Swirly Vegetable Tart

I have seen this tart before on a couple of occasions, but I think I got the final push in making it from a couple of pictures posted on some Russian social media. There, it was referred to as ‘harmony’ vegetable pie or, maybe, using a similarly evocative and pompous name. Now, seeing as we are not in the 80’s anymore, disco balls are not the latest fad and fashionistas have (finally, I must say) given up on flared trousers, my version will simply be called swirly vegetable tart. That’s all it is, really, no bells and whistles. The hardest thing about this tart is arranging the slices of vegetables, the most satisfactory one – at least for me – was cutting through it, to see the even layers of colour. Pure bliss.

You will need vegetable which are roughly of the same size. This can prove difficult as sometimes you can only find tiny carrots and gargantuan courgettes. That said, anyway, some slices are bound to be thinner/larger than others, but simply because in order to obtain equal slices you would need to only use the core of, say, 10 carrots and just as many courgettes. A bit of a waste if you ask me. Use a vegetable peeler rather than attempting the slicing with a knife: not only is it faster and cleaner, but you will also get thinner slices and these will cook faster. The filling contains, guess what, Greek yogurt! I am so passionate about it I would eat it on its own. I believe it lends a certain acidity and tang to the final product, but if you’re feeling over-conscious or you don’t like the stuff, feel free to swap it for sour cream, double cream or cream cheese.

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Ingredients

  • 500g homemade shortcrust pastry
  • 2 large courgettes
  • 2 large carrots, peeled
  • 5 large eggs
  • 100g Greek yogurt
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. My suggestion is that you start slicing the vegetables only once the tart crust is blind baking, otherwise they might dry out too much and won’t stick together when you try to layer them. Therefore, pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Roll out to the pastry to the thickness of a pound coin, then use to line a 23cm fluted tart tin. Press with your fingers in the indentations to ensure the pastry falls into place, then run the rolling pin over the edge to remove the excess pastry. Use your fingers to gently ease the pastry slightly higher than the tin, then cover with clingfilm and chill for a good 30 minutes.
  3. Blind bake the pastry case with beans/rice/weights for about 15 minutes, then remove the beans/rice/weights and bake for another 15 minutes, until dry and crisp.
  4. In the meantime, use a vegetable peeler to peel ribbons from the carrots and courgettes, then set them aside. You don’t have to keep on working on one side only, feel free to turn your vegetable as you are peeling. In the case of the courgettes, this will ensure there are slices with plenty of green on.
  5. When the pastry case is ready, start laying the vegetable slices inside and vertically, leaning them on the pastry case. Needless to say, it’s easier if you build them towards the centre. It will take a while and it might look like you’re building layer after layer and not going anywhere, but stick with it. If you run out of vegetable slices when you reach the middle of the pastry case, use peppers or some herbs to decorate the hole.
  6. In a jug or a bowl, mix the eggs with the Greek yogurt and some seasoning, then gently pour onto the tart, ensuring the egg mixture fills all of the gaps in between the vegetable slices and evens out on the top. Bake the tart for 40 minutes, until golden on top. Remove from the oven and let it cool to room temperature, then enjoy!

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Conchiglioni Bake

Today we look at a very easy yet delicious pasta recipe. In the UK, people are very fond of pasta bake and it is a cheap and cheerful way to dress pasta in a cheesy sauce and bake it, turning it into a wholesome dinner dish. Rather than using standard pasta, however, this recipe uses conchiglioni, a large shell-shaped pasta you can easily find in most supermarket nowadays. Faithful to the tradition, this pasta bake recipe is full of cheese, in the form of the comforting Parmigiano Reggiano and the salty Pecorino. Don’t worry, though, as you can easily substitute with your favourite cheese. A good mature cheddar or a soft Emmentaler would do this recipe justice too.

If you don’t want to use cooked ham, bacon (unsmoked, non streaky) is also a good choice. Alternatively, you could try and use Parma ham, sausages or leave the pig component out altogether and make it a vegetarian dish instead. This recipe is also very handy as it can be assembled the day before, then all you need to do is continue from step 8 the day you want to bake it. It also lends itself to freezing quite beautifully.

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Ingredients

  • 300g conchiglioni (pasta shells)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 500g chestnut mushrooms
  • 150g cooked ham, diced
  • 2 courgettes
  • 100g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 50g Pecorino, grated
  • olive oil
  • parsley

Ingredients (for the béchamel sauce)

  • 500ml whole milk
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g plain flour

Method

  1. Start by making the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, then take off the heat and whisk in the flour until you can’t see any more lumps. Put the saucepan back on the heat and gently cook until the flour slightly darkens in colour (the roux stage).
  2. Slowly start feeding in the milk and mix continuously to prevent large lumps from forming at the bottom of the saucepan. Always stirring with a wooden spoon, cook the sauce until it thickens and it covers the back of the spoon. Transfer to a jug, cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool.
  3. To make the filling, start by finely chopping the mushrooms and the garlic. Add them to a large pan with 8 tbsp of olive oil and cook over a high heat until nicely browned. Turn off the heat and add 2 tbsp chopped parsley. Stir that in, then leave aside to cool.
  4. Dice the courgettes and ham, then gently fry over medium heat in a saucepan with a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.
  5. Transfer all but a couple of tablespoon of the mushroom mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, then add the courgette and ham mixture, half of the béchamel sauce, half the grated Parmigiano and the grated Pecorino. Pulse a couple of times to obtain a coarse but blended mixture.
  6. In the meantime, cook the pasta shells according to packet instructions, but drain them when they are slightly harder than al dente. They will cook in the sauce later on. Set them aside and drizzle them lightly with olive oil to stop them sticking.
  7. Fill the conchiglioni with the coarse mixture, then lay them side by side in an oiled oven dish.
  8. Mix the leftover béchamel sauce with the mushrooms you kept aside, then spread that on top. Spread the remaining Parmigiano on top, then grill in the oven for about 10 minutes or just until the top is golden.

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Haddock with Courgette and Spinach Gratin

I strongly feel we don’t eat enough fish. Actually, let me rephrase that. Every self-respecting foodie and environmentalist knows world fish stocks are plummeting due to unsustainable farming/fishing and excessive consumption. However, I agree with Delia Smith when she says the British don’t eat enough fish – despite living on an island – because they are scared of cooking it. I love fish. To me, a bowl of home-made fish soup can be the perfect ending to a stressful and manic day. A good fish baked in a salt crust is simply divine. However, my partner is more oriented towards meat and doesn’t like fish which tastes of, well, fish (duh!): this means we don’t eat as much sea products in my household as I would like to. I do compensate with sushi and sashimi whenever I can, but I have also came to the conclusion that if I manage to make the flavour of the fish very interesting and enrich it with other tones, then my partner will love it too.

This recipe started as a celeriac gratin on one of the BBC Good Food magazine but I changed it to courgettes as I couldn’t find it in my local supermarket and it definitely works. Choose a flaky white fish for this, for instance haddock or cod, as you will need a meaty fish to counteract the creaminess of the vegetables. The fish is poached rather than roasted, which keeps it really moist and succulent. A sprinkle of paprika on top will enhance the flavour of the dish and provide a colourful touch. In addition, despite the presence of cream, this dish is not as heavy as it might look like, so don’t feel guilty to indulge and have second helpings!

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Ingredients

  • 500-600g white flaky fish fillets, such as haddock or cod, cut into 4 portions
  • 300g fresh spinach
  • 2 courgettes, thickly sliced
  • 200ml double cream
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • butter (for greasing)
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200C and butter a large gratin dish.
  2. Tip the spinach in a colander and sit in the sink. Slowly pour a kettle of boiling water on the leaves and wilt them, then run under cold water to cool them down. Squeeze any excess water out of the leaves with your hands and set aside.
  3. Tip the courgette slices, spinach and cream in the gratin dish. Season and toss everything together. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the vegetables from the oven, then lay the fish pieces on top of them. Sprinkle with the paprika and season with salt and pepper, then cover with the foil again and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and serve while hot.

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