Blackberry Tart with Mascarpone and Vanilla

It’s getting a little late now for foraging for blackberries, but if you are lucky enough to find some, or planned ahead and have a tub in the freezer, this is a simple and delicious dessert. it works just as well with raspberries, blueberries or plums.

I’m not one for desserts. You can probably guess that from the lack of sweet treats here, but this is irresistible. You may want to adjust the amount of caster sugar based on the sweetness and ripeness of your fruit.

1 x 375g pack of puff pastry
1 x 250 tub of mascarpone
4 tablespoons of caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300g or thereabouts of berries of your choice
2 tablespoons demerara sugar

Pop the oven onto 220C

Roll out the pastry to about 5mm thickness (or use ready rolled). Line a tin with parchment and lay the rolled pastry on top. You want the pastry to be rectangular and fit the size of your tin. Now take a sharp knife and score around the perimeter, about 2cm in from the outer edge. Now pp it into the oven for around 8-10 minutes until puffed up but not browned.

Take out the oven and gently press down the middle area. Allow to cool.

Mix the mascarpone with the caster sugar and vanilla extract, then blod or gently smear over the middle of your part-cooked pastry. Top with the berries, then scatter the demerara sugar over. Pop back in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the edges are browned and the berries are starting to release their juices.


Courgette and Cheese Tart with Beetroot and Bulgur Wheat Salad

I’ve always struggled to build the right kind of relationship with courgettes. They are so easy to grow provided you have sufficient space. However some late summer they produce so many that it becomes a struggle knowing quite what to do with them all. On a good day I can pick 6 to 8 of them, only to find another crop just a few days later.

We recently had our first frost as winter starts to show its face and with that the courgette plants wither and start the process of becoming next year’s compost. Funny thing is, I miss them. I miss being able to pick my own and I refuse to buy them from the supermarket out of season. However if you are more relaxed about your courgette relationship you could try this tart

This is like a quiche but made with puff pastry rather than shortcrust. Despite blind baking to restrict the amount of rise in the pastry, it still takes on a life of its own. Very different to a traditional quiche or tart.

I served it with a salad made from raw beets, carrots and bulgur wheat.

To make the tart
1 onion – finely sliced
2 medium courgettes – sliced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
6 eggs
A splash of cream (optional)
1 pack of puff pastry – I use ready rolled for ease
150g crumbly cheese – Lancashire, Feta, Wensleydale all work well
salt and pepper

Put the oven onto 200C. Line a loose bottomed, metal tart tin with the pastry. This usually requires using two pieces of pastry so make sure there are no cracks in the join else the filling will leak through. Keep the off cuts for now. Pop a sheet of baking parchment over the base, fill with baking beans (or use dried beans or chick peas) to weigh it down, then bake for around 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and discard the parchment. Let the beans cool and store them for reuse.

Meanwhile you can make the filling. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the courgette slices over a high heat. You want a little colour to develop as this adds some flavour to the otherwise bland courgettes. When browned and a little charred on both sides, remove and allow to cool. Turn the heat down and fry the onion gently until browned and starting to caramelise. Add these to the courgettes and allow to cool.

Beat 6 eggs with the cream if using, season to taste then add the cooled courgettes and onions along the the crumbled cheese. Pour into your par-baked pastry case. If you like you can use the off cuts of pastry to make a lattice top as per the photo. Brush with a little milk then place in the oven for 35-45 minutes until browned and the egg filling has set. Remove from the oven and from the tin and serve with the salad.

For the salad
1 medium beetroot
1 medium carrot
100g bulgur wheat
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
A very large handful of Parsley

Boil a kettle. Pop the wheat in a bowl. Just cover with boiling water and leave until all the water has been absorbed.

Take a large mixing bowl and grate the beetroot and carrot. Roughly chop the parsley and add this then add the other ingredients including the cooked bulgur wheat. Mix well and season to taste


Sweet Potato, Leek and Gruyere Tart

It was Bruce Feirstein who wrote Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. So this, rather than being a quiche, is a tart.

This should be enough to feed four or five people depending on what you serve with it

375g pack of shortcrust pastry – I used to make my own but bought pastry is pretty cheap and pretty good
1 knob of butter and a splash of olive oil
2 small leeks – cut in half lengthwise then sliced into thin half rounds
1 medium sweet potato – peeled and diced quite small
150g gruyere cheese (or some other strong cheese) – grated
4 large eggs
a good pinch of ground nutmeg
salt and black pepper

Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan and add the leeks and sweet potato. Fry gently for 15 minutes or so until the potato is soft – the exact time will depend on how big or small you like your dicing to be.

While that is going on, put the oven on at 200C. Line a 20cm loose bottom tart tin with the pastry. The ready rolled stuff is great, but they always make it too narrow so you have to patch it up a little. Make sure it is all well sealed then blind bake with some baking beans and greaseproof paper for around 15 minutes.

Let the leek and potato mixture cool a little, then add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Take a large bowl and best the eggs with the grated cheese. You can add a splash of milk or cream if you like but that’s not necessary and doesn’t add much to the dish. Now stir in the leek and sweet potato mixture. Tip into the part-baked pastry case and return to the oven for 25 minutes until the filling has set and the top is beautifully browned

Serve with a salads, or new potatoes, or both.


Cauliflower & Kale Tart

Tart, flan, quiche. Call it what you will, the combination of light, fluffy egg and thin, crisp pastry is something I never tire of.

Frying the cauliflower until charred brings out flavour. Don’t be afraid if you think you are burning it. The more colour, the more flavour.

I cheated here and used a ready rolled packet of shortcrust pastry. Less washing up and so much easier despite the fact they are made just a little too narrow for most tart tins.

1 pack shortcrust pastry
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small cauliflower – divide the florets then slice
A couple of handfuls of kale or cavalo nero
1 onion – finely sliced
8 eggs
2-3 tablespoons creme fraiche
100g or so of strong cheese – grated

Put the oven on to 180C

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the cauliflower over a medium heat until browned and slightly tender. Remove from the pan and fry the onion until it starts to brown.

Set aside to cool.

Plunge the kale into boiling water for 5 mins. Drain then leave to cool.

Beat the eggs and creme fraiche in a large bowl then add the grated cheese and the cooled vegetables.

Roll the pastry a little to fit then use it to line the base and sides of a deep pie dish, making sure there are no cracks or holes. If you have any cracks the filling will seep through leaving a soggy base to your tart. Spread the mustard over the base of the pastry, then tip in the filling mixture.

Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until browned on top and set in the middle. Leave to cool and set for 5 minutes before serving.


Two Tone Pear and Almond Tart

I made this as part of a bring your own New Year’s Eve Party and with the wonderful mulled, Christmassy flavours of the poached pears it worked a treat. A long thin tart like the one I made looked impressive but you could just as easily make individual tarts as squares or circles with one or two pear halves depending on how greedy your guests are. I poached the pears a day in advance and left them to soak up the mulled wine flavours overnight.

This serves about 10-12

6 smallish ripe pears
1 lemon
500ml white wine
500ml red wine
2 cinnamon sticks
250g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
100g butter
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry
Icing sugar

Start by taking two saucepans. Put the red wine in one and the white in the other. To each pan add 100g of the caster sugar, a few strips of lemon zest, half the vanilla pod and one cinnamon stick.

Now peel the pears, leaving the stalks on if you prefer. Halve and core them then place six halves in the red wine and six in the white. Gently bring to a simmer and poach for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool (or overnight).

For the almond filling cream together the remaining 50g of caster sugar with the ground almonds, egg yolks and vanilla essence.

Heat the oven to 180C.

Take the ready rolled pastry and cut in half lengthwise to make two long strips. Place on a large lined baking tray and score round the pastry about 1cm from the edge. Prick the middle with a fork then bake for about 12-15 minutes until starting to brown. Remove from the oven, press down the middle gently then spread the almond mixture evenly over the middle sections of each pastry base.

Carefully remove the pears from the poaching liquid, pat dry with kitchen roll and place on the almond covered base – alternate red and white or make one white and one red tart. Brush the pears with a little of the poaching liquid then return to the oven for about 15 minutes until the almond base is set and starting to brown. Remove from the oven, brush a little more poaching liquid onto the pears – be careful as too much and the colour will bleed into the tart.

Dust with icing sugar and serve with warm custard or with whipped or pouring cream – maybe with the addition of a splash of brandy.

Courgette and Manchego Tart

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Another way to use up some of the daily crop of courgettes. This makes enough tart to serve 4-6 people depending on what you have with it

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 courgettes – sliced
4 eggs
100g or so of manchego – grated
shortcrust pastry to line a flan dish – I usually do this as 6oz flour to 3oz butter, one egg yolk and a splash of water (apologies for the mixing of metric and imperial measurements)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Start by frying the courgette slices in batches. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, when very hot, place the courgette slices in a single layer – careful as they can spit a little. When browned, turn over until brown on both sides. Place in a bowl and fry another layer until they are all done. Leave to cool.

While the courgettes are cooling, make the pastry. I just chuck it all the food processor, roll out, line a flan dish, then blind bake at 180C for about 15 minutes. The courgettes still carry a lot of water even after frying to it is essential to blind bake the pastry else you’ll have a very siggy base. Allow to cool a little, then spread the Dijon mustard evenly over the base.

Beat the 4 eggs, then add the courgettes and manchego. Season with salt and black pepper. Mix, pour into the pastry case and return to the oven for about 25 minutes until the eggs have set.

Christmas Presents

A friend of mine gave me a jar of peaches preserved in brandy for Christmas. They looked great so I left them on display in the kitchen. I wasn’t sure what to do with them so there they sat for six months on the shelf. Having invited friends for dinner I needed to plan a dessert. Something not too time-consuming. How about a prune and almond tart with Agen prunes soaked in brandy? Great idea, but having neither prunes nor brandy in the larder I thought I would try and make the same tart but with brandy soaked peaches instead.

This would also work well with pear halves (with or without the booze). Served warm straight out of the oven with ice cream, it didn’t last long.

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For the pastry
200g plain flour
100g butter – softened
1 large egg

Rub the butter and flour together to form a breadcrumb-like mxturee..Add the egg and knead gently to form a dough. Let te dooh rest for half an hour or so then roll it, line a flan dish with it, then blind bake at 200C for 20 minutes. Brush the base with a little egg.

For the filling
1 jar of preserved peach halves
50g ground almonds
50g caster sugar
200ml tub crème fraiche
1 egg

Drain the peaches and arrange them on the pastry base, flat side down.

Mix the almonds, sugar and crème fraiche, then add the egg. Pour over the peaches, then bake for about 45 minutes at 190C. Remove from tin and serve warm.