Tarte Tatin:

Tarte Tatin:

Prep:           20 mins.

Cooking:      probably about 40 mins.

Course:        Dessert

Serves:         6-8

Rating:         4:  Tricky (but worth it)

Tarte Tatin is an upside-down French apple tart, attributed to a couple of daft old sisters in rural France who we’re told got it wrong.  Whether that’s true or not who cares, it tastes great.

Find:

  • 8 eating apples (not cooking apples)
  • 220g caster sugar
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 1 pack of puff pastry (around 300grams or more – you can freeze what’s left over for next time.) Ready rolled is most convenient.
  • A vanilla pod or Ground Cinnamon – not both. You can have it flavoured with one or the other.
  • A large round, deep-sided tart tin (borrow one from that lively little miss you’ve spotted around the corner…)
  • A metal oven (baking) tray
  • Crème Fraiche to serve with it.

Method:

  • You’ll need super-clean mitts fer this – wash ‘em again now.
  • The butter should be a room temperature; leave it out to soften.
  • Peel and core the apples: Peel the skin away, cut into 4 vertically, then each one again.  Only remove the pippy area, not much more at all.  Cut each one again (I know that they are getting thin – we need them thin.) to give 16 slices per apple.  We need about 100 slices for this.

Waddaya mean you’ve changed your mind?  It’s too late to back out now; just do it and stop moaning. 

I know you’d rather be down the pub, but you said you’d do it and do it you will…… nag, nag, nag…..

  • Ok, now for the messy bit. Slice the butter into thin slices and spread them around the tin, all over the base and up the sides.  Use your fingers and just mould them into place.  Don’t lick your fingers.  Wipe them with kitchen roll.
  • If you are using the vanilla pod: Take the vanilla pod, slit it down the centre with the tip of a sharp knife and, turning the knife sideways on to the pod, scrape all of the seeds out in one motion.  Spread these seeds all over the butter, evenly.  Don’t throw the pod away – see Tricks’n’Tips….
  • If you are using cinnamon: Sprinkle ground cinnamon over the butter layer. You won’t know how much, and I can’t really tell you – it is experience that will let you know.  You are just about to gain experience.
  • Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the butter and vanilla seeds/ground cinnamon. Now lay the apple slices, one overlapping the other in the form of a circular wedge, all the way around the edge, then the middle, then all over to make it level.  You’ll need to pack ’em in tightly.
  • Put the tart tin on the baking tray and put into a pre-heated oven, gas mk 3, for 20 minutes. This will start to cook the apples.
  • Meanwhile, roll the pastry out to the size of the tart tin (you will, of course, know the size already…..) – see Tricks’n’Tips for rolling out pastry.
  • Take out the tart tin and lay the pastry on top, trimming the edge with a knife. Press the pastry onto the apples.  Brush (or spread with a clean finger) milk onto the surface of the pastry.  When it comes out, that will be the bottom so it doesn’t need anything fancy.
  • Put the tin and baking tray back in, turn up to gas mk 6/200C and go have a beer for 15 minutes.
  • Take the tart tin out, press the pastry down with the fingers so that the pastry gets as saturated as possible with the free liquid and then leave to rest for 20-30 minutes before turning it out onto a plate.
  • Cut to portions and serve with Crème Fraiche.

Asparagus tarts

Photo:  Chris Wiles Photgraphy

Asparagus tarts        

(I said TARTS…. Are you friggin’ deaf?):

A wonderful starter.

The instructions are a little lengthy, but it’s worth it in the end.

Prep:           15 mins.

Cooking:      30 mins.

Course:        Starter

Serves:        8 – so for two people just use a quarter of the recipe – except that you won’t buy a quarter of the pastry, so you just have to invite more people round – or eat more!

Rating:         3:  Moderate

Find:-

  • 4 x 8 = 32 asparagus spears (according to thickness and budget), with a few spares ready, ‘just in case’. See the text about buying your asparagus. (If you buy 40 and all turn out perfectly, you can put 5 spears on each tart – bonus)
  • 1 pack ready-made puff pastry
  • Plain flour for rolling out
  • 2 red onions – white/yellow if necessary but red onions are generally nicer.
  • 1 egg
  • Oil
  • Butter
  • A little Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on just before baking (optional).
  • Potato peeler
  • Frying pan
  • Rolling pin or alternative
  • Baking tray

Method:

Take the ready-made puff pastry out of the fridge at least a couple of hours before you start to do anything as it needs to be at room temperature.

At the same time, ensure that you have enough asparagus spears.  3-4 for each tart (2 or 3 if they are thick spears), one or two tarts per person for the starter.  Have a few spare as well because you may well have some casualties in the process.

Processing the asparagus spears:

Asparagus tells you where it starts to become woody in its stem because as you bend it, it snaps.  That determines its useable length.  Trouble is, they all need to be equal length.  If it’s all the same batch of asparagus there should be no problem, but they may not be.  Try to buy the same length and thickness of asparagus in the same packaging – that’ll help.

  • Trim all the asparagus to the same length. (Don’t throw the cut ends away! – see later.)
  • Using a potato peeler, peel the outer skin from the asparagus below the spear itself. Don’t decimate it, just peel lightly and sensitively – it makes the asparagus much more tender when it is eaten.  Don’t throw away the peelings or the trimmed-off stems – they can be used for veg stock or asparagus soup later on (asparagus is too friggin’ expensive to bin any waste – see later).

Blanching the asparagus:

  • Have a bowl of iced water ready. Boil the kettle.
  • Pour the boiling water from the kettle into a large saucepan. Lightly salt it.  Bring it back to the boil and plunge the asparagus into the boiling water and keep on the high heat for 1 minute.
  • After 1 minute, use a draining spoon (if you have one) to lift the asparagus out of the pan and plunge it all into the iced water. You may need to do this in several batches, in which case have freshly iced water ready for each batch.  Use the same boiling water for all batches.
  • At the end, don’t tip away the hot water; it can be used as the base for the stock of soup. Don’t waste taste! (Asparagus is too friggin’ expensive to bin any waste – including the blanching water).  Ok, asparagus duly blanched.  I know, it’s a friggin’ phaph to do, but it’s all worth it in the end.

Onions:  

Now for the onion confit to go under the asparagus.

  • Peel and very thinly slice both of the red onions – no, thinner than that.

STOP! 

Sharpen your cook’s knife. 

  • Ok, now REALLY THINLY slice the onions. No, don’t chop them, thinly slice them.  That’s better.  Your knife skills are improving……..you’s a’doin’ ok now.
  • Put the frying pan onto the heat, oil it and add a knob of butter.
  • Turn it down to a medium heat and put in the sliced onions.
  • Gently sauté the onions (low-ish heat, gently frying, keeping them moving to spread the cooking….) without colouring them. Gently does it.  They need to be quite well cooked but not at all browned.    Almost transparent.  It’ll take quite a time if you are doing it right – probably 15 minutes.  Don’t leave the pan on the heat and go to the loo or answer the door – if you must go away, turn out the heat.
  • When the onions have got to the stage where they are almost see-through, pop them into a dish and put them aside, ready for the fiddly assembly process….and don’t you keep tasting ‘em to see if they’re ok. I know they are rather nice and sweet and they taste very nice – but we need some left for the tarts, dammit.

Pastry:

  • Sprinkle some flour onto a cleared, thoroughly cleaned and dried large area of kitchen surface.
  • Take the inch-thick block of puff pastry out of its packet and plop it onto the floured area. I didn’t say DROP it! Now clear up where all the flour has landed!
  • Flour the top of the pastry. Use the rolling pin (or substitute) to roll out the pastry away from you then towards you.  It should have expanded into an oblong whilst becoming thinner.
  • Pick up the pastry, turn it through 90 degrees on the board, and then turn it over, trapping some of the flour under it.
  • Lightly flour the top of the pastry. The oblong that you made should now be orientated the other way around.
  • Roll again and make it go back into a square.
  • Repeat this several times until the pastry is about 4-5mm thick. You should be able to get 8 tarts out of the pack of pastry.  Use a spear of asparagus to help you measure the right size of pastry to get 8 tarts, each to take 4 spears and to leave about 10mm all around the edge of each.
  • Alternatively, buy it ready rolled out. It comes in a long roll.  It’s dead easy then.

Assembly:

  • Cut the pastry into the 8 oblong tart shapes but leave them all where they are – do not move them.
  • Score the pastry one centimetre from the edge. This scored border line allows the pastry to rise  – see the diagram for exactly what to do.

DIAGRAM

  • Using a teaspoon, spread the onion confit (that you so cleverly, skilfully and wonderfully made earlier) evenly over the centre of the pastry of each tart inside the scored line, leaving a clear 1cm edge on each without onion. The confit can be about 4 mm thick if you have enough.  Season each onion patch with coarsely ground black pepper.  Lay 3, 4 or 5 spears on each tart, atop the onion confit, according to how many you have and the thickness of the spears.
  • Of course, if you want to make one big round tart, just unroll your pastry, still on its paper and lay it onto a round tin.

DIAGRAM

Eggwash:

  • Take the egg, break it into a mug and whisk it with a fork. I doubt that you’ll have a pastry brush (if you have, use it) so use a teaspoon and spoon a little of the egg wash onto the edges of the tarts, spreading it with a very carefully washed forefinger all over each of the four edges of each of the eight tarts.  Try to use it all.  Don’t waste it; it cost money.  Sprinkle just a little finely grated parmesan cheese over the stems of the asparagus on each tart.
  • Using the knife, slide under one tart and ease it away from the rest. Be gentle.  Do this to each of the remaining seven tarts.  Don’t lift any up as yet – of course, if you are doing one big round tart, there’s no cutting, no lifting – in fact no tarting about at all!

Baking: 

  • Pre-heat the oven to gas Mk 5. Carefully transfer each of the eight tarts (using a broad knife, or a fish slice, or a spatula, or….)  to an oiled baking tray.  You can bake them on baking paper instead, oiled and put onto a baking sheet.
  • Bake them for 20 minutes. Inspect to see if they have puffed and golden brown edges.  If not, bake for a little longer.
  • Serve on heated plates with a little Hollandaise sauce if possible. Don’t try to make Hollandaise sauce at the moment; it’s a bit tricky – you are still learning.    What a starter it is.

Red Onion & Goat’s Cheese Tart

Photo:  Chris Wiles Photgraphy

Red Onion & Goat’s Cheese Tart

Prep:           20 mins.

Cooking:      40 mins.

Course:        Lunch/Snack – veggie friendly

Serves:        4-6 (max 4 for main course)

Rating:         2:  Easy

Originally ‘invented’ because we had a very good friend (veggie) staying with us in France.  Being a veggie in France (and surviving the experience without getting bored by repeatedly being given salad) is not easy, and catering for one who eats neither meat nor fish is a problem; much more of a problem than in the UK.  But we did this:

Find: 

  • 1 roll of ready-made puff pastry
  • 4 large red onions, peeled & sliced thinly
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped as small as you can (or 4 small, etc)
  • 1 large red pepper, chopped/sliced/diced as you wish
  • 7, 8 or more good thick slices through a goat’s cheese roll
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • Good squeeze (or approximately one good ‘British Standard Dollop’ – see Tricks’n’Tips) of tomato puree
  • Olive oil
  • Splash balsamic vinegar
  • 1 glass (or 2, or 3…..) red wine
  • A beaten (or at least very demoralised) egg
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Large tart tin (300mm) – no comments about big tarts, please…..
  • Frying pan

Method:

You can do the onion mixture and make&bake the tart base ahead of time; even the previous day, should you wish.

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200 degs C.
  • Oil the tart tin, roll out the pastry onto it and press into the corners, making it look pretty. The pastry I used in France fitted the tin beautifully – it was cut into a circle already!
  • Use a fork to prick the bottom of the tart with lots of holes. You will need to bake the tart for a short time without anything in it (called ‘blind baking’), to ensure that the base is cooked through and it doesn’t end up having a soggy bottom.  No-one deserves a soggy bottom!
  • So, either using a pastry brush or a tablespoon, spread some of the beaten egg all over the very perforated inside of the bottom of the tart pastry. This will help to stabilise the pastry as it cooks ‘blind’.  You could use the baking beans procedure instead (see Tricks’n’Tips).
  • Pop the tart into the oven for about 10 mins. It does not need to colour very much at all or the exposed pastry could start to burn when the tart is actually being cooked.
  • When the tart base is just showing the slightest signs of colour, remove it from the oven. Keep the oven set to about 180C.
  • Put the butter, sliced onion and red pepper into an oiled frying pan over a medium/low heat and gently fry them off for about twenty minutes, avoiding them colouring up too much.
  • Keep stirring so that it does not start to become over-coloured (in other words ‘burn’). Keep stirring.
  • Put the can of chopped tomatoes into a saucepan on a medium heat. Add a good squeeze or a British Standard Dollop (whatever you consider that is) of tomato puree, a little red wine (as much as you wish – but consider that you’ll need to reduce it down; I use about 2 glasses), the chopped garlic and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
  • Stir over a very low heat to reduce all of this liquidy stuff down so that the resulting concoction is no more liquid than a runny paste.
  • Keep stirring the onion mixture. And then do it again. It should be caramelising by now.
  • Cut the goat’s cheese log into rounds. Or whatever shape it is (log or square or otherwise), chop it into slices.
  • Chuck a big teaspoon of sugar into the onion mixture and stir well, again. And again.  It should start to become more golden as you stir it.
  • When the tomato mixture has reduced sufficiently…. Now how can I tell you that, eh? Perhaps reduced to about half of the original volume?  Yeah, I s’pose.  It doesn’t really matter, honest.  It should resemble a paste rather than a liquid.

Of course, you can do this ahead of time; even the previous day, should you wish.

  • Ok, so pour the toms mix (whether it’s hot or cold) into the base of the tart and spread it about (if it comes out in a solid blob, you’ve over-reduced it…..put some water in) as evenly as you can.
  • Now pop the onion mixture (whether it’s hot or cold) on top, and spread it about as evenly as you can.
  • Make a few indentations in the onion mixture for the goat’s cheese. You want to put the cheese bits INTO not onto the onion mixture, or the cheese could dry out and you’d finish up with a sort of goat’s cheese biscuit on top!
  • Chivvy it all about until it’s about level and looks mighdy purdy…. (looks nice) and then stuff it in that hot oven for a while.  Hmmmm….
  • Look at it after 20 mins, but as like as not it’ll probably need 40 just don’t let it burn.
  • Bring it out and slice it; and gobble it all up! Or serve it with a nice salad.

Owzat?