It’s time Soulsubsistence became a blog about food and Cumbria and Cumbrian food once again. We have recipes to share, food ideas for the fussiest, most intolerant eaters, and at least one shareable cooking disaster every couple of weeks.
Oh yes, these babies are just for you! In fact, they’re for anyone with a spicy tooth. They’re filling, tasty, umami … and not that bad for you!
There are many ways to get through a dull weather Cumbrian day, and one of those is to make something that hints at spring and summer. I know that’s corny, but it’s true too.
Onion Tart (nicked from Nigella and tampered with) with Avocado Salsa
Starting with the pastry (which is divine, I promise), take 4oz wholemeal flour (you can pretend it is good for you), 2oz cold butter and whizz in the food processor until the butter’s more or less incorporated into the flour. Tip it out into a bowl and slowly add cold water, a bit at a time, mixing it into dough with a dinner knife. On no account do this with your fingers.
Clag it together into a dough ball with your hands, but don’t touch it more than you have to, and tip it immediately into a plastic bag and leave in the fridge.
Yes, I’m saying Treat the uncooked pastry like a bomb. Do not disturb it.
Put the oven on at 200 deg C.
So, then you move on to the filling. Slice at least two onions into rings (as much as possible without losing a finger) and dice a third. Melt about 1 tbsp butter and dash in some oil to prevent the butter burning.
Turn down the heat and saute the onion for as long as you dare before it starts trying to stick (about 20 minutes).
Into the onion mixture, upend a couple of capfuls of brandy (think Nigella used marsala) and an extra splash for luck. Salt it, stir it around. If it’s sticking, turn down the heat.
Take a sheet of kitchen foil and fit it to the inside of the saucepan, touching the onion mixture so it acts as a really close lid. Put the lid on the saucepan.
Cook the onions for maybe ten more minutes, but keep checking them under their cap and give ’em a stir. When the ones on the bottom start turning brown, the others are quick to follow and that’s when they’re cooked.
While the onions are cooking (or after, if you’re the cautious type), get out the pastry and roll it with plenty of flour to fit the dish. (Mine was about 20cm size).
Blind bake the pastry at 200 deg C for about 15-20 minutes. Use baking beans or whatever to keep it flat as it cooks. (Mine is a cake tin that fits perfectly inside the pastry base).
After the pastry is baked, turn the heat down to 180 deg C.
Tip the sludge of browned onions into the cooked base and crack open two eggs into a bowl. Separate a third egg and add the yolk to the bowl – use the white for meringues, maybe?
Beat about 150ml double cream / creme fraiche into the eggs to make the beginnings of a custard. Salt it quite well, grind a sensible quantity of black pepper into it and grate in nutmeg – as much as you think.
Pour the egg mixture gently into the onion tart until it’s about half full, then place it in the front of the oven and pour the rest in, careful not to ship it over the edges. Top it with a bit of grated Lancahire Cheese (not cheddar, it can be way too overpowering – if there’s no Lancashire, do without, it’s the sour taste which is important).
Bake for about 20-30 minutes. It’s supposed to be set but not firm. I overcooked mine, but it was just lovely.
As much avocado as you think, a large tomato with the seeds discarded and sliced as thinly as possible. A quarter of a red onion. A clove or two of garlic, grated into a pool of extra virgin olive oil, and a fair lot of lemon juice squeezed over everything. Salt, pepper.
I admit, the hedonist has a thin Puritan streak running through her. She can’t throw anything out without a heartrending tug. If she can use it, it stays. Dang it, even if she knows she doesn’t want to eat it, it’ll stay in the fridge until it’s far beyond best before. Some leftovers are completely pleasurable though.
What to do with pastry leftovers is nearly a reason in itself to make pastry. My mum used to make a little jam or currant tart, or marmite straws.
Me, however. I am far less austere in attitude towards the little luxury by-products of baking.
Cheese Straw Classic
*Roll out pastry till it’s as thin as you can get it without it breaking up.
Grate a light sprinkling of cheddar on half the shape. Fold in half and roll out again.*
Repeat *-* until you have as many layers as you can be bothered to make.
Grate one last heavy covering of cheddar over half the shape, fold in half and press down with the rolling pin. Nip the edges in case you’ve put a lot of cheese in there. No point in it escaping. Brush with milk if you remember, it’s not essential but is a nice touch.
Semi-cut the product into strips and bake in a preheated 200 deg C oven for about 15-20 minutes.
Tip: Try not to handle the dough too much, just use the rolling pin to push it about as much as possible. On a cool surface is best.
Variants on the Classic Final Layer
Thin slices of Brie and a single layer of Serrano or Proscuitto ham.
A long squeeze of Marmite across the cheese before folding.
Fried onions mixed into the grated cheese at the end.
Raspberry jam and cheese, or sweet chutney and cheese.
A perfect egg custard tart baked at the weekend left over some pastry. (It was a perfect egg custard, not just a good one. Gently wobbly and not too sweet, it was consumed with love and mouthfeel).
But I digress. The pastry led to an equally genius potato and cheese flan.
First blind bake your pastry case in a flan dish. The oven wants to be as hot as possible, so 200 deg C at the least. When you get it out, reduce the temperature to 160 deg C.
Cut 2-3 small potatoes into centimetre cubes (leave the skin on) and boil in salted water until just cooked.
Saute 2 medium-sized onions in about 1 tblsp butter for around 20 minutes until they are a rich yellow brown in the pan. Salt them slightly.
Spread two-thirds of the onions on the bottom of the flan case and mix the rest in with the cooked, drained potatoes. Cut 100g or more soft goats cheese into the mix and add a couple of slices of ham (serrano, proscuitto or even just plain boiled bacon) torn and shredded into strips
Don’t overmix the filling. It wants to be chunky with recognisable pieces. Pile it into the shell case, heaping it in the middle.
Beat 1-2 whole eggs together with 4-6 tblsps plain yoghurt (the cheap, low fat stuff is the best) and gently pour it over the piled up filling, helping it to soak into the crevices with a teaspoon.
Grate parmesan over it if you have it.
Bake on 160 deg Cfor about 20 minutes. It’s cooked when it’s browned on the top; just use your nose.
*doesn’t have to be goats cheese, I was ready with soft cheese, philly-style in case there weren’t enough goats but just happened not to need it. Ricotta would also be good.
This was going to be a post about how hard pastry can be to get just right and the discovery of a ‘perfect’ way to create it, but many people don’t make their own anyway. The nuances of pastry-making and the pain felt by the baker who has created the perfect steak and kidney filling for a pie that turns out to be encased in chewy leather aren’t concerns for many people.
So here is the point. On Friday I read an article that changed the way I thought about pastry. It’s on the Serious Eats website and is a passionate explanation of why the method it details, works. The type of pastry is called flaky pastry in the UK, to be differentiated from the shortcrust that I make the most often and the puff pastry that everyone loves.
The most important point to note when making pastry is that too much ‘handling’ gives it that leathery texture, and any kind can suffer from this. From the point of adding the water, the danger lies in wait and the only way to avoid it is to incorporate just enough water, a splash at a time, with a utensil, rather than your fingers. In the linked article, it asks you to do so with a plastic spatula. I used a silicone version and normally I use a metal dinner knife.
See the results:
Of course, when taking the picture, I didn’t think to take one of the inside of the pastry crust, but I can assure you that it was as light and thin and delectable as I’ve ever eaten, acting to crisply hold the filling without collapsing as we lifted out the slices.
Truly a revelation if on a small scale.