This kitchen has slipped into an even more laid-back mood than usual. Food is put on the table for everyone to help themselves – a slice or two of seasonally inspired tart, a spoonful of salad, a glass jug of ice-cold cordial – and dinner is made up of dishes that are just as good warm as they are hot. Fruit and vegetables are abundant, desserts are little more than assemblies of ripe fruits and cream. The sense of urgency that so often precedes dinner has all but dissolved.
This often happens during the dog days of summer. You can almost feel the kitchen breathing a sigh of relief. On the table this week was a free-form tomato tart, its edges rough and ready, the filling a joyous mixture of scarlet tomato juices and soft, sweet onions. This time made without dairy produce, its pastry crisp and crumbly. It seemed the perfect vehicle for all the tomatoes that are turning up at the moment, the fat and squashy sort with green stripes, tiddly gardener’s delight and sweet yellow fruit shaped like pears.
The summer fruit is ravishing, with currants, berries and peaches at their most sublime. There is barely a day without scarlet and fragrant fruit on the table. Peaches, torn in half and baked with crème fraîche and brown sugar; raspberries crushed and stirred with whipped cream and crumbled brandy snaps; and of course tart currants and berries made into a custard-cup dessert. This summer I have been baking gooseberries with sugar and a few drops of elderflower cordial before making them into a fool. The flavour seems more intense when their skins have caught in the heat of the oven than when I simmer them on the hob, though that works too. If the oven is on, baking seems a good way to go.
I have been trying to make a decent olive oil pastry for some time, but the results were never quite what I wanted. Then I noticed that baker Dan Lepard uses a little baking powder in his. True to form, it was a brilliant idea, the pastry ending up beautifully crisp and light. Thanks Dan. Serves 6
For the pastry:
plain flour 200g
baking powder ½ tsp, plus a little extra
fine polenta 50g
olive oil 70ml, plus extra to finish
iced water 5 tbsp
For the filling:
banana shallots 700g, large
olive oil 3 tbsp
thyme 2 tbsp leaves, plus sprigs to finish
tomatoes 250g, small
garlic 1 clove
Make the pastry: sieve together the flour and baking powder into a bowl to make sure they are evenly mixed. Stir in the polenta and then the olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Mix to a firm and rollable dough with the iced water. You may find you need a little more. Wrap the dough in kitchen parchment and leave to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Peel the shallots, cut them in half lengthways and cut each half into pencil-thick segments. Warm the olive oil in a wide, shallow-sided pan, add the shallots and let them cook, over a low to moderate heat, for a good 25 minutes or until soft and pale gold. (I use a 28cm pan, 7cm high.) They should be tender enough to crush between finger and thumb. As they soften, stir in the thyme leaves and a grinding of black pepper. Remove from the heat.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Give the pastry a good kneading for a minute or so to soften it. Place a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet, dust lightly with a little extra polenta, put the pastry in the middle and roll out into a large disc, roughly 30cm in diameter. Don’t try to make too neat a job of it, it will look better if the edges are rough and ready.
Leaving a 5cm rim of pastry around the edge, spread the softened onions loosely over the pastry. Cut the tomatoes into thick slices. Peel and thinly slice the garlic clove. Place the tomatoes on top of the tart, scatter the slices of garlic over the top then the thyme sprigs. Trickle a little olive oil over, then season with salt and ground black pepper and bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes.
Remove the tart from the oven and leave to settle before sliding carefully on to a serving plate or board and cutting into thick slices.
If the oven is on anyway, I suggest baking the gooseberries – the flavour seems better – but you can stew them if that is easier. Put the fruit, melted butter, sugar and elderflower cordial into a saucepan and leave to simmer over a moderate heat until the fruit starts to burst and the sugar syrup is turning a pale gold. If the skins colour a little then that is good, too. Then crush them with a fork and chill them before folding into the whipped cream. Serves 6
butter 20g, melted
elderflower cordial 2 tbsp, plus 6 tsp extra
caster sugar 2 tbsp
double cream 250ml
Top and tail the gooseberries (remove any dried flowers and stems), then put them in a baking dish or roasting tin. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.
Pour the melted butter and elderflower cordial over the gooseberries, add the sugar and toss gently to coat the berries. Bake for 25 minutes until the fruit is soft and the butter and sugar have formed a layer of pale golden caramel in the roasting tin. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Crush lightly with a fork, then chill for an hour in the fridge.
In a chilled mixing bowl, whip the cream until soft and thick (but not so thick it can stand in stiff peaks), then gently fold in the gooseberries with a large, metal spoon.
Spoon into glasses and chill for a good hour before serving. As you place each on the table, spoon over a little more elderflower cordial – a teaspoon per glass is about right.
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