Category Archives: tarts

well-framed

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We’ve driven out of Rome on three half-day trips this week; along the ancient Appia Antica to the hills, to the sea and to a town called Campagnano, small escapes providing space and an outside view. I remember a Drama tutor once asking how on earth can you comprehend what is on top of you, I think this is especially true of Rome and writing a book, both of which can loom so large and feel so claustrophobic that you need to take a step back to have any sort of perspective. Three trips meant three lunches.

One lunch was no more than fine, the other two though, well they seemed sent to remind my lately cynical self of the unique brilliance of Italian food and wine and the kaleidoscopic connection with place, history and tradition that can pass nonchalantly through a meal. I am still thinking about an antipasto of pear dipped in polenta and then deep-fried until golden and served with a dusting of pecorino cheese, abbacchio brodettato, lamb with egg and lemon sauce, and a dish of salt cod, tomatoes, raisins and pine nuts, all three of which may well sound unlikely, but were superb.

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I’ve written about peperonata before and I will probably write about it again. It will also be in the book, with a hilarious (or not so hilarious) story to justify its place. It is a recipe that falls into my extremely useful and delicious category. I first made it fifteen years, transported by Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson and a scarlet stew to Italy long before I moved here, I have made it constantly ever since. So many things about peperonata are good. It is simple and relatively quick to make: onions, red peppers, tomatoes smothered and simmered in olive and butter into a thick, vivid, full- flavored stew that is at once silky, sweet and savory. It is forgiving, proportions can be varied, tomatoes fresh or tinned. It’s generous, bringing the best out in peppers and tomatoes, even the underprivileged sort, making them the tastiest they can be.  It keeps well for a couple of days in the fridge and it freezes well. Peperonata is also, like my friend Tom, the most accommodating dish ever, it quite simply goes with everything.

It is excellent served hot with chicken, pork, lamb, beef and my favorite, topped with a  poached egg. It can be stirred into pasta or rice. It’s jammy almost chutney-like-nature makes it good in sandwiches, on toast or crostini. It is lovely as a salad or part of an antipasto like supper, sprinkled with parsley or dotted with black olives. It good too – as I discovered a couple of days ago – made into tart.

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I make the pastry ridiculously quickly – 120 g plain four, 50 g cold diced butter, salt, a little grated parmesan, iced water - and rolled it thinly, lifted it into the tin, pricked it and then sat the tin in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill. I then baked it until it was the colour of a walnut, before spooning in the peperonata and sliding it back in the oven for 5 minutes. I’m not sure this was entirely necessary.

For a moment I felt as though I had inherited my mum and granny Alice’s knack for pastry: a thin, buttery crust, slightly crumbly at the edges but holding firm underneath. The parmesan was a random impulse that works well, giving the pastry a sharp, salty edge. It is important your peperonata is (as Jane Grigson puts it) moistly juicy, even a little dry, never sloppy. We had the tart – the peperonata framed neatly by the pastry – with thinly sliced fennel with olive oil and salt, a lunch that made me nearly as happy as slamming shut those books.

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Peperonata tart

Note – this makes enough peperonata for two 21 – 24 cm tarts – you can never have too much peperonata. You can of course use fresh tomatoes. I’d make double if I were you.

  • a large white or yellow onion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 25 g butter
  • 3 large red peppers
  • a tin of tinned plum tomatoes or 6 good ripe tomatoes peeled and roughly chopped
  • salt and black pepper
  • 120 g plain flour
  • 50 g butter
  • 20 g freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and black pepper
  • cold water
  • You need at 21 cm – 24 cm tart or flan tin (ideally with a loose base)

Peel and slice the onion and then sauté it in olive oil and butter until soft and lightly golden. Cut the peppers into short strips, discarding the stalks, seeds and pith. Add the sliced peppers to the pan, stir and then cover the pan and leave over a medium flame for 15 minutes. Lift the lid once or twice to stir.

Add the tomatoes to the pan. Leave the peperonata to cook uncovered for 30 – 40 minutes at a lively simmer or until all the liquid has evaporated away and the peppers are extremely soft and lie in a rich, thick, vivid tomato stew. It should be not be sloppy.  Season vigorously with salt.

Rub the diced butter into the flour with your fingertips until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Add the parmesan, a pinch of salt, some black pepper and enough iced water to bring the ingredients together into a smooth ball. On a lightly floured board roll the pastry into a round an inch larger than the tin. Lift the dough carefully into the tin, press it into the corners. Leave the pastry overhang. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork and then put it in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Bake the pastry case blind for 15 minutes (or until it is pale gold and firm) at 180°. You can break off the pastry overhang or leave it be. Fill the tart case with peperonata and then return to the oven for 5 more minutes. Serve the tart warm or at room temperature with salad.

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Filed under peppers, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, spring recipes, tarts, Uncategorized

what’s in a jar

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My mum makes mincemeat every single year. For years I helped, stirring the ever darkening mass of dried fruit, candied peel, apples, nuts and suet, then squashing it into jars.  I liked the way the house smelt, a spiced and boozy fanfare for festive things to come. We’d have the first batch of mince pies in mid December, the pastry scented with orange zest, still warm from the oven.

My dad would eat whole pies in one gulp, which we thought was hilarious and my mum would say ‘Martin really, you’ll just encourage them‘ Which of course he did. Jar after jar was spooned into round after round of pastry, warm pies presented at every opportunity, to postmen and neighbours, callers, and us, especially us. Of course a mince-pie was always left for father christmas on christmas eve. The next morning we’d find it half eaten and Ben would say ‘It’s icing sugar and Dad did it‘ while Rosie stared at Father Christmas’s snowy footprints.

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Then for years I didn’t help. I didn’t eat the pies either. I’d eat a whole jar of mincemeat though, crouched on the cellar stairs when everyone else was in bed. Then I’d feel as dark as the contents of the jar I’d just eaten and furious. Furious with the mincemeat, my with mum for making the bloody stuff, with myself.

It went on for years, mincemeat, like so many things, was something to be battled with, first with steely resistance, then otherwise. Later, it was on a list, two actually, to avoid and gratitude. I can’t remember exactly how it worked? Avoiding things but being grateful for them at the same time maybe! Looking back it all seems so absolutely absurd, comical even, that it’s hard to remember it made absolute sense at the time.

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I don’t make mincemeat every single year. However when I do, everything is there, swirling around in the spiced and boozy scent, 41 years of mincemeat, of pans stirred and pans not stirred. I could get absorbed in detail, nostalgic or absurd, but I don’t, enjoying instead the heady vapours and a nip of brandy.

Luca clambers up on chair and demands a stir. His little hands clasp the wooden spoon and flick it upwards and then downwards splattering the stove, an amber fleck handing on his wrist ‘ It’s hot meat’ he tells me.  I feel relieved Luca is a boy and yearn to talk to my mum.  As I spoon stuff into jars and screw on the lids, I remind myself it’s only mincemeat.

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Usually I make Jane Grigsons mincemeat (which is turn Mrs Beeton) from English Food. Not having found suet, I made Gloria Nicol’s apple and quince mincemeat, two batches actually, the first back in October. Unlike JG’s recipe the mincemeat is cooked, in cider no less, for about an hour, the result is glorious, thick, rich, fragrant, well-spiced mincemeat to which you add (plenty of) brandy. Purist will not agree, but I think it is just as good as mincemeat with suet.

Apple and Quince mincemeat

Adapted from Gloria Nicols recipe in the Guardian.

Gloria notes this makes 1.75 g of mincemeat. Both my batches filled 3 standard jars and one smaller jar. For those in Rome I bought all the Ingredients from Emporio delle Spezie in Testaccio, it is an Aladdin’s cave of spices, herbs, seasonings, dried fruit, nuts, grains and tea – all sold by weight.

  • 500ml cider
  • 225 g soft brown sugar
  • 1 kg Bramley apples (or mixture of quince and apples), peeled and cored
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100 g dates
  • 100 g currants
  • 150 g raisins
  • 150 g sultanas
  • 100 g candied peel, chopped
  • 50 chopped almonds
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 150ml brandy

Put 3 scrupulously clean standard jars and a smaller one with lids in a low oven to sterilize for 10 minutes.

In a large heavy based pan warm the cider and sugar, stirring to until the sugar has dissolved. Peel, core and chop the apples and grate the quince if using them. Add all ingredients except the brandy, to the pan. Over a low flame let the mincemeat simmer and bubble gently for around 1 hour – stirring every now and then – until the apples have turned into puree and the mixture looks rich and thickened.

Remove from the heat, allow the mincemeat to cool and then stir in the brandy. Spoon the mincemeat into the sterilised jars and seal immediately. Leave for a month – and up to a year – to mature before opening.

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Mincemeat tart

Why wait until christmas ? I like my pastry plain, unsweetened and more crisp than crumbly. My tin is a fluted and measures 8″ across.

  • 120 g plain flour
  • 60 g cold butter (or a mix of butter and lard)
  • a pinch of salt
  • iced water
  • a jar of mincemeat

In a bowl rub the fat into the pastry with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the salt and then enough water to bring the ingredients together into a smooth soft dough.

On a floured board roll the dough into a round a little large than the tin. Carefully lift the dough into the tin and press it gently into the base and the edges. Trim the overlapping pastry and set the scraps aside. Leave the pastry case the fridge for 30 minutes.

Spoon the mincemeat into the case and then decorate the top with lattice or a pattern. Brush the pasty with beaten egg and bake at 180° for 30 minutes.

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Filed under almonds, candied fruit, christmas, jams and preserves, preserves and conserves, Puddings, recipes, tarts, winter recipes

give a fig

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We drove for miles – our faces tight with sea salt, our shoes full of sand – looking for figs. ‘This used to be marshland‘ I was told. ‘Uninhabitable and shrouded with mal aria (bad air) until Mussolini herded down thousand of workers from the north of Italy to bonificare or make good the land‘. Now the air smells of late summer, of sea and buffaloes. At least it did on Saturday as we scuttled along in the panda. ‘Buffalo, cow, mucca‘ Luca squealed as we passed another mudbath enclosure in which barely discernible black, horned creatures wallowed. Creatures whose rich morning milk would provide our supper, this is, after all, the land of mozzarella di Bufala. We flew past signs for Sabaudia, San Felice Circeo, Terracina; seaside towns punctuating the coast between Rome and Naples.

Figs.‘ An emergency foraging inversion was undertaken so we could pull up alongside the tree, and a fence. A woman lurking on the others side looked over, eyes narrow. ‘I thought the tree was on the road‘ I said as we pulled away. Then I ate my stolen fig, a drop of nectar at it’s eye, its flesh tasting somewhere between honey, sweet wine and ripe berries. ‘Buffalo’ said Luca. We drove some more, passing dozens of fig trees, their branches heavy with fruit, all behind fences of varying degrees of seriousness. More signs for Terracina, Sabaudia, San Felice Circeo, another field of wallowing buffaloes. It was all beginning to feel a little like dejavu. Which of course it was! We had been here before, fifteen minutes before. We were driving in circles. Maybe everyone was right, maybe I had imagined the roadside figs.

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Figs.’ This time there was no doubting the liberty of the tree. Nor its precarious position. Not that a bracken filled gully was about to stop me. I straddled the gap while wishing I was wearing trousers and had done some sort of stretching these last eight years. I grabbed a branch and tugged it down. Figs, dozens of them. Pause. Dozens of figs the size of grapes and as hard as acorns. At which point I let the branch ping upwards and admitted defeat. ‘I don’t understand, the trees in the gardens are full of ripe fruit!’ The stench of beast whipped through the car window and up our noses. ‘Buffalo’ said Luca. We pulled into a lay by farm shop-of-sorts, which rubbed salt into my failure. As she wrapped two trays of pale green figs and a bag of deep purple plums the woman told us it’s been a strange year for figs, what with the rain, which made me feel slightly better.

Half one tray was eaten on the way back to Rome, washed with bottled water out of the window while waiting in traffic just south of Pomezia. The other half was eaten the next day for lunch, with prosciutto, a superb combination of sweet and salty, soft and resistant. I started the second tray of figs at about 5 0 clock, with the last slice of prosciutto and a square of pizza bianca.

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Pizza bianca: a soft foccacia-like flat bread brushed with olive oil and strewn with salt that’s made in every breadshop, baker and pizza-by-the-slice establishment in the city, is an icon of Roman food so beloved by Romans it makes me jealous. At this time of year, when figs are ripe but sodi, vinous and sweet, Romans tear and tuck them along with a slice or two of prosciutto between the two ripped halves of pizza bianca. The salty prosciutto contrasts deliciously with the sweet, floral fig, the seeds grate gratifyingly against the smooth meat and get caught in your teeth, the pizza acts as slightly crisp, oiled and salted pillow enveloping everything. Tasty and good.

As is this tart, for which I used the last six figs. An almond and fig tart, a frangipane of sorts based on the River Cafe pear and almond tart on page 282 of the blue book I have been meaning to make for at least 15 years.

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Unlike my Granny Alice and Mum, I am not a natural pastry maker. I’m afraid you see, of puffing up and shrinking down, of cracked crusts and soggy bottoms. Especially soggy bottoms, as there has been quite enough of those these last two years. I like tarts though, and like is more powerful than fear. So with cold hands I rub cold butter into flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs, then add some sugar – not too much as the filling will be sweet enough – then a whole egg and a yolk for good measure, bring everything together and then leave it to rest in the fridge.

Once the pastry is cold you roll it into a circle bigger than the tin - overlap is important – then maneuver it into the tin, patching and pressing as you go. Then you bake this scraggy-edged tart case, with or without baking beans (I prefer without, the sticking is another anxiety I’d rather avoid) until its pale gold or the colour of a rich tea biscuit. You can neaten the tart case if you like, by breaking off the scraggy edge, or you can leave it just so. Then you fill the tart case with a coarse ivory coloured-cream of ground almonds, butter, mascarpone, sugar and egg. To finish, you stud the cream with halved figs. The tart needs at least 45 minutes in a low oven. My tart was deeper than it should have been, so it took an  hour and five minutes at 160° for the filling to set into a soft, crumbling marzipan-like affair with a golden crust, and the figs to wrinkle into even sweeter, chewier things the colour of Chianti.

A damp, dense, richly flavored tart – figs and almonds have a nougat-like quality when combined – that manages to be both homely and exotic, here and there – wherever there may be. Even better the next day and mauybe even better the day after that. Serve in smallish slices with unsweetened espessso, black tea or a dry dessert wine.

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Fig and almond tart

Adapted from recipe for pear and almond tart in The River Cafe Cook Book.

For the tart shell

  • 250 g plain flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 125 g butter
  • 40 g icing sugar
  • 1 whole egg and one extra yolk

For the filling

  • 6 ripe figs
  • 125 g mascarpone cheese
  • 125 g butter
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 200 g ground almonds
  • 2 whole eggs

Set the oven to 180° / 350 f. You need a 26cm / 10 inch tart tin. Loose bottomed is best (but not essential.)

In a large bowl rub the cold diced butter into the flour and pinch of salt with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, stir and then the egg and extra yolk. Bring the mixture together into a smooth, cohesive dough.  This can be done in a food processor. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill it for at least an hour

On a floured board roll the dough into a round at least an inch larger than your tin. Using the rolling-pin, maneuver the dough into the tin and then press it down carefully, patching any cracks. Leave the overhang. Bake blind for 20 minutes until very light brown. Reduce the oven to 160° / 300 f.

While the tart case cools a make the filling by mixing together the butter, mascarpone, sugar, almonds and eggs. Spoon this cream into the tart case, smooth it out a little with a fork and then stud the cream with fig halves – seeds to the sky.

Bake the tart for 45 – minutes to an hour or until  the filling has set firm and has a nice, golden crust and the figs are wrinkled and dark red.

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Filed under almonds, Eggs, figs, fruit, summer food, tarts, Uncategorized

On avoiding and cherries

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At eight years old I thought the height of sophistication was a Snowball in a champagne saucer topped with a cocktail cherry. I’d sit up at the bar sipping my frothy yellow drink, my feet swinging limply from the high stool, my shoulders twitching in time with the jukebox. I knew full well my cocktail had barely a wiff of alcohol – just enough Advocaat to tinge the lemonade pale-yolk-yellow – that I’d be whisked off to bed just as soon as the pub got busy. But that didn’t bridle my joy at sitting up at the bar, Snowball in one hand, cheese and onion crisp in the other listening to the Kinks.

My granny ran a pub on Durham street in Oldham called the Gardeners Arms, a traditional free house serving Robinson’s ale, bitter and stout. It was an almost handsome, heavy-set place, with patterned carpets, brass topped tables and a curved wooden bar. Two or three times a year we’d surge – my parents and three small children – up the M1 motorway to Oldham. Arriving late, besieged by over-tiredness and over-excitement, there was invariably whining and weeping. So my dad would scoop us out of the car, whisk us through the bar, up the stairs and straight into bed above the pub. We’d resist sleep with all our might, before falling deeply, the faint pulse of the jukebox below, the smell of clean sheets not quite masking that of park drive cigarettes, Robinson’s bitter and my grannies Lancôme face cream faint on our just kissed cheeks.

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The next morning we’d charge down the stairs. The air thick with Brasso and the howl of the Hoover, my aunty May and granny – all slippers and house coats – would already be hard at work. While barrels of beer rolled off the brewery lorry, down the hatch and into the beer cellar, and crates of stout and Schweppes were brought clinking-in to replenish the shelves, we’d eat bacon butties with Uncle Colin. Thick slices of white cottage loaf and best back bacon. The trick was to squash the sandwich between both palms to make it manageable. Then we’d run, like excited terriers, around the pub, brandishing pool cues, pestering for jukebox coins.

In the days before continual everything, English pubs would open for lunch and then from 7 until 11 20 with last orders at 11. When the Gardener’s Arms opened it’s doors at 11, my brother, sister and I would scramble up onto bar stools and pummel our fists, as thirsty regulars do, on the bar. Until the age of ten I thought anything in an individual bottle was exciting. Add a straw and it was even better. Add cocktail cherry on a stick and I was beside myself. So we would sit, Rosie with orange, Ben with Cola and me with my Schweppes ginger ale, our bottles spouting straws, umbrellas and sticks on which flourescent cherries were impaled. We’d slurp and crunch, we’d put another coin in the jukebox and sing along to songs we didn’t really understand.

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Although I’m still partial to a cocktail cherry or three – ideally the real thing but I’ll happily gobble a luminous one for old times sake – these days I prefer my cherries warm from my friends tree, straight from the brown paper bag on the way home from the market or chilled until they’re so cold and taut they burst between your teeth. Then once I’ve had my fill of cherries hand to mouth, I poach a few, soak a few in alcohol and make some jam.

Given the choice between boxes and jam, I’ll take the jam. I am also genetically opposed to moving house in an organised fashion. Rogue packing fueled by anxiety and too much caffeine is more my style. Also I’d run out of jam and was eating chestnut honey on toast. Which was fine for a day or two, but by the third day breakfast was disappointing, which isn’t a good start.

Satisfyingly simple jam. Having washed, stalked and stoned your cherries, you leave them to macerate with sugar and curls of lemon peel for a few hours. You then bring the fruit to the boil, skim away the purple tinged froth – that reminds me of my aunty May’s purple rinse, then lower the heat and leave the deep purple jam to bubble and burp quietly for just over an hour. Your jam is ready when it is thick, clinging to the back of the spoon and decidedly sticky. We had it for breakfast, on toast primed with almost white butter made with cream I really can’t afford. Dark, intensely cherry-sweet and lemon edged, we were not disappointed.

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Then seeking further avoidance, I made a cherry jam tart or Crostata di ciliegie. My granny Alice was not only a good landlady, one who kept an immaculate beer cellar and pulled a good pint while looking rather lovely, she was also a deft pastry maker. Cold hands, cold butter and iced water she would remind me. I can picture her cold, clean hands with neat well-scrubbed nails rubbing the diced butter into the flour, the fine breadcrumbs spilling back through her fingers into the bowl. I can also picture her behind the bar, making pint pulling seem effortless – which it isn’t – her hair set and secured with lacquer, her girlish smile.

Back to Rome and my avoidance tart. I put barely any sugar in my pastry yesterday knowing the jam was sweet enough. After leaving it to rest for an hour in the fridge, I rolled the pastry thinly and then manoeuvred it into my tin pie plate. Which again made think of Alice, and in turn my Mum, both fond of a tin pie plates. Having spooned the jam into the case I then crisscrossed the top with pastry strips. Egg yolk glue and a firm hand ensured sure they stayed in place even in the oven.

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A tart like this needs 35 minutes or so in the oven. You need to keep an eagle eye on it, especially during the last five minutes. You also need to let the tart rest for 30 minutes or so, longer if possible, so it settles and slices neatly. Some very cold, thick cream would have been nice, but we ate it just so, the buttery scantly sweetened pastry at that nice point between crisp and flaky (but not crumbly, I’m not a fan of crumbly when it come to pastry) and contrasting nicely with the sticky, sweet, lemon-edged cherry jam. It was even better this morning.

Now I think I have well and truly run this to the wall, I have to be out of here the day after tomorrow, I haven’t even collected enough boxes and my removal man has disappeared again. It’s ridiculous, even for me! I am not sure what’s going to happen about the internet, I didn’t fully understand what the operator was saying, but it sounded complicated. Which means I can’t be sure when I will next be here. I could do with a snowball or a pint, but I’ll make do with another piece of tart.

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Marmalata di ciliegie  Cherry Jam

Adapted from the Silver Spoon

The addition of lemon peel gives the cherry jam a sharp-lemon edge which is reminiscent of sour cherries. I love this, you may not, in which case omit the lemon peel and be frugal with the lemon juice.

Makes 2 jars.

  • 1.5 kg cherries, washed with stalks and stones removed.
  • 750 g fine sugar
  • a unwaxed lemon

Put the washed, stoned and stalked cherries in a heavy-based pan suitable for jam. Pare away five thick strips of lemon peel with as little pith as possible attached. Add the strips of lemon peel to the pan. Cover the fruit with sugar, stir and leave to sit in a cool place for 3 hours.

Squeeze the lemon juice over the cherries. Stir and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the jam is thick, coating the back of the spoon and of an even consistency. I also do a saucer test to see if the jam has set. That is: put a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes, then put a spoonful of jam on the cold saucer, wait a minute and then run your finger through the jam. If the jam wrinkles, remains in two parts and doesn’t run back into a single puddle it is set.

Ladle the jam into warm sterilized jam while still hot. Screw on lids immediately and then leave the jars to cool upside down which creates a seal.

Crostata di ciliegie  cherry tart

Adapted from the Silver Spoon and inspired by Emiko

  • 200 g plain flour
  • 100 g cold butter, cold and cut into 1 cm dice
  • 20 g icing sugar (optional)
  • 1 small egg
  • a glass of iced water acidulated with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • pot of cherry jam
  • 1 egg yolk for sticking egg white for glazing

You will need a shallow 20 cm flan tin or pie plate.

Put the flour and cold, diced butter in a large bowl, With cold hands, using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add sugar.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and add to the flour and butter breadcrumbs. Add the teaspoon of iced water. Using first a metal spoon and then your (cold) hands to bring the ingredients together into a smooth even dough. Add more iced water if nesseasry. Cover the dough with cling film and chill for at least an hour in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180°. Set aside a third of the pastry. Flour the work surface. Sprinkle the rolling-pin with flour. Roll the other two-thirds into a round just larger than the tin or pie plate. Use the rolling pint to lift the pastry over to the tin or plate. Leave a small overhang as the pastry will shrink. Spoon the jam into the pastry shell. Roll the remaining third of pastry out, then cut it into thick strips and criss-cross them across the tart painting the ends with egg yolk and pressing them firmly into the pastry case. Paint the criss-cross strips with egg white. Bake the tart for 30 – 40 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

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Filed under cherries, jams and preserves, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats London, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spring recipes, tarts

Just One

If I had to keep just one cookbook, it would be a red hardback wrapped in a bright blue sleeve with a lobster on the front, a single volume which comprises three of Elizabeth David’s classics of the kitchen; Book of Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking and Summer Cooking. I might have a moment of doubt and consider Jane Grigson’s ‘Good Things’ or my dog-eared copy of ‘English Food’. I may clutch my battered copy of Simon Hopkinson’s Roast chicken and Other Stories closely for a moment, but my definitive choice, my desert island trilogy, would be my crustacean adorned copy.

Elizabeth David is not just my favorite food writer, she’s one of my favorite writers and one of the reasons I absconded to Italy. For years I’ve returned to at least one of her eight books or one of the two anthology’s of her articles, letters and notes – which are invariably scattered all over my flat – most days, be it in the kitchen, in a chair, writing here, or last thing at night in bed. Her introduction to Mediterranean food, description of Provence in French Provincial Cooking and anything from An omelette and a glass of wine are all favorites to fall asleep to.

She is a masterful writer: scholarly, witty, informative, elegant, fiercely opinionated, and the passion and enthusiasm with which she communicates her love of good food, well cooked is contagious. Her writing, essays, descriptions of weather, food, herbs, colours, smells, tastes, and of course her meticulously authentic recipes collected during her travels in France, Italy, Corsica, Malta, India, Eygpt and Greece are timeless (she began writing in the 1950′s) and as bright and brilliant as sunshine. But for all their bright brilliance, Elizabeth David’s books, illustrated with John Minton’s black and white drawings, are also a refuge, evoking a way of cooking and thinking about food so entirely different from the loud, fussy, over styled but often hollow food culture I can (and do) bombard myself with.

Over the last five months Elizabeth David has mostly been a bedside companion. But now I’m emerging – sleep deprived, disoriented, quite grumpy but uncharacteristically content – from my postnatal vortex and my very bonny five and a half month old son, if armed with a wooden spoon and a Tupperware lid, is happy to bounce away in the doorway, I’ve started working my way through the fringe of bookmarks. The first being Quiche Lorraine.

In truth, this particular recipe for Quiche Lorraine from French Country Cooking has been bookmarked for years rather than months and the food memory behind the bookmark is decades rather than years old. Two and a half decades to be precise, 25 years, since I ate a slice of Quiche Lorraine at the vast kitchen table of the Renault family during my traumatic but gastronomically revelatory French exchange with the horrid Carolyn I was 14. I even mentioned this recipe when I wrote about savory tarts a while back. But I never made it. Then the other week my friend Ruth came over for lunch and I wanted to make something tasty, simple and nice, a thank you of sorts for all the meals her and her husband have made for me. The bookmark for the Quiche was particularly prominent, a postcard from France no less, so I finally made this Quiche.

This is the Quiche Lorraine I ate in France all those years ago, simple, authentic, understated and very delicious. Short, crumbly, flaky pastry – made with plenty of good butter and some lard – encasing a delicate, quivering, softly set filling of fresh thick cream and eggs studded with chopped bacon. This is my Quiche touchstone, the example which shames all the crimes against Quiche I’ve had the misfortune to encounter, those heavy leaden triangles of heartburn inducing pastry filled with rubbery custard and stuffed to the gunnels with too much cheese, béchamel, three types of vegetable, pineapple, two paperclips and goodness knows what else.

This may seem a mere slip of a Quiche if you are used to heftier more elaborate things! But I assure you it’s a lovely slip of a Quiche.  Unfashionably rich and unhealthy by todays standards, what with all the butter, lard, bacon and cream and just my sort of thing. My sort of thing too I can hear you shouting, hooray for butter, lard, bacon and cream. And after all, there will be salad too, crisp and green, hopefully with some bitter leaves to contrast the soft dairy creaminess of the Quiche.

It is pretty straightforward to make and involves four nice kitchen tasks all of which I am happy to interpret as dance moves if given the appropriate quantity of alcohol; rolling, tucking, frying and whisking. First you make the pastry by rubbing butter and lard into flour (with a pinch of salt) until it reassembles breadcrumbs, adding some very cold water and bringing everything together into a ball. You chill the pastry for a while before rolling it out into a circle and tucking it into a tart tin, preferably one with a loose base.  Then the frying, of the diced bacon – the smell of which along with thoughts of roast beef brought was the smell that brought me back from the other side . Finally the whisking together of the thick, fresh cream – luscious and lovely - with two eggs. Once you have sprinkled your diced, fried and provocatively smelling bacon into the pastry case and poured over the pale yellow mixture you manoeuver your Quiche (set on a baking tray)  into the oven, bake it for 30 minutes for so or until it’s set but still with a slight wobble, blistered and golden.

The Quiche is best about 20 minutes after coming out of the oven, so it has time to settle and the filling firm up a little. Also the  texture and flavors – as is so often the case – are best appreciated when the Quiche is warm as opposed to hot.

It seems appropriate that I give you Elizabeth David’s recipe as she wrote it - word for word – in French Country Cooking. I have however added metric measurements and some of my own notes at the end.

Quiche Lorraine

From Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking

For six people

  • 6oz / 180g flour
  • 2 oz /60g butter
  • 1 oz / 30g dripping / lard
  • 6 rashers bacon
  • 1/2 pint / 250 ml cream
  • 2 fresh eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 gill / 75 ml of water

Make a pastry with the flour, butter, dripping, a pinch of salt and the water. Give it one or two turns and then roll it into a ball and leave it for 1 hour.

Line a flat buttered pie tin with the rolled out pastry. Onto the pastry spread the bacon cut into dice and previously fried for a minute. Now beat the eggs into the cream with a little salt and ground pepper; when they are well mixed, pour onto the pastry, put into a hot oven and bake for about 30 minutes.

Let it cool a little before cutting and serving.

My Notes.

I only used 50ml of water. I think very very cold water (I add an ice-cube to the measuring jug) is best. I rest my pastry in the fridge. My tart tin has a loose bottom. I bought it here. It is a trusty tart tin. When I roll the pastry out and tuck it in the tin, I leave a pastry overlap which compensates for any pastry shrinkage when it cooks. I make sure I press the pastry firmly into the tin. I don’t worry about neat tart edges. I set my oven to 175°. I bake my tart case blind for 10 minutes before adding the filling. When I bake blind I don’t use baking beans, I simply pick the pastry with a fork – the pastry may well puff up but it quickly sinks down again. I use double, heavy cream. I think the tart is best eaten about 20 minutes after coming out of the oven.

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Filed under antipasti, cream, Eggs, fanfare, food, pies and tarts, summer food, tarts

A little pot…

...of lemon cream.

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I have an enormous soft spot and pathological weakness for sweet, creamy, lemon spiked desserts and puddings, a quivering slice of tart au citron, a bowlful of that most English of desserts lemon Syllabub, a piece of lemon cheesecake, a spoonful or seven of lemon mousse, a little pot of lemon cream. It’s the soft, sweet, creamy nature of these puddings, the ointment of cream, eggs, maybe butter and sugar sharpened and lifted by a lip puckering tartness of the lemon which makes them so magical to me.

My love of all things sweet and lemony started with lemon curd (or lemon cheese as it was called in the north of English) the smooth, translucent, sweet – sharp spread. Or maybe it was the lemon sherbet sweets, the ones that fizzed and popped in your mouth, the ones you bought by the quarter at the local sweet shop that came in a white paper bag twisted at the corners…….

No, the lemon curd came first.

My mum would make it or little jars of it – usually with a jam pot hat, that circle of fabric secured by an elastic band covering the lid – would be brought back from English holidays or purchased from fragrant ladies wearing vast flowery skirts and pearl earings at garden fetes. The lemon curd was then spread extremely thickly on white bread or used to fill tarts which were sometimes topped with meringue, but it was best, as my younger sister Rosie and I quickly discovered,  eaten straight from the jar with a spoon, thick and luscious.

French holidays and the discovery of fine tart au citron gave my affection for such sweet, creamy, lemon spiked things a rather more refined and sophisticated edge, or at least I thought it did, I was at that age. Of course I liked the pastry, delicate and buttery but it was the bright yellow filling of lemons, sugar, butter and egg, the intense satiny lemoniness of it all, the way it trembled and wobbled ever so slightly as you cut a slice that I really loved

Unfortunately I haven’t mastered the art of a decent tart au citron yet, it’s the pastry you see, despite modest progress I still practice heavy avoidance techniques where pastry is concerned. The mere sight of the words… pate…brisee…sucrèe…rich or shortcrust will see me hastily turning the page if at all possible.

I do intend to master the art of a half decent tart au citron/ lemon tart at some point but until I do I am more than content with being able to make the filling…because thats what these little pots of lemon cream are you see…… the filling of a lemon tart…..well a kind of filling, purists may quibble at the recipe – although I very much doubt purists have read this far.

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….the juice and zest of 3 fine lemons, some sugar, a tub of marsapone or some double cream, 6 eggs with very yellow yolks…whisked together gently…allowed a long leisurely rest in the fridge, decanted into little pots and then baked in a gentle oven for 25 minutes.

It’s there, the soft, sweet and  creamy sharpened and lifted by the lip puckering tartness of the lemon. If ambrosial is something which is exceptionally pleasing to taste or smell then thats what these little pots are.

I can’t decide when I like to eat my little pot (s) of lemon cream more..is it about 15 minutes after they have come out of the oven when they are still warm and the center is still runny ? or after about an hour when they are cool and set but still very soft and tender ? or the next day after a night in the fridge when the are deeply set and thick and fudgy  ?….. The joy of making 8 little pots and only having 4 guests is that you don’t have to decide, after all you have 2 pots extra pots just for you.

Nigella recommends leaving the cream, sugar, lemon, eggs mixture resting and steeping in the fridge for 1 or 2 even 3 days before you decant it into little pots and then bake it. I do too…… well 1 day at least and if you have the patience 2, as it really does improve the silky texture and intensify the deep lemon flavour. I have never left if for 3 days, if you try let me know.

P1040870

Lemon Cream

from How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

yield 8 little pots

  • 3 juicy, unwaxed lemons
  • 275g caster sugar
  • 6 fresh eggs
  • 250g marscapone or 300ml double cream

Grate the lemon zest from all 3 lemons into a bowl and then squeeze and add their juice to the bowl.

Add the sugar and eggs to the bowl and whisk until everything is nicely incorporated.

Stir in the cream or marsapone and then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it in the fridge until you need it but ideally for 2 days.

When you are ready to bake, set the oven to 150°, boil the kettle and put eight little ramekins or pots into a roasting tin and then share the lemon mixture between all eight.

Por hot, but not boiling water into the roasting dish to come half way up the little pots and then bake for 25 minutes or until they are just set but still with a bit of wobble and runniness about them as they will set more as they cool.

Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving and they will sit happily for a few hours. If you are making them a day in advance, keep them in the fridge but take them out a good half hour before you serve them so they are cool not cold.

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Filed under cakes and baking, Eggs, food, Puddings, tarts

Apple Tart

It has taken some time, months actually, for me to finally get around to making this apple tart.

Not that I haven’t thought about it, I have had a low level apple tart hum in my head ever since two of my favorite food blogs orangette and life in recipes posted such tarts late last year. At about the same time, I came into the happy possession of David Tanis’s book ‘A Platter of Figs’ and a certain recipe on page 48.  I bookmarked, I noted,  I wrote in on the kitchen blackboard, I promised myself, I bought the apples at least 3 times and then what did I do ? I apple tart procrastinated.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, at last, inspired by Molly and Hiedi and in the capable hands (and quite frankly, lovely hands – have you seen the pictures of his hands in the book!, I am in Love with the mans hands) of Mr David Tanis, I made an apple tart, two tarts actually.

I think I may be making this tart rather a lot, it is one of the nicest, simplest and happiest recipes I have made in a while and it was most definitely the most admired and relished part of last nights dinner.

apple-tart-11

So relished in fact that I nearly had to wrestle the final slice from the hands of my Sicilian- who I should add had already had 3 slices – in order to take a photo this morning. Photos with any degree of focus were not a option after such generous pourings of Rosso di Montalcino last night ( San Felice Campogiovanni 2005 – very nice indeed) and in the presence of such Monopoly passions. Talking of Monopoly, Why do I play? it’s not like I need to be reminded I am bad with money, ‘yes, I went bankrupt again you rich fatcats with your fancy hotels.’ I don’t want to appear a bad loser, but I am, and I am never playing that STUPID game again.

Back to the tart……

apple-pie-4

This is a slip of a tart, delicate but hearty, pretty but not fussy. If apple puddings went to school, the pie would be the homely head girl, the crumble the nice but slow kid at the back and this tart the petite pretty girl with dark eyes and a french mum who makes the boys stutter.

It is very pleasing to make, rolling out the rough, imperfect rectangle of buttery pastry and then laying the thin slices of apple like cards in solitaire, pleasing to look at and quite deliciously pleasing to eat warm from the oven. The flavours are pure and uncomplicated, a plain, buttery, flaky pastry base topped with slivers of  soft, slightly caramelized apples and lent sweetness and a hint of caramel by the thick, sticky apple glaze you paint on the warm tart.

I took DT’s advice and make the tart in the early afternoon, it then sat patiently in the fridge until dinner. Once we had started our main course I slid the tart into the oven, main course, ha, that sounds as if we had a very grand dinner, I assure you, it was anything but. 45 minutes later, the tart emerged, pastry crisp and apples soft and golden, I brushed it with glaze and then we waited patiently for all of 5 long minutes before we savoured and devoured the just warm tart with a big blob of cold, heavy cream.

I’m sure you know, but reminders never hurt, to allow pastry a good lazy rest in the fridge before you roll it out, at least an hour and even better 2 between making and using. Also, remember to handle pastry with startlingly cold hands, on the coolest surface possible and add iced water to the pastry, it makes big difference.

As I mentioned before if you don’t want to bake it straight away, the tart will sit happily in the fridge for 8 hours covered, don’t worry if the apples discolour, you won’t notice once it is baked.

I didn’t peel my apples this time, I will next time.

Apple Tart

Adapted from A platter of Figs by David Tanis

  • 250g all purpose plain flour (Italian 00 is great) plus extra for sprinkling
  • 250g good cold butter, diced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg beaten
  • About 150ml iced water for pastry
  • 6 medium crisp apples
  • 200g caster sugar plus extra for sprinkling
  • 25oml water for glaze

First make the pastry

Put the flour, butter and salt into a bowl. With cold fingers purposefully work and rub the butter into the flour until it is mealy and resembles fine breadcrumbs, with some larger flecks of butter still visible.

Pour the beaten egg and 150ml of iced water into the bowl. Quickly knead the dough until it comes together, the dough will be soft, a bit sticky and a little rough looking.

Sprinkle the dough with flour and shape it into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap the dough and allow it to rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours or overnight.

Cut the dough in half, you have enough for 2 tarts, so unless you are making two you can freeze the rest of the pastry.

Roll out one of the halves into a rough rectangle about 11″ by 16″ and transfer it to a baking sheet. Cover the pastry with clingfilm and allow it to rest in the fridge for 30mins.

Now, you can peel or not peel the apples, but either way, quarter each apple and cut away the core, set aside for later. Slice each apple quarter into thin slices and then arrange the slices in 4 or 5 rows over the pastry like cards in solitaire. Recover the tart and allow it to rest in the fridge until you are ready.

Make the glaze. In a small pan heat the sugar, water, reserved apple cores and apple skin if you have them, stir so the sugar dissolves and then simmer away into a thick syrup. drain the syrup and set aside for later.

When you are ready, preheat the oven to 190° 375f.

Sprinkle the extra sugar over the apples and then bake the tart for about 45mins or until the pastry is crisp and the apples are soft and golden.

Once out of the oven, slide the tart onto a wire rack to cool, then reheat the glaze. Once the tart is just warm, slide it onto a serving board (or leave it on the baking tray if it is a informal affair like ours) and paint it with the glaze.

Serve immediately in large squares with a blob of very cold heavy cream

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Filed under cakes and baking, food, fruit, pies and tarts, recipes, tarts