La crostata rustica

La crostata (it means ‘crusted’) is oft made in my family in Italy.

It’s usually a thing of some precision, the pastry laid out, put in a tart or pie tin, filled with fruit or, sometimes, jam, and then criss crossed with thin, fluted strips of pastry.

This crostata is different in that it makes a virtue of its pulled together-ness and the pastry is, anyway, too fragile to handle much (this is because of the lard, which also gives it its deliciousness..). It has become my new favourite tart.

You can use any suitable soft fruit for this – peaches, berries, plums. I used plums as that’s what the original recipe called for. It’s really easy but, as I’ve said, beware because the pastry is very tricky to handle but that’s okay cos it’s all about a rustic look!

This is adapted from a Donna Hay recipe.

The pastry

225g plain flour

55g caster sugar

the rind from half a lemon

60g butter, fridge cold and chopped

40g lard, fridge cold and chopped

2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar

60ml ice cold water – but you may not use all of it

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

The filling

500g of suitable tart fruit, sliced if necessary.

75g caster sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

10g cold, chopped butter

1 beaten egg

some demerara sugar

(some juniper berries if you like and you remember)

40g ground almond

Method

Put the flour, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl and mix together lightly – you can do this by hand or in a food processor (I used the latter, work lightly). Add the butter and lard and mix to resemble the famous ‘fine breadcrumbs’. Now add the vinegar and vanilla and just enough water to bring it all together. If using a food processor, pulse and stop before the pastry has come together but looks clumpy. Bundle together and put in the fridge to rest for fifteen minutes or more (until you are ready to work with it, you can do it overnight).

When ready, roll out onto baking parchment, either into a round shape or, as I do, an oblong. I must confess to half rolling, half pressing the pastry to shape with ice-cold fingers (cold hands, cold heart). You want to get it to about 3-4mm thickness. When you’ve rolled it out so it’s at it’s final dimensions, put it back in the fridge for ten minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C.

In the meantime mix together the (sliced) fruit, sugar and vanilla.

(Note: you can make the fruit bit in advance and keep it in the fridge, but bear in mind the sugar will leach water from the fruit and you don’t want to put this (the juice) onto the pastry, so if you do make it in advance, just pour off any excess juice and serve separately over the tart, there isn’t much.)

Slide the baking parchment onto a baking tray, so the pastry base sits on the tray it will cook on.

Spread the ground almonds on the base – leaving a rim of about an inch. Now plop the fruit on top, spread it out as far as you’ve put the ground almonds and fold the sides over. I find the pastry really hard to handle at this stage: do your best. Don’t worry if it looks very home made, it all adds to the charm. Brush the pastry edge with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the sugar.

Place in the oven for 15 mins, then reduce temperature down to 175C for 30-40 mins until the pastry is nice and golden and the fruit is bubbling. (Check after 30, I have two ovens and both vary hugely, one was perfect after 40 mins one was more than done after 30.) Let cool for ten minutes. I served it with this ice cream and let me tell you, it was a magical moment.

 

 

Pea, avocado and ricotta hot cakes (with or without poached eggs)

These are my new favourite thing. You might be able to tell this as there is no photo of the product all plated up, because I was too busy eating.

The original recipe is from Waitrose magazine (I’ve slightly adapted it) and it serves four. But you can easily make these for fewer and keep leftovers in the fridge (20seconds zap in microwave) for a really quick, tasty and nutritious lunch. They are much more filling than they seem as there’s a lot of protein and good fats in there (okay so the ricotta may not be the best fat you can get but come on).

You need:

110g frozen garden peas

250g ricotta

Half an avocado for the hot cake mixture, more for serving it with – as you like

100g self-raising flour, you can go part or whole wholemeal if you like

3 eggs, separated, but not for long

about 3 tablespoons of olive oil for the frying

Peashoots/avocado to serve.

The recipe shows this with poached eggs, which is how we had it, but I had the hot cakes warmed up two days later with just avocado for a super fast lunch (from conception to partial digestion in under four minutes as I had an interview to do). You can of course serve these with whatever you want and I can’t help thinking they’d make a good breakfast.

This is what you do:

Put a pan of water onto boil, when boiling add the peas and simmer for two minutes. Drain and cool under cold water. Tip into a food processor with the ricotta, half an avocado, flour and three of the egg yolks. Whizz up, season.

Separately, whisk up the 3 egg whites until stiff, then fold into the pea/ricotta mixture.

Put a large frying pan on with some oil (you will need to do these in batches unless your pan is huge). You use one or two large dollops per cake – see how you go. Cook for about two mins. Unlike almost evert-other-thing I make like this, when you turn them the underside has actually set and doesn’t stick (or mine didn’t) and I didn’t have to chase it round the pan and end up crying.

Flip (it may swidge a bit) and cook until the other side is done – I mean this is obvious right?. Keep warm whilst you make the rest.

That’s it. Serve, as above, with poached eggs, avocado and peashoots.

Leek and butter bean soup with crispy kale and bacon.

This is a lovely soup. What I also love about it is that you can leave the bacon off and it instantly becomes veggie/vegan. It’s stuffed full of probiotic-friendly leeks. It’s from the BBC Good Food magazine.

You need

4 tsp olive oil

500g leeks sliced

4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

2 x 400g cans butter beans

500ml vegetable stock (or chicken if you like)

2 tsp wholegrain mustard

half a small packet of flat leaf parsley

3 rashers of streaky bacon

40g chopped kale, stems removed

25g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

You do

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan, add the leeks, thyme and seasoning and  cover and cook over a low heat for 15 mins until soft, adding a splash of water if need be – don’t let the leeks stick.

Add the butter beans with the liquid from the cans, the stock and mustard. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 mins until hot. Blend with a stick blender in the pan (or put in a blender). Stir through parsley, check seasoning.

Put bacon in a large frying pan, medium heat. Cook until crispy, set aside to cool. Add the remaining 1 tsp oil to the pan and tip in the kale and hazelnuts. Cook for a few minutes, stirring under the kale is wilted and crisping at the edge and the nuts toasted. Cut the bacon into small pieces and stir into the kale/nuts.

Reheat the soup, adding a bit of water if too thick (or have both operations going on at once) and sprinkle the bacon/nuts/kale on top.

Apricot and cinnamon breakfast muffins.

Of course, you can eat these beyond breakfast time. I made them because I was told I am borderline anaemic the other day, and apricots are a good source of iron. Not as good as a rare-cooked steak served with green leafy veg and washed down with a Guinness and an orange juice, but possibly easier to carry in your bag. These are very filling, not particularly sweet and keep me going if I can’t be bothered to eat lunch. Well, until about 4pm. I love how chewy the top apricot goes.

This recipe is from the free little newspaper Waitrose provides each week.

It makes 12 and you need to allow a little time for soaking the apricots.

You need:

250g dried apricots, I prefer the organic variety here as they have less stuff on them, it does mean they are quite dark though and not all zesty bright.

1 large orange, juice and zest

275g self raising flour (I used some wholemeal too)

2tsp baking powder

2tsp cinnamon

75g porridge oats, plus a bit extra for sprinkling

150g caster sugar

285ml buttermilk or kefir milk if you make it

2 medium eggs

50g butter, melted

3 tablespoons of apricot preserve

You also need a muffin tin lined with muffin cases.

Method

Reserve 12 of the apricots. Roughly chop the rest and put them to soak in the orange juice and zest. I do this the night before, but 30 mins is fine.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, oats and sugar. In a separate large bowl mix together the buttermilk, eggs and butter and add the soaked apricots sand orange zest/juice. Now add the dry ingredients and mix until must blended.

Divide amongst the paper cases – you’ll find the mixture is quite up to the top but don’t worry as it doesn’t rise much (despite the self raising flour AND baking powder). If you like use those fancy tulip-shaped muffin cases that look like someone artfully folded some baking paper, the ones that cost about £20 for ten (exaggeration).

Place a whole apricot atop each muffin and sprinkle with some porridge oats (this makes the muffins look good!). Cook in the oven for 18-20 mins. When still warm, mix the apricot jam with a tiny bit of boiling water and brush over the top for a lovely glaze. I wish I could tell you my children loved these. They didn’t. But my partner did!

 

Fresh sourdough, from frozen

Making sourdough, once you know what you’re doing, isn’t laborious. Sure, I hate the beginning part: all that measuring out and refreshing (I am so lazy) – and have to gear myself up for it. But once the dough is formed, it’s just a matter of revisiting it for a little fumble every now and again. Until you need to shape and put it to bed in the couche cloth or banneton, for the final prove.

That said, there are some days when you just don’t have the time to do it. And often it is the days when you are the most busy, that you need to be eating good, home made food – but you don’t have time to make it.

I’ve long thought of experimenting with sourdough, to see if you can freeze it after final shaping. And you can.

Straight after final proving, flour it well, and freeze it. Your exact method may need some tweaking. I tend to make baguettes, so I shape, put on a tray, flour well, open freeze for a couple of hours then transfer into a plastic bag. If you have a boule shape you can freeze it in the banneton (well floured) but do set a timer to take it out and put it in a plastic bag – your bannetons probably won’t like being frozen.

The night before you need your bread – or a few hours before – take the shaped dough out of the plastic bag and transfer either back into a well floured banneton or a well floured couche cloth. Just as if it were ‘fresh’. I put it in the fridge to defrost til morning and have it’s final, final prove. You can leave it at room temperature if you are in more of a rush.

Remember that frozen and defrosted dough is far stretchier, so handle it as little as possible (hence all the flouring). You then do everything as per normal – heat up the oven with a tray in it, transfer the dough when it’s time to cook, slash, ice cubes, bake. This is where my flipping board, or planchette, comes in really handy for transferring it to the baking tray as the dough is harder to handle than fresh dough.

The one you see here suffered all sorts of indignities – I didn’t flour it, it was so stretchy I had to peel it off the planchette, it went into the oven full of injury and I didn’t hold out much hope for it. But sourdough is a miraculous thing and as forgiving as the best mother can be: 10 mins at 250C, 10mins at 220C and out it came: a perfectly wonderful loaf of bread, with an excellent crumb and a great taste.

White chocolate and amaretti cake

I don’t often have cake failures. I’ve been baking since I was seven. But when I do, they hit me hard.

The first time I made this – a Donna Hay recipe – it went wrong. It looked fine, coming out of the oven, but when you cut into it there was a hole running the whole width of the cake, so that each slice had a hole right through it. The sort of thing which, if you’d tried to achieve, would have been impossible.

It tasted delicious, but it was a failure. I whizzed the whole sorry thing up in a food processor and froze the crumbs. They will be delicious on some ice cream, as a topping, or put in milk shake mix ins.

I had a rare afternoon nap and then it came to me: I had forgotten to put the milk in. I had made it in a bad mood, and got distracted. The original method is also a ‘bung it all into the food mixer’, which is where I also went wrong as I lost track of the ingredients.

This is a simple cake – simple to look at, simple to make, but the ingredients add up. It has nearly £5 of white chocolate in it. Of course, you could put any old white chocolate in it, something cheap, but I think good quality white chocolate makes a difference. I use Green and Black’s white cooking chocolate. Then there’s the amaretti. The rest is regular baking fayre: butter, eggs, flour. Oh and milk.

I have adapted this so it’s all done by hand. I felt I got a better result. If you want to, you can bung everything save the amaretti crumbs into a food mixer and mix away until smooth, then rejoin the recipe at the putting into the tin stage.

Because this recipe contains amaretti – almonds – it is not suitable for anyone with nut/almond allergies.

This is what you need:

185g very soft unsalted butter

220g caster sugar

3 eggs

a teaspoon of vanilla extract

250g melted white chocolate, slightly cooled

300g self raising flour

310ml of milk

160g crushed amaretti biscuits

A few amaretti, crushed, for decoration after cooking.

This is what you do:

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and flour a 3l bundt/ring tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar, add the three eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla extract. Now gently mix in the melted chocolate. Then add the flour and, little by little, the milk.

Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle the amaretti crumbs (I pulse them in a food processor) over the cake mixture. I use a skewer to gentle feather them through the mixture, but you don’t have to. Now top up with the rest of the cake mixture.

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Bake for about 45 minutes. Check with a skewer to make sure it’s cooked. Make sure it comes out clean.

Leave to cool for ten minutes, then turn out and sprinkle a few crushed amaretti over the top if you’d like.

This cake fills the kitchen with amazing Viennese coffee house smells as it cooks. It’s even better the next day. The white chocolate gives the sponge an amazing lightness and a taste you can’t quite put your finger on. And the amaretti crumb layer is just amazing and marzipan-ish in taste (so absolutely no good if you hate marzipan).

 

Chorizo and kale cheesy gnocchi

I adapted this from a Delicious magazine recipe. There is 200g of kale packed into this recipe. And you could substitute spinach if you wanted to.

This is really tasty, wonderful  autumnal dish that’s easy and fast. And if you have a cast iron frying pan that can go in the oven, you can cut down on the pots and pans needed.

Serves four.

You need

200g curly kale or spinach. If using kale take the time to shred it into smallish pieces and cut out the bigger stems.

500g potato gnocchi

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Olive oil for frying

125g approx of chorizo – a bit more if you really like it. Slice in half length ways then finely slice so you end up with half moon shapes.

200g passata

a handful of basil leaves

100g grated or sliced mozzarella

Method

Oven to 200C. Bring a very large pan of water to the boil with a dash of salt in it and drop the gnocchi and kale in, together. Cook for just 30 seconds, drain into a colander and rinse through with  cold water.

Gently heat the olive oil in a frying pan (if it can go in the oven make sure it is quite a large one that can hold the whole dish), now gently cook the onion until it’s soft. Add the chorizo for a few minutes, until the onion takes on the colour of the chorizo. Now add the passata and the basil and cook for three minutes.

Add the gnocchi and kale into the frying pan if it will fit, and mix to combine everything; if not transfer everything to an oven proof dish of about 1.5litres. Mix everything through well. Add some ground pepper (I think the chorizo has enough salt but add a bit more if you like). Sprinkle over the mozzarella or place the slices on top and put in the oven (uncovered) for a scant 15 minutes until golden and bubbly.