Wednesday, 16 May 2012
When will summer start? It's a question that keeps popping up at the moment, probably because of the less than inspiring weather that's plagued us for the last month. No Spring wardrobe, just a continuation of winter woolies, brollies at dawn, and on occasion, wellies to work. Bah.
Well I date the start of summer to the appearance of certain foods, asparagus being one of them. And now that I've eaten some, I hereby christen it summer - ta da! Now if the sun could please come out now?
This recipe combines the thinnest stems of asparagus with the type of lightly smoked salmon that comes in a fillet, unsliced. If you haven't tried it yet, then I'd recommend it for the subtle smokiness it lends. Alongside the fluffiness of the ricotta and zippy lemon zest, this is altogether a bare legs and silk blouse kind of a dish. And almost enough to make me put away the hot water bottle at work.
ASPARAGUS, SALMON, RICOTTA AND LEMON TARTS
~for the pastry cases
180g plain flour
90g soft butter, cut into small pieces
a large pinch of salt
ice cold water
2 medium egg whites
~for the filling
80g of thin stemmed asparagus tips, 6cm in length
130g whole fillet of lightly smoked salmon
zest of 1 lemon
2 medium egg yolks
100ml double cream
salt and pepper
1) First make the pastry by gently rubbing together the flour, butter and salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs, then add enough cold water to bring it into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm, and allow to rest for an hour.
2) Butter and flour six loose-bottomed 8cm tart tins, then roll out the pastry to 3mm, and use to line each tin. Leave spare pastry above the rim of each tin to allow for shrinkage while they cook. Pop back in the fridge again for 30 minutes, then line with greaseproof paper, fill with baking beans, and blind bake for 15 minutes at 300f/150c/gas mark 2. Remove the paper and beans, brush each case inside with the egg white, and bake for another 5 minutes. When the cases are cool enough to handle, trim down the surplus pastry with a small, sharp knife.
3) Prepare the asparagus by blanching it in boiling water for 2 minutes, then divide between the pastry cases. Slice the salmon fillet into 12 slices, and add two to each case. Dot the cases with ricotta, and zest the lemon over the tart cases. Whisk the egg yolks, cream, and milk together, the add a little seasoning to taste. I have to admit I tend to taste the mixture to check the seasoning but I know this won't be everybody's cup of tea.
4) Place the tarts onto a baking tray, then pour in the custard mixture until they are very full, then carefully place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes at gas 5, until the centre is just set but still has a tiny bit of wobble. Allow to cool a little but eat warm, with some summery salad on the side.
Monday, 14 May 2012
And...relax. I've only just recovered from an intense week which involved driving 300 miles across the country to interview a rather lovely lady for work. Despite being no specialist in oral history, I was somehow nominated to lead on interviews for my project (how?), and spent last week in the Peak District. Though beautiful, that part of the country has more green space than London, so was a lot grassier, muddier, and general squelchier underfoot than I am used to in my urban cocoon.
A small ray of sunshine in the trip (apart from my interviewee, who was charm itself) came in the shape of the original Bakewell pudding shop, just a stone's throw from our hotel.
As a girl who was happily raised on the Mr. Kipling monstrosities - and still retains a soft spot for them - I was more than a little intrigued by this wholesome original. What makes it a pudding and not a tart? And why does it look so, er, rustic (or splat on a plate, as my colleague so kindly put it).
Well the pastry is puff and not shortcrust, lined with jam, and has a crunchy base from the caramelised sugars that have seeped through. Lovely. And instead of a thick layer of child-friendly icing, it's topped with an almondy custard, giving it an unfamiliar wobble. My verdict: tasty, but tooth achingly sweet. One to be enjoyed in thin slivers with a pot of tea perhaps, and not bolted down instead of breakfast in an otherwise bare kitchen, the morning after returning from a trip away. My mistake.