OMG I’ve got a vegan coming for Christmas….

Well actually I don’t, but I’ve heard words to this effect coming from several anxious mouths over the last few weeks. Don’t panic. There is a most fantastic recipe for a three mushroom tartlet with cep sauce in my Bill’s Kitchen cookbook.

When I was doing the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for the book one of the ‘rewards’ I offered for backers of the book was a dinner for 20 featuring recipes from the book. My pal Paddy bought one of these dinners and offered his friends a choice of the slow-cooked beef brisket in red wine or the three mushroom tartlet. The split was roughly 50/50 which surprised and delighted me because this was basically a group of omnivores: people choosing a vegan dish because is sounded delicious not because of dietary rules! And they weren’t disappointed.

Three mushroom tartlet with a roast garlic and pine nut base, with a cep sauce,

There’s a few stages to making this recipe but each stage is pretty straightforward.

You can use various wild mushrooms – pieds de mouton are especially good if you can get hold of them. I have specified these three varieties both because they taste really good, and because they are all cultivated and therefore relatively easy to get hold of.

If you want to get ahead of yourself, the tartlet cases and the pine nut puree for the tartlets can be made the day before but the tartlets should not be put together until shortly before they are going to be heated or they will go a bit soggy. In this photo I’ve served the tartlet with the cep sauce, savoy cabbage and roast parsnips. If you’re really hungry you could add some mash, with or without celeriac.

Serves 4

250g wholemeal pastry (see page 67 of Bill’s Kitchen cookbook)

4 cloves garlic
40g pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 branch fresh thyme, stripped
1 tbs lemon juice
35 ml water
¼ tsp salt

2 tbs sunflower oil
175 g field mushrooms, cut into large chunks
175 g oyster mushrooms
175 g shitake mushrooms
Good pinch of salt for each batch of mushrooms

Pre-heat the oven to 160C  (fan).  Roll out the pastry very thinly and line the tartlet tins being careful not to stretch it or it will shrink when cooked. Use either baking beans or an identical tarlet tin to weight the pastry so that it doesn’t puff up during baking. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is just cooked and barely beginning to brown.

Break the bulb of garlic into cloves but do not peel them. Spread out on to a baking sheet and put in the oven for about 20 minutes until they smell nutty and are a little soft when prodded. Allow them to cool and then peel them.

Put the peeled, baked garlic in a blender with the toasted pine nuts, lemon juice, water, fresh thyme and salt. Whizz until smooth and then taste. You are looking for something quite assertive as it goes on in quite a thin layer. Adjust the seasoning with extra lemon juice or salt as necessary.

Next fry the mushrooms. They need to be fried in small batches on a high heat and you should season each batch as you go. If you try to fry too many at once or over too low a heat they will sweat and go slimy, whereas you want them slightly browned and tender. The pan should remain fairly dry as you fry.

When all the mushrooms are fried you are ready to assemble the tarts. Divide the pine nut mixture between the blind-baked tartlet cases and spread it evenly over the base. Arrange the fried mushrooms on top, starting with the field mushrooms, then the oyster mushrooms and lastly the shitake mushrooms arranged bottom up.

Before serving, pre-heat the oven to 160C (fan) and place the tartlets on a baking sheet in the oven for about 15 minutes until piping hot.

Cep sauce

This sauce can happily be made a day or two in advance. Arrowroot is a useful alternative sauce thickener to be aware of as it’s gluten free.

25 g dried ceps
200 ml hot water, for soaking the ceps

1 dsp sunflower oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ small chilli, finely chopped, without the seeds
¼ tsp salt
100 g field mushrooms, finely diced
125 ml red wine
2 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp sugar

1 tsp arrowroot
Cold water to mix

Soak the ceps in the hot water for about 30 minutes.

In a saucepan, sweat the onion, garlic and chilli and in the sunflower oil until soft. Add the diced field mushrooms and keep cooking until the mushrooms are soft and have given off their juice. Add the wine and soy sauce. With a slotted spoon, take the ceps from their liquid and add them. Strain the liquid from the ceps through a fine sieve and add that also. Bring everything to the boil and simmer for about five minutes with the lid off, allowing the sauce to reduce a little.

Mix the arrowroot with a few drops of cold water and add half of it to the sauce. Bring back to the boil, stirring well. If you would like the sauce to be thicker, repeat the process with the rest of the arrowroot mixture, otherwise leave it as it is. Check the seasoning.

A day of cooking for a week of eating


Courgette and feta filo pie with patatas bravas

We’re really motoring on the book now. Every Wednesday Jay Watson (the photographer) and I get together, usually at my house but occasionally at one of the cafes, to cook, test and photograph a batch of recipes. Jay has a wonderful imagination and sense of style and is using virtually every piece of crockery and every fabric and every interesting corner to show the food off at its very best.

So the book-writing weekly routine is working out like this. On Monday I do a first draft of the week’s recipes (about 8-10 each week). On Tuesday I shop and start preparing, marinating, chopping and mixing and actually cook anything that’s just as happy to be made the night before – maybe a cassoulet, some salted caramel walnut brownies or a rabbit stew.

Edna’s wonderful cheese biscuits with fennel seeds, paprika or plain

Then on Wednesday I’m up early to try and make sure that a good number of the dishes are ready by the time Jay arrives at about 11. I try to plan it so that things are coming out of the oven in a good order so that they can be photographed as freshly as possible – things that have sat around for too long generally look as though they’ve sat around for too long. I’ll have some suggestions for Jay about how we might present a dish but she has a great visual imagination and sense of colour (and I’m a bit colour-blind) so whilst I’ve done all the cooking, most of the set-up is done by her.

On a good day we’ll have the splendid Helen washing up and then we’ll have time for a lunch break, eating some of the food that’s already been photographed. Then Helen and I will clear up and I’ll do goody-bags for Jay and Helen and the team heads off; leaving me to try to fit the vast mass of leftovers into our fridge.

But then it’s downhill all the way. Most weeks we’ve had enough leftovers from the Wednesday photoshoot to feed the family for the rest of the week. And it’s all really good stuff. So after the last photoshoot at home we (that is me, Sarah, Jonathan and Holly) had the following to feed us for a week:

Charring the aubergine for the baba ganoush

  • Celie’s Lemon and garlic roast chicken with Charlotte potatoes
  • Leek and gruyere quiche
  • Victoria O’Neil’s Vietnamese beef
  • Courgette and feta filo pie
  • Patatas bravas with pipelchuma
  • Both venison and mushroom lasagne and roast vegetable and halloumi lasagne
  • Baba ganoush
  • Hummus
  • Edna’s wonderful cheese biscuits

The finished baba




So that was our menu at home for nearly the whole of the next week – delicious.

Here’s the recipe for patatas bravas pictured at the top
of the page

Patatas bravas

This is the omnipresent item on tapas menus. Potatoes with a spicey tomato sauce. As well as being a snack in their own right they go beautifully with our courgette and feta filo pie or Spinakopita. I like them made with roast small potatoes although I suspect this is not authentically Spanish.

If you don’t have Pipelchuma to hand you can just use chilli flakes. If you like your patatas particularly brave you can increase the amount of pipelchuma/chilli flakes.

750g small potatoes, Charlottes are ideal, halved
4 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 large onion, halved and sliced
4 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt

1 x 500g passata
2 tsp Pipelchuma

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan). Toss the halved potatoes with the oil and salt and roast for around 35 minutes until browning and quite tender.

Meanwhile fry the onions on a lowish heat in the olive oil with the salt for about 25 minutes until very soft. Add the passata and pipelchuma, bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce.

Mix the sauce with the roast potatoes and serve straight away.

Tapas for bake-off


We are clearly not the only family in the country for whom the Great British Bake-off is a key date in the weekly diary. Unless I’m very organized we usually end up eating supper in front of the telly on Wednesday evenings and this makes for a pleasurable hour.

For last week’s Bake-off we had a delightful combination of leftovers from my niece Grace’s wedding (who had got married from our house the weekend before) and continued harvest from the garden. That all served as the basis for 3 delicious plates of tapas.

The leftovers were:

  • Alex Gooch’s remarkable sourdough, beginning to go a little stale
  • A large quantity of slow-roast pork from the hog roast at Grace’s wedding
  • A beautiful piece of Cashel Blue from ‘Liz the Cheese’ a guest at Grace’s wedding who runs Scotland’s busiest cheese shop (She had also brought the first of the season’s Vacherin Mont D’Or which we finished off on a subsequent evening baked in ready-made all-butter puff pastry with home-made blackcurrant jam)
  • Montgomery Cheddar – it’s become a very welcome tradition that my cousin Greta brings a massive chunk of this, the king of cheddars, whenever she comes to stay, as she did for the wedding.
  • A bag of superb mixed leaves from Lane Cottage Produce, with extra flowers added especially for the wedding
  • A nearly-empty bottle of white wine

The produce from the garden was fresh figs (they’re doing pretty well this year), runner beans, cucumbers and Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes.

Out of this cornucopia I made:

Baked figs and cashel blue on toast

img_6495I sliced about 5 fresh figs and tossed them with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a good teaspoon of sugar and then baked them in a medium oven for about 20 minutes. I then put the warm figs and their sticky juices on slices of toasted sourdough and crumbled a little Cashel Blue over each one and returned the whole thing to the oven for 5 minutes until the cheese was just beginning to melt. We had a few of Lane Cottage’s delicious leaves with this.

Pork and beans with fennel, garlic and white wine

img_6497For our next nibble I pulled apart a good handful of the leftover pork and fried it in a little of the leftover pork fat on a high heat. After a minute I added a crushed large clove of garlic, some salt and a teaspoon of fennel seeds. After a couple more minutes I added a generous splash of white wine and a couple of handfuls of finely sliced runner beans, stirred well, put on the lid and reduced the heat  and simmered for about 4 more minutes until the beans were just tender before serving.

Tomato confit and Montgomery cheddar on toast

img_6501I roughly chopped a couple of couple of dozen Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes and fried them in a generous slug of olive oil with some salt, turning occasionally until they had become a rough and deeply flavoursome pulp. This was then spread on more sourdough toast and topped with plenty of shavings of Montgomery cheddar (Montgomery is so fully flavoured that I want to eat it in shavings rather than chunks – like parmesan). The whole thing was then baked in the oven for about 5 minutes. I then added a few torn basil leaves to each slice before serving. Montgomery doesn’t melt like most cheddar but it wilts in a rather satisfactory way. This is cheese on toast for royalty.

And just in case you’re wondering, we don’t normally run to 3 course tapas meals for supper in front of the telly!

A spring supper – May 2016

Asparagus ready to cook

Asparagus ready to cook

This is a great time of year for eating. English asparagus has arrived; outdoor rhubarb is doing its manic thing in the garden, and there is the brief but glorious season when, if you’re lucky, you can get hold of Alphonso mangoes from India. Our neighbour Ray goes to Birmingham wholesale fruit and veg market a couple of times a week so he has been our route this year to mango happiness.

Alphonso mango ready to eat

Alphonso mango ready to eat

We had friends round on Friday and feasted on all of these delicious things.

  • Asparagus with a lime and chive hollandaise with a bit of Spianata toast
  • Confit duck legs cooked on ducky potatoes with rhubarb/duck sauce and peas
  • Meringues with passion fruit cream and alphonso mangoes

I find it very satisfying that you use the egg yolks for the hollandaise and the whites for the meringues. That’s what I call wholefood. For the hollandaise I used both juice and zest of a lime with four egg yolks and 250g butter and then snipped a handful of chives into it at the end. Great flavours and very pretty with the perky green asparagus. Add really fresh asparagus to a large pan of boiling water, bring back to the boil and boil for a further minute or so until the bottom of the stem is just beginning to feel tender when you squeeze it.  Drain at once and toss in a little olive oil salt and pepper.

I’ve been experimenting with various delicious Italian breads at home (more of that in another post) and we had some leftover Spianata (a very wet dough that makes fantastic flatbread) that I toasted and that mopped up the hollandaise beautifully.

Dean had made the confit duck at All Saints and so I got ready-made not only the duck legs themselves but also a large quantity of ducky juices which had formed a delicious jelly at the bottom of the confit container. Some of the juices I mixed with thinly sliced Maris Piper potatoes. These I baked in a deep roasting tray for about an hour at 160C until the potatoes were tender. I then put the confit duck legs on top, skin side uppermost and cooked at 220C for about 25 minutes until the skin was crisp and sizzling.

My starting point for the rhubarb/duck sauce was slow-roasting the rhubarb. I picked about 1kg of fat but young stems and chopped them up small with about 100g sugar and then spread them on a big roasting tray covered by bake-o-glide (parchment would be equally good) and cooked at 180C for about ten minutes and then another 3 hours or so at 140C, stirring very occasionally. This reduces the volume of rhubarb to about 20% of what you started off with. The result is an intense rhubarb pulp with a small amount of toffee-like rhubarb juice. Delicious.  I usually eat this with ginger yoghurt and granola for breakfast, but on this occasion I added a generous dollop to a small pan of duck juices and whizzed it all up. It needs a surprising amount of sugar – you’re looking for a sauce which is on the ‘sweet and sour’ end of the flavour spectrum. But taste as you go and decide how you like it.

And once you’ve got duck, potatoes and gravy of course the only thing to eat with it is frozen peas, possibly the world’s finest convenience food.

For the passion fruit cream try to find ugly bumpy fruits that feel very light – the smooth-skinned ones are generally not ripe. Halve the fruits and scoop out the pulp.  Add 5 fruit to 300ml double cream and about 50g sugar. Whizz briefly with a stick blender until the cream is just beginning to thicken. Spoon the cream over a meringue and then garnish with as much Alphonso mango as you can get your hands on. And don’t forget to suck the mango stones.

100% pure spring pleasure.

Hippy bake?

If I see something called lentil bake on a cafe menu I’ll run normally run a mile. I imagine something dried up and brown and served by someone with lank hair falling off in to the food.

If you have prejudices like mine then think again! This is a luscious buttery lentil bake with courgettes and parmesan. It’s topped here with Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes and served with some blanched runner beans. This is comfort food and glut cookery all rolled in to one. We’ve got so many tomatoes, runner beans and (still) courgettes coming from the veg patch that we can’t keep up. This is a development of a recipe in Food From The Place Below. I now like to make the bake thinner so you get more cheese and tomatoes per slice. Also, I think that with something as potentially bland as lentils it’s important to measure the amount of salt you add. The original recipe featured leeks instead of courgettes. They’re both good, but courgettes are what we’ve got lots of at the moment.

At the cafes we’ll be serving it with our home-made roast pepper and chilli ketchup but at home if I need some ketchup I’ll reach for the Heinz.

(Incidentally and thinking of Heinz: we came home the other night having left the kids to feed themselves to find some incredibly delicious leftovers from their supper in a frying pan – Tudge’s smoked bacon, diced and fried and then mixed with a tin on Heinz Beans. So good that I was scraping the pan at midnight and then again with my breakfast cup of tea)

Anyway, back to Hippy Bake, here’s the recipe:

Serves 10 (re-heats very well if you don’t have 10 to serve)

500g red lentils
1 litre water
1/2 tsp salt

1kg courgettes, diced quite small
30ml olive oil

150ml white wine
175g butter
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
125 g grated cheddar
175g grated parmesan
3 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 lemon, juice of
1/4 bunch oregano finely chopped

500g cherry tomatoes, halved (or bigger tomatoes sliced)
100g parmesan, grated

1. Put the red lentils, measured water and salt in a pan with a lid and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer very slowly until the lentils are soft and there is no separate liquid left in the pan (it’s very easy to burn the bottom of the pan so go carefully with this)

2. Toss the diced courgettes in the olive oil and a little salt and spread on a baking tray. Roast in a hot oven for about 20 mins until just tender. (Alternatively you can fry them on a high heat)

3. Mix the rest of the ingredients (apart from the choped tomatoes and parmesan which will go on top) with the cooked lentils and the roast courgettes. Stir well and spoon into a baking dish measuring about 30cm x 40cm. Spread the mix out evenly and top with the second lot of parmesan and the halved cherry tomatoes.

4. Bake for about 40 mins at 170C until just set and browned on top.

A winter salad

We’ve just had four wonderful weeks away in India – sunshine, spices and a world full of colour. Hopefully there will be something from that trip to feed into the cafe menus before long.

However, the one thing I really missed was our salads. Here’s a simple recipe for a  carrot and cabbage salad with a cumin and orange dressing.  It appears regularly on our menus in Hereford and Cambridge. Just the thing to liven your palate on a drab January day.

1kg carrots
1 large green cabbage – either Primo or Sweetheart
70ml fresh orange juice
140ml white wine vinegar
250ml sunflower oil
2 tbs cumin seeds
pinch of cayenne pepper

1. Grate the carrots finely – it just doesn’t taste the same if you do it coarsely
2. Take the tough outer leaves off the cabbage, quarter it, take out the core and then slice very finely.
3. You can use the cabbage either raw or briefly blanched – I prefer it blanched. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Put the cabbage in for one minute (longer and the salad will be ruined) and then drain.
4. To make the dressing: Put the cumin seeds in a small frying pan and heat until they are browning and smelling delicious but not burning. Tip them out of the pan as soon as they are done so they don’t keep cooking. Then mix them with the orange juice, vinegar and oil. Dean (manager at All Saints) recommends warming the dressing ingredients before mixing with the veg to bring out the full flavour of both the dressing and the veg.
5. In a large bowl, mix the dressing very thoroughly with the carrots and cabbage – insufficient mixing is a common problem with this type of salad.

This makes enough to feed a dozen people but it will keep happily in the fridge for a few days.

Very many tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes

Sarah’s Dad continues to produce massive amounts of deliciousness from our veg patch – it’s ours in the sense that he does all the work until but we help enthusiastically with the harvesting and eating. During the last few weeks the flow has become a flood of tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes. The courgettes we’ve kept manageable by relentlessly picking them small which is anyway when they’re tastiest. The runner beans have been gourgeous. Again, we pick them when they’re still fairly narrow and very tender. They’re so sweet that Holly will eat them thinly sliced and raw. But the jewel of the veg patch is undoubtedly the tomatoes in the greenhouse: a majority of Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes with a substantial minority of Marmande-style large ‘Legend’ tomatoes.

 So here’s a few thoughts for anyone labouring under a similar embarrassment of riches.

 Courgette and feta filo pie

Serves 6 to 8

 This was the first dish we ever cooked at my first ever café and I still think it’s delicious – and it uses plenty of courgettes. Grating all the courgettes takes a long time if you don’t have a food processor. Also, if you’ve got the time it’s really good served with patatas bravas (roast potatoes in a spicey tomato sauce). Just in case you don’t have a copy of my first cookbook ‘Food From the Place Below’ here’s the recipe for the courgette and feta pie:

 1.5 kg courgettes, grated
50ml sunflower oil
100g parmesan, freshly grated
175g feta cheese, crumbled
120ml white wine
1 small onion, very finely chopped
4 eggs

Salt and pepper

50g butter
1 pckt filo pastry, defrosted and chilled
50g pine nuts (optional, particularly as they now cost nearly as much as caviar)

To make the filling

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and then add the grated courgette.  Cook on a fairly high heat until the courgette is soft.  There will be a lot of liquid from the courgettes, so drain well or else cook over a sufficiently fierce heat in a sufficiently wide pan that the liquid evaporates.
  2. Mix the rest of the filling ingredients together, being sure to taste and season before adding the lightly beaten eggs

To assemble the pies

To make a filo pie you need to line the base and sides of a baking dish with layers of filo, fill it with mixture, and then give it a layered filo lid.  How you ‘patchwork’ the sheets to do this depends to a certain extent on the size (and thickness) of pastry sheets – and they vary enormously.  But generally:

Brush the baking dish with a little of the melted butter and then use sufficient sheets of filo pastry to line it one sheet deep.  Brush this with melted butter and add another layer of filo.  Repeat, so that the baking dish is lined, three sheets deep, with filo pastry.

Pour in the courgette and cheese mixture. Next, cover the filling with filo pastry, making a lid four layers deep and brushed with melted butter like the base.

Bake at about 200C / 400F and Gas 6 until they are golden brown – this should take approximately 40 minutes for a pie that serves eight.

Warm courgette and tomato salad

A sublime and simple dish that uses two of the seasonal glut vegetables

Serves 2 to 4 depending on what else you’re having.

Slice 3 or 4 big ripe tomatoes and turn very gently in olive oil, salt and pepper and then tear a few fresh basil leaves on top. Slice 2-3 medium sized courgettes (or one that has got away from you and is half way to being a marrow) and fry in a little olive on a high heat until they are browned on both sides but still somewhat firm. Put these on top of the dressed tomatoes. Eat straight away.

Pasta with runner beans, cherry tomatoes, feta and garlic

I’m sure we’re not an unusual family in eating pasta at least a couple of times a week so it’s essential to have delicious ways of using seasonal produce in pasta dishes which our medium-sized children (9 and 13) will also like. We’ve found runner beans to be popular with our kids (despite them being both vegetables and green), particularly when dosed with olive oil, butter, garlic and cheese. But then almost anything (except a Jaffa cake) is good when dosed with that combination of Mediterranean flavour.

Runner bean preparation

I used to sneer when fancy Japanese chefs said that vegetables tasted different depending on how they were cut but I’m now convinced they’re right and for perfectly straightforward reasons. Runner beans are a good example. With modern varieties, so long as they are picked young enough they don’t need stringing. In my view it’s essential to cut them very thinly (about 2 to 3mm to be precise!) on the bias. With a large, sharp, cook’s knife this can be done quite quickly. (I had a competition with my cousin-in-law Matthew the other day and I won: so a large sharp knife wins over one of those fancy runner bean slicing gizmos!) If they are cut any thicker then the inside of the bean won’t be warm by the time the outside is already overcooked. If cut properly thinly and then put in to a large pan of boiling water (even if the water is shared with pasta as in this recipe) they need no more than 2 minutes cooking. By the time the water has come back to the boil they’ll be ready to drain. If serving as a vegetable on their own (which we’re having at least every other day at the moment) just toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Perfect. And in my view they’re just as good lukewarm as they are piping hot. And lovely at room temperature too.

As in the salad recipe above the tomatoes in this recipe are not cooked, but just warmed by the freshly cooked pasta and runner beans.

Quantities in a dish such as this are entirely approximate and can be adjusted to suit your supplies.

Feeds 4

400g pasta e.g. penne
300g runner beans, thinly sliced on the bias (see above)
200g big ripe tomatoes, roughly diced
½ clove of garlic, crushed
100g decent quality feta, crumbled
About 12 basil leaves, roughly torn
Salt and pepper

50g grated parmesan
25g butter, roughly diced

1.Put a very large pan of salted water on to boil. When it’s boiling add the pasta. When it’s 2 minutes away from being ready (look on the packet for instructions which are generally quite accurate) then add the thinly sliced runner beans. As soon as the pasta is ready drain the whole lot. You don’t however need to drain it very thoroughly. Just a little cooking water left in will mix happily with the rest of the ingredients.

2. Meanwhile in a large wok or similar pan which is good for mixing put all the rest of the ingredients except the parmesan and butter. Stir everything together – off the heat.

3. Add the drained pasta and beans to the tomato mix. Put the wok back on the heat and continue stirring, once it’s nearly hot add the butter and parmesan and stir a bit more. Check the seasoning and then it’s ready to serve.

Offer more parmesan at the table.

Roast chicken with puy lentils and roast tomatoes

Since this blog post has now gone far too long I’m just going to describe very briefly what we had the other night. I boiled about 100g of puy lentils and drained them. I then halved about 100g of our delicious Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes. I tossed the cooked lentils with the halved tomatoes and about 6 fat cloves of garlic which I halved (but left the skin on) and half a dozen sprigs of thyme.

On top of this lot I put a large free range chicken and sprinkled some salt on it’s skin. I then roast the chicken for about an hour and a quarter (half an hour in a hot oven and then a bit slower for the rest).

So we ended up with a roast chicken sitting on a delicious bed of chicken-flavoured tomatoey puy lentils. Since we were hungry we also had some roast potatoes and (of course) some runner beans tossed in a little olive oil as described above. It was all delicious and a perfect half way house between summer and winter eating.

The arithmetic of quiche

A summer quiche at Michaelhouse: pea, courgette & ricotta

Quiche is not a good word. In smarter cafes than ours the same thing is renamed ‘tart’. But when we tried calling it, for instance, a ‘roast pepper and goat’s cheese tart’ then customers would point at it on the counter and say ‘do you mean the quiche?’. So we’ve succumbed to the inevitable and ‘quiche’ it is.

The key to delicious quiche (and actually most food) is in the balance and the freshness. The freshness is simple but awkward. Simple because the only thing that freshness requires is immediate consumption but awkward because it’s tempting for the home cook (or the lazy cafe cook) to think that it might be convenient to cook a quiche today that you want to eat tomorrow. Quiche wants to be eaten when it has been out of the oven between15 minutes and a couple of hours. If you eat it straight from the oven the custard hasn’t quite settled down and the whole thing is too hot so that you don’t get the full flavour of the eggy/creamy/cheesey custard, but if you leave it too long then the filling will dry out and the pastry will become soggy.

As far as balance is concerned, the main elements to balance are: pastry, eggs, cream, cheese + the headline ingredient. And then some quiches will  benefit massively from a bost of fresh herbs or mustard. The headline ingredient is, for us, usually a vegetable, usually roasted or pre-cooked in some other way. There are also delicious quiches to be made with fish and meat such as Quiche Lorraine (the original egg and bacon pie), or creations using chorizo or smoked salmon. But the proportions then need to alter and so quiches based on animal or fish protein require a different arithmetic. So the numbers that follow are fairly universal for quiches where the star ingredients are the vegetables.

5 ways to go wrong with making quiche:

  1. use milk instead of cream;
  2. use too much custard (egg/cream/cheese mix) compared to vegetables – there should be just enough to bind the veg together;
  3. don’t use enough cheese or use too bland a cheese;
  4. cook it in too high an oven – about 170C is ideal, a bit less if it’s a fan oven
  5. cook it in too low an oven – I think a quiche is much more appetising if it’s slightly browned on top and the trick is to get a slightly browned top without scrambling the egg.

A lot of the smarter cookbooks recommend using half egg yolks and half whole eggs. We use just whole eggs and this provides what for me is the ideal texture.

7 universal quiche numbers
for a 28cm loose-bottomed tart tin about 2.5cm deep:

  1. 400g pastry We use our exceptionally good wholemeal pastry recipe (which you can find in either of my cookbooks) – and I say that as someone who thinks that wholemeal pastry is generally a disaster
  2. 700 to 800g vegetables If it’s a vegetable that loses a lot liquid (e.g. leeks) then use more; if it’s something that retains its volume when cooked then use a bit less
  3. 400 ml cream – we use double but whipping cream is also fine and single cream at a push but (just to repeat myself) don’t use milk or your hard work will be wasted
  4. 5 eggs (6 if they’re very small)
  5. 225g grated or crumbled cheese – a bit less if using, for instance, all parmesan and a bit more if using a less full-flavoured cheese such as Wensleydale
  6. 700g vegetable, prepared and cooked as appropriate
  7. A good dollop of mustard or a 50g bunch of herbs roughly chopped as appropriate

2 steps to make your quiche

  1. Roll out the pastry thinly, put it into the quiche tin and blind bake it i.e. bake it without the filling in until the pastry is just cooked (about 15 to 20 minutes at 180C)
  2. Mix everything else together and pour into the blind baked pastry. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes at 180C (160C for a fan oven) until the mixture is set and the top lightly browned

Top 5 quiche combos for use with the universal quiche numbers:

  1. Leek, mustard and gruyere
  2. Aubergine, tomato and basil (using half parmesan and half cheddar for the cheese)
  3. Roast pepper, flat parsley and goat’s cheese
  4. Roast courgette, feta and mint
  5. Roast red onion, potato and smoked cheddar

Top 2 places to eat your quiche: Cafe @ All Saints in Hereford and Michaelhouse Cafe in Cambridge!