Smoky Pea, Cheese and Prosciutto Quiche

I love it when I manage to source Italian ingredients from my local supermarkets. Although I normally shop at Morrison’s (mostly because it is the biggest in town), I sometimes like to browse the shelves at M&S for new and intriguing ingredients. Don’t ask me why, but they seem to very interested in widening the range of food they have on offer. Also, they import quite a lot from Italy. True, the majority of the food you find there is overpriced (£6 for 100g of Gianduiotti, seriously?!?) and please be aware most of these goods are specifically packaged and manufactured for exporting purposes. That said, they seem to be pretty much on the ball in terms of sourcing new ingredients, such as new varieties of oranges, etc.

It was in one of my latest trips to this wonderland that I found a close equivalent to speck. I have talked about this ingredient in previous posts, mostly complaining because I could not find it here. Well, now I can (happy me!). True, it is called ‘smoked prosciutto’ and it’s not the original one, but being as close as it gets, that will do. This is a recipe which I improvised to make good use of it – and what better way than to use it in a quiche? The traditional Quiche Lorraine, after all, also includes lardons, so why not stay more or less on the same theme? I added peas and smoked cheese because I think they work well together, but asparagus or cherry tomatoes would also taste nice.

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Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 225g plain flour
  • 50g unsalted butter, fridge-cold
  • 50g lard, fridge cold
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks (keep one of the whites)
  • 200ml double cream
  • 100ml creme fraiche
  • 2 x 83g smoked prosciutto packets
  • 50g smoked cheese, finely grated
  • 100g peas (frozen is fine)
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. To make the pastry, put the flour and the salt in a large bowl. Cube the fat (butter and lard) and add it to the flour mixture, then use your fingertips to rub the fat into the flour until you get a breadcrumb consistency. Don’t overwork the fact or the pastry will be tough, but don’t leave big lumps of fat in the mixture either.
  2. Now add the water. I normally add 4 tbsp icy cold water to the mixture and it works fine every time, but start with 3 and take it from there. Use a round bladed knife to mix the water into the flour mixture and to bring the mixture together. Switch to your hand to briefly work the pastry into a big ball. You are looking for the pastry to be fairly dry and not excessively wet.
  3. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm, gently press it down so it turns into a rough square and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  4. After this time has elapsed, remove the pastry from the fridge and use a rolling pin slightly dusted in flour to roll out the pastry on your work surface. Please ensure to lightly flour the rolling pin and the work surface. Don’t flour the pastry or you’ll compromise the balance between flour, fat and water. Roll out the pastry to a round big enough to line a 20cm fluted round tart tin. Gently press the pastry in place and ensure it closely adheres to the fluted edges, then use a knife or run your rolling pin onto the tin to cut the excess pastry overhanging. Working with your fingers, gently press the pastry upwards on the fluted edge so that the pastry comes approximately 2-3mm over the edge of the tin. This way, when you bake it, the pastry has room to shrink.
  5. Prick the tart base with a fork, then chill the pastry case for at least 30 minutes to relax the pastry.
  6. Move on to the filling. If you’re using frozen peas, gently poach them in simmering salted water for about 5 minutes, then drain and set aside. In a large frying pan set over high heat, fry approximately half the smoked prosciutto slices until crisp, then set aside to cool. Chop then finely, then combine with the peas and the grated cheese. In a bowl, mix the eggs, egg yolks, double cream and creme fraiche with a pinch of salt and pepper. Go easy with the salt as the prosciutto and the cheese are already quite salted. Combine with the peas, cheese and chopped prosciutto, then set aside.
  7. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Slide a flat baking tray in the oven to warm up. Line the pastry case with baking parchment, then fill with baking beans and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment, then bake for another 10 minutes until the base is fully cooked.
  8. Use a pastry brush to lightly cover the cooked base of the pastry with the egg white, then return to the oven for 3 minutes to cook. This layer will make the pastry waterproof, ensure you get a nice crispy bottom and insulate the pastry from the wet filling.
  9. Lower the oven temperature to 180C. Remove the cooked base from the oven and arrange half of the uncooked slices of smoked prosciutto on the bottom so that they evenly cover it. Pour in the filling, then arrange the remaining slices on top in a pattern you fancy. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown on top and fully cooked. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes before removing from the tart case. Slice and enjoy!

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Vegetable Cheesy Tart

Finally (you might think), a savoury recipe! I get the idea to some people I come across as someone who merely feeds off dessert. Let me assure you, that is not the case. It’s widely renowned that I have a (massive) sweet tooth and, to be perfectly honest, desserts appeal to me a lot more than a chicken breast – this sounds wrong on so many levels, but I’ll just carry on. Come think of it, I have two punnets of blueberries in the fridge which I NEED to use. Will have to come up with something quick. Now, back to this recipe. The inspiration comes from Giallo Zafferano, the Italian equivalent, if you want, of the BBC Good Food website. This tart features on the website under the name of ‘Italian rustic tart/pie’ and has a fancy lattice pattern on top. I modified the recipe to suit my needs, but if you want the lattice on top, then by all means do make it.

The filling is encased by a very cheesy crust, made with Parmigiano Reggiano. Please don’t get Parmesan cheese, that tastes nothing like the real thing. I chose a good mature cheddar for the filling, which marries the ricotta and the vegetables beautifully. I also added an egg to the filling to make it set more, you’ll see when you cut it that it is crumbly as it is already. Last note, I added some dried herbs, namely oregano and sage, to boost the earthy and rustic feeling of the tart – once again, if you have fresh herbs, then don’t be scared to use them. The quantities indicated below make enough pastry and filling to line two tins. Depending on how deep your tins are, I managed to make two tarts using a deep 20cm fluted tin and a 10x25cm rectangular fluted tin.

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Ingredients (for the cheese shortcrust pastry)

  • 200g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 400g plain flour
  • 100g Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 4-5 tbsp water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 100g peas (frozen is fine)
  • 200g carrots, finely diced
  • 200g courgettes, finely diced
  • 350g asparagus
  • 400g ricotta
  • 100g mature cheddar
  • 1 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 100g black olives, drained and sliced
  • olive oil
  • pepper

Method

  1. To make the shortcrust pastry, tip the flour, salt, cheese and butter in a food processor and process until thoroughly blended and the consistency of bread crumbs. If you prefer, you can also do this by hand by rubbing the flour and cheese mixture into the butter. With the motor running, slowly start adding the water, one tablespoon at a time. Check your pastry before adding more as it will start to clump together when it’s ready.
  2. Tip it out of the food processor and gently knead for a couple of minutes to bring the whole pastry together. Shape in a ball, flatten to a disc, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 1 hour to relax.
  3. In the meantime, start making the filling. Blanch the asparagus in a pan of boiling water, then drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Slice in rounds, then set aside. Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  4. Ensure the courgettes and carrots are finely diced, then tip them in a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and the garlic, then gently cook over a medium heat until still crunchy but slightly softened. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the peas and the asparagus, then season with pepper and some salt (be stingy with salt as there is more cheese coming later). Set aside.
  5. Drain the ricotta in a sieve to get rid of the excessive moisture. Dice the mature cheddar cheese finely, then add them to the ricotta together with the egg, herbs, milk, olive slices and some pepper. Mix together, then add to the cooled vegetable mixture.
  6. Take the pastry out of the fridge, then roll out half to line a 20cm fluted tart tin. Make sure you push the pastry into the edges, then roll a rolling pin over the top to cut off the excessive pastry and use your fingers to push the pastry slightly above the edge of the tin. This way, when the pastry cooks, it will shrink back to the level of the tin and you won’t end up with no pastry left. Small note: I usually chill the pastry case for another 30 minutes once I rolled out the pastry and before I blind bake it. This ensures the pastry doesn’t shrink as much as you give the gluten in the pastry time to relax again in the oven.
  7. Prick the base of the pastry case with a fork, then blind bake it using the required beans/weighs for 20 minutes. Remove the beans/weighs and return to the oven for another 7 minutes, to cook the base.
  8. Spread enough filling into the pastry case to reach the edges, then bake for a further hour. Keep an eye on the tart and check it regularly to ensure the top is not burning. When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring onto a serving dish.

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Pizzette – Party Finger Pizzas

This is a very handy and easy dish for parties and get-togethers. In fact, I wonder why I never made it before. Pizzette are a traditional party food back in Italy and my mum would sometimes make these on a Sunday afternoon for me to have a small party all by myself. The handiness is all in the size because, luckily or unfortunately (you decide), you can put one of these straight into your mouth. In Italian we say that ‘una tira l’altra’ (one follows the other) to stress how moreish these are. They also come in hand – pardon the pun – if your guests are already trying to juggle a drink and a plate with other canapés. These go straight for the mouth in one painless gesture. Very handy, you see?

Needless to say, the topping is highly customizable. The one you find here is the traditional Margherita topping, but please feel free to experiment with alternative ones. Anchovies, tuna and peppers are all stables on a party table back in my home country. The recipe is from Trattoria da Martina, although it appears Anna Gennari is the original author. I have slightly modified the topping quantities. Throughout the recipe I will also share with you a couple of tricks I use when making pizza here in the UK. I find the ingredients contain a lot more water if compared to the ones readily available in Italy, especially mozzarella. This also means that when you are baking them, the pizzas always come out soggy due to the amount of water released.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125ml water
  • 125ml whole milk
  • 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 5g salt
  • 1 medium egg

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 20ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 500g polpa di pomodoro (you can find this in any large supermarket, it’s like a coarser passata)
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 10g salt
  • 200g mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method

  1. To make the pizza dough, put the flour, salt, sugar and dried yeast in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the hook attachment. In a saucepan, heat the milk and water until lukewarm. Turn on the mixer and slowly add the liquid to the flour, then tumble in the egg. Slowly add the butter while the mixture still roughly mixed, then let the ingredients combine thoroughly. The mixture will be very wet at this stage, but don’t worry.
  2. Once you have worked the mixture in the mixer for a good 5 minutes, oil your work surface and your hands and turn the dough out onto it. Knead it for a good 5 to 10 minutes until fully combined, pliable and shiny. The oil will prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface and will allow you to knead it. It will slowly be absorbed in the mixture, but don’t be alarmed as this will only add up to the texture and the flavour.
  3. Turn the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and let it prove in a warm environment for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the topping. Pour the polpa di pomodoro in a fine sieve and drain off the excess water. Pour the remaining tomato pulp in a small bowl and add the rest of the ingredients but the mozzarella. Drain the latter from its water, then cut in thick slices and pat with kitchen paper to absorb the excess moisture. You might need to change the paper twice or even three times, depending on the quality of the mozzarella used. Set the topping ingredients aside.
  5. Once the dough has doubled in size, remove the clingfilm, punch back the dough to its original size and tun it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out to the thickness of about 5mm. Flour an 8cm round pastry cutter, then use it to cut out small dough rounds. These will be your pizzette. Place these on baking trays lined with baking parchment, then cover with a towel and let them prove for another hour or until doubled in size.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 200C. Dice your mozzarella into small cubes.
  7. Use the back of a teaspoon to press slightly onto each dough round and make a small indentation. This will host the tomato sauce and the mozzarella. Spoon small amounts of the tomato sauce onto the cavity (be careful not to put too much!), then sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top. Bake each batch of pizzette for 15 minutes, until the dough is nicely golden and the mozzarella on top has melted. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the side, although these are just as delicious when warm.

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Onion & Cheese T&S Loaves

Don’t be fooled, T&S is only an abbreviation for ‘tear and share’ and not some mystical spices or mysterious ingredient I used to make this stunning bread. The idea behind it (nor mine, but hey) is to create a big loaf you can tear in pieces and enjoy in small quantities, rather than having to cut yourself a slice every time. The recipe had been looking at me for a while, begging to be tried out, from the first GBBO book. I remember one of the wannabe bakers making it on the show and Paul Hollywood convinced it wouldn’t work right until the end, when he finally tasted it. In your face, Paul.

Choose a very strong cheddar for this one. The more mature, the better. The reason being the bread here is pretty much flavourless and the real kick comes from the onion and the cheddar in the small buns. The pattern, moreover, very honeycomb-like, is totally non compulsory. If you wish, you could also make bigger buns and arrange them differently. These will also last for a while in a sealed container, so that if you don’t manage to eat them all while warm and fresh from the oven (a temptation hard to resist, let me tell you), you can also enjoy them later in the week as a perfect accompaniment to soups and other big and bold dishes.

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Ingredients

  • 450g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 x 7g sachet fast-action yeast
  • 300ml lukewarm water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 120g mature cheddar, grated

Method

  1. Start by putting the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a big bowl or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the hook attachment. Make sure to put the salt and the yeast well away one from the other.
  2. Start the engine of the mixer or make a well in the centre (if you’re making this completely by hand) and pour in the oil and the water. Mix this in to form a soft but not sticky dough. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Turn out the dough onto a working surface and knead by hand for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and put into a big oiled bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for a good hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Put some olive oil in a saucepan over a medium to low heat and add the onions. Cook for at least 15 minutes or until soft but not coloured. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  5. Once your dough has proven enough, punch it down, turn it out onto a working surface and knead until smooth. Divide into 19 even pieces (I used scales to measure) and roll each one into a small ball. Once you have rolled them all, use the palm of your hand and your fingers to spread each ball into a small disc, then divide the onion and about 75g of the cheese among the discs.
  6. Wrap the dough around the mixture and pinch at the top to seal, then roll out again to a ball and arrange on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Ensure the seam is down and arrange in a honeycomb structure (3, 4, 5, 4 then 3 balls respectively). Leave about 1cm between each balls but try to squeeze together as much as possible. Cover loosely with clingfilm and leave to rise for about 40 minutes until doubled in size. Close to the end of the rising time, pre-heat your oven to 190C.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the buns, then bake for 25-30 minutes. or until risen and evenly golden brown. Leave to cool slightly on a wire rack and serve warm or cool completely.

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Gingerbread & Blue Cheese Canapés

If you make the pain d’épices, what best way to use it up than making these very festive and extremely easy canapés? These come from Elle à table, a French magazine I bought on my last trip to Paris. And they were called “calissons”, in honour of the almond-shaped traditional French candies. Truth is, however, that you can make them in different shapes. For instance, I chose holly leaves.

The combination of gingerbread and blue cheese, I will admit it, is a weird one. When served at my Christmas party, only one of my friends swore by these canapés, while most of the other ones said they were nice but not their cup of tea. The tang of the blue cheese marries well with the sweetness of the dried fruit on top, while the gingerbread at the base provides a more earthy note and a cake-like consistency. I won’t take it personally if you decide not to try these, as they are a bit of an acquired taste.

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Ingredients

  • 150g St. Agur or soft blue cheese (Gorgonzola, just to name one)
  • 3 tbsp mascarpone cheese
  • 10 slices of pain d’épices
  • 6 dried apricots
  • 3 dried figs

Method

  1. Start by using the chosen cookie cutter to cut shapes in the gingerbread slices. Set them aside. In a bowl, beat the mascarpone and the cream cheese until soft, then set that aside. Finely chop the dried fruit and combine them in another bowl.
  2. Now start assembling. Place your cookie cutter back on the gingerbread slice, then dollop about 1 1/2 tsp of the cheese mixture on and use a teaspoon to spread it inside the cutter. Push slightly on the cheese mixture and hold the cookie cutter to ease the contents out, then arrange on a serving platter and sprinkle some of the chopped dried fruit on top. Repeat with the rest of the gingerbread and the blue cheese.

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Sunflower Bread (Pain Tournesol/Pan Girasol)

I originally found the recipe for this stunning bread on a French food blog called Paprikas, but, as it turns out, in order to trace the original recipe I had to go through 3 French, 2 Spanish and 3 Romanian baking blogs only to end up in a cul-de-sac. Despite my Indiana Jones-like Internet adventure, it’s amazing how recipes travel throughout the world and are shared by people who love baking. It’s also interesting to see that the recipe I followed (by Sylvie here) is different from the one published on Paprikas as it contains eggs. The result is a more brioche-like texture, richer in taste and which lends itself to brunch and breakfast alike.

Contrary to what you might think, this bread is quite easy to make. As it was my first attempt, I did not take pictures to make a step by step guide, but you can find plenty of instructions on the two blogs I posted a link for, not to mention on all of the other ones the recipe was taken from! I will attempt to describe the procedure in words, but please do refer to the photo guides as they are immensely helpful. Last thing: as I said, I chose the version with eggs. If you don’t want to use them in your bread, feel free to swap them for an equal amount of lukewarm milk and water – or water for a plainer dough.

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Ingredients

  • 760g strong bread flour
  • 250ml whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 medium eggs, slightly beaten
  • 125ml olive or rapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 3 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 x 7g sachet of instant yeast
  • 50g butter, melted, to assemble the layers
  • poppy, pumpkin and sesame seeds, to decorate
  • about 15ml whole milk, to brush on top

Method

  1. Start by making the dough. Please be aware you will be working with a lot of flour and the complete dough will weigh approximately 1.2 kg. I used the big glass bowl of my KitchenAid to mix the ingredients together and then kneaded the dough by hand. If you are planning to do this by hand, then have plenty of room available.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding fitted with the hook attachment add the flour, sugar, salt and yeast (remember to put the salt and the yeast in two opposite corners). In a jug, combine the oil and milk. Start the mixer and slowly begin to add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, starting with the eggs. Depending on the type of flour you are using, you might find you won’t need all of the milk & oil mixture or, conversely, you might find the dough is too dry and needs more moisture (that was my case). Should that be the case, please feel free to either add some lukewarm water or not to use the whole milk & oil mixture.
  3. Once the ingredients are thoroughly combined, turn out the mixture on a working surface (don’t flour it!) and knead until the dough is silky smooth, elastic and pliable. Transfer to a big bowl (no need to oil it as it contains oil already), cover with clingfilm and let it prove for about 1.5 hours or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, line a big square/round tin (I used a pizza one) and melt your butter.
  5. First phase of the assembling: Once the dough has proved, weigh it and divide it in two equal parts. Set aside one and shape the other one in a long sausage (this will make it easier to portion it). Divide the dough into five equal pieces, then roll out 4 of them to rounds approximately 20cm wide and keep the 5th one aside. Start creating the big flower by placing one of the 20cm rounds in the middle of the tin. Brush it with butter, then top with the second one. Repeat until you have used all 4 of them, then brush the last one with butter.
  6. Now take the 5th piece of dough and roll that out to a slightly bigger round, approximately 22cm wide. You want this to cover the other ones once placed on top. When ready, place it on top of the small pile but don’t brush it with butter.
  7. Now take a sharp knife and cut a star-shaped cross on top of the dough all the way through the pile of rounds. Be careful not to reach out to the edges as you want to keep about half a cm all around. Now take the triangular pieces of dough and turn them inside out, pushing them slightly away from the center. There you go, this is the outer layer of your sunflower.
  8. Second phase of the assembling: Remember the big piece of dough we set aside at the beginning? Take that and divide it into 6 equal parts. Set two aside and work with 4. Repeat as before, this time rolling the pieces out to 16cm rounds. Again, stack them one on top of the other inside the outer ring and glue them together with the melted butter. Roll out the fifth piece of dough to a slightly bigger round and place it on top of the smaller pile. Don’t brush it with butter.
  9. Using the knife, cut the same star shaped pattern on top of the smaller pile and turn the triangular ‘petals’ inside out.
  10. Now take the 6th piece of dough and shape it into a ball, then place it in the middle of the flower composition to complete it. Cover the whole flower in clingfilm and leave to prove for at least 1 hour or until there are no more gaps between the layers and it has increased in size by about 1/3.
  11. Brush the proved flower with milk, which will give it a nice shine and deep brown colour. Sprinkle the middle with pumpkin seeds and the outer layer with poppy seeds – but you can also opt for a more personal decoration!
  12. Pre-heat your oven to 200C, then bake the flower for about 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 180C and baking for a further 30 minutes. If you notice your flower is browning too much or too fast, cover it with some foil.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack before serving it.

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