Cheese Tartlets

Fancy a little tart?

Picnic season is upon this household and I have been making mini tarts to pack away into the picnic hamper. Here is a fantastic cheese tart recipe from my Grandmother’s repertoire complete with a complimenting pastry. There is a perfect balance of sweet and salty in every bite. When you’ve got the hand of one batch you can start to experiment with the different fillings.

Ingredients:
For the pastry:
 225g plain flour
115g soft salted butter
1 small egg
3 tsp. sugar
A dash of cold water

For the filling:
200g Gruyere grated
1 cup milk
2 eggs beaten
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. tomato purée

(Quantities make about a dozen)

Method:
Start by making the pastry.
Cream the butter to a soft paste and add the sugar, salt and eggs. Mix until smooth. Combine the flour a bit at a time and using a fork, bring the mixture together to make a firm dough. Don’t over mix it.  Add a sprinkle of cold water if the dough is too dry and not coming together. 

If you have time, let the pastry rest for an hour. This allows for more elasticity when it comes to manipulating the dough. When you are ready to bake, roll the pastry out to no more than half a centimetre thick. Use the pastry to line your chosen baking tins – I used some different shapes and sizes for variety – a tart tray (or rather, a large Yorkshire pudding tray) and a muffin tin. You can use anything but just remember the idea is to keep them small and picnic-sized.

Tip: If you cut a square of baking parchment and slip this into the moulds first then line the pastry over it, you will find it easier to pull them out by lifting the paper at the corners. This is especially helpful if you want to serve them warm and they feel a little too delicate to just tip over and knock out.  This is also a good idea if you are using deeper containers like a muffin tin instead of a tart or flan dish.

Now for the filling.
Warm the milk in a pan. Combine the paprika and tomato pureé and whisk in the two eggs. The milk should not be so hot as to make the eggs curdle, so allow the liquid to cool a little if necessary.

Fill the centre of each tart with grated cheese and top it up with a little of the hot milk mixture. The cheese will collapse into the hot milk, so finish with more cheese if you have any left over.

Bake in a moderately hot oven – about 180° for around fifteen minutes or until the custard has just set and you can see the filling wobble a little.  The residual heat in the tart will finish the cooking to a perfect consistency.

Serve warm or allow them to cool for serving later. They can be stored in an airtight container and will keep for a couple of days if refrigerated.

You can have a straightforward Gruyere cheese filling, or mix it up by adding diced onion and tomato. My other tried and tested suggestions are aubergine and pepper, mushroom and asparagus or spinach and artichoke hearts. Leftover roast chicken, crispy bacon or even salmon are nice too. The choice is entirely yours.

Bon Appetit!   ~


Stuffed Aubergine

Leafing through my grandmother’s recipes again, I’ve been seeing a lot of anchovies, which, after deciding to cook every dish she has penned out, I didn’t really want to attempt. Anchovies: I wasn’t a fan. I’m always avoiding them on pizzas or in anything really. But I do love aubergine – and for the sake of this dish, I decided to give anchovies another try.

I nibbled timidly at an oily fillet from one of those flat supermarket tins and I came to the conclusion that they were not that bad after all. Anchovies had made it my ‘Yes’ list. It must have been that clichéd general opinion of the offending fish that meant I never gave them any consideration.

Don’t let this happen to you. It is hardly as if most recipes ask you to eat them straight out of the tin. When you cook with them, they actually melt away into a nothingness and contribute an extra fullness in the overall flavour of a dish. Be it some sort of deep ragù or stuffed veg or mince meat dish, just a couple of small fillets can make a brilliant difference.

But back to the dish at hand: my grandmother’s stuffed aubergine. I have replaced her use of four tablespoons of breadcrumbs with a cup cous-cous, for more texture. Cous-cous was not a very popular ingredient in the post-war 1940’s. Instant cous-cous was probably hard to come by, if in existence at all and she would have had to steam her cous-cous pearls instead of just adding hot water. But feel free to use either.

Ingredients:
2 aubergine
2 finely chopped anchovy fillets
Chopped fresh parsley
2 ripe tomatos
6 chopped green olives
1 cup cous-cous
Olive oil
Parmesan

Method:
Preheat the oven to 200°. Cut and hollow out 2 inch sections of  aubergines and sit in a small roasting pan. For the filling, pour 1 cup of boiling water onto 1 cup of cous-cous and stir. Leave covered for a few minutes to allow the water to be absorbed – it doesn’t have to be completely cooked it will continue cooking in the oven. Dice up the ripe tomatoes and mix with the chopped olives, anchovy filets parsley and plenty of freshly milled black pepper. Add the cous-cous and mix really well. Then stuff the hollowed aubergines.

Drizzle with a little olive oil and top with grated parmesan for a cheesy crust. Bake in the oven for half an hour.

Serve as a side to a meaty dish, or as a meal with a little salad. ~

Fatayer Bi Sabanekh – Spinach Turnovers

My Grandmother wrote in 1969 that she sampled this little snack on a picnic in the mountains. Although she was in Austria at the time, this is a Lebanese snack. Now, forty years on, I find myself making them for a picnic of my own. These are little spinach triangle pies, bursting with the flavours of lemon and cinnamon. The trick is to get the pastry as thin as you dare. You may, like me, consider this a peculiar mixture of flavours – but it’s a delightful little edible and really worth a taste.

 

Ingredients:

For the pastry:
7 cups bread flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp dried fast action yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of sugar
Cold water

For the filling:
2lbs fresh spinach, chopped
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup pine nuts or walnuts
Lemon Juice
Sumac
Salt and pepper
Cinnamon

 

Method:
Add a tablespoon of warm water to the sugar and the yeast to activate it. Stir in the olive oil, flour and salt. Slowly add the water a tablespoon at a time and bring together the mix to form a stiff dough. Add a little more flour to compensate if you make the dough too wet.  Cover with a damp cloth and let it stand in warm place for half and hour, before rolling out on a floured surface. It needs to be thin – no more than half a centimetre thick. With a round pastry cutter, cut two-inch diameter circles. Combine the filling ingredients together and spoon a tablespoon into the middle of each pastry disc and push three sides of the circle into the centre, pressing the edges together firmly.

Place on a baking sheet and cook in a hot oven until the edges of the triangle have caught a little colour and the pastry is golden.

Serve hot or cold with slices of lemon to squeeze into the centre. It’s a great accompaniment with lamb, some full flavoured meat (cold is best). Although it may be considered a crossing of various cultures, I also like having it on a kind of mezze platter, with my favourite sliced smoked meats or a bit of leftover roast lamb, roasted aubergines and garlic lathered in olive oil and with a bowl of fresh tzatziki dip.