Not Just Desserts

Matt O'Leary
September 10, 2009

Eating big, hearty meals at this time of the year can seem like the last thing anyone wants to do: unless, of course, those big hearty meals are cooked outside and served in a bread roll. But, at the same time, all those salads can get a little bit boring after a while. For the first couple of days of alfresco dining, armed with a big wooden bowl of mixed raw vegetables and a pair of salad tongs, it's fun, easy, cheap, healthy. After a little while, sifting through the lettuce leaves for interesting bits of flavour can be a bit of a chore, and the sight of a tomato, washed and waiting for you to try and turn it into unusual-shaped pieces is too much to bear. Baking flans, tarts and pies that can be left to cool and then served cold, in slices, with something light on the side, is a good way to liven up your late-summer diet. They're just as good as a starter and main course as they are a dessert-dependent on ingredients, obviously, but the techniques remain the same-they can keep for a few days in the fridge, and they're relatively low-maintenance and easy to put together. There's also something very satisfying about managing to get one looking absolutely perfect: a quiche, when it goes into the oven, looks like a volcanic mess, destined to fail, but when it emerges golden-brown, steam hissing from the edges, all crisp pastry, firm filling and lovely aromas, it's as if something magic has happened.


Savoury tarts generally consist of three things-some pastry, some cooked ingredients, and something to hold it all together, such as egg, a cheese mix, or a thick sauce of some description. In terms of summer eating, the standard quiche-a blind-baked pastry case, without a lid, which is then filled with a mixture of ingredients and a seasoned egg mix and baked, is best: it can keep in the fridge for a few days, freezes well, and is good to eat and easy to portion and serve when it's cold. Think about the kind of things that you will use to fill your quiches. Some kind of cooked meat: cubes of pancetta, salami, slices of cooked ham, or pieces of salsiccia are all good. Avoid uncured meats like beef and pork, or chicken, as they tend to lose their moisture into the egg mixture around them (which looks weird) and dry out (which tastes bad). Complement this with some finely chopped herbs-parsley or sage, or other softer leaves-and some vegetables. Satueed onion is a classic thing to put in quiches, but leeks-particularly if you use smoked salmon instead of meat-red or yellow peppers, mushrooms and sweet corn also work very well.


You can add cheese to your egg mixture, but be careful. Blue cheeses such as dolcelatte might seems as if they should go very well with the cooked or cured meats you'll use, but they will disperse very quickly into the mix and add a very salty flavour to the flan. Try ricotta: dot it around the flan before you pour the egg in.


If you're not a fan of eggs, try layering slices of vegetables such as beetroot or fennel with pieces of goat or sheep cheese and seasoning. Bake until the pastry is crisp and the vegetables are soft.


Sweet tarts can be made using crème anglaise instead of egg, or a mix of mascarpone and sugar; in addition to this, add a little sugar to the pastry that you make and use an egg, instead of water, to bind it. This makes a crisp, sweet pastry. Fruits such as apricots (ripe, and with stones removed), blueberries, cherries, strawberries and raspberries are perfect.


Alternatively, grease the tin that you plan to use and lay fruit in slices directly onto this, with a sprinkling of sugar and a little butter, put pastry on top of this, pierce the lid, and bake until the pastry is crisp. Turn this upside down, so that the fruit is turned to the top, for a perfect, light, simple fruit dessert.



Recipe of the fortnight: SALMON AND LEEK PIE

To be served cold, in slices, with salad.



125g plain flour, sifted

55g butter, cut into cubes

A pinch of salt

30-40ml cold water

200g smoked salmon pieces, cut very finely

1 leek, trimmed and sliced very finely

1 tsp olive oil

4 eggs

50ml milk



1. In a bowl, mix the flour and butter: rub the butter into the flour until the mixture starts to resemble golden breadcrumbs and all of the pieces of butter have been blended in. Mix the water in, a little at a time, to form a smooth, not-sticky pastry. Wrap in a bag or clingfilm, and chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.


2. Heat the oil in the pan and fry the leek until soft. Allow to cool.


3. Roll the pastry out and line a 16-cm pie dish or flan tin. Sprinkle the bottom with a few drops of water, then prick all over with a fork, and bake in a hot oven for 5 to 7 minutes. If you want, you can put baking paper inside the dish, on top of the pastry, and fill this with beans or lentils to weight it down as the case "blind bakes" like this.


4. Fill the case with the salmon and leek.


5. Beat the eggs with the milk. Pour over the filling, and bake in a hot oven for 25 minutes until the egg is golden brown and bubbling. Allow to cool, then chill.



Ingredient of the fortnight: APRICOT


Apricots can be an unappealing prospect. They look a bit odd-small, yellow and furry-and every now and again you get a really bad one. You know the type: a bit sour, with thick skin and an unappealing suede-like texture. But a good apricot is a thing of extreme beauty: eaten as it is, they can be ultra-juicy, really sweet, far removed from the processed taste of apricot jam or preserve (the flavour of which actually comes from the kernel).


Bad apricots occur when they've been picked too early: they don't ripen off the tree, so make sure you choose a punnet that has already reached optimum ripeness, as you can't just leave them and hope that they get better. If you want to remove the skin and dice the flesh to use in a salad or dessert, you can do this easily by simply dipping the fruit in boiling water.


Dried apricots make a delicious addition to many breakfast or dessert dishes, but can also be used in couscous dishes. Add them before the water, with plenty of seasoning and some chopped parsley, then introduce the stock and watch it all rehydrate.



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