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Sunday 19 May 2013

Red Onion, Feta and Olive Tart

Don't expect this to become a habit, but this is a home-made dish that I didn't even cook myself. Yep, I really can be that lazy sometimes!

Seriously, though, this was a fairly quick and light dinner for a warm spring day, which my girlfriend put together for me as a thank-you. The recipe originates in the BBC Good Food book 101 Veggie Dishes, but some minor changes were made to suit what was available in my fridge and at the local shops.

Ingredients (versus the original recipe):

  • 4 Small Onions (rather than 2 large)
  • Dark Muscovado Sugar (instead of the light kind)
  • 130g olives (rather than 175g (correction: 130g minus one - she just had to check they were alright before putting them on the tart...))
  • Approximately 150g Feta (compared to 100g)
  • The puff pastry was actually the ready-rolled, reduced fat kind

Preparation Time: The original recipe in the book states 45 minutes (or 30 on the website!) but, versus the breakdown, this was quicker to prepare at some stages and longer at others... so probably still about  30-45 minutes work, in total.

Tools Required:
  • Sharp Kitchen Knife, for to cut things
  • Chopping Board
  • Small Saucepan
  • Large Baking Tray (about 26cm x 38cm)
The Process:
Without duplicating the text of the BBC version, there's sadly very little to write about here. The onions were chopped, seasoned, fried, mixed with sugar and balsamic vinegar, then cooked till an appropriately syrupy consistency was achieved. This was done during the course of an afternoon, so the resulting caramelised topping for the tart had adequate time to cool before the next stage of preparation.

With the pastry being the ready-rolled variety, it was a case of fitting it to one of my baking trays, then assembling the toppings, doing the final baking stage (five minutes longer than the original recipe, since the pastry was not the kind it called for and thus reacted differently), and finally scattering on the shredded basil leaves prior to serving.

The Results:
One of the great miracles of home cooking, I find, is that traditionally savoury ingredients can often become very sweet when cooked in a particular way. Now, granted, caramelising the onions involves some sugar, and that's always going to affect the end result, making the onions artificially sweet. In this tart, we have the perfectly-pitched sweetness of caramelised red onions with counterpoints in both the bitterness of the olives and the saltiness of the Feta. Served warm, not long out of the oven, and accompanied by a light salad (most definitely not the sharp, bitter sort recommended by the recipe in the book! Why is rocket so popular?) it made for a pleasant, delicate meal for a warm spring evening (which gives you an idea of how long this post has been waiting!). The flavours complemented each other well, and the Feta's bite was nicely mellowed both by the baking and by being mixed in with the onion.

More than that, though, the remaining half became part of my lunch for the next two days, without any need for reheating. Some of the Feta's piquancy returned when eaten cool, but it never overpowered the caramelised onion, and the bitterness of the olives remained undiminished.

It has been suggested that, perhaps, a little more onion would have improved things. Comparing this tart to the photos in the book and on the BBC website, the depth of the main topping does appear to be a little lacking, but at least part of the reason is that my baking trays are far larger than those recommended by the recipe. I'd say the content was very well-balanced, especially since it tasted just as good cold as it had when warm.
Classy! (the 'wine' is actually Fentiman's Rose Lemonade (honest!))

Monday 6 May 2013

Menu from Waitrose Ham Hock & Camembert Crepes

For anyone beginning to doubt my carnivorous credentials, I should point out that I'm not suddenly turning into a vegetarian just because I'm going out with one. If we eat out, I'll still have something meaty and it's just for the sake of convenience that we eat vegetarian at other times.

I mean, hell, if I can barely be bothered to cook one proper meal for myself, you can't expect me to cook two different meals now, surely?

And so, without even a "don't call me Shirley!" joke (oh, damn!), we have one of my most recent spur-of-the-moment purchases. It kinda helps that 'ham hock' seems to be the in thing, and thereby ubiquitous, in just about all the supermarkets at the moment (not sure it's quite penetrated Iceland, but I think we're all aware of my feelings toward certain kinds of Iceland meat products). Mostly, you'll just see packs of plain ham hock, ready to add into some elaborate main course, or ham hock in some kind of fancy sauce, so it was rather a surprise to see a full, light dish featuring ham hock in my local Waitrose's 'cheap introductory samplers' endcap. I'm a big fan of crepes (or 'pancakes' to those of us who aren't into pretentiously Euroticising our foodstuffs), though normally only the sweet ones... perhaps it was about time I gave savoury a chance.

My only worry, before I had them, was the Camembert angle. I'm not big on cheese, and have been known to give things a wide berth if they contain any cheese I'm not familiar with (which would be... erm... Cheddar, Mozzarella, Edam, Brie, Feta... that processed stuff you get in burgers... and not much else. Maybe Gouda at a push. Oh, and Halloumi) so the prospect of Camembert was at once enticingly exotic and alarmingly for'n. The fact that one side of the packaging described its contents as 'creamy ham hock & camembert crepes' gave me that little bit more confidence and so, in a fit of pique, I decided to try them out.

The first thing to note is that crepes are notoriously difficult to cook in an oven, be it traditional or microwave. Something about them just loves to bond unbreakably to the surface upon which it is cooked, so it's no surprise that the instructions mention - perhaps a little casually - that "Placing foil onto a baking tray prevents crepes from sticking to the base". Of course, no mention is made of the precautions one should take to prevent crepes from sticking to the foil, but perhaps that's beside the point.

The second thing to note is that the sprinkling of smoked Cheddar and herbs on the top will naturally have a tendency to migrate away from the crepes, and I found it rather difficult to separate it from the packaging so I could sprinkle it back where it was meant to be. That which I could scrape away from the plastic seemed to melt all-too-readily in the heat from my fingers, and so became rather unwilling to be 'sprinkled' anywhere. Seems like a shame, but that's the way it goes, I guess.

So, after a mere fifteen minutes in the oven, these parcels of creamy, cheesy ham had a very sparse, very crisp layer of cheddar on top, and had basically glued themselves to the foil. There's no way to separate them keeping the crepe intact, so don't even try... Though I did wonder, dimly, in retrospect, if a little oil might have helped.

Still, they're going to be opened up sooner or later, so the fact that they were served up already spilling their luscious contents all over my plate was hardly a problem.

Now, perhaps my expectations were hopelessly off target, but I'd rather expected the ham in something like this to be salty. Not full-on bacon salty, maybe not even gammon steak salty... but the shredded ham in these was exceptionally mild. It added more texture than flavour to the rich, creamy créme fraîche sauce and, since I'm no expert on cheese, I probably wouldn't recognise Camembert if it declared my fridge an Independent Republic of Free Cheeses. Suffice it to say, the sauce pretty much overloaded everything for the first few bites. Even the spinach barely registered though, having been cooked inside the crepes, it was well and truly softened and so had lost much of its texture and bite. When it came to the very last portion, I did find the saltiness I had expected from ham, and it actually made a pleasant counterpoint to the almost excessive creaminess of the sauce.

On balance, I can recommend this... but wonder if cooking longer, at a lower temperature might be better for the crepe (or would that dry it out more?). I'm also sorely tempted to get a pack of plain ham hock and attempt to make something like this myself, not least so I can use freshly-made pancakes that don't go crispy, as I'm sure that would be the correct way of serving a dish like this. I'd probably dial down on the créme fraîche, too.