Saturday 28 June 2008

Savoury Cheese and Onion Tart - useful for seducing vegetarians

I love the way this recipe has the word 'savoury' in front of it. What a lovely old-fashioned word it is. No one writes recipes these days that include 'savoury' in the title. But this tart (called a quiche these days) is indeed deeply savoury, with its topping of poppy seeds and halved stuffed green olives.

Savoury Cheese and Onion Tart. Photograph by Michael Le Grange;
 image © Random House Struik 2012
Anyway, this is a great recipe - another classic from my mom's Seventies cookbook. It's got far more Cheddar in it than any health-conscious cook would reasonably add to a quiche nowadays, but that's what makes it so delicious - and the grated raw onion in it adds a lovely punch and crunch. It's the ideal dish to serve to a vegetarian guest who's feeling hard done by.

This recipe was given to my mum by her friend the late great Val Horak. I've doubled it and tweaked it.

Savoury Cheese and Onion Tart

For the pastry shell:
250 g cake flour
a pinch of salt
150 g cold butter, cubed
2 egg yolks

For the filling:
400 g grated Cheddar
4 eggs, lightly whisked
2 small onions, peeled and grated
½ cup (125 ml) milk
½ cup (125 ml) cream
3 Tbsp (45 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley (fresh thyme is good too; use 1 T or 15 ml)
salt and milled black pepper

For the topping:
2 tsp (10 ml) black poppy seeds
10 pimento-stuffed green olives

Heat the oven to 180°C. To make the pastry shell, sift the flour into a bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. (Or blitz together in a food processor fitted with a metal blade). 

Now stir in the egg yolks, and combine to form a dough. (Add a few drops of iced water if the mixture seems too stiff). Put the dough in the fridge for 10 minutes to rest, then roll out and use it to line a greased quiche or flan dish. (If you're not confident making pastry, click here to read some of my top tips and tricks.)

Prick the bottom of the pastry shell and bake blind.

(Alternatively, if you're feeling lazy and don't mind a slightly soggy crust, simply press the pastry across the bottom and up the sides of the dish, using your fingertips, and then add the filling).

For the filling, mix together all ingredients and tip into the pastry shell. Cut the stuffed olives in half lengthways and press, cut side up, into the surface of the quiche. Sprinkle the poppy seeds all over the tart.

Bake at 180°C for 20-30 minutes, or until puffed and lightly browned, but still ever so slightly wobbly in the middle.

Serve warm, with a green salad.

A few anchovy fillets draped over the top of the baked quiche (or pressed into the uncooked surface) lift it to another level.

Serves 4 hungry people; six to eight as a snack.

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Thursday 26 June 2008

My mom's legendary Asparagus Tart - wholewheat heaven, Seventies-style

I have friends who still swoon, 30 years down the line, at the memory of this dish, which my mom made at least once a week when I was a teenager. There is nothing dainty about this recipe. It's a rib-sticking dish of tinned asparagus mixed with cheesy white sauce and eggs, in a rather stodgy wholewheat-flour-and-oil crust, topped inelegantly with fresh breadcrumbs.

Some of the best lunch parties I can ever remember featured this legendary pie.

I love this recipe not only for the happy memories it evokes, but also because it reflects the beginnings of the wholefood/health food/vegetarian trend: ie, wholewheat flour, not white; oil, not butter; veggies, not meat. Besides, it's incredibly yummy.

My parents were heavily into Health Food (it all started when they read Let's Get Well by Adelle Davis; more about that in this post), and this dish was the thin end of the wedge.

Asparagus Tart

For the pastry shell:

1 cup (250 ml) white flour
1 cup (250 ml) wholewheat flour
1 1/2 t (7.5 ml) salt
2/3 cup (160 ml) sunflower or light vegetable oil
4 T (60 ml) milk

For the filling:

60 g butter
5 T (75 ml) white flour
2 cups (500 ml) milk
2 cups (500 ml) grated Cheddar
4 tsp (20 ml) Dijon mustard
3 T (45 ml) lemon juice
3 T (45 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tins of asparagus salad cuts, drained (each tin about 450g nett weight)
2 large eggs, lightly whisked
salt and a little white pepper
1/2 cup (125 ml) fresh breadcrumbs, brown or white

Preheat the oven to 180°C. First make the shell. Generously grease a large ceramic or earthenware pie dish. Tip the flour into the dish, add the salt, oil and milk and mash it all together with a fork until it forms a lump. Using your thumbs, press the mixture thinly across the base, and up the sides of, the dish. Don't bother about a neat edge, or about baking this shell blind - it's supposed to be rough and ready.

Now make the filling. First: a white sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a high heat. When the butter stops foaming, tip in the flour and stir vigorously to make a paste. Allow to bubble for a minute or two, but do not allow to brown. Now tip in all the milk and, using a ballon whisk, stir wildly to disperse any lumps. Continue stirring constantly until the mixture becomes smooth and thick. When the sauce comes to the boil, turn down the heat and allow to bubble gently for three minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and tip in the grated Cheddar, stirring well until the cheese has melted. Set aside to cool for five minutes. Now stir in the mustard, lemon juice, parsley, asparagus and beaten egg, and season well with salt and a little white pepper.

Tip the mixture into the prepared pie shell, and sprinkle with fresh bread crumbs. Place in the oven, and bake at 160C for 25-35 minutes, or until the pie is slightly puffed, and no longer wobbly in the middle.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a while. Best served lukewarm, with lashings of home-made mayonnaise and a heap of tuna salad (trust me on this).
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Tuesday 24 June 2008

My aunt's Avocado Mousse

Here's another recipe from my mom's cookbook, this time for an avocado mousse that is a quintessential dish of the Seventies. (Do you remember those frightful avocado-green bathroom suites?)

What I love about the recipes I've been re-discovering in this battered old cookbook is their simplicity: there is not a leaf of coriander, a fleck of vanilla or a single drop of Balsamic in the entire book.

This dish may be old-fashioned (when last did you see a savoury mousse on a restaurant menu?) but it is delicious: a wobbly, creamy mousse of the palest green, pepped up with a subtle crunch of fresh chives. Excellent with melba toast.

Gilly Walters
This recipe was given to my mom by my aunt Gilly Walters of Wedgewood Nougat, who is the best home cook I have ever met.

Avocado Mousse

4 Tbsp (60 ml) lemon juice
4 small ripe avocados
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) salt
freshly milled black pepper
2 Tbsp (30 ml) very finely chopped chives
1 cup (250 ml) hot water
2 Tbsp (30 ml) powdered gelatine
1 cup (250 ml) cream, whipped to a soft peak
1 cup (250 ml) thick mayonnaise (Hellmann's or home-made)
paprika or cayenne pepper
finely chopped fresh parsley
fine lemon slices

Put the lemon juice into a large bowl. Halve the avocados, remove the pips and scoop out the flesh. Tip into the bowl containing the lemon juice and mash well, using a potato masher or fork.

Now stir in the salt, pepper and chives. Put the hot water in a bowl, sprinkle the gelatine over the surface and set aside for a few minutes to sponge. Heat the gelatine in the microwave (or over a gentle flame) until the gelatine has just melted. Stir into the avocado mixture, along with the mayonnaise. Finally, fold in the whipped cream.

Rinse a jelly mould (or a glass bowl) with cold water, give it a shake, and tip in the mixture. Smooth the top with a spatula and put into the fridge for 3-4 hours, or until set. Unmould onto a chilled plate and dust with paprika or cayenne pepper. Garnish with lemon slices and chopped parsley (actually, a few tufts of curly parsley will add a nice retro feel. )

Serves 8 as a starter.

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Hot Lemon Pudding

I've been going through my mother's hand-written cookbook (which she started in the early 1970s), giving little cries of joy each time I've come across a recipe for a dish I ate often as a child.

Try this wonderfully easy hot lemon pud. It contains a lot of egg and very little flour, so it puffs up into a light, wobbly, lemon-scented cloud, with a deeply browned top. Excellent with cold whipped cream or hot custard.

My mum always writes down who gave her a recipe , and this one came from her friend and my dear godmother Mari.

Hot Lemon Pudding

3 large free-range eggs
2 Tbsp (30 ml) soft butter
¾ cup (180 ml) white sugar
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp (30 ml) flour
1 cup (250 ml) milk

Heat the oven to 190 °C. Butter a deep pudding bowl. Separate the eggs and lightly whisk the yolks. In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add the lemon juice and zest, and the flour, and stir well. Now add the egg yolks and the milk in the lemon juice and mix until well combined.

Beat the eggs whites to a firm peak (they should not be dry) and fold them carefully into the egg-yolk mixture. Pour the mixture into the pudding bowl and place the bowl in a roasting pan into which you have poured some hot water (the water should come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pudding dish).

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until puffed and brown on top. (Watch the pudding like a hawk for the last 10 minutes - you don't want the top to blacken.)

Serves 4

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Sunday 22 June 2008

Drying parsley in your oven: not for bitter women

Parsley may be the world's most popular fresh herb, but it isn't easy to grow at home. It's fickle and fussy. It takes forever to germinate. One year, it grows in profuse green tufts, and then for the next three years it turns yellow and spindly, or, more annoying, it grows like the clappers, and then bolts, producing a flower and seed-head within four weeks of your planting it. Parsley has its good years and its bad, but mostly, in Johannesburg's climate, it has bad years.

Many years ago I was discussing the growing of parsley with my godmother, who passed on an interesting Afrikaans saying about parsley, namely 'A bitter woman can't grow parsley'. (I wish I could remember the original words - help, anyone?)

This saying sprung to mind when I noticed two weeks ago, with suprise and satisfaction, that the single flat-leaf parsley seedling I planted in my little vegetable strip is having a bumper year. It's a huge, leafy, thigh-high ball, and so pungent you can smell the parsley fragrance from a metre away. What a relief: clearly, this year, I am not a bitter woman! Hah!

Anyway, I couldn't bear to see all this leafiness and flavour go to waste (severe July frosts are on their way) so I harvested most of the bush and dried it, in three batches, in the oven. Yes, I know dried parsley isn't known to have a long shelf-life, or to retain its pungency for more more than a few months, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway.

I washed the parsley, dried it in a salad spinner, and then piled it on the middle rack of my fan-assisted oven, along with a few handfuls of celery leaves. I set the temperature to 100°C, and then turned off the heat (but left the fan on). Within 20 minutes most of the leaves were bone-dry, but still a livid green, and 30 minutes later the leaves were ready for crushing and crumbling. I ended up with about a cup-and-a-half of deeply fragrant, dark green crumbs, which I've put into a sealed container and stashed in a dark cupboard. I added a pinch of the mixture to a spag-bol sauce I made today, just before serving, and the fragrance and flavour was incredible; much more pronounced, in fact, than the flavour you normally get by adding big fresh stalks of parsley to stocks and stews. (Have you noticed how fugitive the flavour of fresh parsley is? It tastes brilliant when scattered fresh over a dish, but if you cook it for more than 30 seconds, the flavour all but vanishes.)

I'm looking forward to experimenting with my quick-dried parsley in the next few months. If it loses its zing, you will be the first to know (on tenterhooks, are you?) Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday 9 June 2008

Top cooking tip: How to re-heat a pizza, quick and crisp

I'm skoffelling through my dusty brain files trying to remember where I read this, but I just can't recall the source of this brilliant tip. Here it is: instead of wasting electricity and time re-heating a shop-bought pizza in a conventional oven, put a large frying pan on the heat. Add the pizza, crust-side down, into the dry frying pan (don't add any fat). Now cover with a tight-fitting lid. Leave for 3-7 minutes (depending on the ferocity of the heat). Take off the lid. Use a spatula to check whether the crust is golden, crispy and cooked. If it isn't, cook, covered, for a few minutes longer, by which time the topping will be nicely molten.

That's it - perfect reheated pizza. Ok, the topping won't be browned, but teens and tweens don't care about that. All they want is a crisp, snappy bottom (har) and a voluptuous, sizzling, cheesy topping (har har). Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly