Category Archives: pies and tarts

on red and white in Sicily

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There is a photograph in one of the rooms at Case Vecchie that I keep thinking about. It is of the late Anna Tasca Lanza making estratto di pomodoro, tomato extract, using her hands to spread the bright red sauce onto a door-sized wooden board that will then sit in the August sun until it dries and reduces into a concentrated paste. There are countless other pictures of Anna around the house, some with her family, others of her giving cooking demonstrations or lessons, always elegant and aristocratic, her hair swept into a flawless bun. It is the estratto picture however that lingers in my mind, the one in which she is captured wearing a yellow and orange dress, straw hat and deep easy smile, her hands stained with tomato.

Fabrizia, Anna’s only daughter, used some of last years estratto in the braised rabbit she cooked for supper on our second night at Regaleali. We tasted the dark-red concentrate straight from the jar, deeply flavored with an almost sunburnt sweetness it was truly the essence of tomatoes grown in fertile soil and then dried under the Sicilian sun, you could say the essence of Sicily itself. Then while the Rabbit simmered and with the taste of the estratto still discernible, I crossed the courtyard to look at the picture of Anna again.

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Like many before me, I fell in love with Sicily the first time I visited nearly ten years ago. In Rome I fell in love with a Sicilian called Vincenzo who laughed at my romanticism and idealism about the Island much of his family had left 25 years before, but at the same time understood and promised we would return one day. In the meantime we visit, usually because Vincenzo and his band are playing a concert or for a family celebration. Or on this occasion because of serendipity, a conversation struck up at an airport with a young woman called Lena who was working with Fabrizia who in turn invited me to spend four days at her house and cooking school at Regaleali near Vallelunga about 90 minutes from Palermo.

Once you leave the autostrada, the uneven road that leads to Regaleali curves through landscape that grabs your breath – golden fields of wheat, hillsides of gnarled vines, olive trees and pasture dotted with sheep, all fringed with a tangle of wild flowers, herbs and fennel. At times the landscape seems soft and tamed, at others impenetrable and utterly wild; it is clear even to naive eyes like mine this beautiful, fertile land is not easy land. The house and cooking school are in Case Vecchie one of the most handsome stone buildings on the estate that sits on a hill. The blue gates were open when we arrived allowing us the first glimpse of the cobbled courtyard the cracks of which are filled with matted camomile and wild herbs. Over the next few days we would spend hours in the courtyard  choosing our spot according to the position of the sun, our morning coffee finished at the table in the right hand corner, aperitivi at the table in the cove, dinner at a table in another corner. My Luca, the youngest and noisiest member of our group, ran tirelessly across the cobbles shouting then tangling himself in the aprons Giovanna had hung on the corner washing line. Wherever you sat the smell of camomile curled from the ground and the scent of mint lingered in the air.

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When we weren’t in the courtyard we were mostly in the kitchen, either around the stove watching or helping Fabrizia cook or sitting at the square table that dominated the end of the room. When not in the courtyard or kitchen, I was in the garden started by Anna and now continued with all-consuming passion by Fabrizia. It is an enchanting place, a scented maze of flowers, particularly roses, clouds of white blossom, great deep clumps of lavender, mint and sage, fruit trees and an extensive vegetable patch. The garden, like the surrounding land, is both soft and hard, tender flowers growing in formidable soil which Fabrizia uses to her advantage cultivating particular plants and most notably a variety of tomatoes that are never watered forcing their roots to work hard at getting water from the deep. Enormous cactus-like fico d’india with their prickles and orange-red fruit juxtapose roses grown from English seeds the packets of which are pinned to a notice board in the shed. Butterflies flutter from plant to herb. One morning Luca and I went onto the garden at 6 30 and lay in the hammock listening to the cockerel and eating strawberries while reading the same story book about a lazy ant 12 times.

I live with a Sicilian and have spent enough time in Sicily to understand a little about its food, this however was scant preparation for the ingredients we were to touch, smell and eat, most of them grown on the estate, others sourced from all over the island. It began in the morning with the 8 or so jams made with fruit from the garden, lemon, Tarocco orange, grapefruit – each one more delicious and opinionated than the last. There was also fig and lip staining mulberry jam that we stirred into fresh yogurt. Around the kitchen were bowls of just picked lemons, cherries and apricots, bottles of olive oil, jars of estratto, the fattest anchovies I have ever seen, onions, garlic, capers and caper berries, bunches of mint and oregano, each thing seemingly more intensely flavored than the next, ingredients that tasted so brashly and boldly as they should it was unnerving. One afternoon Fabrizia, Lauren, Lou, David and Gabriella stood chopping onion, garlic and mint and grating orange zest while I,  too stupidly shy to join such confident hands, just let the scent rush at me in the same way Luca does, pure and uninhibited. On another occasion the same group were rolling pastry, slicing peaches and crumbling purple tinged pistachio nuts for tarts, words and movements moving across the work surface.

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As intense as the flavors were the colours: burnt red, fleshy pink, sunflower yellow, inky purple, every conceivable shade of green and the purest white in the form of ricotta di pecora. Ricotta which meant I finally understood what Vincenzo is imagining when he talks about the ricotta or cavagna they would collect from the local shepherd when he was a boy in southern Sicily, curds so soft and gentle they could almost be drunk.

Filippo Privitera milks his 400 sheep by hand twice a day in order to make pecorino cheese. The by-product of his cheese making is cloudy white whey which is then re-heated with rennet until it curdles and coagulates into ricotta. We stood in a white tiled room for about an hour, the steam rising from the pot heated by burning olive stones, Filippo stirring with such ordinary calm it was hypnotic. It was of course part show for us, but a genuine one that takes place every single day. Filippo’s five-year old son insisted on staying and as the soft, ethereal ricotta wobbled on the plate he opened his mouth like a cheeky little bird and his mother spooned some in. In that moment I saw Vincenzo aged 5 on his grandparents farm, then as I tasted the milky curds, ambrosial yet ordinary goodness I understood what he imagined when he spoke about the ricotta of his childhood.

We brought ricotta back for lunch along with beans with anchovies and breadcrumbs, pecorino cheese, salami, and warm potato salad with mint. That night we sat in the courtyard and ate another sicilian specialty panelle, fritters make from chickpea flour thickened into a paste, smeared onto a plate to set into a pliable disc, sliced into wedges and deep-fried. After there was rabbit braised with wine, estratto and finished with grape must syrup, beside it hand rolled cuscus scented with mint. We finished with caramel and pine nut ice-cream made by David, a ricotta and lemon cake by Pille and sweet wine.

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Something was up though. Amongst all the cooking and the talking there was a rumble. A rumble of activity and a calm rush as members of the family and locals who work on the estate crisscrossed the courtyard with sacks, piles, poles and great rolls of thick fabric. occasionally we would catch a sound from the fields behind the house dig, thud, grind?  Soon the kitchen joined in too and huge pans of rice, lentils and chickpeas steamed the windows, chicken was roasted and rolled, ricotta whipped, all preparations for the lunch.

On saturday at 1 after panelle and wine in the courtyard we walked through the farm to a single table with a white cloth laid for 160 that cut through a field of vines and vegetables. At about 1:30 we ate a lunch to celebrate 25 years of the cooking school, the work sourcing ingredients Anna began and Fabrizia continues and the collaboration between the different parts of the Tasca family. The heat broke at one point and it rained for a few minutes, puttering on the fabric canopy above our heads. At the same time the light faded sharpening colours, textures and the edges of the hills surrounding us making them darkly beautiful until the sun reappeared as bright as ever. On such big occasions you focus on the detail: the handmade plate we could take home, the fact the table was flanked by a row of fantastic cabbages, the hum and clink made by 160 people, the hair of the man across the table, Fabrizia’s green dress, the fact the wine tasted like wild asparagus, the sweetest tomatoes, chestnut like lentils, plump rice and almond pudding, the fact Luca managed to eat three cannoli.

Back in Rome I have been telling Vincenzo about the red and the white, about the swordfish baked with mint and garlic, pasta with sage, the baked pasta with aubergine, the majestic cassata Fabrizia made that I know he would have liked so much. In turn he talked about his grandfather’s farm in southern Sicily, a very different world, harder and poorer but a world that shares the same riches: fertile earth, sun, flavors, essence, traditions, rot, cracks, sweat and the bleeding red estratto and pure white ricotta I had tasted over the four days. I told him we were going to live in Sicily, ‘Which Sicily’ he asked, then laughed and agreed.

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And so back to the picture of Anna making the estratto, the picture of a woman from an aristocratic family who was only expected to be beautiful, marry well, have children and certainly not work. A picture of a woman who in her fifties surprised her family by creating a cooking school that celebrated traditional Sicilian cooking, traveled the world, planted a garden, wrote books about wild flowers and herbs and joyfully smeared estratto on a wooden table.

Now to a picture of Fabrizia in her garden checking her plants or better still in her garden shed amongst the seedings, the daughter who single-mindedly built a life far from Sicily as an art historian, but then realized she needed to return home 25 years later to work alongside her mother and eventually take over the school. An extraordinary woman who is embodying the values of her mother while bringing her own to a unique cooking school: her resourceful determination to protect and share Sicily’s reservoir of taste and traditions, a belief in deep edible education and to reinvest in the land and people, an ability to make cooking feel both poetic and practical and the above all the desire to bring people together at the table to eat, drink and talk.

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Which brings us to the recipe, my interpretation of the one of the puddings we ate on Saturday sitting at a long table cutting through a field; an apricot and pistachio nut tart made with apricots in light syrup from Leonforte and pistachio nuts from Bronte. The simplest sort of tart, sweet short crust, brushed generously with jam or marmalade, topped with apricots in syrup and chopped nuts. You could also use peaches and make small tarts in individual tins as Fabrizia did.

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Apricot or peach and pistachio tart 

  • 120 g plain flour
  • 60 g butter
  • 30 g fine sugar
  • a small egg
  • some peach or apricot jam or orange marmalade
  • 120 g tinned or jarred apricots or peaches in light syrup
  • a handful of pistachio nuts

Butter and flour a small tart tin. Set the oven to 180°

Make the pastry by rubbing together the flour and diced butter until they resemble fine bead crumbs. Add the sugar and the egg and then use your hands to bring the ingredients together into a consistent ball. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it in the fridge to chill for half an hour or so.

On a floured surface roll the dough into a circle a little larger than your tin. Lift the dough into the tin, press gently into the corners and then prick the base with a fork. Spread a little jam on the pastry, cut the apricots into quarters and arrange them on the jam, sprinkle with chopped pistachio and  put the tart on a baking tray and into the oven for about 25 minutes. Let the tart cool and the jam set firm again before serving.

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Thank you Fabrizia, Gianni, Costanza and the Tasca Family, Giovanna, Pompeo, Salvatores, Guiseppe, Lauren, Lou, Peggy and the women in the kitchen and men and women who work on the land. Thanks too to David, Pille, Johanna, Elizabeth and Domenico, Marrick and my mum who came to look after Luca so I could concentrate and he too could eat cannoli. The project archiving Sicilian food traditions is called The sacred flavors of sicily. The cooking school is called Anna Tasca Lanza and this is a magnolia.

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Filed under almonds, apricots, chickpea flour, In praise of, pies and tarts, Puddings, Rachel's Diary, recipes, ricotta, Sicily, supper dishes

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

Jammin

Our first strawberries this year, bought for a picnic on the first of May, were handsome, even featured, seductively heart-shaped, deep red things. They turned out to be terribly disappointing, taut, hollow and quite without taste. The berry equivalents of  tucked, toned, tight, plucked, perfect smile hollywood starlets. Strawberries more adapted to hurling than eating. Hurled they were. Then last week, punnets of scarlet fragole favette, reassuringly inconsistent in shape and size, arrived at Testaccio market from Terracina a coastal town south of Rome. Sweet, tender and as lovely as rose bud lips.

We ate these three just so, plump and juicy fine, quickly enough to avoid putting them in the fridge. I like avoiding the fridge. They only needed a tweak to pull out the green crowns and a wipe with a damp cloth – they were far too delicate to be drowned in water. The larger ones were sliced in two. They didn’t need sugar or lemon but Vincenzo had a twist of black pepper over his, insisting it brings out the flavour, something I am yet to be convinced of.

Talking of drowning, if we’d had some very heavy cream I’d have drowned  my third serving of berries in it, but we didn’t. I didn’t suffer its absence, not considering my imminent trip to London and the extremely large strawberry, scone and thick cream tea I intend to polish off with my sister Rosie and her new little girl, my first niece, Beattie.

On Saturday morning, to assuage my present compulsion to put food in jars I bought three kilos of strawberries to make jam. I have long harboured daydreams of having a cupboard full of French kilner and le parfait jars filled with pickles, preserves, compotes, tomatoes for a year, things under oil, things under alcohol. Vincenzo pointed out this larder was not going to suddenly materialise, and that if I wanted it, it was about time I started.

My mum is a great marmalade and jam maker, a very nice habit I took entirely for granted when I was growing up. I, on the other hand, am a very enthusiastic jam, jelly, conserve and preserve novice with a tendency towards stickiness and setting anxiety. I had a beer for lunch and then approached proceedings with a somewhat louche and cavalier attitude. I was working on the principle that even if it didn’t set, a deep red elixir of good strawberries and sugar, edgy with red currants and lemon juice would be delicious, even if it was poured.

Strawberry jam

Adapted from Jill Normans ‘ New Penguin cookery book‘ and my friend Ada.

  • 2kg strawberries
  • 250g punnet of red currants,
  • 1kg Jam/ preserving sugar,
  • juice of 2 large lemons.

Hull the strawberries wipe them with a damp cloth – wet fruit does not a good preserve make. Drain them well and cut them into pieces. Pull the stalks from the red currants and wash them. Layer the fruit in a large pan with sugar, ending with a layer of sugar. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to macerate for 6 hours.

Put 3 small saucers in the freezer for testing later. Put the pan on a low heat and add half the lemon juice. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat, add the rest of the lemon juice and boil – a rolling boil – for 1o minutes. remove from heat

Test by putting a little of the jam onto one of the cold saucers and put it into the fridge for a couple of minutes. Then push the jam with your finger, if it wrinkles it is set. If not, boil for 5 more minutes, remove from heat and then test again. If the jam is still not set, boil for another 5 minutes and test again. It will be set by now!

Wait for 15 minutes then pour the jam – carefully – into warm, clean sterilized jars, cover and seal while the jam is still warm to create a vacuum.

It set. Sour dough toast, lots of butter, sticky, sweet jam with a delightful kick of red currant – my jam, a pot of illy coffee, its scent curling around the flat, imminent arrival of English newspaper and crossword, option of going back to bed at any given moment. All’s well.

A woman in possession of a large quantity of strawberry jam and plans to make more is best advised to make a jam tart. Nothing fussy, a simple not-too-sweet pastry, filled with a puddle of jam. The pastry; 1oog butter, 30g icing sugar, one large egg, 200g flour. To make the pastry; put the butter, icing sugar and egg in a bowl (or food processor) and work together quickly. Blend in the flour and work together into a very soft homogenous paste.

Now working quickly with your fingertips, roughly – this is no time for neatness – push the soft pastry into a pie tin or tart case. The pastry needs to come up high enough to hold a pool of jam, you know the sort of thing I’m sure. Chill the case for 20 minutes or so. Spoon in the jam, making sure it is well within the pastry ridge.

Slide the tart into the oven – the one you have remembered to set at 180° – for 20 minutes or so, the pastry should be golden at the edges and the jam bubbling. Wait at least 20 minutes before slicing into the tart so the jam has time to settle back into some sort of firmness. Eat and Remember how much you like jam tart.

We’re jammin‘ –
To think that jammin’ was a thing of the past;
We’re jammin’,
And I hope this jam is gonna last.


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A Quiche by any other name

My brother Ben laughed when I told him I was making a Quiche. ‘At least call it a savory tart‘ he scoffed before our conversation was cut short by the kitchen timer and a suspicious curl of dark smoke seeping from the base of the oven. I hung up and retrieved the pastry case, it’s colour, like a rich tea biscuit suggested all was well! So the smell? Closer inspection of our shamefully black and greasy oven, something I usually avoid considering its eminent replacement, revealed a twisted slice of carbon, my forgotten toast.

I’ll resume this conversation with my brother, most probably over a pint or two next time I’m in London, I’m curious to unearth the roots of his aversion of the Q word. I’ve heard that Real men don’t eat Quiche. Maybe they can if they call it something else.

Quiche, savory tart, I’m happy with both titles. Maybe savory tart is safer, I’d hate to ruffle any French feathers, especially considering all the crimes against Quiche the English have committed in the last 50 years. We hijacked the delicate quivering Quiche or galette Lorraine; a bread dough or flaky pastry base filled with diced butter, thick ripe cream and fresh eggs maybe a few pieces of chopped bacon, baked until golden, blistered and alluring, and we bastardized it. We unleashed an epidemic of thick leaden, hefty horrors and we called them Quiches. Each one was stuffed with an unsightly rabble of as many the following as possible; hunks of ham, prawns, mushrooms, crabmeat, cheddar cheese, pineapple, olives, small trinkets, paperclips, more cheese and then more cheese. We suspended these bits in rubbery custard which may or may not have been made with evaporated milk. We re-heated then and served them in heavyweight wedges, thud.

But enough of all that, these savory tarts are delightful things, delicate and simple enough to be called a kind-of-quiche really! But lets call them tarts. As you know, I love a tart or four.

My savory tart phase, which culminated in this quartet for a ‘Kind of English picnic’ at our Friends Pub ( I’ll tell you about that another day), began with Allegra McEvedy’s Quiche from her guardian clickalong a couple of weeks ago. It’s a clickalong cookalong really, a lively, occasionally messy affair which is rather like a sing-a-long. Only instead of the song sheet you have a recipe and instead of doh ray me you chop, sizzle, bake in time with Allegra as she conducts a chorus of other home cooks in a live internet cooking class. You call in your rabble and eat the results. You can of course singalong while you cookalong.

The clickalong was predictably good fun and the Quiche a great success. But the pastry case was the real revelation and one immediately embraced in a mildly obsessive manner. It’s a very buttery pastry, 200g four, 100g of butter, a flick of salt, 2 eggs yolks and 2tbs milk which you bring together into a very easy-going ball which you then squash, squish and ease into a tart tin with your fingertips. No rolling required! Do you know you could do such a thing? I didn’t.

You then bake the tart case blind until the colour of pale biscuits and then spoon in the vegetables softened in butter, cover with a layer of heavy cream and fresh eggs and bake until just set and golden. The filling is delicious, and the pastry a light, flaky buttery delight, We devoured it with slim green beans doused in olive oil.

Two days later – I am a great believer in making things you like again and again, a delicious rash of something nice – I made the tart for the second time. But this time without the new potatoes, This ommison was hotly debated at the dinner table as Vincenzo is a great believer in potatoes whenever possible. We eventually managed to agree their absence, however upsetting, made space for more asparagus and creamy, quivering custard which can only be a good thing.

Later that week, feeling extremely comfortable with my new pastry and rather cocky about the egg and cream custard, I swapped the asparagus for some smoked trout and a handful of finely chopped parsley. The result was, is extremely good.

Both the savory tarts, this, the fish one, and the asparagus and spring onion one that follows – sorry about the terribly long-winded recipes – are best about 15 minutes after they have come out of the oven. The flavours settle and mellow but everything is still just warm. They are still lovely after a few hours, but lose their charm the day after and I don’t think they refrigerate well at all. The pastry however refrigerates brilliantly, so you could make the case in the morning or the night before and tuck it in the fridge. Then all you need to do is saute the vegetables, whisk up the cream and eggs and slide it all into the oven. Warm tart, big green salad, some new potatoes, nice chutney, supper. I for one have found what our table will be wearing this summer.

Last thing, to get a nice golden burnished top, I often put the tart under the grill for a just a few seconds when it comes out of the oven. Just remember to keep an eagle eye on it.

Smoked fish tart

For the pastry

  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cold butter, cubed
  • 2 free range egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • salt and pepper

For the filling

  • A bunch of spring onions
  • 100g smoked fish (I used trout but salmon or makeral should work well)
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 30g butter
  • 150ml double (heavy) cream
  • 4 medium-sized free range eggs
  • salt and freshly grated black pepper.

Set the oven to 180°C.

You need a 24cm fluted tart ring, 3cm deep.

First the pastry: Sift the flour and add seasoning into a large bowl. Add the cold diced butter and then rub it into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine but coarse sand. Add the gently beaten egg yolks and milk. Clench the mixture together lightly – you aren’t looking for a smooth dough ball you are just bringing together the ingredients into a slightly sticky mass.

Now working quickly with your fingertips push the soft pastry into your tart ring. Do the sides first and then the base until you get an even casing with no holes. Keep small ball of pastry over so you can make some repairs after you’ve blind baked it. Don’t worry if the pastry is slightly higher than the tart case, this is actually a good thing, it accounts for any shrinkage.

Put the tart case in the freezer or fridge for 15 minutes.

Get the tart case out of the freezer (the pastry should be hard by now) and Bake the tart case blind for 12 minutes No need for any beans but if you are worried you can always line with greaseproof/foil and fill with baking beans.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and then saute and soften the spring onion over a gentle flame until it is soft and withered. Turn off the flame and add the smoked fish and the parsley, stir, taste, season (the fish will be salty so go easy) taste.

By now the tart case is looking and smelling cooked (you don’t want it to be browning really) take it out and put on a baking tray. Reduce the oven temp to 170°C.

Now is the time to repair any cracks in your tart case with the left over pastry.

Tip the onion and fish mixture into the tart case and spread evenly with a fork

In a bowl beat together the 4 eggs, double cream, a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper.

Season, pour the egg and cream onto the tart and, using a fork if necessary, let it meander its way between onion and fish; the mark of a great Quiche is that the eggy custard fills the case all the way to the very top but is not overflowing at all.

Put the tart on a baking tray in the oven for 30 minutes when the tart should be going golden brown round the edges and just about set in the middle. If your tart is not golden enough put it under a hot grill for a few seconds.

Wait about 15 minutes for the flavours to settle

Asparagus and spring onion tart.

Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s Quiche

For the pastry

  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cold butter, cubed
  • 2 free range egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • salt and pepper

For the filling

  • A small bunch of spring onions
  • 3 plump cloves of garlic
  • 300g asparagus (untrimmed weight)
  • 30g butter
  • 150ml double (heavy) cream
  • 4 medium-sized free range eggs
  • 80g freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and freshly grated black pepper.

Set the oven to 180°C.

You need a 24cm fluted tart ring, 3cm deep.

First the pastry: Sift the flour and add seasoning into a large bowl. Add the cold diced butter and then rub it into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine but coarse sand. Add the gently beaten egg yolks and milk. Clench the mixture together lightly – you aren’t looking for a smooth dough ball you are just bringing together the ingredients into a slightly sticky mass.

Now working quickly with your fingertips push the soft pastry into your tart ring. Do the sides first and then the base until you get an even casing with no holes. Keep small ball of pastry over so you can make some repairs after you’ve blind baked it. Don’t worry if the pastry is slightly higher than the tart case, this is actually a good thing, it accounts for any shrinkage.

Put the tart case in the freezer or fridge for 15 minutes.

Get the tart case out of the freezer (the pastry should be hard by now) and Bake the tart case blind for 12 minutes No need for any beans but if you are worried you can always line with greaseproof/foil and fill with baking beans.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and then saute and soften the spring onion and garlic over a gentle flame.

Snap off the woody ends of your asparagus, which can be as much as a third of the length (these can be kept to make a nice stock for a risotto or soup). Give them a wash then slice the stalks into 1 cm pieces but keep the tips whole. Add the asparagus to the pan and cook gently for a couple of minutes. Turn off the flame. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper

By now the tart case is looking and smelling cooked (you don’t want it to be browning really) take it out and put on a baking tray. Reduce the oven temp to 170°C.

Now is the time to repair any cracks in your tart case with the left over pastry. Then spoon the onion and asparagus mixture into the case.

In a bowl beat together the 4 eggs, double cream and two-thirds of the parmesan.

Season, pour the egg and cream onto the tart and, using a fork if necessary, let it meander its way between the vegetables; the mark of a great Quiche is that the eggy custard fills the case all the way to the very top but is not overflowing at all.

Sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan on top, then put the tart on a baking tray in the oven for 25-30 minutes when the tart should be going golden brown round the edges and just about set in the middle. If your tart is not golden enough, put it under the grill for a few seconds

Wait about 15 minutes for the flavours to settle.

Asparagus and spring onion tart with green beans and lemon chutney

It feels like long time. It isn’t really, Well no longer than usual for me. It’s probably because I haven’t been calling by as often as I’d like, I certainly haven’t been keeping up with all your writing. Blame it on the boogie, a translating project which is way beyond me – I was under the influence when I agreed – and the end of term. My big students are all about to embark on exams and my little Italian ones to perform a musical version of ‘Three little pigs in English. I know which one I’m more nervous about. I have lots to tell you about, the ‘Kind of English picnic’ for the coterie of misfits at our friends pub, my latest frenzy of mostly successful pickle and jam making, more jelly, a pork pie, an ugly cake, a good salad, pasta obviously. We have time I know.

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

A chocolate tart

Pies have a top and tarts have a bottom.’

Harold Goodyer to my grandpa, but overheard by my Mum in about 1956.

I have to confess that when I was about 10 years old tarts became infinitely more interesting and even more delicious, when I, like my Mum, began to understand the other meaning of the word tart! An inadvertant lesson from my aunty May.

May, my granny’s sister, had a very orange rinse, a big and generous heart and a sharp often wicked tongue. She always worked hard but liked nothing more than putting her feet up with a nice strong cup of tea, maybe a custard tart and having a good gossip and gasp about this and that, a tut and ‘have you heard?‘ Mostly it was talk of births, illness – lots about illness – and death, but occasionally there was news of ‘them,‘ people who ‘aired their dirty laundry in public or ‘That blousey tart who lives at No 16 Turner street.‘ My granny used to blush and giggle with encouragement at such conversations before remembering herself and whispering disapprovingly ‘Our May really! Not in front of the children.

I would concentrate on biting the crimped edges off my individual custard tart, stare at my tea or busy myself with something or other and pretend my ears weren’t flapping madly. Which of course they were, ‘dirty washing, Blousey tart, blousey tart’ I turned the words over in my head, negotiating them, putting two and two together, a delicate, frilly edged custard tart and the tart at No 16. I may not have understood the full implications of it all, but I got the drift. I even fancied that I knew who they were talking about. My ears burned, my mind raced.

I also knew it was all terrible gossip, that custard tarts would never be the same again and that – rather naively – I’d rather be called a tart than a pie. Maybe it wasn’t so naive after all, I’d still rather be called a tart than a pie, or a crumble for that matter, who wants to be called a crumble?

So tarts,

I am extremely fond of them; a slice of my Granny’s quivering egg custard tart dusted with nutmeg; a wedge of treacle tart, which is not treacle at all but Lyles golden syrup spiked with lemon and thickened with breadcrumbs; a piece of the apricot tart my mum used to make for ‘Dinner parties’!, the one with apricot halves nestled in a pale custard; an individual Bakewell tart, Bakewell pudding really, from the bakery in Bakewell; a thin, rumpled, glazed slice of fanned apple tart; a bright yellow triangle of lemon tart; an individual jam tart made from the scraps of pastry; quince Crostata from the bakery in Trastevere; a simple, elegant, dark chocolate tart.

For all my talk and gossip of tarts, I have only started making them recently, since the beginning of January actually, when I finally overcame my phobia of making (not eating I should hasten to add) sweet pastry. Since then, being mildly obsessive and convinced making double quantities of pastry is easier, I have been making a tart a week. Lemon ones to start, then two ricotta ones which were good but need practice and then for the last three weeks, three chocolate tarts.

The first chocolate tart I made was Simon Hopkinson’ recipe from ‘Roast chicken and other stories’ the book I might choose to ‘cook my way through from start to finish in the julie and julia sense‘ if I was so inclined, which I’m not. It is a lovely recipe, a sweet – but not overly so – pastry case filled with a wonderfully rich and intense dark chocolate, butter, egg and sugar filling. I liked it very much, we all did, but I’d imagined something a bit more velvety, a filling rather like another Simon Hopkinson recipe, quite possibly the richest and most delicious little pot of chocolate cream you will ever eat, his dark elixir of heavy cream, dark chocolate, sugar and eggs, his Petit pot au chocolat.

I kept looking at the two recipes which are just a page apart, back and forth, back and forth, thinking if only and what a shame. This continued for about a week – rather like our now deceased cat Oswald when he sat staring blankly at the cat flap waiting for someone to open the door- until it finally dawned on me that I could try using recipe for the petit pot au chocolat as a filling for the pastry case of his chocolate tart.

It works beautifully.

You make your pastry case and bake it blind until it is pale biscuit-coloured and cooked through – Simon Hopkinson doesn’t suggest using any baking weights or greaseproof paper topped with butter beans so I didn’t and it worked perfectly, three times!. Next you make your filling, the petit pot recipe; you warm the milk and cream (or mascarpone if – like me – you can’t find good heavy cream) gently and then add the chopped chocolate and sugar and stir until you have a thick, glorious shiny, dark, gloop not unlike the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the one Augustus Gloop falls into. You let the mixture cool a little before stirring in a beaten egg

You pour the dark cream into the tart case and bake it for about 15 – 20 mins minutes until the filling has set but with a slight wobble at the center. Then you let the tart sit for at least a couple of hours when it will settle and firms up into a delicious velvety fudge.

A dark, rich, delicious tart which invites gossip.

If you do keep the tart in the fridge bring it out an hour or so before you want to eat it.

Notes;, Do roll the pastry thinly, which I know can be a fuss if your pastry decides to misbehave, it makes all the difference when you have a thin, delicate, golden crust. The tart will puff up in the oven, do not be alarmed, it is ok and the tart with sink back down when it cools. Very last thing, I think (finally) having a good, basic, loose bottomed tart tin is great.

Chocolate tart

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s recipes for Chocolate tart and petit pot au chocolat inRoast chicken and other stories

8 generous slices or 12 modest ones,

For the pastry

  • 130g butter (at room temperature)
  • 65g icing sugar
  • 1 medium-sized egg
  • 225g plain flour

For the filling

  • 250g mascarpone cheese or heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 200g dark, high quality, cocoa butter rich bitter chocolate. chopped.
  • 40g caster sugar
  • I medium-sized egg

To make the pastry; put the butter, icing sugar and egg in a bowl (or food processor) and work together quickly. Blend in the flour and work together into a homogenous paste. Wrap the dough in cling film or a tea towel and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°/350F

Roll out the pastry on a well floured board as thinly as you can and then carefully lift and tuck it into an 8″ tart tin (ideally with a loose base), the pastry will be delicate, don’t panic if you need to press and patch it a bit. Bake the tart case blind for about 20 minutes, until it is cooked through and a pale golden biscuit colour.

To make the filling;  In a small pan, warm the mascarpone/cream and the milk gently over a gentle flame and then add the chopped chocolate and sugar and stir until the chocolate has melted and the sugar dissolved and you have a dark thick, silky mixture.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little before adding and carefully incorporating the beaten egg. Pour the mixture into the tart case.

Carefully slide the filled tart back into the oven for 15 minutes or until the tart has set but still had slight wobble in the center.

Allow the tart to sit for a couple of hours before serving.


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Filed under Chocolate, pies and tarts, Puddings, recipes

Vegetarian cottage pie.

veg-pie-on-plate-1

Chickpeas and borlotti beans simmered away with the flavoursome trio of onion, carrot, celery, a tin of deep red plum tomatoes, a magical bay leaf, a splash of red wine for good measure, a flick of Tabasco, and then topped with creamy, buttery mashed potato = tasty in my book.

So tasty in fact, I have made three in the last two days.

The first was whipped up in a terrible rush on Tuesday night after a message from my friends Betta and Andrea asking me to bring something to sustain the vegetarians while the rest of us feasted on Andrea’s Coniglio all cacciatora and watched the Roma v Arsenal match – need I add, I was there for the food.

I had noted this recipe from a blog I am rather fond of called What Rachel ate today, its not just the name, although I admit a ting of namesakeness, I would think her blog delightful even if it wasn’t for the whole Rachel bit. I say I noted it, nothing organised like writing it down or copying it to a file. Several trips to the computer were needed while cooking, sticky hands and a computer keyboard are not ideal partners, in fact I think that is a fleck of red onion wedged between K and L I see before me.

Rushing, food in the keyboard and a phenomenal mess due to rushing in the kitchen aside, the pie was a great success, not quite up there with Andrea’s rabbit but that is another post. We should have let it rest, settle and firm up for a while before digging in but were bound by the time restraints of half-time and calcio passions quite alien to me but rousing nonetheless.

Success enough to merit a second batch yesterday, one for lunch and one for the freezer. This time I was prepared, clean apron, recipe noted on paper- which beats the screen anyday for me – a calmer disposition and a couple of tweeks in mind for the recipe.

2-veg-pies

Yes, I know, move your head to 90°, it looks better that way.

Time on my side I allowed the onion, celery, carrot, wine and tomato a longer lazy bubble before adding the precooked beans and leaving everything to bubble on for another 30mins. The beany stew was richer and denser as a result. I also randomly mashed some of the beans with the back of a fork before loading on the creamy duvet of mash, giving some of the beany stew a creamy texture which was then studded with the rest of the whole beans.

The mash was better second time round, I allowed myself to hear my mums voice in the background. Boil the potatoes whole in their skins she said so they don’t get waterlogged, allow them to cool and dry a little before peeling and pressing through a potato ricer. Warm the milk and butter before adding to the potato and be generous with the butter (easy peasy), season carefully and give everything a good firm beat with a wooden spoon for a good texture.

I ate the first pie for lunch, everything was still warm enough from being freshly made, so I decided the pie only needed a very brief recline in the oven to heat things up and a flash under the grill to crisp the top a little. I know the second pie which is sleeping in the freezer at present will need a good defrost and then longer in the oven to bring it back to warm, comforting life.

veg-pie-on-plate-2

Vegetarian cottage pie.

Inspired by Rachel

makes 1 large pie for 4 or 2 smaller ones for two

  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 mild red onion finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 150ml red wine
  • 400g tin of fine plum tomatoes
  • flick of tabasco
  • 200g cooked chickpeas
  • 200g cooked borlotti
  • 1 kg floury potatoes such as King Edward, Desiree, Caesar, the potatoes need to roughly the same size and modest in size.
  • 200ml whole milk
  • 125g good butter
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the olive oil in a heavy based pan and add the onion, celery and carrot. Over a modest flame allow everything to soften and turn translucent which should take about 10 mins.

Raise the heat a little and add the tin of tomatoes, bay leaf, a flick of tabasco and wine, bring everything to a lively simmer and then reduce the heat and allow to simmer away for about 20 mins.

Add the beans to the pan, stir and allow to simmer away for another 30mins.

Meanwhile make your mash.

Scrub the potatoes clean and then leaving them whole and unpeeled cover them with cold, salted water. Bring to the boil and then reduce to lively simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender to the point of a knife which with modest sized whole ones will take about 30 mins.

Drain the potatoes and then once then are cool and dry enough to handle, peel them.

In a large heavy based pan warm the milk and butter gently and then remove from the heat. Press the potatoes through a potato ricer into warmed milk and butter and then beat everything together with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, taste, taste again.

By now your beany stew should be ready. Using the back of a fork mash and squash some of the chickpeas and beans and give everything a cheery stir. Tip the beans into your pie dish, even out with the back of a wooden spoon and then load on the layer of mash. use a fork to rough up the surface of the pie.

Bake the pie in a warm oven (about 200°C) for 20 – 40 mins depending on whether it is cold or still warm when it goes in the oven.

The pie is ready when the top is nicely browned and the sauce just starting to bubble up around the edges.

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Filed under Beans and pulses, food, pies and tarts, recipes, vegetables

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