Don’t you think it’s kinda rich, when someone asks you what they can cook for lunch guests when you’re not one of the lunch guests?
This is how this post came about. My friend Marcus, who I’m going to now name and shame, is having people for lunch and the Barbieri family are not amongst the invited.
But I forgive him because whenever I need a chainsaw, he’s round with his special trousers on, and the chainsaw. He’s also a very good garden photographer who works for all those flash magazines that show garden porn and even though I have almost zero gardening recce skills (‘grass’ and ‘roses’ are the only two things I can name), I do appreciate a beautiful picture of pretty garden things.
So, he asked, what can I cook that’s easy? The two things that came to mind were either Gnocchi and Chorizo, which is delicious and really easy. Or my mint and halloumi tart which I’ve been making for ten years now, ever since I saw the recipe in Sainsbury’s magazine. However, for whatever reason, I’ve never posted about it. Probably because, rather shamefully, I’m a bit possessive about the recipe which is a meanness I have to fight against.
The mint and halloumi tart looks tricksy but it isn’t really. You can do it in stages, and I suggest you do. It absolutely isn’t something to start cooking an hour before your guests come. If that’s the sort of time you have then the gnocchi dish can be knocked up in ten minutes.
You can – and I do – make the pastry for this tart the day before. You can indeed cook the tart (it needs to be baked blind) the day before. You can also make the mixture the day before, keep it in a covered bowl, and an hour before your guests come, you bring the two together, pouring the mixture into the tart case and putting it in the oven. This tart tastes best when it’s about half an hour out of the oven: warm not hot. Anyway here we go.
200g plain flour
25g polenta (I use the easy cook one that comes in packets but any kind will do, it’s to give the pastry a good crunch and I urge you not to leave it out)
125g butter, diced
1 teaspoon of olive oil, just regular not virgin
For the filling
3 red peppers, now by all means buy some red peppers, roast them skin them and slice them up yourself but otherwise just by a jar of roasted peppers and cut them up if they’re not already cut up.
1 x 15g fresh mint, chopped up into nice small bits
1 x 250g halloumi, drain any excess liquid off, coarsely grate (the grating is my least preferred job)
284ml of single cream or half cream half milk which is what I use
freshly ground black pepper
to make the pastry
Put the flour, polenta and butter in a food processor and pulse briefly.
If you haven’t got a food processor you can do this bit with your hands, rubbing the butter into the polenta and flour whilst gazing out of the window or something. Add the egg and then oil (just enough to bring it all together and remember it may take a bit of time to come all together) and it should all come together into a ball. If you do this in a processor, as I do, it comes together in about a minute. Don’t overwork it.
If you do this in a processor you should really take out the pastry and finish it off with your hands, take it out when it’s almost a ball, starting to clump, so you don’t overwork it. Less is more with pastry, it’s not a Versace dress we’re working on.
Shape the pastry into a disc and put in clingfilm or in a bowl or whatever and put in the fridge to let it rest for about 30 mins. You could easily leave it for a day or two if need be. But what I do, increasingly, is press it into the base of my pastry tart tin now, see below.
When you’re ready to cook the base, take the pastry out of the fridge. You need a tart tin. I know what you’re thinking, what size? I don’t know and I’m too lazy to go downstairs and measure mine.
Okay. It’s about 23cm, it’s one of those fluted numbers. I have two, a ceramic one and a tin one with a removable base and which I use depends on nothing more than whim.
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Now, you’re meant to roll out the pastry. I never do for bases of things. I take bits of pastry at a time and flatten them over the base and sides of the tin. This is very unorthodox but as I’ve mentioned before, I have cold hands and a cold heart so in my kitchen, this means the pastry gets worked less than if I rolled it out. Plus, you know, strictly speaking you should never put an Italian woman in charge of a rolling pin.
When the base and sides are covered, line the base with foil and put baking beans in.
This isn’t the same as baked beans. Baking beans weigh down the pastry so it doesn’t rise. I’ve had baking beans since I was seven. I think mine are made of something highly toxic like lead but these days they are ceramic.
Cook the pastry case in the oven for fifteen minutes. Then take it out, take out the foil with the beans, and put the now naked case back in the oven for another 5 or so minutes.
Remove and cool the case. At this stage you can store it in the fridge, or a cool place like a larder if you’re posh, for a day or two.
Now to the the filling which, if you are making this tart all in one go you could have made whilst the tart case was cooking. If not just make it in advance and store it covered up in the fridge.
You basically whisk up the eggs, grate the halloumi, mix with the eggs, ground black pepper (you don’t need salt as the halloumi is salty enough), chopped mint, cream and lastly mix in the peppers.
It’s at this stage, when everything is mixed together, that you can store the mixture in the fridge, covered up, for a day. But when ready to cook, poor it onto the tart base, level out, stick in oven for 30-35 minutes until it’s nicely brown on top. Take it out and leave it for about 30 minutes. You can eat it cold too of course. But, it’s particularly delicious eaten warm with a crisp, slightly bitter salad. Or steamed asparagus, a new potato salad, etc.
You can also take it on picnics or sliced up in a lunch box.
Sorry for no photo of an actual one I’ve made (it’s a photo of a photo, shocking), but I’ll take one next time I make this baby. [Several years on and I still haven’t taken a photo of mine.]