Tag Archives: tart

Sowing crazy

Primrose pot

I’m so grateful for four-day weekends at this time of year, especially when they happen to coincide with good weather for once! Despite having family and friends around for Easter, with the associated cooking and entertaining – any excuse! – it’s good to still have time to get out in the garden/allotment and feel you’ve made progress at this busy time in the growing calendar.

A fellow plotholder had a huge delivery of spent mushroom compost a few weeks ago, and when she’d taken what she needed, offered it to other allotmenteers for the princely sum of £1.80 a barrowload. I hadn’t intended to get any this year, having added lots of stable manure last year, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. Plus it’s so dry at the moment that moving it was far less effort than it has been some years. I duly shifted 6 barrowfuls on Good Friday, focussing on mulching round my fruit bushes and dahlias, but the beds looked so good afterwards that I ended up doing another 6 barrowloads today, ready to plant peas, courgettes and beans – all heavy feeders that will definitely appreciate the extra goodness. No wonder my FitBit tells me I’ve done 21,000 steps today – who needs a gym when you have a garden?!

Mushroom compost in barrow

To put the mushroom compost where I wanted it entailed taking out some overwintered plants like the calabrese, which has done amazingly well to keep shooting for so long, but is starting to flower now. The spinach and chard in last year’s salad bed are also putting up flowering stems, which means they’ll go bitter if not used soon. A good excuse for a spinach, pea & mint soup when my parents came over for Easter Sunday lunch. Followed, of course, by a broccoli, caramelised onion & goat’s cheese tart – divine! I also discovered a row of rocket and winter salad I’d planted under cloches last autumn and forgotten all about – wonderful to pick your own salad at this time of year.

The first asparagus was ready on Good Friday too – incredibly early thanks to all this early sunshine. No hardship to pick that and serve it simply roasted with a sublime, oaky, buttery white rioja from the Wine Sociey (Navajas Blanco Crianza 2014) – a match made in heaven.

Broccoli quiche with asparagus and salad_cropped

Soil prepared, it was a relatively simple matter to sow the first peas of the year: purple mangetout Shiraz and old-favourite sugar snap Sugar Bon, along with my first sowing of root crops: parsnips Tender & True, carrot Torchon and beetroot Cylindra and Renova. I’ve covered these with fleece to keep the soil warm as they germinate and to prevent carrot root fly in the early stages of growth. I also mixed horticultural sand with the soil where the carrots are to go thanks to a tip-off from my experienced allotment neighbour and former farmer. He always manages to get fabulous long rows of carrots, whereas I’m lucky to get half-a-dozen to survive the inevitable slug grazing. Watch this space 🙂

Asparagus bed with tulips

I returned from the allotment late this afternoon, tired but happy, with a basket of purple-sprouting broccoli, parsley, leeks, more asparagus and a bunch of gorgeous tulips from my cutting bed – so pleased that they’ve done well enough to pick for the house this year. These particular ones are Bruine Wimpel and Ronaldo – a gorgeous mix.

Tulips Bruine Wimpel and Ronaldo April 2017_cropped

All in all, a very satisfying few days’ work – if only every weekend was four days long!

Broccoli, Caramelised Onion & Goat’s Cheese Tart – serves 6-8

Broccoli and goats cheese tart

20cm shortcrust pastry case, baked blind
3 eggs
300ml double cream (or single if you prefer)
3 large onions, sliced
25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
Handful purple-sprouting broccoli
100g mild goat’s cheese, crumbled
Fresh nutmeg, grated
Seasoning

Melt the oil and butter over a low hat in a large frying pan, add the sliced onions and garlic and cook on low for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelised. Stir in the sugar 5 minutes or so before the end, then add the balsamic vinegar and remove from the heat.

Cook the broccoli in the microwave in a little water for 2-3 minutes until just tender, then drain. Whisk the eggs with the cream, and add the thyme leaves, seasoning and crumbled goat’s cheese. Gently stir in the caramelised onions and cooked broccoli, then turn into the baked tart case. Cook at 180°C fan, Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with salad.

To finish, I have to share one of our favourite family desserts for special gatherings, tiramisu. This is one of my younger son’s signature desserts; I’ve forgotten now how it was that he came to make this, but he did such a good job that the task usually falls to him! He was away this Easter though, so I had to dig out the recipe and make it myself – I’m pleased to report it still worked.

Tiramisu – serves 8-10

Tiramisu

450ml strong black coffee (I make mine in a cafetière)
1 vanilla pod (optional – you could also use 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste)
200g tub mascarpone
4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
300ml double cream, whipped
100ml brandy (or grappa)
1-2 packets sponge fingers (one packet is never enough, but I suppose it depends on the size of your dish!)
1 level tbsp cocoa powder to dust

Pour the coffee into a shallow bowl, add the brandy (or grappa if you want to be authentic!) and vanilla pod if using. Leave to infuse while you prepare the custard mix.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick, then whisk in the mascarpone until smooth. Add the vanilla extract or paste if you’re not using a vanilla pod. Fold the softly whipped cream into the mascarpone mix.

Remove the vanilla pod from the coffee (wash, dry and add to sugar to make vanilla sugar if you like). Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee mixture, then place in rows on the base of a rectangular serving dish – mine measures 20cm x 30cm. Don’t lrsve them in the coffee too ,long as they are liable to disintegrate! Spread half the mascarpone mixture gently over the soaked sponge fingers, then dip the remaining sponge fingers in the coffee and place on top. Finish with a final layer of mascarpone mixture, spreading right to the edges to cover the fingers completely.

Chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours before serving; tastes even better the next day! Dust with the sifted cocoa powder to serve.

globe artichoke
Globe artichokes have survived the winter at last!

 

 

 

 

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A trio of apple puds to go…

It’s that time of year again, when I’ve little time for blogging, vast amounts of urgent work (why does everything suddenly need doing before Christmas?!) and actually there’s not much doing in the garden anyway – probably just as well! It’s also the time for networking get-togethers, along with the usual festive social gatherings and this year the emphasis has been on bring-your-own affairs – a refreshing change from the overpriced and noisy Christmas lunches if you go to restaurants in the run-up to Christmas.

My default option, when asked to bring something to a party, is always a dessert, for obvious sweet-toothed reasons – and apples are often my first choice as I invariably have lots hanging from the garage rafters, just crying out to be eaten. I haven’t many dessert apples left by this stage, just a few mellow Cox types, but still plenty of Bramleys. So what to take?

My first contribution was a Toffee Apple pie, based on a Sarah Raven recipe from her lovely “Food from Family & Friends”, a great book when cooking for the masses. I’ve tweaked here and there, as ever, but it’s basically an appley take on that old favourite, the banoffee pie – and who doesn’t like that?!

Toffee Apple Pie – serves 8-12

toffee-apple-pie

150g digestive biscuits, crushed in a plastic bag with a rolling pin
75g butter, melted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tin Caramel condensed milk
5-6 large Cox apples, peeled and sliced
75g butter
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
300ml double cream (or mix of cream and natural yogurt)
Grated zest of 1 orange
Toasted flaked almonds, to garnish

Stir the crushed biscuits into the melted butter, add the cinnamon, mix well, then press the crumbs into a greased 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin (mine is about 4cm deep). Chill in the fridge while you prepare the apples.

Melt the second batch of butter in a frying pan and add the sliced apples and 1 tbsp vanilla sugar. Cook until golden brown and tender. My apples are so mellow by this time of year that they fall, but if you can find apples that keep their shape, so much the better – it tastes delicious either way! Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Set to one side to cool.

Gently spread the Caramel condensed milk over the flan base, taking care not to disturb the crumbs – if you’ve left it to chill sufficiently, it should be fine. Arrange the pan-fried apples evenly over the top.

Whip the cream in a large bowl with the grated orange zest (you can use a combination of cream and yogurt for a lighter topping), then spread over the apples, covering completely. Sprinkle with the toasted flaked almonds and remove the outer ring of the tin to serve.

My second pudding choice was a trusty Tarte aux Pommes from one of my first ever cookery books, an M&S paperback by Jeni Wright called Just Desserts, dating back to the early 80s – and yes, it still comes out nearly 40 years down the line! It’s also the source of another family favourite, my profiteroles…. Forgive the Imperial measurements in this recipe – as I said, it goes back a long way (and I still think primarily in Imperial when baking!).

Tarte aux Pommes – serves 8

tarte-aux-pommes

10oz plain flour
pinch of salt
2oz vanilla sugar
1 beaten egg
3-4 tsp milk
5oz butter, diced

2-3 large cooking apples, peeled and sliced
2oz butter
4oz granulated sugar (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large dessert apples
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
6 tbsp light-coloured jam (I use gooseberry, but apricot or rhubarb would work well too)
1 tbsp icing sugar

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, beaten egg and milk, then rub in the diced butter (you can use grated frozen butter too if preferred). Knead to form a dough, then chill for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile peel and slice the apples, then place in a large pan with the butter, granulated sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Cook over a gentle heat until the apples are reduced to a thick purée, stirring every so often to prevent sticking. Beat with a wooden spoon to remove any lumps. Set aside to cool.

When the pastry has chilled, roll out carefully on a floured surface to make a big enough circle to line  a greased 24cm loose-bottomed flan tin (as above). (I find I only need 2/3 of the mixture for a tart of this size, so use the remaining pastry to make a batch of mince pies.) Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind in a pre-heated oven (180-200°C) for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and put it back in for another 3-4 minutes to set the base.

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C, then spread the apple purée over the baked tart case. Peel the dessert apples, and slice into thin, even slices, sprinkling with lemon juice as you go to stop browning. Arrange the sliced dessert apples in an overlapping ring around the edge of the tart case and then either another ring in the opposite direction or fill the gap with rows of overlapping apples if, like mine, your apples are too large to achieve two rings even in a tin of this size!

Warm the jam in a bowl in the microwave or in a small pan with the juice of a lemon and one tbsp of water. Press through a sieve into another pan, add the icing sugar and cook until reduced and a glossy glaze has formed. Gently pour the glaze over the apples, covering completely.

Return to the oven for 30-35 minutes, covering the pastry edges with foil if they show signs of burning. Remove the outer tin to serve with whipped cream or crème fraiche.

My final to-go dessert was for an impromptu meal with friends last week, so basically involved throwing together a pudding with very little time and storecupboard ingredients. Hence my tried-and-tested Apple & almond pudding, a Delia stalwart from over the years, but one which never fails to please, especially if you’re cooking for gluten-free guests.

Enjoy!

fireside

 

Awesome asparagus!

asparagus

I love this time of year when the asparagus really gets into its stride. Like most things, it’s seemed late this year, but mine has finally started producing its delectable stems in abundance now and I’m picking a good bunch every couple of days – such hardship! Needless to say, my meals are tending to centre around asparagus at the moment.

Having enjoyed the first few helpings simply steamed or roasted earlier in the week, last night’s menu featured oven-roasted asparagus, pancetta & pine nut risotto (sublime!) and tonight’s was an asparagus, smoked salmon & fennel tart, with coleslaw using my first spring cabbage from the allotment and a delicate herby salad with sorrel, spicy salad leaves, mint and lovage from the garden at home. Heavenly!

Asparagus, Smoked Salmon & Fennel Tart

Asparagus and smoked salmon tart

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry

Bunch of asparagus (I used 9 stems as that’s what I had!), woody stems removed

100g smoked salmon

Bunch of fennel

1 egg

3 tbsp double cream

3 tbsp finely grated Parmesan

Seasoning

Olive oil to drizzle

Roll out the pastry to the size of your baking tray. Cut a fine line, not quite going through to the base about 1 cm all around the edge.

Mix the beaten egg and 3 tbsp double cream in a small bowl, season and add the chopped fennel leaves, then spread over the pastry base. Scatter the shredded smoked salmon over the base and carefully place the trimmed asparagus stems on top. Season and scatter with finely grated Parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil and cook in a hot oven, 200°C fan or Gas 6 for about 20-25 mins or until the pastry is golden brown.

Serve warm with fresh coleslaw or salad of your choice. Delicious cold too!

The risotto is simply a variation of Delia’s excellent oven-roast risotto, tweaked to suit the ingredients on offer. As ever, I made more than I needed and had the leftovers for lunch today as arancini, stuffed with garlic & herb cider-infused cow’s cheese (Scrumpy Sussex) from our local Stonegate Dairy. Very good  indeed…

Roast Asparagus, Pancetta & Pine Nut Risotto

Asparagus, pancetta and pine nut risotto

1 small onion, chopped

50g butter

 75ml dry white wine

170g risotto rice

500ml home-made vegetable or asparagus stock (use the woody stems) – plus extra just in case

1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, chopped (or 1 tsp dried if that’s what you have)

9-10 spears asparagus

100g pancetta or smoked bacon, chopped

75g grated Parmesan cheese

Handful pine nuts, toasted until just brown

Olive oil

Seasoning

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Cook the onion and pancetta (or bacon) in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus by breaking off any woody stems (they should break easily at a joint – use to make stock if you have time). Place in a roasting dish, drizzle with olive oil, season and roast for 10-12 minutes or until just tender. Remove from the oven and set to one side, then turn the oven down to 160°C, Gas 4.

Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the rice to the onions in the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage, but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine, allow to sizzle for a few minutes, then add the stock, season and bring to boiling point. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then stir in the cooked asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces, smoked salmon and chopped herbs, plus 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more stock if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to the oven and cook for a further 15 minutes, before serving with extra cheese and toasted pine nuts.

I’m toying with the idea of making the next batch into soup – is that sacrilege?! I’ve already made a stock with the woody stems, so it’s very tempting. It’s certainly not the kind of thing you’d do unless you had lots to play with! I’ll keep you posted…

A taste of Crete in an unseasonally warm English autumn

Paleochora crocodile

Although it’s now nearly 4 weeks since I returned from my late autumn sunshine week in Crete, it’s hard to believe that temperatures in London yesterday were in the early 20’s, yet crisp, golden leaves were falling all around. Crazy weather! Very pleasant, though, for planting out the last of my spring pots with bulbs and violas, and continuing with the autumn tidy-up. I even found some alarmingly fat caterpillars on the shredded stalks of my purple-sprouting broccoli this afternoon when I made a hasty visit to gather some spinach and salad leaves for tonight’s dinner. It was too dark to do much more than puff a little organic pyrethrum dust over them and pick off the most obvious offenders, but I shall definitely be taking a closer look tomorrow – not what you expect at this time of year!

Other jobs on the agenda tomorrow, after a few weekends being too busy socialising to do much at the allotment, include clearing the beds of squash, courgette and sweetcorn plants, general weeding after all this warm and humid weather, and planting my broad bean seeds to overwinter for an early crop next spring. I’ve not planted any spring or winter cabbage this year as they always seem to get decimated by the combined forces of slugs and caterpillars, plus they take up an awful lot of room in the ground when there’s only me to eat them. Kale and broccoli provide a crop over a longer period, especially in March/April when there’s not a lot else around, and seem less affected (usually!) by pests as long as you net them from the ever-hungry pigeons. I’m giving garlic a miss too – the last three years have been blighted by fungal rot, so I can only conclude there are spores throughout the soil, despite careful crop rotation. The elephant garlic I trialled this year didn’t seem to be affected, but the individual cloves were far too big for one (or even two), so not really practical unless you have a large family to feed. Fortunately, Mr Waitrose does a nice line in organic garlic, so I think I’ll manage!

One thing I loved about Crete was the huge variety of vegetable dishes on offer. My hotel had its own vegetable garden and each evening we were regaled with a range of different and unusual vegetable side dishes, including okra, aubergines, peppers and pumpkins – delicious! I ate out at some lovely restaurants at lunchtime too, including a lovely find in Anidri, a tiny village above Paleochora, where my cousin lives. The Old School Café serves fabulous home-cooked food and the two of us dined like queens for the princely sum of €23 including wine and raki! My favourite dish was a pear and Graviera tart, closely followed by stuffed and baked aubergines in a tomato sauce, but it was the pear tart that intrigued me – I’d never thought of using pears in a savoury tart, although I adore the classic French combination of pears and blue cheese as a starter.

anidri cafe

I couldn’t find any similar recipes to recreate the dish when I got home, so I’ve experimented with my own and was delighted with the results. Graviera is a hard Greek cheese and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it here, so I opted for Gruyère instead, to give it that mature, tangy flavour – a good Cheddar might work too. See what you think:

Pear & Gruyère Tart

Shortcrust pastry case, 7-8” diameter

1 red onion, sliced

1oz butter or olive oil

2 pears (I used Conference, not too hard)

Juice of ½ lemon

2 eggs

1 small pot natural yogurt or crème fraiche

Fresh nutmeg, grated

Few sprigs fresh thyme, stripped from the stalks

2oz Gruyère (or to taste, plus extra to sprinkle on top)

Pre-bake the pastry case as usual.

Cook the sliced onion slowly in the butter or oil for about 15 mins, then add the pears, peeled and cored, then sliced thinly lengthwise (sprinkle with lemon juice while preparing to stop browning). Cook gently for a further 15 mins, then remove from heat.

Beat the eggs, then add small pot of natural yogurt, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, chopped thyme and seasoning. Stir in 2oz grated Gruyère and mix. Place the onion and pear mixture at the bottom of the pastry case, distributing evenly, then pour over the egg mixture. Sprinkle with extra Gruyère.

Cook at 180°C/Gas 5 for 25-30 mins or until golden brown. Serve with salad and enjoy!

Pear tart and salad

I served mine with fresh leaves and tomatoes from the garden, along with roasted beetroots and a splash of balsamic vinegar – the earthy taste of the beets really complimented the sweet, yet savoury taste of the pear tart.

I imagine the recipe would work equally well (if not better?!) with blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola or Blue Stilton, and perhaps with walnut pastry rather than standard shortcrust. Certainly worth a try next time…