Blackberry and Goats Cheese Tartlets

goats cheese blackberry tartlet3

Pudding then cheese? Cheese then pudding? Quelle dilemma!

Do you stick with British tradition, and follow dessert with a nubbin of stilton and a mouthful of port? Or do you follow our French neighbours who, despite just being 21 miles across The Channel, dine in a different order? … 

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Summer pasta

My fridge hasn’t been to inspirational recently.

But after a traumatic 5km charity run I thought I’d treat myself with a nice supper lastnight. So when I got back from work today the standard of fridge leftovers was a lot better than usual.

Some asparagus, sugar snaps and soft goat’s cheese. Delicious.

I ferreted out some frozen broad beans, mint leaves, virgin olive oil and some crushed pink pepper.

And then the best bulking out ingredient ever: orecchiette. I’m not one for splashing the cash in the supermarket unless it’s for a good reason. But if you’re using nice ingredients, it really is worth the extra £1 for this ‘little ear’ Southern Italian pasta made from durum wheat semolina and water. They have a slightly rough outer surface, and a tasty soft, chewy centre.

It’s a light meal with great summery flavours. And it’s a classic one pan dish – the pasta takes ten minutes, so chuck in the broad beans six minutes into cooking, and then chuck in the asparagus and sugar snaps a couple of minutes later. Drain and dress with mint leaves and goat’s cheese.

Savoury tarts for a posh picnic

It’s been a true British summer so far – the sun’s been teasing us by skulking behind clouds, re-emerging in its full glory just as we’re packing up to go home.

But don’t let the weather dictate your picnic. The trick is the mindset: British stoicism and determination to have a damned good lunch, come rain or shine.

Anyway, I thought I’d do a post on a classic picnic recipe so that you’ve at least got the food part sorted…even if it does get washed away as soon as you lay it out.

By doing savoury tarts, you’re cutting down on all the faff, coordination and packaging that can mar a cocktail sausage and scotch egg-based picnic. All you need is one container for the tarts, a bag of salad, and a jam jar of dressing (or- even better, an old mustard pot so you get the dregs of the mustard flavouring the olive oil, vinegar and lemon).

No chasing packaging caught by gusts of wind, or lugging home bags full of empty plastic containers – but a simple, sophisticated and delicious picnic.

Ingredients (makes 12 tarts – 6 of each)

Pastry
500g plain flour
250g butter
18 teaspoons of cold water

Filling
600ml creme fraiche
4 eggs
slosh of milk
2 red onions
slosh of balsamic vinegar
1 pack of goat’s cheese
fresh thyme
5 lumps of frozen spinach

Start off by making the pastry. Mix together the flour and butter, then stir in the water. If you’re the lucky owner of a Kenwood Chef with a K-whisk, then use this. If you don’t, then get your hands involved. Once it’s bound together, and moulded into a ball shape, then wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

People get hysterical about pastry, but it really is quite easy-go on, give it a go-you’ll taste the difference!

Roll out the pastry. Make sure there’s lots of flour on the board and on your rolling pin to stop it from getting too sticky. You can roll it all out in one go, and then use pastry cutters to lift out all the circles for your cases.

I tore off little blocks from the ball of pastry, and then rolled them out one by one, then pressed it into the (buttered) cases.

Now the controversial bit. Conventionally, you’d start messing about with baking beans and greaseproof paper to blind bake the cases. BUT, I think that it changes tart-making from being a relaxing and quick(ish) activity to being quite a fiddley and arduous task. (and I always find it so demoralising when I blind bake a fairly shallow tart case, only to take it out and see that the pastry’s shrunk and the filling won’t fit.) The contents of the tart should mainly prevent the pastry from developing bubbles-and if the odd one does happen…well, it’ll just make it look rustic.

Next, fry the red onions in butter, then add a couple of cap-fulls of balsamic vinegar for a bit of bite. Cook until they’re soft.

For the base of the flans, mix the creme fraiche and eggs with a slosh of milk and lashings of pepper. The beauty of this is that you can now flavour it with pretty much anything.

I divided the filling-base in two. For my first six tartlettes, I lined the bottom of the flan cases with the red onions, then poured the mixture on top. Finally, I topped with goats cheese, thyme and a generous grind of pepper.

Next, I popped the frozen spinach in the microwave, and then added it to the other half of the filling-base. Once spooned inside the tart cases, grate a generous amount of nutmeg over the top – it adds a fresh and interesting taste to the spinach tarts.

Pop the tarts in the oven at 180C for 20-25 minutes. Check half way thorough, because if you’re cooking all the tarts at once, you might have to switch round some of them in the oven so they’re all done evenly.

Voila!

These make a brilliant picnic treat. No messing about with cocktail sausages, scotch eggs and fussy packaging. Pack the tarts, a bagful of salad, and dressing in a jam jar.

…or if you fancy treating yourself to a posh packed lunch, then that works just fine too!

Mediterranean tart

I failed my chemistry GCSE. I don’t understand how magnesium and sodium changes stuff into hydrogen (it probably doesn’t – as I said, I failed – when chemicals are involved, I just don’t get it)…. 

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