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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!

Books & Blogs/ Food People/ Sources & Resources

THE WATCHFUL COOK IN CONFERENCE

Turin Epicurean Capital 2017

Writing can be a lonely business, even if one is active on Twitter and Instagram; nothing replaces the person to person contact that can be elusive as we scribble away, wondering if anyone ever takes any notice. It was therefore particularly exciting for me to be invited by Lucia Hannau to the Turin Epicurean Capital Conference. A double hit for me as not only was I going to meet other like-minded food and wine bloggers but it was to be in Turin, my absolute favourite city in the world. When I got her message, I doubt if any message has ever been replied to more quickly in the history of the digital world.

I’ve been back a month now so am dilatory in writing for my own site but did get my act together enough to write for Lucia at www.turinepi.com/2017/07/the-watchful-cook-at-turinepi17.html
Please do look also at Patti Boner’s post on the same site which gives a super chronology of our time there, and while you’re rummaging, please take a look at Patti’s own site www.foodiesneakpeeks.com which is full of good ideas and reviews for the foodie traveller.

I’m not going to repeat here the reflections I’ve posted elsewhere, rather introduce to you my colleagues at the Conference, in the hope that you will explore their sites and gain as much pleasure from their writing and recipes as I now do.

The first day’s Round Table was chaired by Chicago resident Margaret Goldstein who can be followed on Twitter here @pizzabianca and if you do, you will be guided through making her fabulous looking pizzas which I am quite sure taste every bit as good as they look. Her lovely husband, Bill Goldstein, is a Piedmont wine enthusiast and expert and I learned so much from him during our time in Turin. His oenophile exploits can be followed on Twitter at @Sassodoro but I do wish he would write a blog – he has so much expertise and knowledge!

It was certainly an American day, that first day, as adding to the panel was the lovely Sanem Lamborn who writes about her Persian/Italian food heritage at www.MyPersianKitchen.com from LA – if you like authentic foods, full of flavour, do follow Sanem – and her recipes work! Making up the team that morning was Christina Conte, also from LA who writes about her Scottish/Southern Italian food heritage at www.ChrstinasCucina.com

Day Two saw your writer guided by Daniel McVicar (a Turin resident American actor who was Chair that day) through food memories. I was delighted to be joined on the platform by Patrizia Balbo who is an astrologer with a strong interest in food – do check out her website for an eclectic mix www.linguaggisimbolici.com Making up the team was Ilva Beretta, the well known Swedish photographer whose beautiful work can be seen at www.ilvaberetta.com and also in the newly published book “Orange Appeal” by Jamie Schler which I can strongly recommend as an addition to your cook book collection when it’s published in August.

The third day was great fun under the moderation of Carolina Stupino, a Piedmont exile living in London, teaching and blogging about food, health and nutrition at www.tastesofcarolina.com. Her team were Patti Boner as mentioned above, and Amanda Courtney, Boston born, Piedmont dwelling wine expert who will organise fabulous wine tours for you through www.AmandasWineAdventures.com

My memories of the time in Turin were entirely positive and it was a instructive on many levels to meet with bloggers with much more experience than I (not to mention more followers!) and of course, the food in Turin is sublime. Patti has made an excellent job of describing the restaurants we visited, although for me, the highlight was the cookery lesson at www.qubitorino.it Real Piedmont food with real Piedmont chefs – and of course, ingredients. As you will see from my post on www.turinepi.com, it was fascinating to see another method of making risotto, about which I shall write soon, when I’m happy I can make an edible risotto using this method!

So as a sign off from this non-recipe post, please do take a look at my fellow bloggers’ sites and above all, if you love food, go to Turin!

Autumn/ Books & Blogs/ Equipment/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

HOW IT ALL STARTED

When I married in 1978 (stupidly young and it didn’t last….), I knew kitchens existed but wasn’t entirely sure what went on in them. I knew food emerged but had no idea how it happened. Didn’t do “Domestic Science” at school as I was in the stream that did Latin and French, both of which I have to say, have been remarkably useful. It now enrages me to think that learning to cook was (and might still be in some schools) regarded as less demanding than learning languages.  Better I don’t get started on that one; it is probably a whole other post.

Shortly after becoming engaged my wise mother, fearing that my husband would have to live on toast, bought me the Delia Smith Complete Cookery Course, which in those days came in three paperback volumes. In truth, I wasn’t terribly impressed with that as an engagement present (what an ungrateful creature I was) but when I finally opened the first volume, something in me blossomed and food became an enduring passion. I am also terribly attached to some of the books and equipment that I bought or was given in those early days. I still have (see picture) the very first wooden spoon I was given and the casserole in the same picture is now over 35 years old and.

In some quarters, it is now fashionable to decry Delia and whilst I no longer cook from her books, she did teach me the basics, allowed me to start cooking edible meals (and then good meals) and for me, best of all, that edition included a Bibliography! One of my other passions is books and reading (to the point that when I met Edoardo, we realised that consolidating our homes would mean accommodating over 5,000 books), so pointing me to other writers and cooks was just bliss.

Now, for me, this is where a deep, enduring love of food, cooking and its social and political history started. The first person I investigated from Delia’s bibliography was Elizabeth David and for me, this was when I really began to understand flavours, textures and the simple joy of good food eaten seasonally with minimal interference. I think I was a little in awe of her in the way I never was with Delia, but I as grew older and matured myself, Mrs David’s (never, just never Elizabeth) approach to much in life resonated with me.

The second aspect of Mrs David’s writing that spoke to me was the sheer poetry of it. Should you doubt this, may I refer you to the first two paragraphs of her chapter on Fish in “Italian Food”. The description of the Rialto fish market takes me straight back there every time I read it. She makes me not just see it but smell and hear it, too.

It has probably also taken me some years to understand how brave Mrs David was to publish her first book in 1950 post war Britain, when food was still rationed and olive oil was something requested in the chemist’s to sort out wax in one’s ears. Can you imagine the reaction of people being asked to cook with something they regarded as medicinal? I also have huge sympathy for the early brave devotees of Mrs David – I cannot begin to think what it must be like to cook without olive oil, lemons, garlic, spices and fresh herbs; for those intrepid cooks, the frustration must have been enormous.
That first book, “A Book of Mediterranean Food” is still amongst my most referred to and certainly takes the prize for the most bespattered pages (none of my foods books is pristine – if I come across one it usually means it was rubbish and, no, am NOT naming names!). It is a continual source of inspiration, not dogmatically but as a jumping off point for interpreting her recipes.

There are points upon which I depart from her advice; for example, adding oil to water for cooking pasta is nonsense. It will just float there on top while the water boils away, doing its job and ignoring the oil. You are therefore wasting precious oil and thus money. I know there are people who swear by this, but I have never come across an Italian who does it and when I enquired, was met with a sigh of resignation indicating that the craziness of the British in the kitchen should never be underestimated. She also says pasta can take up to 20 minutes to cook. Nope, not unless you like wallpaper paste.

When she speaks of meat and fish, however, she remains for me definitive and whilst I have adjusted her recipes to suit my taste, her basic advice and method remain unaltered. As we approach the cooler months of the year, I’d like to share with you my version of her Daube de boeuf provencale. It is easy, if not cheap, but does serve 6, or fewer with left overs and smells utterly divine while cooking. It is a recipe that denotes for me the arrival of autumn, as I always seem to make it in September after the lighter foods of summer.

Daube de boeuf provencale

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 2.5 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 kg top rump of beef, cut into squares about 7/8cm and 8mm thick (I always buy the beef in the piece and cut it myself to get the right sized pieces)
  • 175g unsmoked streaky bacon or pancetta, sliced into strips
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
  • 2 medium onions sliced into half moon slices
  • 2 tomatoes, skinned and sliced (you can use tinned and then use the rest to make soup as a first course)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed under the blade of your knife
  • bouquet garni (I use a piece of celery with a bay leaf, a generous amount of thyme and parsley and if possible, a large slice of orange peel, sans pith, tied up with kitchen string and anchored to the handle of the casserole)
  • a (very) generous glass of red wine, French if possible, but use what you have
  • salt and freshly milled ground pepper

Instructions

1

Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C/130 fan

2

In the bottom of a thick based, heat retaining pot (I use an ancient and much loved le Creuset casserole) pour in the olive oil, the bacon or pancetta, then the vegetables and then layer the meat slices, overlapping them slightly. Bury the garlic and bouquet garni in the centre.

3

Season and with an uncovered pan, start cooking over a moderate flame for about ten minutes

4

In a separate pan, heat the wine until at a lively boil and set it alight

5

Once the flames have died down, pour the bubbling wine over the meat mixture

6

Cover VERY tightly (I add a layer of tightly clamped tin foil before the casserole lid) and out in the oven for about 2.5 hours

7

I like to add pitted, black olives about half an hour before the end of the cooking time

8

It might not seem that you start with much liquid here, which is true, but long, slow cooking will produce a fragrant, delicious dish for so very little effort.

9

Although I am usually all for saving on the washing up, I do like to serve this in the traditional way on a wide shallow platter, having extracted the bouquet garni, poured the sauce around the meat and garnished with persillade of finely chopped garlic and parsley, or a few capers and a couple of chopped anchovies

10

This goes well with wild red rice or plain boiled potatoes

Notes

As there is no pre-browning of the meat, this is wonderful for a slow cooker, but do try to find time to flame the wine. I have to confess that I have on occasions made do with just heating the wine, as I am not always at my brightest before my first cup of coffee in the early morning. Flames in my kitchen prior to coffee is a tad alarming for me. Anyway, the upshot is that it is subtly different without the flaming trick, but not worse. Just different.