Saturday, 17 March 2012


This Provençal tart is one of my favourite things to eat for a light lunch with salad and always feels much more elegant than a quiche. While still a tart, the cream and egg filling of the latter is usurped here for a lighter mound of soft and sweet onions, topped with anchovies and black olives.

The filling is delicious cooked on top of some shop bought puff pastry or flat bread, but using a homemade short crust pastry shell is somehow more sumptuous and substantial.

For mine I used a recipe by Julia Childs, whose book I’ve been meaning to dip into for a while. When making the pastry, the amount of water she specifies makes incredibly wet dough which seemed a bit bizarre, but actually, once it had rested in the freezer for half an hour, it was easy to work with and made the most incredible, melt-in-the-mouth pastry. I also added in some diced, skinned tomatoes which added colour and richness.

Pissaladiére Recipe
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Serves 6-8

To make the Short Crust Pastry
(to line a 8-10 inch cake tin with a removable bottom which has been turned over for easy removal)
  • Place 5 oz. Plain White Flour, ½ tsp Salt, Pinch of Sugar, 4 oz. Chilled Butter cut into ½ in pieces into a food processor and blitz until it starts to come together. Add 3 tbsp Water and blitz again. It should come together in a wet ball. Wrap in cling film and place in the freezer for half an hour.

To make the filling
  • Heat 4 tbsp of Olive Oil in a large casserole dish. To this add 2lbs Chopped Onions (about 5 onions – I used a mixture red and white), a bouquet garni, a few Sprigs of Thyme, 2 unpeeled Cloves Garlic and a pinch of Salt. Sweat over a medium heat for 1 hour until tender. 
  • In the last 15 minutes, add in 3 skinned, deseeded and diced Tomatoes. Discard the bouquet garni, thyme and garlic and taste for seasoning.

To partially bake the pastry shell
Preheat the oven to 200˚.
  • Place the dough on a cold floured surface and dust with more flour. With a rolling pin, flatten the ball into a thick, even round, then continue to roll out the dough until it is about 2 inches larger all round than your cake tin. 
  • Place in the cake tin, pressing the dough into the base and up the sides. Line with parchment paper and fill with baking beans, then place in the oven for 8-9 minutes. Remove the baking beans/parchment, prick the base with a fork all over, and return to the oven for 3-5 minutes until golden.

To assemble
  • Fill the pastry case with the onion mixture. Over this arrange 8-10 Anchovy fillets in a pattern and then dot about 16 stoned Black Olives around these. Drizzle over some oil and then bake in the oven for 15 minutes until bubbling and the anchovies have started to dissolve. 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Spinach and Buffalo Ricotta Ravioli and Oxtail and Prune Casserole

 I almost didn’t post these recipes as the photos are frustratingly bad. I have come to the conclusion that this is due to three factors:

1. Flash is the devil
2. Taking pictures at night is virtually impossible with a. my limited Sony camera and b. my limited photography skills
3. Styling goes out the window when there are other hungry people raring to tuck in to food while it is still hot – I have now resorted to speedy styling i.e. clicking and crossing my fingers it turns out ok!

I know one should never blame their tools but I am dreaming of a large SLR camera. Apart from the cost the choice is immense and I have no clue of the best still-life camera for amateurs – any ideas?

But, back to the recipes. Possibly one of my favourite dishes is ravioli and I love making it at home as it is fun and tastes so much better. Recently I took a trip up to Laverstock Farm owned by ex-racing driver Jody Scheckter. The farm is biodynamic and organic and is particularly known for keeping herds of water buffalo which produce the most delicious dairy products. When we arrived at the small shop, there was one lone buffalo wandering up and down the next-door field. Apart from the spear like horns and its sheer size and weight it seemed like it wanted a chat so we sidled over and tentatively reached over the electric fence to pat it on the (ringed) nose. I can safely say (literally – I feared for my fingers for a moment) that the Laverstock website blurb which enthused about their ‘naturally curious and tactile nature’ was correct – I was a little bit smitten.

Water Buffalo at Laverstock Farm
Feeling like I’d connected with this gentle beast for a moment, I felt a little bad about going into the shop to buy one of his former mates, but as I hadn’t tried buffalo before, it seemed silly not to. While the shop was smaller than I had imagined (the veg outside looked a little sad, but this is forgivable towards the end of winter), there was a wonderful array of different meats including wild boar and mutton and of course buffalo and their famous buffalo dairy products. It's worth noting that as well as a new butchers in Twickenham the farm sells selected meat and dairy products through Waitrose. We bought some buffalo tail which the butcher said could be treated like that of ox. Taking his advice I made Rick Stein’s twice-cooked oxtail and prune casserole from Food Heroes: Another Helping cookbook which you can see above. It did taste very similar to oxtail, being equally delicious, and buffalo is low in cholesterol so perhaps it is slightly healthier?!

We also bought some buffalo mozzarella, ricotta and burrata. The latter is mozzarella stretched and filled with fresh cream and it needs to be eaten as fresh as possible. It is very delicious served simply with tomatoes and bread, but due to its richness, it would be lovely as a dessert with honey and maybe some grilled peaches.

With the ricotta, I made a traditional spinach and ricotta ravioli but also added some tomato sauce and pesto which compliments the mellow filling. I used Theo Randall’s pasta recipe and then improvised the rest. 

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli Recipe
Serves 3 as a main, 5 as a starter

For the pasta:
  • In a food processor blend 150g Tipo 00 Flour, 50g Fine Semolina, 1 Large Organic Egg and 3 Large Organic Egg Yolks until they form a ball. Wrap in cling film to prevent drying out (this can be kept in the fridge for up to 10 days).
  • Wilt 300g Spinach in a saucepan with a little water. Drain and squeeze out excess water, reserving for the sauce. Finely chop and place in a bowl.
  • To this add 200g Buffalo Ricotta, 50g grated Parmesan, half tsp Grated Nutmeg, 1 tsp Salt and Pepper. Mix and then form into roughly 25 small balls (about the size of a tsp).
  • Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Take one piece and roll through a pasta machine until it is as thin as possible. Space 6 balls of the filling evenly along the bottom of the strip, brush around each with some water and fold the pasta over, sealing with your knuckles. Cut each into squares or rounds with a knife or pastry cutter. Lay on a tray sprinkled with flour and cover with a teatowel, then repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.

For the Sauce:
  • Heat 2 tbsp Olive Oil in a medium frying pan  over a medium heat and add 4 finely chopped Shallots. Fry until soft, then add 2 finely chopped Garlic Cloves. Fry for one minute then add 1 400g can Chopped Tomatoes, seasoning and the reserved Spinich water. Simmer gently for half an hour until thick.

To assemble:
  • Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and tip in all the pasta. Simmer for 3-4 minutes until al dente. Drain and return to the pan with 75g Butter and 2 Tbsp Chopped Basil.
  • Serve on top of the tomato sauce with a few teaspoons of Pesto, grated Parmesan and extra Basil.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Iced Biscuits

Following on neatly from my previous post, the magazine clip below, of decorated biscuits (by Joanna Farrow), is a scrap I’ve had since I was little. I remember at the time being inspired by the subtle pastel colours and sophisticated patterns which were a million miles away from the supermarket jammy dodgers and party ring-ilk biscuits I was used to.

So, the image made me come over all creative and I decided to treat my little brother, who is studying for his A-levels, and send him some homemade decorated biscuits (perhaps not suitable for a Boy but then again, I did use to dress him up as a girl when he was 5 so he’s used to it!).

Firstly I made the actual biscuit which was the easy bit as I have been using Nigella Lawson’s Birthday Biscuit recipe (from ‘Feast’) for years and it is totally foolproof for achieving simple buttery biscuits perfect for decoration. Then the icing: my piping ‘skills’ are virtually non-existent so, for a neat start I thinly rolled out marzipan and royal icing to fit the shapes of the biscuits, sticking them down with a brush of water on the underside. This looked fairly professional. I then made a royal icing by mixing one egg white with enough icing sugar to make a stiff paste which I divided and coloured accordingly. What came next was a fight with a piping bag I’d never used before, and a lot of experimenting with different patterns and techniques (hence the varying results you can see!). I then added some silver dragees which never fail to make things look a lot better. After they had dried, I boxed them up to send, layering them between sheets of parchment wrapped in tissue and a velvet ribbon.