September, 2008

Sep 08

A pastry cheater’s fuss-free supper

leeks_B.jpgI have a pastry phobia – every time I see a tart recipe I tend to run a mile. I just can’t seem to make good pastry. Some people have it – cold hands, patience, a sixth sense. Not me. I have a complete lack of sense, scorching hot hands and I am seriously devoid of patience. It’s firmly on my list of things to master but with every cookbook I look at or programme I watch, that list gets ever longer.

Ready-made puff pastry and I are firm friends. Easy to use, quick and virtually fail-safe, you’d have to try really hard to make a mess of it, and it has myriad uses. A quick apple tart, a speedy alternative to pizza without all the dough kerfuffle, sausage rolls in a flash. And nobody can accuse you of not making your own puff pastry, as it takes forever!

This is one of those suppers that are ready in a trice – a fuss-free half an hour from thinking about it to having it on the table. Somehow puff pastry tarts always look rather posh, too, and with crisp, salty, smoky pancetta, soft, gooey cheese and the smoothest leeks, you can’t go wrong.

A savoury cheesy tart’s best friend is some peppery watercress or a sweet little gem salad, sharply dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, cutting through that richness perfectly.

Ingredients (Serves 2 or 3)

  • 1 pack ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 2 large leeks or a bunch of small ones
  • 6 strips of pancetta
  • 125g of Taleggio (mild Italian calves milk cheese with fruity tang)
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 1 egg, beaten

Or, for a slightly different slant, try this alternative

  • 1 pack ready rolled puff pastry
  • 4 small onions or 2 large
  • 125g Manchego
  • 10-12 thin slices of good chorizo
  • a sprig of rosemary
  • 1 egg, beaten

Take puff pastry out of the fridge an hour or so before you need to use it. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof or, if it’s non-stick, brush it with a little oil. With a knife score a line about a centimetre in from the edge of the pastry, forming a rectangle.

Clean leeks by cutting them in half and running under a tap – you will find most of the mud, if there is any, will be around the point where the leek turns from white to green. Slice them fairly finely, about half a centimetre thick. Heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium flame and add a small knob of butter. Sauté the leeks gently until soft, around ten minutes or so. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up. If they burn they will be bitter. Once softened, remove from the heat, allow to cool and then spread out evenly over the centre of the pastry, smoothing out to the scored line.

Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees C. Slice or tear the cheese, spreading it over the leeks. Do the same with the pancetta. Strip the leaves from the thyme and scatter them over the tart. Season with salt and pepper – the pancetta and cheese are already quite salty, so be frugal. Brush the edge of the pastry with the beaten egg and place the tart in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the pastry risen and golden.

To make the alternative tart, finely slice the onions and soften them in a pan for 15 minutes or so. Prepare the pastry as above. Allow the onions to cool and spread out over the pastry. Spread the chorizo out over the onions and then grate over the Manchego. Scatter over the leaves from the rosemary, brush the edges of the tart with beaten egg and cook in a 220° C oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

Sep 08

Table Talk

For me one of the greatest pleasures in life is
sharing, and food is at the heart of this.

I cook at home for friends and family and I write
about what I enjoy eating – straightforward, unfussy food that’s
simple to prepare. For me great food is a celebration of good
produce, which needs little done to it to be wonderful.

Thousands of processes,
over-complicated methods and hundreds of utensils just don’t do it
for me. I love honest food – you won’t find any culinary froufrous in
my kitchen – and I have a peculiar fondness for the imperfect: a pair
of carrots intertwined from growing too close; the rough, muddy
surface of a russet apple; the last, rather forlorn looking orange in
a box. Somehow they always taste better for being overlooked. But
maybe I’m just being romantic.

While I’m a big fan of British food, South East Asia
has had a profound impact on my cooking, too, meaning I’m as at home
with lime leaves and lemongrass as I am with gooseberries and

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