29 July 2013

Five spice & honey chicken with mushroom noodle stir fry

Well this is the one that very nearly didn't happen.

The menu plan this week has had several different re-writings and re-shufflings largely due to circumstances changing at the last minute.  As a result, this recipe got bounced off the list, then I forgot to get something else out of the freezer and suddenly it was back on again!

I'm glad I made it though, as it was really rather good.

It's all part of my on-going love affair with the chicken leg.  As I've said before, I like chicken breast meat well enough - I just prefer the darker meat.  As our butcher sells 5 good sized chicken breasts for £5, I'd been having that right up until it suddenly dawned on me that if I bought a chicken leg at the same time, that amounts to two dinners (three breasts/two breasts & a leg) as opposed to one and a bit.  I know, I can't believe I didn't work this out sooner as well - but sometimes the obvious is the last thing we notice.
 All dressed in their spicy goo and ready for the oven

Well, I've done chicken in curry, chicken in citrus, chicken in a hat (alright, maybe not in a hat) but whatever there is to put chicken in, it feels like I've put it in it.  However, up until now, I hadn't investigated the Chinese 5 spice route.  Can't say that any more!

As I was pondering on what to put with the 5 spice, I had the dulcet tones of hubby running through my head.  He was expounding on the fact that "the Eastern thing is the balance of salty/sweet/ sour etc.", so I kind of went along with that - except I totally missed out the sour thing.  As they say in America, "so bite me".  (Except, I'd really rather you didn't, on the whole).  What I wound up with was the 5 spice for flavour, rapeseed oil to encourage the cooking and crisp up the skin on the chicken leg, honey for the sweet (and to caramelise slightly, which always looks great), soy sauce for the salty, a cheeky pinch of dried red chilli flakes for interest - and thought "that'll do!".  Yes, I could have gone the whole hog and added some lemon juice, or vinegar or some other source of sour, but I was interested to know how the unbalanced version would come out.  As it turned out, it was very nice indeed.  (Thank goodness!).

Stir fry ingredients : check. But where's the noodles?
So, what to put with it?  After all, a woman (or her menfolk) cannot live by chicken alone.  (More's the pity).  Well, with it being Chinese 5 spice, stir fry was the obvious choice and as we still had to settle on a carb. of some kind, a noodle stir fry made sense.
Yum - looks healthy!
Now I know that stir fry isn't right up there on son & heir's list of favourite foods, but it's good for him to re-visit foods he hasn't enjoyed, every so often.  He appears to be over his mushroom dislike of earlier years.  Which is just as well, as Asda - in their infinite wisdom - decided to send us a mushroom stir fry pack instead of the Edamame bean stir fry pack such as I'd ordered.  ~shrug~  Oh well, life is all about making the most of what you've got, so that's what we went with.  Of course, the extra mushrooms I'd bought to pad out the Edamame bean stir fry were a bit superfluous, but I chucked them in anyway.   I'd also ordered a pack of mange tout peas - some for the stir fry and some for a salad later in the week and they went in too.  They added a lovely sweet note to the veggies, which would have been a bit cabbage heavy without them.  Yes, Asda's "mushroom stir fry" turned out to be more of a "cabbage stir fry with the occasional mushroom", so it was good that I had a few extra.

At one time, I'd have been happy to have just had the veggies stir fried along with the chicken, but these days I think it is important to have a little carbohydrate in your main meal.  The end result of not having carbohydrates, is just that everyone starts reaching for the bread or crisps at around 8pm.  Truth be told, they do that anyway - but with rather less conviction if they've had carbs in their meal.  Now, because I was including noodles in the stir fry, this meant I needed to also come up with some kind of sauce to include in the wok which would lubricate the noodles and prevent that clagginess that they can sometimes have.  I'm not sure what I had against sour notes for this meal time, but they were very definitely off the menu as I decided to go with the classic dark soy sauce/light soy sauce/mirrin/fish sauce combo - which worked as perfectly as it always does.  This sauce combination gives such lovely colour to your stir fry and more to the point, gives a lovely rich flavour.

Now, a word must be had as regards oil.  If you've been reading along over the years, you'll know that I fairly recently eschewed the use of olive oil in favour of our lovely locally produced rapeseed oil - for the health benefits as much as anything.  As much as I love my rapeseed oil, it does have the unfortunate habit of spitting every flipping where if you use it at high temperature.  I've got a bit fed up with it doing that - and consequently ruining whatever I happen to be wearing at the time, as I've pretty much always forgotten to put an apron on.  We've always got sunflower oil in the house, as there are just some things that are better fried in sunflower than rapeseed (not many though, I'll grant you that!).  However with a stir fry, because the veggies are fried for so short a time it always feels as though the oil is much closer to the surface than with other types of cooking and consequently, you want an oil that has a lovely flavour.  My oil of choice is groundnut oil.  Not surprisingly, it has a lovely, light and delicate nuttiness that goes so well with stir fry dishes and complements curried dishes too, without any of the heaviness that accompanies a mixed vegetable oil or indeed olive or rapeseed.  If you haven't tried groundnut oil, I heartily recommend you get some in and give it a go.  Not as your everyday oil - you want something healthy and full of the lovely omega fats for that - but for stir fries and curries.  You'll be surprised.

So there we have it!  I don't have any special points to make as regards the cooking, as that is simplicity itself.  As regards the chicken, you can cook the breasts for the same time as the legs, so long as you remember to joint the leg portion.  Just cut across the hinge joint and separate it into a drumstick and a thigh.  That way it will cook a lot more quickly and correspond with the time it takes the breast to cook.

Use your own choice of stir fry veggies - they all take roughly the same amount of time to cook.  Just remember if you're adding any extra veg., to cut it into similar sized pieces so that it all cooks in the same time scale.  I sliced my mushrooms and cut the mange tout peas into three, which did the trick.

Mmmmn .... yummy chicken rules!


Ingredients :

3 chicken portions (I used 2 skinless boneless breasts and 1 leg)
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tbsp runny honey
2 rounded tsp Chinese five spice
a good pinch of dried red chilli flakes
1 tbsp light soy sauce plus another 2 tbsp
a pinch of sea salt & ground black pepper
2 tbsp groundnut oil
4 large chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
40g mange tout, each cut into three pieces
400g pack of fresh stir fry vegetables (cabbage, carrot, beansprouts, pepper etc.)
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp mirrin
2 tsp grated ginger (from a jar, but feel free to use fresh)
3 sheets of dried egg noodles.

Method :

1.  Score the chicken breasts lightly across in a diamond pattern, to encourage the absorption of their marinade.  Score the leg portion similarly.

2.  In a bowl, mix together the rapeseed oil, honey, 5 spice, chilli flakes, 1 tbsp light soy sauce and some salt and pepper.   Add the chicken and toss until completely coated.  Allow to sit for as long as until you have the baking dish and veggies for the next stage prepared.

3.  Slice the mushrooms and mangetout and chop the garlic.

4.  Into a small bowl, add the 2 tbsp light soy sauce, the dark soy sauce, fish sauce, mirrin and ginger and stir to combine.

5.  Place the chicken onto a baking dish with a lip - as it will generate some liquid that you don't want to spill all over the kitchen floor - and place into a pre-heated oven at 190degF/375degC/Gas 5 for 30 minutes or as long as until the juices from the chicken run clear.

6.  When the chicken has just 15 minutes to go, bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add the groundnut oil to a wok.  Heat the oil until almost smoking, then add the sliced mushrooms and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.  Add the contents of the stir fry pack, the mangetout and the garlic and stir fry until tender.

7.  When the chicken has just 5 minutes to go, add the sheets of dried noodles to the boiling water and simmer for 4 minutes or until the noodles are soft.  Drain and return to the saucepan.

8.  Add the soy sauce/mirrin/fish sauce/ginger mixture to the wok and allow to frizzle and reduce whilst you add the noodles.  Toss and stir to make sure the noodles are coated in the sauce and vegetables.

9.  Remove the chicken from the oven and serve with the noodle stir fry alongside.

Printable version

18 July 2013

Curry baked chicken with Slow cooker split pea dhal

I seem to have a "thing" going on with chicken right at the moment.

I think what it is, is that I've suddenly hit upon the ruse of instead of buying just chicken breasts (which the menfolk both prefer), I also buy one or two chicken legs at the same time (which I prefer).  This means that :
a) the chicken breasts go further - we get 5 for £5, so they are good for at least 2 recipes, if not 3;
b) I get to enjoy chicken dishes more and 
c) I have the benefit of having some chicken on the bone to cook alongside the breast in casseroles, which helps the flavour along a lot.

Chicken legs are a lot cheaper to buy than breasts too - and every little helps.

So, because I can now have lovely chicken leg meat instead of boring old "every forkful is the same" breast meat, it has rekindled my love of chicken.

Yes, you're right, I should have thought of it before now - but there we are.  Some things take a while to sink in.

You'll remember the Curry Baked Chicken that I made along with the Vegetable Curry?  Well, if not, you can find it here.

The chicken for this recipe is almost the same as that, the only difference is that I forgot to marinate it for as long.

However, it really didn't seem to matter - it was just as delicious.

Now I don't normally repeat recipes so soon, but that chicken was so good it had to be made again - and it was a no-brainer when I was considering having my first go at making dhal.  The yummy chicken, some plain white basmati rice and the dhal as the side dish - perfect.

As I say, I have never made dhal (or daal or any other way you might want to spell it) before.  I've seen it made often enough and it appeared to either be incredibly complicated with an ingredients list as long as your arm, or incredibly easy and how I could imagine it would be made in an Indian household.  But which way to go?  Well, it doesn't take Einstein to work out that I'd be more interested in the home style method of cooking than the restaurant method of cooking - so I set about researching my recipe.

I hadn't considered using the slow cooker at all, but I found a couple of recipes that utilised their slow cookers to great effect.  I was intent on making yellow split pea dhal and, after further consideration, it made sense to me that long slow cooking could only be good for such a dish.  It allows the full flavour of each ingredient to develop over time and because you're using dried yellow split peas unsoaked, I figured that they'd need a bit of time!  I couldn't see Indian families usually whipping up a dhal in a half an hour (although I'm sure it happens) so settled upon using the slow cooker.

For all that the ingredients list is fairly lengthy, believe me, it's brief in comparison with some of them!  I took what I considered to be the best of the ingredients listed for many recipes and felt that this collection would turn out a good flavoured dhal that would suit our taste.  I was right - and it did!

In fact, the dhal was so good that once the weather turns back to being cold, wet and miserable, I have every intention of making another batch simply to have for lunch over successive days.  There was quite a bit left over from this batch, which I boxed up and kept in the fridge and it fed me for two lunchtimes, during which time it just got better and better.

Both hubby and son & heir approved of the dhal and ate every little bit.  Hubby felt that the split peas could have had a little longer in the slow cooker as they were still a teensy bit firm - and I'm sure it wouldn't have hurt them to have gone for an hour or so longer.  I may try that next time and put them on for 5 hours instead of the 4 they were cooked for this time, although I actually liked them with the bite that they had.  Never having ordered dhal from an Indian restaurant, I was scratching around in the dark a little bit as to the best texture - but everyone enjoyed it, so I think I did good in the end!

If you are a regular dhal maker, I'd be most interested for you to make this recipe and let me know what you think.  Alternatively, if you've never made dhal before and you have a slow cooker, do give it a go!  I'm sure you won't regret it.

CURRY BAKED CHICKEN WITH SPLIT PEA DHAL      (Serves 3 - with dhal left over)

Ingredients :

300g dried yellow split peas
700ml hot water
1 tablespoonful of sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 red chilli, seeds optional, sliced finely
a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
2 heaped teaspoonfuls of ground cumin
2 heaped teaspoonfuls of ground coriander
2 heaped teaspoonfuls of ground turmeric
a large handful of fresh coriander - mostly stems - chopped
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoonfuls of vegetable stock powder
10g salted butter
a pinch of sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 skinless boneless chicken breasts (or 2 breasts, 2 legs)
2 dessert spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt
1.5 dessert spoonfuls of mango chutney
1.5 dessert spoonfuls of curry paste
1 garlic clove, chopped finely.

Method :

1.  Place the split peas and the water into your slow cooker and turn on to High.

2.  Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onion.  Fry on a medium to high heat until transparent and just starting to brown.

3.  Add the garlic, chilli, ginger and spices.  Stir well to combine and continue to cook for another few minutes, to cook out the spices.

4.  Add the fresh coriander and the tomatoes, along with the vegetable stock powder.  Stir well to combine and heat through.  Once hot, decant into the slow cooker and stir to combine.

5.  Replace the lid on the slow cooker and cook on High for 4 hours.

6.  When the 4 hours are almost up, start with cooking the chicken by cutting each chicken breast into three pieces.

7.  Place the yoghurt, curry paste, chutney and garlic into a bowl and stir to combine.  Add the chicken and toss liberally in the mixture.

8.  Place the chicken in separate pieces onto a baking tray and spoon the remains of the mixture over the top of each piece.  Bake at 200degC/400degF/Gas 6 for 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is white throughout and the surface has begun to caramelise.

9.  In the meantime, give the dhal a stir and taste for seasoning.  Add sea salt and black pepper to taste, plus the butter.  Allow the butter to melt, then stir through.

10.  Serve the chicken and dhal with some plain boiled basmati rice.

Printable version

17 July 2013

Patisserie Mark Bennett

Discovering Patisserie Mark Bennett was simply a matter of watching the right t.v. programme.

They were competing in “Britain’s Best Bakery” and as I watch just about every cooking programme that there is on t.v. at the moment, there they were.  It quickly dawned on me that this was a local bakery that warranted some investigation as the bakery goods on display through the t.v. programme were superb.  I seriously think that they were in the wrong competition - and “Britain’s Best Cake Bakery” would have been their competition (if there was such a thing).

Mind you, having been and sampled copious amounts of their bakery products, I can confirm that there is nothing at all wrong with the bread!  I think they were robbed in the competition, but then that’s water under the bridge and I’m sure they made the most of the publicity engendered there from.

Finding the bakery wasn’t difficult, either.  The area of Penn Hill really isn’t all that big, with one main shopping area clustered around a complicated road junction and Patisserie Mark Bennett is tucked away down one of the offshoots of that main road.  There is good parking along the road outside, ample space to turn around and head back home again - it couldn’t be any better.

I have to admit, at this juncture, that because of the difficulty of getting me into and out of these places, I haven’t actually been inside the shop.  Getting my wheelchair in through normal sized doors can sometimes be impossible – and if it’s too far for me to hobble with a stick, then I don’t go.  However, I’ve parked right outside their door and peered in on more than one occasion (don’t tell the local traffic wardens!) and it looks as good as it smells.  I lived in Germany for some eight years during my childhood and so we visited a number of the local Konditorei (or cake shops) - which smelled just how Patisserie Mark Bennett smells - all coffee and freshly baked deliciousness both savoury and sweet.  There are a number of indoor tables and chairs - plus the same outside for those with big warm sweaters or stolid constitutions - all ready for those days when you fancy a coffee and a croissant whilst reading the paper and feeling all Parisienne.

In fact, the shop very much follows a continental Patisserie in that it opens at 8 a.m. – a good hour earlier than a lot of bakeries nearby.  I can’t help but think that this is a smooth move on their part, as they must catch a lot of the “after the school run” traffic – which is certainly when we swoop down upon them!

Mediterranean Loaf
On our first trip – one which was supposed to be reconnaissance only – we came home with one of their superb Mediterranean bread loaves and two gorgeous almond Croissants.

The Mediterranean bread contains sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and rosemary and has a lovely splodge of melted cheese on top.  Since then, we’ve tried their wonderful Walnut and Stilton loaf, the amazing Rosemary & Garlic sourdough and the truly jaw droppingly good Cheddar Cheese & Black Pepper loaf – all of which are just a few of the daily speciality breads that cycle through over the course of a week.

Cheddar cheese & black pepper loaf
With these speciality breads, it’s not so much the ingredients that go to make up the bread flavours that is the magical part – it’s the flavour that Mark Bennett’s bakers manage to achieve from these ingredients.  Take the Cheese & Black Pepper loaf.  We have come to the conclusion that they must have a spray can of “cheddar cheese flavour” that gets liberally applied as the bread comes out of the oven, because the intensity of the cheesy flavour is just immense.

The Mediterranean loaf remains our favourite, as the complexity of the flavours from each ingredient seems to have been magnified by the process involved in turning the dough into bread.  To toast a piece of Mediterranean bread and top it with a poached egg is just one of life’s little treasures, never mind pleasures.

If there’s one thing that unites every product we’ve tried from Mark Bennett Patisserie, it is the intensity of the flavours.

Pain de campaigne
Even the relatively “plain” breads, such as the Pain de Levain and the Pain de Campagne, or the common or garden baguette, have such a depth of flavour!  Perhaps it is better that we don’t know what goes into these recipes, as it all helps to keep the mystery going – and keeps us coming back.

Being a Patisserie rather than a Bakery, the main thrust of the shop is of course cake.

However, that doesn’t prevent them from producing a beautiful range of savoury pastries that includes my very favourite Frittata Tart.  Just enough for one person and snuggled up in gorgeous buttery flaky pastry, the Frittata part involves red onion, red and green peppers and cooked cubes of potato, all contained in a rich duvet of peppery savoury egg custard.   Just divine.

Then there are the cakes.  As I said earlier, our first sample was the Almond Croissant.  Now I will admit that the Mark Bennett Almond Croissant isn’t quite as good as Kay the Baker makes for Urban Reef in Boscombe – but they are oh so close.

If we hadn’t already have sampled Kay’s Croissants, they’d be right up there in top slot.  Beautifully crisp layers of buttery croissant pastry, encasing sweet, rich almond paste and sprinkled liberally with flaked almonds – come on, what’s not to like?  You’ll be licking your fingers and using your damp fingertips to pick up any dropped almond slivers – I guarantee it.

Now I’m a bit funny with my doughnuts.  Some say I’m a bit funny overall, but we’ll skip lightly over that.  I’m a bit of a doughnut purist, in that I love a plain old ring doughnut that’s covered in sugar, fresh out of the fryer.  Anything else and I’m a little bit “meh!” about the whole thing.  However, doughnuts are a good yardstick to measure a cake shop by.
I'll bet you thought these were doughnuts.  Oh no - they're Berliners!
However, at Patisserie Mark Bennett, you don’t get doughnuts.  You get Berliners.  Great big golden sugary orbs of doughnut, sliced across and filled with either spiced apple or black cherry jam.  Oh. Em. Gee.  (To quote current parlance).  I can tell you, I’m certainly not “funny” about Mark Bennett Berliners.  The doughnut part of the equation has bounce.  Now I didn’t – I’ll admit – try chucking mine on the floor to test its bounce (what sacrilege it would have been!), all you need to do is to bite it.  I’m used to doughnuts that submit to your teeth with little more than a sigh – not Mark Bennett doughnuts that stand up and say “yes, I’m a doughnut – but I’m no pushover!”.  They are absolutely divine.
This is how you share two Berliners - with a cup of coffee!
As with the bread, the depth of flavour in just the doughnut dough is enough to render one speechless – and the flavour of the spiced apple or the black cherry just dances on your tongue.  You have to try them.  No, you really have to.  Words cannot convey ..

Hubby and I have fallen (*cough*) into the habit (*blush*) of having some kind of pastry with our coffee at least once during the week.  Yes, I know it’s naughty, but I adjust what I have for lunch to compensate, okay?

All this had begun when we discovered that Asda produce what we thought then was a pretty good Pain au Raisin.  Actually, they’re still pretty good – it’s just that the Mark Bennett version is streets ahead of “pretty good”.

I’d love to know what they both use to create that buttery, custardy mix that coats the layers of a Pain au Raisin (apart from the raisins, of course), because it’s flipping moreish.

One of the immediate differences between Asda’s version and Patisserie Mark Bennett’s version, is the size.  The Patisserie version is twice as deep and many times crispier, with the trademark chewiness that is just so satisfying.  Just oh so perfect to eat with a fabulous cup of Aeropress coffee.

So, needless to say, by this time son and heir was getting a bit fed up with our having been to Patisserie Mark Bennett, but by the time he came home from school all that was left was the last third of a loaf of bread, some crumbs and his parents with beatific smiles on their faces.  Hence, one weekend, we bought us all a true Patisserie cake.  Our little box of loveliness contained a Tart au fruits (fresh strawberry and red grapes on crème patisserie), an Apple Kuchen (cubes of sweet apple with spices on cream cheese, contained in a shortcrust pastry case) and a Cappucino Slice (layers of delicate sponge cake interspersed with coffee buttercream).

Each delicate confection was carefully cut into three pieces, the kettle was boiled and tea made.  Then, with much ceremony, the tasting began.  Well, you didn’t expect us to have one cake each, did you?  We wanted to sample each one – and buying nine cakes to have at cup of tea time in the afternoon is a bit excessive, even for us!

My favourite was the Apple Kuchen, as the apple was sharp but sweet, the filling was spiced beautifully with warm cinnamon and the shortcrust pastry case was just crumbly and delicious.  Hubby loved the Tart au fruits, with its rich custard hiding under the fresh tasting strawberries and grapes.  Somewhat predictably, son and heir chose the Cappucino slice as his favourite.  He fell in love with the rich dark coffee flavours and the light, delicate sponge layers.

Now I was beginning to wonder whether there was anything that Patisserie Mark Bennett made, that wasn’t utterly divine.

So, Easter being on the horizon, there was only one place to go for our Hot Cross Buns.

These, like the doughnuts, will be another good test of the Patisserie’s mettle, we thought.   After all, they’re going to be made in bulk and they’re available everywhere, so they won’t exactly be something that is unique to Patisserie Mark Bennett and maybe they won’t try as hard with them.

How wrong we were.

Hubby got back into the car with his bag of buns and, without any further explanation, said, “smell that” – whilst brandishing the open bag beneath my nose.  Oh wow.

There’s a somewhat indefinable something about a well-made, well-baked hot cross bun. It took me back immediately to when I lived on a boat moored at Kingston upon Thames. Each Easter we would make pilgrimage across Kingston Bridge to the bakers on the Hampton Wick side as early as possible in the morning of Easter Sunday, to pick up freshly baked hot cross buns.  We would walk back to the boat swapping our bag of hot buns from one hand to the other, whilst smelling the warm aroma that spoke of spice, citrus peel, vine fruits and bakery.  Just fabulous – and here it was again.

Unfortunately, one gets so used to seeing flat, limp hot cross buns in sweaty plastic packaging on the shelves of our increasingly not very local supermarkets that you forget what a freshly baked hot cross bun should look like.

There they sat, with a beautiful domed shape and enticingly rich golden yellow colour – just asking to be toasted and eaten hot, with the butter still melting.

God, but they were good.

Rosemary & garlic loaf
Since then, we’ve worked our way through several Mediterranean loaves, a couple of Walnut & Raisin Sourdough loaves, their Rosemary & garlic loaf and ventured into the world of the sliced cake.

All of which brings me to their Carrot Cake – which we thought took the crown as the “Best PMB cake”, right up until we tried the Dorset Apple Cake.

Now the Carrot Cake is divine – just the smell of it is enough to tell you that it is going to be a rare treat.  However, the flavour is rich with spice, fruity with carrot and vine fruits and thick with vanilla.  Even the cream cheese frosting is beyond words.  I chose a slice of the Carrot Cake on an occasion when hubby chose a Pain au Raisin – and his cake envy was almost painful to watch.

This is why, upon our next visit – when we had every intention of picking up just a loaf of bread – he came out of there with a loaf of the Walnut and raisin bread, but also with a slice of Carrot Cake and a slice of the as yet untried Dorset Apple Cake.

To be honest, I don’t really even know how to tackle telling you about the Dorset Apple Cake.  It featured on the t.v. programme and having tried it, I can totally understand why.  With the first mouthful, it makes you roll your eyes dramatically and exclaim “mmmmmmmn….”, with accompanying “OMG this is SO good!” hand gestures.  You can’t speak – oh no.  Your mouth is far too busy sorting out all the myriad of spectacular flavours that is the Dorset Apple Cake, along with its wonderful barrage of different textures.  The soft, sweet cake, the slightly firmer tangy apple, the crumbly cake that is the top layer and the completely dreamy shards of crunchy sugar that run all over the surface.  Oh, it is utterly, utterly sublime.  I can’t begin to imagine how sublime it would be, with clotted cream alongside.  Probably best I don’t go there, eh?

Patisserie Mark Bennett can be found at :

11 Banks Chambers,
Penn Hill Avenue,
Dorset, BH14 9NB

Tel: 01202 733310

and ...
The Bakehouse,
256 Sandbanks Road
Dorset, BH14 8HA

Tel: 01202 709111

Email: mark@artisanmark.com

Patisserie Mark Bennett website link : http://www.artisanmark.com/

Aubergine and cherry tomato tart

I know!  It's that rare beast, a vegetarian recipe on Jenny Eatwell's Rhubarb & Ginger.

I do try to include the odd vegetarian recipe from time to time, it's just that the carnivore in me often gets the better of it and I wind up throwing in something meaty at the last minute.  I'll try to do better, honest!

Well, this tart definitely qualifies as vegetarian - you could even use vegetarian parmesan cheese, if you so wanted.  If you choose Jus-Rol puff pastry, you'll find it is Vegetarian Society approved and even suitable for vegans!  So I think we can safely say that this is very definitely a recipe that is vegetarian friendly.  Hurrah!

I can't remember where I saw the thing that gave me the inspiration for this tart, except I saw an article somewhere online about char grilling sliced aubergines - and the photograph accompanying it showed lines of aubergine slices laid down slightly overlapping each other and I thought "that looks like they're on a tart".  Oooooh!  That would be good!  What could I put it with?  And that was how it happened.

I came up with the cherry tomato idea before the pesto, in fact.  I knew that cherry tomatoes - particularly the Aramatico type that are available at the moment - would be a lovely counterpoint to the relatively bland but smoky aubergine.  What it needed, though, was something to provide a basic, underlying flavour that the vegetables could ride upon.  Cream cheese seemed too rich, although I liked the cheese idea.

I didn't want anything too squishy, as the aubergine would be doing a good enough job there without any help.  Equally, I didn't want anything too overpowering - like chilli.  I gave some serious consideration to red onion marmalade, but rejected it on account of the sweetness.  I began going through what I had in the fridge - and hit upon the pesto.  That gave the herbiness that would provide good depth to the flavour, with a little bit of cheese influence too.  It was strongly flavoured, but you wouldn't need to use too much so it wouldn't be too squishy and compromise the crispiness of the tart base.  Perfect!  I then hit upon the ruse of adding some grated parmesan to the tart while it was still hot from the oven - and the recipe was born.

It received a mixed reaction from the assembled throng, in that I loved it and consider it to be one of the best tarts I've come up with to date.  Hubby liked it - but was disappointed that, to his taste buds, the pesto overpowered the aubergine.  Son & heir hated it because he finds aubergine too much of a challenge and isn't keen on cooked tomatoes at the best of times.  Hey ho!

I really enjoyed the contrast between the sweet acidity of the cherry tomatoes against the creamy blandness of the aubergine and had no difficulty picking the aubergine flavour out of the whole melange.  I felt that the pesto gave everything a good base flavour that didn't interfere and the parmesan on top added that salty bite that brought the thing alive.  The whole tart was just bursting with umami - that elusive flavour profile that can be so hard to find, but when you do, it's worthwhile hanging onto!  

The textures were great, with the crisp lightness of the pastry, the soft aubergine and crunchy grated parmesan.  I had a piece cold the following day for lunch and it was just as good, hence it is here on the blog for you to try.  I suspect it will get mixed reactions, but you'll know what your family like - so bear that in mind when deciding whether to try it.

I'm not so sure that this one is either teenager or child friendly either, but as I say, you'll know your family's tastes better than I ever will.

I served our tart with a mixed salad including feta cheese and green olives, which made hubby happy and a potato salad made using Cornish crystal new potatoes.  Well, I loved it - and I hope you do, too.


Ingredients :

2 smallish aubergines (eggplant, to those of you from over the water!)
3 tbsp oil (I used a combination of sunflower and rapeseed)
1 x  320g roll of puff pastry
1 tsp of green pesto
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese.

Method :

1.  Slice both aubergines into small slices (approx 5mm or thereabouts) across the round, rather than along the length.  Keep the slices in piles so as to prevent oxidisation (discolouration, in other words) and brush the top slice of each pile with a little oil, which also prevents oxidisation.

2.  Heat a griddle pan, or failing that a plain old frying pan or even a barbecue, until blisteringly hot and lay as many slices as will fit, oil side down, onto the pan.  Lightly brush the top sides with a little oil, ready to be turned.

3.  Once the underside is either charred or browned (depending on which pan you use), flip them over and repeat on the other side.

4.  Remove to a large plate and lay each slice slightly overlapping the next, around the plate so that they have a chance to cool.

5.  Repeat until all the aubergine slices have been used.

6.  Place the empty pan in a safe place to cool down!  You won't need it again.

7.  Line your baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper, or non-stick tin foil, or just plain use a non-stick baking tray.  Lay the sheet of puff pastry down flat upon it and, with a sharp knife, draw a line - not piercing through the pastry - around the rectangle to define where the crust will be.

8.  Spread the inside of the rectangle with the pesto, making sure to spread it thinly or you won't taste the aubergine.

9.  Place slices of aubergine in an attractive display onto the top of the pesto.  I used three lines of slightly overlapping slices.

10.  Sprinkle the cherry tomato halves over randomly, but making sure they are evenly distributed.

11.  Season well with sea salt and black pepper, then place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/gas 4 for around 25-30 minutes.

12.  As soon as the pastry is golden and risen around the edges, remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle the parmesan over the top so as to allow it both the heat and the time to wilt a little prior to serving. 

Serve warm, not hot, with a mixed salad.

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