Richard Olney’s three books that I have in the collection and I realised that I really haven’t paid him as much attention recently as I should have done.

For those of you who don’t know him, please may I take a moment to commend his writing to you, especially if you are partial to good wine, or at least reading about it. He was an American who, like many before him, fell in love with France and its attitude to food and wine. He lived in Paris during the 50s and 60s and writes evocatively about the arts scene of the time. He eventually settled permanently in Provence where he wrote most of his books. My favourite is “Reflexions” in which he is deliciously gossipy about many food names from the second half of the twentieth century. I no longer feel quite the same about Julia Childs but did have my view of Elizabeth David positively reinforced.

I found the inspiration I was looking for in Mr Olney’s “Simple French Food” and whilst I didn’t follow the recipe to the letter, I did like the method and most of all, the outcome. This is my take on the Olney recipe and I am very grateful for everything I have learned from reading his books.

PORK CHOPS WITH APPLE AND MUSTARD CREAM

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 Cooking Time: 45 inc prep

Ingredients

  • 500g eating apples, preferably with a bit of tartness to them and a crisp texture
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 2 free range organic pork chops, skin removed if present
  • sea salt
  • 150ml dry white wine (I used a Gavi of which I doubt Mr Olney would approve as he didn’t seem to be a fan of Italian wine)
  • 4tbsp creme frâiche
  • 4tbsp Dijon mustard
  • black pepper
  • A well buttered gratin dish or other shallow oven proof dish, into which the chops will fit without overcrowding or distortion

Instructions

1

Take the chops out of the fridge about half an hour before you start cooking

2

Pre heat the oven to 180C fan

3

Peel, core and quarter the apples, slicing the resulting pieces into thin slices and lay them in the dish, turning them over so they acquire some of the butter clinging to the dish

4

Place the dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes

5

While that’s going on, over a medium heat melt the tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan and brown the chops, about 7 - 8 minutes per side

6

Remove the apple from the oven (leave the oven on) and put the chops on top, leaving the sauté pan on a low heat

7

Add the wine to the pan, scraping any meaty scraps from the base and sides of the pan

8

Turn up the heat a little so that the wine bubbles enthusiastically and reduce it by about half

9

Turn down the heat to low and add the creme frâiche, stirring it all in

10

Add the mustard, tasting you go to your satisfaction; you may like more or less than the amount I’ve suggested

11

Season with salt and pepper and pour the sauce over the chops and apples

12

Give the dish a good shake to ensure the sauce penetrates down to the apple

13

Return the dish to the oven and leave it there, unmolested for 15 minutes; if you have particularly thick chops, you may need a few minutes more

Notes

It’s very easy to multiply this up to feed more than two people and is equally good with wholegrain mustard. I have also tried adding a small amount of chopped sage or thyme, but decided I preferred the simplicity of the basic recipe. I like to serve this with brown rice and a green vegetable, or good bread and a green salad. Drink the wine you’ve got left from making this dish!

Courses/ Desserts & Savouries/ Spring/ Summer/ Uncategorized

RHUBARB AND ALMOND TART – WITH ADDED GIN!

Rhubarb and Almond tart with Rhubarb and Gin Sauce

The end of winter is marked for me by the appearance of two fruits – rhubarb and blood oranges. Recently, winter seems not to have taken the hint and has been hanging around beyond the forced rhubarb season. This tart however, is delicious whatever the weather. And yes, I know that rhubarb is botanically not a fruit, but I would hope you agree that in the kitchen, it tends to be used as if it were. When the first forced rhubarb appears, delicate and elusively fragrant, I like to do as little as possible to it. I poach it gently with the juice of a blood orange and a tablespoon of honey. It is my absolutely favourite breakfast with a good yogurt, the zest of the orange and walnuts. And in a Moka full of Illy coffee and I can face whatever the day decides to lob at me.

Once the forced rhubarb is over and we have the sturdy maincrop stalks, I do like to experiment rather more. Although I have to say that for me, baked mackerel with rhubarb sauce was an experiment too far. More perhaps, I have to say, because I really can’t cope with mackerel and should not have tried (yet again) to get past my dislike. In my defence, at least I do regularly revisit my few dislikes to see if I’ve changed my mind. Still hate sweetcorn, though, in any and all of its manifestations.

A much more successful experiment was when I pottered about with almonds, which I think complement so many fruits, and arrived at this tart. It is an absolute breeze to make and works warm or cold as a dessert and has been consumed here with yogurt for breakfast. No, I am not saying who did that…

Don’t feel you have to make the pastry yourself here; there are excellent ready made, all-butter pastries on the market and resist those people who think using ready made is the eighth sin. I do not, regrettably have my late mother’s gift as a pastry cook and if it weren’t for my Magimix, I would never willingly make pastry. For sweet dishes I now use exclusively the Italian method of Pasta Frotta and so far, it hasn’t let me down; however, feel free to use your favourite sweet pastry recipe here. Should pastry making not be your thing, and if you have access to the French brand “Marie” (available on Ocado) then use that without a second thought.

RHUBARB AND ALMOND TART WITH GIN POACHED RHUBARB SAUCE

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 1.5 hours

Ingredients

  • Pastry
  • 250g plain flour or Italian Tipo 00
  • 125g unsalted butter, very cold from the fridge and cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium free range egg, lightly beaten
  • 100g icing sugar
  • finely grated zest of half an unwaxed lemon
  • tiny pinch of sea salt
  • Filling
  • 125g softened unsalted butter, plus extra to grease the tin
  • 125g golden caster sugar plus 2 tbsp
  • 1 medium free range egg
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (optional)
  • 250g rhubarb, cut into 3cm chunks
  • Poached Rhubarb
  • 150g rhubarb, cut into 1cm chunks
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar (or more if you prefer)
  • 2 tbsp gin
  • A buttered 23cm loose bottom flan tin
  • Baking parchment
  • Baking beans

Instructions

1

Set the oven to 170C fan

2

To make the pastry, place the flour and butter in a food processor and whizz until fine breadcrumb stage

3

Add the sugar, mix briefly and add the egg, salt and lemon zest

4

Whizz until a soft dough is achieved; tip out of the processor and form into a flattened ball, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes

5

When time is up, roll out to fit the flan tin and press the dough gently into the tin

6

Prick the base with a fork, line with baking parchment then tip the baking beans on top

7

Put in the oven for 20 minutes, after which remove the paper and cook for another 5 minutes until the tart shell is crisp and golden

8

It’s really important to get the shell crisp as otherwise the moist almond mixture will result in the dreaded “soggy bottom”

9

While the shell is baking, prepare the almond filling

10

Beat the softened butter and golden caster sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg

11

Fold in the ground almonds and ginger

12

When the shell is ready, spread the almond mixture and press the rhubarb pieces into the mixture in a cartwheel pattern, or whatever pleases you

13

Sprinkle over the 2 tbsp of sugar

14

Put the tart in the oven and bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the tart is golden and puffy

15

Now make the poached rhubarb:

16

Put the second lot of rhubarb in a saucepan with a good heat conducting base, add the sugar and the gin

17

Heat until bubbling and then simmer gently until the rhubarb disintegrates - this doesn’t take long so don’t wander off and start the ironing

18

Bubble more fiercely until reduced by about one third

19

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly

20

If you want the final dish to be more refined, you can at this point, press the mixture through a sieve; I was a bit up against the clock when I made the tart pictured so this sauce isn’t sieved

21

Serve slices with either ice cream or creme frâiche and then drizzle over the gin sauce

Notes

You can change this round a bit too, by putting orange zest in the pastry and orange juice in the sauce - or Grand Marnier, perhaps. The tart can be re-heated and also freezes well for up to about a month.

 

Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

A WINTER CARB FEST

Winter carb fest - gattò di patate

There is something about the cold winter months that makes carbohydrates much more attractive during that time. I do try to limit them as there is no doubt that for me, too many induce lethargy. Add to that limited sunlight, cold wet weather and a warm snuggly bed and I have a recipe for staying too long in bed, weight gain and low mood. It makes perfect sense then for me to conserve my carbs for those I really love, usually rice or good pasta. Yes, I love bread but trial and error has proven to me that too much really does not agree with me; one or two slices per day of good sourdough is my limit.

With an Irish surname like mine, you’d think I’d love a potato but actually I can take them or leave them. Cue grandfather spinning in grave…

Recently however, I have been using potato a whole lot more and it’s all the fault of Angela Clutton and Borough Market Cook Book Club. Our January event was an homage to the late, great Antonio Carluccio and I was a bit slow off the mark bidding to make his Caponata, which I love. I therefore chose something that is also a family recipe, which in itself is a bit of a mystery and I’ll come to that later.

Having had Caponata nabbed from under my nose (you know who you are), I went for Gattò di Patate, which has nothing to do with cats (spot the accent!) and everything to do with a wonderful combination of potatoes, cheese, egg and cured meat. I ask, you in this weather, could you imagine anything more wonderful and tempting?

Gattò in this context is a corruption of gâteau and dates back to when Naples was a Napoleonic possession (although because this is Italy, there are other opinions!) and that is where the family mystery comes in. As you know, we are an Anglo Italian household and everyone on the Italian side comes from either Carrara in Tuscany, or Borgo val di Taro in Emilia Romagna, so how a Neapolitan recipe comes to be in the family repertoire is a complete mystery. Perhaps someone visited Naples and fell for this complete carb fest and brought the recipe back north. In truth I’ve avoided making it until now, not being much of a potato lover, despite plaintive hints from Edoardo from time to time.

Now, however, its time had come. Comparing the Carluccio recipe with the family one revealed some interesting differences (again, perfectly normal in Italy) but I played by the rules for the Cook Book Club and made the recipe in the Carluccio Collection. That version mixes the meat and cheese components throughout the dish and it was tasty but now having made the family version, to me that is the more delectable version, and is the one I’ve described below.

You’ll see that I have listed specific cured meat here but in truth, the meat component can be leftovers or good bacon, anything that will cut into nice little matchsticks. If you are buying something specifically for this dish, don’t buy anything that will disintegrate under the cooking conditions, for example thinly sliced Mortadella will disintegrate (although if you buy a chunk of it and cube it, that will be OK).

The potatoes are important – they must be a floury variety so for example Alouette, Maris Piper, Desirée or even good old King Edward. The cheese (apart from the Parmesan) must be a type that melts easily such as Taleggio, Provolone, Scamorza, Mozzarella or Fontal. In the picture I have used Montasio which is a DOP cow’s milk cheese from Friuli and the Veneto but I accept this can be tricky to get hold of in the UK.

This is quite a rustic carb fest and although it is frequently served as an accompaniment with a roast meat or fish, we have enjoyed it most as a supper dish in its own right with a clean, fresh green salad (my favourite here is Little Gem, rocket and fennel in a sharp lemony dressing).

Do try it now, before spring arrives and this will be too carby – it has converted me to the humble spud!

GATTÒ DI PATATE

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 - 6 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1kg floury potatoes, scrubbed but left whole
  • 50g unsalted butter plus extra for greasing
  • 6 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • 4 medium eggs, beaten
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 75g grated Parmesan, Gran Padano or Pecorino Sardo
  • 150g cured meat eg salami, speck, prosciutto or mortadella (buy in a piece and cut into slim pieces, like slightly thicker matchsticks; if you use speck, I like to lightly fry it first)
  • 150g cheese that melts well, eg Taleggio, Provolone, Scamoza, Mozzarella, Fontal, Montasio, sliced
  • olive oil or butter to finish
  • sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • a 25cm springform cake tin or ovenproof dish, well buttered and coated with about 4tbsp of the breadcrumbs

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 180C fanBoil the potatoes in their skins until soft when pierced with a skewer

2

Drain and allow to cool and dry off

3

Peel and then mash or use a ricer to produce a dry potato powder (I have seen a recipe that says sieve it but honestly, life is too short)

4

Add 50g butter and mix in well to achieve a smooth potato mash

5

Add the meat, parsley, 50g of the Parmesan or other grated cheese and then the eggs

6

Mix well until smooth and spread half on the base of the tin or dish

7

Layer the sliced cheese over the potato, cutting up the cheese to ensure every bit of the potato is covered with cheese

8

Cover with the other half of the potato mix and press down quite firmly

9

Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese and breadcrumbs and either drizzle with a little olive oil or dot with butter

10

Place in the centre of the oven for about 30 minutes until golden brown; if it hasn’t taken colour by 25 minutes, ramp it up 10 degrees for the last five minutes

11

Serve warm or cold with a refreshing green salad with a lemony dressing

Notes

If you’ve used a springform tin, it looks good turned out onto a pretty plate to serve I have also then used a small biscuit cutter to create bite sized pieces to use as stuzzichini, perhaps topped with a parsley leaf

 

 

Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

A DISRUPTIVE VEGETABLE

I’d been thinking for a while that I might have got into a bit of rut with my cooking, so while preparing my farmdrop.com order, I decided to disrupt my vegetables choices and opt instead for a veg bag from lovely Purton House organics. My thinking was that if I’m faced with a bag full of fab veg, I will be forced (or do I mean encouraged?) into new thinking and approaches.

Anyway, this week the bag contained Jerusalem artichokes, which I have always loved when I’ve eaten in Italy or France, but never cooked in the UK. The first idea that came into my mind was soup; I love the whole process of soup making, there is something very reassuring and comforting about both making and eating it. I know, that doesn’t push me very far outside my cooking comfort zone but we are having a cold snap here in London, so soup is just the ticket.

You probably know that Jerusalem artichokes have absolutely nothing to do with Jerusalem, the word being a corruption of the Italian for sunflower: girasole. The two plants are related, both being of the genus helianthus. The artichokes can romp away up to 3m high if left unchecked and do look pretty if a bit straggly, when growing. The tubers do look somewhat unpromising and learn from my experience: try to get the least knobbly ones, otherwise after peeling them, you can be left with precious little to use.

It is thought that the plant originally came from North America via the French explorer Samuel de Champlain (he who founded Quebec and charted the first maps of the Canadian east coast). The plant was first cultivate though, by the Dutch botanist Petrus Handius in the seventeenth century. They proliferated across Europe to the point that in 1629, the British botanist John Parkinson declared them to be so common and cheap “that even the most vulgar begin to despise them”.

Delicious though they are, they do have an unfortunate reputation for disrupting the digestive system although I think Gerard’s Herbal of 1621 was a tad extreme in saying “which way so ever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy, loathsome, stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and a meat more fit for swine than men”.

Personally I’ve never found this to be the case but perhaps that is because our diet is already quite rich in beans, pulses and vegetables. I also find that pairing the artichokes with a full fat dairy product (butter, cream, cheese or yogurt) minimises the disruptive effect.

If I haven’t completely put you off trying these, bear in mind they are a rich source of potassium and iron and also contain useful quantities of niacin, thiamine, phosphorous and copper so give this delicious soup a go and be generous with finishing it with cream or creme frâiche!

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE SOUP

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 Cooking Time: 30 - 40 mins

Ingredients

  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (doesn’t need to be virgin but should have a mild flavour)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped (make sure you run a potato peeler down the stalks if they are “mature”, to rid them of those pesky strings)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 250 - 300g unpeeled weight Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and diced
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 1 litre hot vegetable stock ( a low salt powder or cube is fine)
  • 250 ml cold whole organic milk (don’t even think of doing this with skimmed milk)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

1

Take a heavy bottomed pan and melt the butter over a low to medium heat then add the oil to minimise the risk of the butter burning

2

When the butter is foaming but not coloured, add the onion and celery and soften them for five minutes or so

3

Do not allow this soup to colour at any stage as it will spoil the creamy white purity of the end product

4

Add the potato and Jerusalem artichoke and cook for another five minutes

5

Strip the leaves off the thyme sprigs and add to the mixture in the pan

6

Add the hot stock, followed by the milk

7

Stir well and leave to simmer gently for 30 - 40 minutes; keep a sharp eye on proceedings as you don’t want any colour, or for the milk to cause a boil over

8

When the artichoke and potato are easily crushed against the side of the pan, switch off the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly

9

Use a stick blender to create a smooth creamy soup, season and serve in warm bowls

Notes

Finish with cream or creme frâiche and chopped parsley to create a colour contrast In the picture I have finished with three rehydrated dried Morels, fresh double cream and a drizzle of truffle oil. Pink peppercorns make a pretty contrast, perhaps with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt.

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A HANDY TART FOR THE SUMMER…WHAT SUMMER?

Onion and Thyme tart

In this less than summery weather we are having, I always think things like quiches and tarts are useful to have in your repertoire. If it’s cold and grey (as per London as I write this) they can be eaten with new potatoes and a vegetable and if (by some miracle), we have sun and warmth, you can make them early in the day while it’s cool and eat them at room temperature with salad. I was extolling their virtues amongst a group of friends recently and I was a bit taken aback when one said, somewhat accusingly, “well I suppose you’re bl**** WonderWoman and always make your own pastry”. Ha, if only….no, I don’t.

It isn’t my favourite kitchen activity and if I didn’t have a Magimix, I am not sure I would ever make pastry. I nearly always have some ready made pastry tucked away in the freezer and my favourite is the French brand Marie La Pâte Feuilletée Ready Rolled Puff Pastry (no, I am not being paid to mention this). Rather conveniently the ready rolled round perfectly fits a 24cm flan tin so given that I nearly always have the other ingredients to hand for a tart or quiche, this cuts out the (for me) tedious part of the recipe. I’ll be honest and say that I used this by mistake the first time – I overlooked the fact that it was puff pastry but now I actually prefer it for this recipe.

This recipe owes its genesis to Sybil Kapoor’s Onion Tart in her book ‘Simply Veg” published by Pavilion (and I urge you to buy it – fabulous recipes that always work). As is my habit, however, I have tweaked and experimented – not least by using puff pastry – to make something that fits our personal tastes and sometimes, just uses what I have. This version is, however, the one we prefer and appears regularly, warm or cold. It puffs up massively while cooking and then when cold, sinks back to something that almost looks slightly disappointing. Do ignore this little failing, as the flavour is deeply savoury and rewarding; it also travels well for picnics or packed lunches.

I like to use a well flavoured olive oil for this as it is reflected in the final flavour and I have been getting good results recently with the Greek brand Charisma which even Edoardo admits is a very good oil. If the budget runs to it, the French Roscoff pink onions are superb in this recipe – their subtle flavour really shines through but use what you have or can source well.

If you want to use shortcrust pastry, please do – and if you want to make your own, well that’s good too!

ONION AND THYME TART

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 packet Marie La Pâte Feuilletée Ready Rolled Puff Pastry or 170g shortcrust or puff pastry
  • 60ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large or 3 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with sea salt salt under the blade of a knife
  • 2 tbsp thyme leaves, stripped from the branches (yes, I know it’s a pain but it’s worth it)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium eggs, well beaten
  • 200 ml creme frâiche or soured cream
  • 60g finely grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

1

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C fan and set a baking tray to heat

2

Line a 23/24cm flan tin with your chosen pastry

3

Prick the base and then line with baking parchment or greaseproof paper

4

Fill with baking beans and put on the heated baking tray to bake blind for 15 minutes

5

Remove the beans and paper and return to the oven for a further 5 - 7 minutes until the pastry is golden brown

6

While all this is going on in the oven, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a low to medium heat

7

Add the onions and garlic and fry gently for about 20 minutes; some colour is fine but we’re not looking for a high degree of browning here which would impair the fresh flavour

8

Add the thyme leaves and stir around to distribute evenly amongst the onions and garlic

9

Remove from the heat and seasonTransfer to the pastry case, spreading them evenly

10

Add the creme frâiche or soured cream to the beaten eggs, season well with freshly ground black pepper and add to the onions in the pastry case

11

I don’t add salt here as the Parmesan gives enough for our tastes

12

Gently mix it into the onion mixture being careful not to pierce the pastry which your not - so -Watchful Cook has done on one occasion

13

Sprinkle with the cheese and return to the oven, on the baking tray, for 25 minutes until puffed up and golden brown

Notes

Eat this warm (but not hot) or cold with salt or vegetables, depending on the weather!

Courses/ Desserts & Savouries/ Food People/ Summer/ Tips & Techniques/ Uncategorized

PUDDING FROM PIEMONTE

Amaretti Stuffed Peach served with single cream and a glass of Moscato

My recent trip to Turin for the 2017 Turin Epicurean Conference included an amazing evening at www.quibitorino.it which is a space in Turin under the guidance of the lovely Margherita Frari. The vision for this place is as a restaurant, meeting place and exhibition space, all to encourage the integration of the increasingly multicultural city of Turin. It also serves as a food collection point for customers of local producers rather in the way that www.foodassembly.com does.

During our evening there we were fortunate to be under the expert tuition of Margerita and also Marco Giachello, one of Piedmont’s most well known and charismatic chefs. He works to conserve Piedmont dishes, products and methods and actively seeks to promote those things beyond Piedmont, so that we non-Piedmontese can learn how to create their wonderful dishes in our own homes. Sometimes it’s difficult to do that as the Piedmontese have the advantage of fabulous ingredients, produced relatively locally and in some cases, very locally!

I will probably post about everything we created that evening but am starting (perversely) with the pudding, given that peaches are in season right now. Do please try to buy Italian peaches for this as it does make a difference to the flavour, although Spanish ones can be flavoursome too. It will make life much easier for you if you can get freestone peaches; I have to admit that the first time I made this when I came back to the UK, I had made the mistake of unwittingly buying clingstone peaches. It was only with the help of a very sharp, very narrow knife that this didn’t end up as peach purée, so do check.

This is an easy summer dessert that can be served warm or at room temperature but don’t serve it chilled; it will kill the flavours stone dead. Roero, by the way, is an area of Piedmont to the south of Turin and famous for fruit (especially peaches, pears and strawberries) not to mention some wonderful wine.

I’ve given the option of using either cocoa or coffee as I am not that keen on chocolate, but the original recipe uses cocoa. Ditto with the choice of rum or brandy; I dislike rum so tend to use brandy but again, the original, as I was taught, was with rum.

Amaretti Stuffed Peaches

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 - 8 depending on appetite! Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh freestone peaches (it is helpful if they are still quite firm but not unripe)
  • 200g amaretti biscuits (preferably not the soft ones but they will do if it’s all you have)
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten well
  • 2 tsp caster sugar (optional - I tend not to use it as I find the biscuits sweet enough)
  • 3 tbsp rum or brandy
  • cocoa powder or very finely ground (espresso grind) coffee
  • icing sugar
  • butter
  • extra caster or Demerara sugar

Instructions

1

Set the oven to 180 deg C

2

Line a baking tray with baking parchment (not essential - just helps with the washing up!)

3

Slit the peaches through their “seams” with a sharp knife and twist to separate the two parts

4

(This is where you discover if you really have bought freestone peaches

5

If you haven’t, take a long, thin and very sharp knife - a fish filleting knife is ideal - and gradually work it around behind the pitt until the two parts of the peach come apart

6

This won’t be as elegant a dish as it could be but the flavour will still be wonderful)

7

Slightly enlarge the cavities using a teaspoon; ensure you leave plenty of peach intact ; reserve the extracted flesh

8

Put the peach halves on the baking tray and turn your attention to the filling

9

Bash up the amaretti biscuits until they are crumbs (I put them in a bowl and thump away with the end of my rolling pin)

10

I like a mixture of crumb size but nothing bigger than about 2 ml in diameter

11

Add the peach flesh and mix well

12

Add the caster sugar, if you want to use it and mix well

13

Add 2 - 3 tsp cocoa powder or coffee and again, mix well

14

Add a couple of tablespoons of your chosen spirit, adding a little more if the mixture is too dry

15

Add as much beaten egg as will achieve a firm mixture

16

Taste and add more of whatever you think is lacking but try to avoid the mixture becoming sloppy

17

Fill the peach cavities with the mixture, heaping it up well; I like to cover the entire peach

18

Add a few flecks of butter over the top and sprinkle with Demerara sugar; this will create a slightly crackly top to the finished dish

19

Bake for about 25 minutes until they are bubbling and smelling wonderful

20

Leave to become warm or room temperature (but please don’t serve them from the fridge)

21

I like to then sprinkle them with a mixture of cocoa or coffee and icing sugar

Notes

They are wonderful if served warm with a scoop of good ice cream to match either the cocoa or coffee, or vanilla Good also with creme frâiche but I tend to find double cream a bit too rich

 

Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses

TREASURE FROM TURIN

Glorious Vitello Tonnato

I’ll be honest and say that when I first heard about this dish, I wasn’t at all sure that it would be to my taste. Veal and tuna together? Hmm, didn’t sound my kind of combination. If I had not tried it, however, I would have missed out on one of Piedmont’s true glories. I am also very glad that I waited until I was actually in Piedmont to try it. Turin, to be precise and frankly if you can’t find a superb, authentic vitello tonnato there, then something has gone badly wrong with the world. Fortunately, I did find one at the terrific www.leviteletonne.com which pointed me in the right direction when it came to finding an authentic recipe and tweaking it to our taste, and on advice from our Piedmontese friends.

It is true to say that there is still some reluctance to eat veal in the UK. Whilst I absolutely would not eat crate reared veal, free range rose veal is one of life’s true delights. And to be brutally frank, if you eat dairy, you are contributing to the creation of bull calves as a by-product. Sorry to be obvious but to lactate, a cow must be pregnant and deliver a calf. A heifer calf will become a dairy cow but a poor little bull calf, in industrial dairy production, faces a brutally short existence. We are talking hours. So to square with my conscience, all our dairy produce – milk, cream, yogurt, cheese – comes from high welfare farms (usually organic) that then rear the bull calves compassionately for rose veal. If you eat cheese, you should eat veal.

A good vitello tonnato also requires good tuna. It doesn’t have to be fresh and in fact I have never seen an Italian recipe that calls for it. I use Brindisa Ortiz Bonito Tuna Fillets which is line caught in the Bay of Biscay and comes in good size chunks which are also fabulous in other recipes. The flavour is superb and although it can be a bit tricky to track down, Ocado stock it and I’ve seen it in independent food stores too. Please don’t use that tinned tuna that strongly resembles cat food in looks, texture and smell. You know the stuff I’m talking about.

Another major component that I am going to be a tad militant about is the mayonnaise. It must be homemade with a mild olive oil and good eggs. That calf and that fish did not die for you to insult it with industrially made “mayonnaise”; the UK’s best selling brand is made with – amongst other things – rapeseed oil, calcium disodium and paprika extract. I don’t want to eat that in an egg mayonnaise sandwich, let alone vitello tonnato.

You will also need a butcher, one who knows his onions and can supply humanely reared rose veal and who knows how to cut and tie it. I will be astonished if you can find a supermarket that can do this, so do your best to either find a local butcher or use an on-line supplier. If you can’t do either of these things, make something else.

This dish, done properly, is a significant financial commitment so do it right, even if you only make it once a year! My version owes a huge debt to the late, great Marcella Hazan and I‘ve tweaked it on advice from Piedmont friends.

Vitello Tonnato

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 - 8 Cooking Time: Including all prep time, 3 hours

Ingredients

  • For me, this is two day recipe. Day One I make the mayo and cook the veal. You don’t need me to tell you how to make mayo but can I please, however, make a plea that you use olive oil and ONLY olive oil. I occasionally make mayonnaise with sunflower oil but never for this recipe. Day Two I make the tuna sauce and put the dish together
  • Day One
  • Your favourite home made mayonnaise recipe made with 2 egg yolks, 300ml olive oil and two tablespoons or so of fresh lemon juice
  • The mayo needs to be a tad on the sharp side to cope with the other flavours that will mingle with it, so don’t be afraid to use a little more than you might otherwise
  • And for the veal 900g - 1.25kg lean boneless veal tied firmly into a roll
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 sticks of celery, minus leaves
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 sprigs parsley, including the stalks where so much of the flavour resides
  • 2 bayleaves
  • Day Two
  • The mayo you made yesterday
  • The veal joint you cooked yesterday
  • 200g tinned Italian or Spanish mediterranean tuna
  • 5 flat anchovy fillets, preferably in olive oil and patted dry (if they are salted, rinse them throughly in cold water)
  • 300ml mild olive oil
  • 3 - 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp capers, rinsed

Instructions

1

Day One

2

Choose a flameproof pot just big enough to contain the veal; I use an ancient oval Le Creuset pot

3

Put in the veal, carrots, celery, onion, parsley and bayleaves and just cover with cold water

4

Now take out the veal and put it to one side (no, I’m serious)

5

Bring the water to the boil and add the meat again

6

Bring the contents of the pot to just under the boil, cover the pot and reduce to a barely perceptible simmer

7

At the point, I have found that none of the burners on my hob allow the low simmer I need for this so I do use a reducer plate which I now don’t know how I lived without

8

Simmer for about two hours, using your judgement if it needs a bit more or less - don’t wander off and have a nap while this is cooking. It does need you to keep an eye on it and it is way too high an investment to allow to simmer dry.

9

When the meat is cooked - you should be able to easily slide a skewer into it - remove the pot from the heat and allow everything to cool at its own pace

10

Day Two

11

Drain the tuna and put in a blender or food processor with the anchovies, olive oil, lemon juice and capers and run at a high speed until a creamy consistency is achieved

12

Now fold it carefully into the mayonnaise (not the other way around!) and test for salt; I find it is rarely required because of the anchovies and capers

13

Having drained the meat (don’t discard the stock - it makes fabulous soup or risotto) and ensured it is patted dry, slice it into thin slices

14

Arrange artfully on a serving dish and cover completely with the tuna sauce; if you need to layer the meat, ensure each layer is covered with some sauce and and cover the final layer completely

15

I like to keep the finishing very traditional so usually garnish with boughs of rosemary, lemon slices or parsley leaves, as per the photograph. I have been told by my Piemontese friends that this keeps for up to two weeks in the fridge; never last that long in our house!

Notes

I love this dish and will happily invest the time and money to create it. If I can’t afford either the time or the money, I make something else; it really isn’t worth trying to make a budget version as it will be disappointing and I really can’t stress that enough. If you do make it, I promise you, you will become addicted!

Lunches & Light Suppers/ Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses

WHAT A SAUCE!

Sorrel hollandaise with asparagus

Why is it that certain recipes induce fear into the most intrepid cook’s heart? I will admit to be being very cautious about anything involving deep fat frying, in the absence of having a dedicated piece of kit. I am not however, afraid of mayonnaise or any of the other so called “Mother Sauces”. In fact, I sometimes think my food would be a much duller if I didn’t use them fairly frequently.

This week was an absolute case in point as I was casting around for something slightly different to do with salmon and asparagus. I had fallen for some sorrel from Farmdrop.com as I love the lemony sharpness that is a good foil for richer, oilier produce. It seemed a good combination to me to make a sorrel Hollandaise with steamed Jersey Royals, roast salmon fillet and steamed asparagus. Simple, flavoursome and absolutely seasonal.

So don’t be afraid of making a Hollandaise which you can then use as a wonderful base for adding a little finesse to simple steamed or roast fish and boiled or steamed vegetables. In a trice you can turn it into Bearnaise, Maltaise, Choron, Moutarde or Mousseline. Yes it can split and you do need the right recipe which lays out the steps carefully. Carême’s recipe is quite intimidating, requiring as it does, the cook to have a quantity of Allemande sauce to hand and 1 tablespoon of chicken stock. You can bet Carême didn’t use a stock cube and just to give you an idea about Allemande, you have to have velouté to hand before you can even start that. Those of us without a brigade behind us need a simpler approach to producing a delicious flavoursome Hollandaise with the minimum of stress and fuss.

Before we start, I have found there to be three golden rules for Hollandaise:

  • use unsalted butter at room temperature; you can clarify it if it makes you happy but after doing it once, I have never bothered since. I do, however, tend to use French or Italian butter which for some reason gives a smoother result
  • use fresh free range, preferably organic eggs; the better the eggs the better the end result and they are the main influence on the colour of the sauce
  • watch the temperature of the emulsion very carefully; I make mine in a Pyrex bowl over a pan of simmering water, although I always remove it at some point and end up clutching it to my bosom to keep the sauce warm but not hot. I have a friend who is somewhat better endowed in the embonpoint department than I, and she makes her sauce in the fashion from the get go. I am completely in awe of The Guardian’s Felicity Cloake who makes her Hollandaise in a pan, direct on the hob. One day I’ll try that…maybe.

My method is based on that which I learned years ago from the Leith’s Cookery Bible, which for me was – and is still – an absolute godsend for acquiring or refreshing techniques. I have tweaked their basic recipe to land on something which I can make with my eyes closed and so far (touch wood) has never gone wrong.

Sorrel Hollandaise

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 - 4 depending on greediness Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp wine vinegar (don’t use balsamic - used it once by mistake. Horrid)
  • 6 - 8 peppercorns
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 or 2 blades of mace (not 100% essential)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • salt
  • 110 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • lemon juice
  • 100g sorrel, finely chopped

Instructions

1

Put the vinegar, peppercorns, bay leaves, water and mace if used, into a small saucepan and reduce to 1 tbsp of liquid

2

Strain into a cold bowl and if you want to use immediately, shove it in the freezer for about two minutes to chill it

3

Put the egg yolks, a pinch of salt and a hazelnut size piece of butter into a heatproof bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon

4

Add half a teaspoon of the reduction and place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water

5

Do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl

6

Stir over the heat until slightly thickened and then start to add nut sized pieces of butter, stirring each addition well

7

Watch that the water doesn’t boil, so be prepared to moderate the flame under the pan and if necessary, move the bowl off the pan

8

It can be helpful to have a tea towel to hand to either place the bowl on, or wrap the bowl in if you employ what my well endowed friend calls “the bosom technique”

9

Keep adding the butter, stirring well and ensuring that butter is properly absorbed into the emulsion

10

If it begins to look a bit “sweaty” (unpleasant image, I know, but it does describe the condition), add a tiny bit more reduction or a few drops of cold water

11

When all the butter is in, remove from any heat source and beat vigorously for one minute

12

I do all this mixing and beating by hand, with a wooden spoon, simply because that’s how I’ve always done it and it makes me feel (unwarrantedly) virtuous

13

Check the seasoning and add salt and lemon juice to taste

14

Stir in the chopped sorrel and keep warm until needed

15

At this point, I sometimes add a tablespoon of double cream to make it a lighter, more pouring consistency; this doesn’t quite make it into a mousseline, for which you add stiffly whipped double cream at half the volume of the Hollandaise

Notes

I have read all kinds of dire warnings about what happens if you let Hollandaise get cold, but I have found it perfectly even tempered if I keep it at room temperature and don’t refrigerate it. If you find it has thickened a little, just put the bowl over warm water again and let it come to in its own good time, with a little gentle encouragement from a wooden spoon. Without the sorrel, it is a good, basic Hollandaise perfect for this time of year with pretty much anything seasonal

 

Lunches & Light Suppers/ Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses

ASPARAGUS AGAIN

Frittata di asparagi

I have friends who remark upon the passing of the years by exclaiming how quickly Christmas comes around. Not me, as apart from the fact that I truly loathe turkey, there are more pleasurable milestones throughout the year. For me, the best is the arrival of English asparagus. There is nothing quite like the real English product and I confine my asparagus eating to the eight or so weeks of the year when it hits the markets. Yes, when I am in Italy, I love Italian asparagus and it has a subtly different flavour so the risotto, or whatever I’m making, are also subtly different, but again, I only use it in season. And no, I never use Peruvian or Mexican asparagus that seems to be available all year round. Why would I do that? Why would anyone do that – it just doesn’t have the same depth of flavour.

I do remember years ago (in the 1970s or early 80s I think), I tried a recipe for a quiche that used canned asparagus and evaporated milk. It was foul, what was I thinking; even the dog wouldn’t eat it and Labradors don’t turn up their noses at much. I recently was given a can of asparagus, prior to the season starting, because this well meaning person knew how much of “an asparagus nut” I was. Well, quite. A nut but not idiotic. And yes, it is still foul stuff, still a travesty of the fresh product but OK for my neighbour’s compost heap.

I’ve written elsewhere on this site about how to make real asparagus quiche, soup and risotto so this short post is about how to put together an authentic Italian frittata using asparagus. If you can make an omelette, forget what you know about omelettes. You do see writers who say that a frittata is an Italian omelette and it makes me livid. OK, they are both eggs but the methods are different, not to mention that an omelette is folded or rolled and a frittata is flat. An omelette is made rapidly, keeping the eggs moving and is over in the blink of an eye. I love Margaret Costa’s description in her Four Seasons Cookery Book of being tutored in the art of omelette making by Monsieur Laplanche, then chef des cuisines at the London Savoy; he had been taught as a commis to cook on the back ring of a gas cooker with the naked flame in front of the pan, under his wrist. Don’t try this at home, but it gives you an idea of how rapidly the eggs should be cooked for a French omelette.

So having said all that, for this recipe, forget it all (although I implore you to find a copy of Mrs Costa’s book – it is captivating) as a frittata is approached differently. It is slow cooked and to finish it, you can either flip it like a pancake or whip it under the grill for a brief moment. Because I use a heavy Le Creuset pan for this, I have proven to myself that my wrists are too feeble to flip a frittata so despite what my Italian friends do, I use the grill method, but you do have to watch it like a hawk. I am a massive fail as well when it comes to the “slide in onto a plate and flip it over” method which if you want to attempt, that is what You Tube is for. If it ends up on the floor, don’t blame me.

FRITTATE DI ASPARAGI

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 200g fresh English asparagus (a bit more or less won’t matter too much)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 50g grated Parmesan cheese (no, supermarket “cheddar” won’t do)
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • A heavy based frying pan: I use a Le Creuset with a top diameter of 20 cms

Instructions

1

Heat your grill

2

Trim the asparagus and cut into 1 - 1.5 cm pieces, keeping the tips whole

3

Rinse and blanche in boiling water for 2 minutes

4

Drain thoroughly, patting gently dry with lots of kitchen paper

5

Beat the eggs in a bowl (I use a large Pyrex jug) until whites and yolks are well blended

6

Add the asparagus, cheese, salt and pepper (about 5 twists of the mill)

7

Melt the butter in the frying pan, over a medium heat

8

When the butter foams but is not coloured, add the egg mixture

9

Turn the heat down as low as possible and let the mixture set and thicken

10

This might take up to about ten or twelve minutes but don’t wander off and read the paper; it needs a close eye kept to prevent browning

11

When the top is still runny but the very edges look set, whip it under a hot grill for about 30 seconds, but again watch it like a hawk: it must not brown

12

Loosen the frittata from the pan using a spatula and slide onto a warm plate

13

Cut into wedges and serve warm, not hot, with a green salad

Notes

The frittata in the picture is a bit less puffy than normal as I only had three eggs. Still tasted good, though. We like to sprinkle a bit more Parmesan over the cooked frittata and they also work cold and travel well for picnics or packed lunches. They can also be adapted to use whatever you have around; I like to use up the ends of whole salami or chorizo, finely sliced red pepper, left over griddled courgettes or small cubes of gorgonzola which melt wonderfully into the eggy mixture. Cold and cut into small cubes, frittate are excellent stuzzichini, too