Parmesan, Leek and Thyme Tart

There are some foods I go back to again and again: a rich, creamy lasagne for comfort; a creamy Thai curry for its unctuousness; bangers ‘n’ mash for its echoes of childhood and, in spring, a soft, rich tart with a crumbly, almost biscuity pastry because, well, there are few things more enjoyable than lunch in the garden on a sunny spring day.

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RECIPE – Serves 6, generously, for lunch 

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

75g unsalted butter

6 small leeks, finely sliced

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

the picked leaves of 5 thyme sprigs

50ml vermouth

300ml double cream

1 whole egg

3 egg yolks

50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated, and a little more to grate over the top


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

Cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for a few minutes.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While the pastry is baking, prepare the filling: melt the butter in a very large pan then add the leeks, salt and thyme leaves. Stir thoroughly, turn the heat right down, cover the pan and sweat the leeks for 20 minutes until very soft. By the end of this time, your pastry should be out of the oven.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Add the vermouth to the leek mixture, turn the heat up and bubble the liquid for 5 minutes or so, uncovered, until the liquid has nearly all evaporated.

Lightly whisk the egg, egg yolks and cream together, then season with salt and pepper, add the grated Parmesan then whisk again. Add to the leek mixture, stir thoroughly then pour the mixture into the tart case and shake gently to level it off.

Finely grate some Parmesan over the top, this will give it a deliciously cheesy taste and aroma. Put the tart back into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, for twenty minutes then carefully remove from the tin and cut into slices. This is delicious warm, or at room temperature.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.

Za’atar and Goats’ Cheese Puffs

I have a wide array of canapes, light bites, side dishes and snacks in my notebook, they’re always handy to have because you never know when somebody will ask you to make something for a party, drop in out of the blue for a cuppa or just for those times when you think a meal requires something else to complete it.

These puff pastry rolls are absolutely delicious and though they do require just a little forethought in that you need to have some defrosted puff pastry to hand, they are quick to put together and quick to cook.

They come courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour, whose books ‘Persiana’ and ‘Sirocco’ come chock-full of delicious Middle-Eastern flavours. I have not modified this recipe at all, it is perfect just as it is. I am not a fan of ready-rolled puff pastry but it does make it even easier – if you prefer to use half a block of frozen puff, as I do, then you won’t need quite so much cheese and za’atar. The quantities are not crucial anyway, just follow your instincts and use less or more as your tastes dictate.

Za’atar is a deeply aromatic Middle-Eastern herb and spice mix. These go well as an alternative to bread rolls when making a spicy soup, or pretty much anything made with butternut squash. They also make a brilliant snack and reheat well in a 180C/ 160C fan/ Gas 4 oven for 5 minutes.

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RECIPE – makes 15-20

250g puff pastry (half a block), or a sheet of ready-rolled (320g)

olive oil, for brushing

2 heaped tbsp za’atar

300g soft goats’ cheese

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD 

Preheat the oven to 220C / 200C fan/ Gas 7. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

If using block pastry, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle of around 30cm x 20cm. Brush the pastry lightly and evenly with a little olive oil, like so:

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You can see that my pastry is not quite straight, it doesn’t matter. Now sprinkle 1 tbsp of the za’atar evenly over the pastry:

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Crumble the goats’ cheese evenly across the pastry, leaving a 2.5cm border on the long edge of the pastry furthest away from you, like so:

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Season generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle the remaining za’atar over the cheese:

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It might look like rather a lot, but don’t worry. Now, starting with the long edge of the pastry that is closest to you, roll the pastry as tightly as you can without tearing or crushing it. You will end with something resembling a Swiss roll.

Cut the roll in half, then using a serrated knife cut each half into rounds approximately 1cm thick. Trim away the scruffy ends. Pat each whirl lightly to slightly flatten them so they stay together while they cook, and place them on the baking tray leaving sufficient space between them to allow them to rise:

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There is no need to glaze, just bake for approximately 15 minutes until well-risen and golden. Be prepared to immediately lose half of what you have baked – grasping fingers are a real danger when these come out of the oven!

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Mushroom, Ale and Celeriac Pie

I spotted this recipe in a copy of Vegetarian Living, a monthly magazine I can heartily recommend as it has some of the most amazing recipes, giving the lie to the perception that vegetarian food is boring. This recipe was crafted by Rachel Demuth, who runs a cookery school – I keep dropping hints to my wife that a course there would be a good present…

She might take more notice now, we had this last night and all she kept saying was: “This is delicious!”

It is. It is one of those recipes that must use alchemy, it is very much more than the sum of its delicious parts. The gravy that results is also fantastic; I have made a note to myself to make this the next time we have a roast beef dinner, the pairing will be sublime.

Curiously, for such a ‘beefy’ dish, it is very easily made vegan-friendly. Just use vegan ale (yes, there is such a thing) and vegan puff pastry, use water rather than egg to stick the pastry on, and brush the top of the pastry with soy milk.

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RECIPE – serves 4

10g dried porcini mushrooms
300ml vegetable stock
3 tbsp sunflower oil
2 onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g celeriac, peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes
1 large carrot, sliced
150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
150g mixed mushrooms, sliced
200ml Guinness or similar ale
1x 400g tin tomatoes
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp Marmite
½ tsp cornflour
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme, leaves only
a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
500g puff pastry or flaky pastry
1 egg, beaten


METHOD 

In a pan, heat the vegetable stock until boiling then add the dried porcini and allow to sit in the cooling stock for 30 minutes. Prepare all your other ingredients.

Strain the re-hydrated porcini through muslin, saving the stock for use later. Finely dice the porcini and set aside for now.

In a large deep-sided frying pan or wok, fry the sliced onion in sunflower oil for around 5 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the diced celeriac and carrot and fry on a high heat, stirring often. Add the crushed garlic and the mushrooms (not the porcini) and cook for around 5 minutes until the mushrooms have given up their liquor and most of it has cooked off. Add the bay leaves.

Pour in the ale and bring it to a simmer for a few minutes. Meanwhile, mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of cold water and mix to a paste.

Add the tinned tomatoes, vegetable stock, chopped porcini, coarse grain mustard and Marmite, bring to the boil then add the cornflour paste. Stir thoroughly and keep stirring until the sauce has thickened, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes until the sauce is thick and rich

Add the chopped thyme and parsley and season well. Leave it to cool completely.

Heat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Pour the cold mushroom filling into a 1 litre pie dish. Roll the pastry out to the thickness of a pound coin (4 or 5 mm) large enough to cover your pie dish with some to spare. If your pie dish has a flat edge then cut a ring of pastry to the thickness of the flat edge and stick it on with a brush of beaten egg.

Carefully lift the pastry and place it over the pie dish. Press down the edges to form a good seal and trim off any excess with a sharp knife. Reserve the trimmings to decorate the pie. Knock up and flute the edges of the pie and cut a small cross in the middle to let out the steam. Brush the top with beaten egg.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed up and golden.

I served this with creamy potato mash with a couple of tablespoonfuls of horseradish cream whipped into it, alongside seasonal vegetables.

Quick and Easy Flaky Pastry

I fancied making a pie yesterday, so I set out shopping in the morning and was quite perplexed to find that in all the shops I visited not a single one stocked any blocks of all-butter puff pastry. Now, a block of ready-made all-butter puff pastry is one of the few processed ingredients that I am happy to use, but though they all had the ready-rolled stuff it’s not quite the same.

I make rough-puff pastry quite a lot, but it does take a fair bit of time and attention – to be more accurate, you need to be around at various times during the day to roll and turn the pastry between chilling it. I didn’t have that freedom yesterday, but I really fancied that pie…

The answer was this: a super-quick and stupidly easy way to make flaky pastry. It doesn’t rise anywhere near as much as puff, but it laminates beautifully and is incredibly buttery. You do need to work quickly though, keeping the butter very cold is the key to success here so follow the instructions closely.


RECIPE – makes 450g of pastry

225g plain flour, sifted

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

170g unsalted butter

120 ml water


METHOD 

One hour before you will make the pastry, put the flour, butter and water in the freezer. Keep an eye on the water as it might freeze solid, which you don’t want. What you DO want are ice-cold ingredients.

Sift the flour and salt into a large, cold mixing bowl. Using the large holes of a cheese grater, quickly grate the butter into the flour – as fast as you can so that it doesn’t have time to warm up. Using a knife, stir the butter and flour around until each strand of butter is coated with flour and the butter is spread evenly throughout the flour. Add the ice-cold water and use the knife to bind the pastry together; a good way to do this is to act as if you are cutting with the knife, dragging the blade through the mixture three or four times, then giving the bowl a quarter turn and dragging the blade through another three or four times, until the water is all taken up with the flour. Once again, you need to move quickly while the mixture is ice cold.

Turn the pastry out onto a lightly floured surface and bring it together into a ball. Try to minimise the amount that you handle it, because you don’t want the butter strands to melt together, and handling pastry too much tends to make it tough.

Roll the pastry out into a long oblong, then fold one third of it into the centre of the pastry, and then fold the other third over the top of that. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes or until you need to use it, at which point you can roll it out and use it as you would a ready-made pastry.

Roasted Squash, Red Onion, Spinach and Cheese Tart

Is there anything better for a summer picnic than a rich, flavourful tart with short, crumbly almost biscuit-like pastry? I don’t think so; it’s one of the main reasons I look forward to lazy summer Sundays – feet up in the garden, tart on the table, a glass of fine wine to hand, the sun shining and the dog at your feet, with nothing much to do except relax. On days like these all is right with the world.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 for lunch

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small butternut squash, cut into 1cm cubes

2 small red onions, cut into 8 segments each with the root left on

300g spinach

100g strong cheddar, grated

3 large eggs

300ml double cream

parmesan cheese, finely grated


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

While the pastry is chilling, prepare the butternut squash and red onions, then roast them in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until cooked through and starting to caramelise.

Put the spinach into a large pan on a high heat. There is no need to add any water, just keep stirring the spinach until it wilts completely. Tip into a sieve, squeeze gently and leave any excess moisture to drain.

Now cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for a few minutes.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Lightly whisk the eggs and cream together, then season with salt and pepper, whisk again. Cut the roots off the roasted onions and remove any parts that have been scorched. Arrange the onions, butternut squash and spinach in the cooked pastry case and scatter the grated cheddar cheese over it. Pour over the eggs and cream mixture, and finely grate some parmesan over the top, this will give it a deliciously cheesy taste and aroma. Put the tart back into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, then remove from the tin and cut into slices.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.

Goat’s Cheese, Fennel and Red Pepper Tart

Is there anything better for a summer picnic than a rich, flavourful tart with short, crumbly almost biscuit-like pastry? I don’t think so; it’s one of the main reasons I look forward to lazy summer Sundays – feet up in the garden, tart on the table, a glass of fine wine to hand, the sun shining and the dog at your feet, with nothing much to do except relax. On days like these all is right with the world.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 for lunch

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 large fennel bulb, core removed, finely chopped

1 Romano red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3 large eggs

300ml double cream

1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

100g goat’s cheese, crumbled

12 olives, chopped


METHOD

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. Now cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the oil over a medium heat then add the onion, fennel and pepper, cook for approximately 15 minutes until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more, then set aside and allow to cool.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Lightly whisk the eggs and cream together, then add the paprika and season with salt and pepper, whisk again. Tip the cooked vegetables into the tart case and dot with the chopped olives and crumbled goat’s cheese. Pour over the eggs and cream mixture then put the tart back into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, then remove from the tin and cut into slices.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.

Shortcrust Wholemeal Pastry

There is only one secret to a great tart, and it is no secret at all: make great pastry.

If your pastry is bland or soggy it doesn’t matter if you have the best filling in the world, your tart will be a failure. For some reason many people are afraid of making pastry but let me assure you that there is nothing to fear; it is quick and easy to make, easy to use, and if it gets a little bit damaged when you put it into the tart tin it doesn’t matter, you can just patch it up, even if it comes out of the blind baking a little worse for wear. Just keep a little bit of surplus pastry to hand for any running repairs and your tarts will always be perfect.

I always make my pastry in a food processor, my fingers seem to be a little too warm to use the crumbling method. If you use a food processor just be careful not to over-process the mixture, pulse it a few times until you have a consistency like fine breadcrumbs and there are no visible lumps of butter and shortening, then add a little water – just enough to bring it together without making it sticky.

This pastry is perfect for savoury tarts; the vegetable shortening makes it deliciously crumbly and almost like a wholemeal biscuit in its texture. Unlike many short pastries though, thanks to the binding properties of the wholemeal flour this one is very easy to work with and holds together well when it is rolled out and put into a tart case.


RECIPE – to fill a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin, with plenty left over

150g plain flour

75g wholemeal flour

65g chilled butter, cubed

65g chilled vegetable shortening, cubed (I use Trex)

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

approx 2 tbsp ice cold water


METHOD

Put all of the ingredients except the water into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. When it looks like fine crumbs add the water a little bit at a time and pulse for a second until the pastry starts to come together. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. Empty it out of the food processor onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead it for a few seconds until it is smooth and form it into a ball .

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

The recipes on my blog will always tell you what to do next, but if you are using this to make your own tart recipes this is what you generally need to do next:

Lift the pastry up onto a rolling pin, drape it over your tart tin and gently drop it into the tin. Using a small piece of pastry push the pastry gently into the corners and flutes of your tart tin so there are no air pockets. Trim off the surplus pastry from the edges of the tin and liberally prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes.

Cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case at 200C for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

Now make your filling and cook according to your recipe instructions.