The changing of the seasons can always be forecast in my kitchen with the introduction of seafood and greens at teatime. This, of course, is not the kind of food I want during autumn and winter because that is the time for gorging on stews, pies, soups and crumbles with the same determination as a bear going into hibernation. Although when the time comes to pack away my riding boots, winter coat and I emerge blinking into the sunlight, my menu adapts as well.
Tarts, quiches, open-top pies, whatever you call em are the underdog of cooking. When was the last time you heard someone go “oh its Quiche Lorraine for tea!” They aren’t sexy, they don’t impress and lets face it, they often don’t differ that dramatically in terms of taste from the ones on supermarket shelves. So why do I come back to them time and time again?
- They are flexible. I can literally clean out the contents of my fridge by making a tart because anything goes.
- They offer a 2-for-1 meal. You can eat a tart hot or cold so it makes an ideal packed lunch the following day.
- The texture. The combination of of crunchy pastry and smooth creamy filling is bliss to my texture obsessed tongue.
Like I said, not exactly sexy, but reliable. Like a Nissan Micra or a comfy pair of old grey joggy bottoms.
Salmon & Watercress Tart
You can of course, like anything else, make your own pastry but really why bother for a midweek meal? Leave that kind of stuff to the weekends when you have more time. I use ready made shortcrust pastry and do you know what? Nothing terrible happens and no one judges me on it. Typically you should use a loose bottom tart tin (like this one here from Lakeland) but if you don’t have one there’s no need to go out & buy one. You can made do with a shallow pie dish or even a cake tin if you’re stuck but make sure it is between 20-23cm wide.
Alternatively I like to make mini quiches using my mini tart tins (from Tesco) but this is usually only when I’m procrastinating because it involves a LOT more faffing around with the pastry. I have to be desperately trying to avoid something else before I go to that amount of effort.
Preparing the Pastry:
Take the pastry out of the fridge 15 mins before you want to start making the tart and heat the oven to 180C.
Dust flour over the worktop liberally and roll out the pastry so it is slightly larger than your tart tin. The trick with rolling out pastry so it doesn’t stick is to:
- Flour the counter continuously
- Flour the rolling pin
- Always roll in 1 direction but move the pastry around.
So if you were to lay the pastry out in front of you, you roll a few times straight forward. Then turn the pastry 1/4 so it now looks like a diamond, then roll a few times straight forward. Flour the counter again (underneath and on top of the pastry) and turn the pastry 1/4 so it is roughly square. Roll a few times forward again. Continue to do this until the pastry is slightly larger than the tin.
Fold the pastry in half, then in half again and move it onto the tart tin. Then all you need to do is unfold it gently and position it into place. This ensures the pastry doesn’t break when moving it onto the tin.
Gently press the pastry into the base and sides of the tin but try not to pull the pastry (i.e. stretch it) or it will shrink back when cooking. If you leave approx 1 inch of pastry overhang on the sides and this will help reduce the shrinkage.
Gently prick the base with a fork but be careful not to stab all the way through to the base.
Cut a sheet of greaseproof paper slightly larger than the tin and scrunch it up. Smooth it out again and lay it on top of the tin so no pastry is showing through. Pour the baking beans over the top of the paper and spread them out so they reach the edges. If you are using the dried kidney beans then just bear in mind you cant eat these in the future. Just keep them as baking beans.
Bake for 20 mins.
Once baked, carefully remove the greaseproof paper and beans then bake the pastry for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use but keep the oven on.
Preparing the Filling:
While the pastry is baking make a start on the filling. Trim the tops and ends of the leek and run a knife down the middle but don’t cut it in half. Rinse it under cold running water to get rid of any dirt or grit. Slice into rounds and fry in butter over a low heat for 15 mins. This will make them very sweet and soft.
Meanwhile, poach the salmon fillets for 8 mins, in a pan of water over a medium heat. Drain on some kitchen paper. When the fish is cool enough to handle, break it with your fingers into bite sized chunks.
Beat the eggs with the milk, cream, chopped herbs and cornflour. Season with salt and pepper.
Scatter the cooked leeks onto the base of the tart. Then add a layer of watercress and top with the flaked salmon. Add a little ground black pepper on top.
Transfer the tart tin to a very sturdy roasting tin or oven tray (you don’t want anything flimsy here which can warp when cooking and spill the contents before it has set). Then pour the egg & milk mixture over the tart until it just reaches the edges.
Carefully slide the tray into the oven and bake the tart for 40-45 mins until set and slightly golden in colour.
10 mins before it is due to come out of the oven, scatter a little grated parmesan cheese over the top of the tart if you like.When baked, roll the rolling pin over the edges of the tin to remove the overhang of pastry.
Leave to stand for 10 mins before removing from the tin. With a loose bottom tin like this you can set the tin on top of a tin of soup and carefully peel away the side of the tin. This leaves the metal base only. You can either serve the tart on the metal base or use 2 large spatulas to lift it off and serve on a cake stand or large plate.
Serve this hot or cold. Try making it (or several in different flavours) the day before a picnic or for a relaxed buffet lunch.