My new life in this antiquated Hampshire village has taken on its own rhythm. At 6am the rays strike my bedroom window, urging me out of bed to enjoy the pleasures of a dog walk at dawn. The sunny morning means I can have coffee and toast on the timeworn bench in the front garden. It's a Wednesday, so I hastily finish my breakfast, before trotting up to the village high street on the hunt for treasures at the weekly market. Satisfied with my pickings, I smugly join the queue at the bakery with armfuls of spinach and rose-pink rhubarb. Today the line lingers out onto the street as people wait for their daily bread, some commenting enthusiastically on the fine weather. At last my turn arrives and I panic, adding two decadent almond croissants and a feisty looking sourdough to my usual order. Next stop is the butcher to pick up some of their speciality sausages. A treat for tomorrow's breakfast. And as it's right next door, I mischievously pop into the wine shop for a recommended bottle of chianti, coming out with two bottles of 2013 Poggerino. With all the errands run, I squirrel away my riches and return home to put the kettle on and get to work.
Spinach and Gruyere Tart
Inspired by a Sarah Raven recipe, I decide to put the spinach I found at the market into a tasty spring tart. It's always said that spinach is very good for you. Rich in iron and easily absorbed, no wonder Popeye's muscles seemed to grow before our eyes. I suppose any goodness might be negated when it's combined with cheese, cream and rich shortcrust pastry; but spinach and gruyere proves to be such a delicious flavour combination, it's worth it.
Ingredients (Serves 4 -6):
For the filling:
200g gruyere cheese (grated), 300ml double cream, 3 eggs, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 400g Spinach, freshly grated nutmeg, generous handful of pine nuts, salt and pepper
For the Pastry:
170g plain flour, 100g butter, 1 egg yolk, very cold water, pinch of salt
To make the pastry, sift the flour with the salt, then rub in the butter until the mixtures resembles breadcrumbs. Mix the egg yolk with two tablespoons of the very cold water and add to the mixture. Using a knife to begin with, mix to a firm dough, eventually using one hand to bring it together. You may need to add more water, but remember that the dough shouldn't be too damp. Crumbly pastry is harder to handle, but produces a 'shorter' result. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
A note on shortcrust pastry: Keep everything as cool as possible. If the butter is allowed to melt, the pastry may be too tough.
Preheat the oven to 200c/gas mark 6. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out to line a 26cm tart tin. Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork, cover with greaseproof paper, weighing it down with baking beans, and bake blind for about 15-20 minutes. Take it out of the oven and turn the temperature down to 180c/gas mark 4. Let the pastry shell cool slightly, and then remove the baking bean and paper. Remove any tough bits from the spinach and then cook until tender, drain thoroughly and squeeze out the leaves with your hand. Mix the cream and eggs together. Add the mustard, gruyere and grated nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Roughly chop the spinach leaves and spread out on the base of the tart shell. sprinkle over the pine nuts and then pour over the cream mixture.
Cook the tart for 30-35 minutes. Its best served warm.
Rhubarb Crumble Tart
At the moment I always seem to come away from the market with bundles of rhubarb. I just can't seem to get enough of these tantalising, pink stems and their sweet tartness. Growing up in South Africa, we had an abundance of delicious fresh fruit, but rhubarb wasn't really one of them. If we did manage to find it at the supermarket, it was ridiculously expensive. It's an absence I'm making up for now! This recipe is adapted from the Flourishing Foodie.
Ingredients (Serves 6)
For the Pastry:
170g Plain flour, 55g butter, 1 egg yolk, Pinch of salt, 1 tbsp caster sugar, very cold water
For the Rhubarb:
100g granulated sugar, 50g plain flour, 1 tbsp lemons juice, 6 stalks of fresh rhubarb (chopped)
For the Crumble:
50g oats, 50g plain flour, 50g unsalted butter
To make the pastry (same recipe as above, with the addition of caster sugar), sift the flour with the salt and sugar, then rub in the butter until the mixtures resembles breadcrumbs. Mix the egg yolk with two tablespoons of the very cold water and add to the mixture. Using a knife to begin with, mix to a firm dough, eventually using one hand to bring it together. You may need to add more water, but remember that the dough shouldn't be too damp. Crumbly pastry is harder to handle, but produces a 'shorter' result. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Roll the dough t to fit a 23cm tart tin, keeping it about half a centimetre thick. Press the dough into the tin and prick the base with a fork a few times. Freeze the pastry shell for 15 minutes to prevent it from shrinking, then cover with grease proof paper, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 15 minutes, removing the paper and beans for the last 5 minutes.
Meanwhile make the rhubarb filling by combining the sugar and flour. Toss in the chopped rhubarb and add the lemon juice. Mix it all together, make sure the rhubarb is nicely coated. To make the topping, crumble the butter, oats and flour together in a small bowl. Remove the pastry shell from the over, fill with the rhubarb mixture and sprinkle over the crumble. Bake for 35 minutes, until the shell is golden brown and the rhubarb is bubbling.
It's delicious served slightly warm with a generous dollop of creme fraiche.