Seafood Tarts

There are more than a few signs that Spring is definitely here. Last weekend we had an impromptu picnic in the nearby park and the weather was truly glorious * And when Spring is the air we chefs start to think about some delicious, lighter lunches and dinner instead of all the hearty soups and stews. I think I have the perfect recipe then, for you today, Seafood Feuilleté, a buttery, puff-pastry case full of sensational seafood in a creamy vermouth sauce.

Seafood Tart

Now before we start I don’t want you to panic at the thought of puff pastry, I’m going to put up my hands up right now and admit straight away few of us are lucky to have the time and patience to perfect the technique of making puff pastry at home. Even after hours of practice, I struggle to get an even rise and perfect bake every time, so my solution, used correctly the bought-in product is practical, versatile and very labour saving. Rich and flaky, ready-made puff pastry can top a rich fish pie, enclose marzipan and fruit for a luxurious dessert or make simple crisp cheese straws to nibble.

Puff pastry can also be used to make savoury hors d’oeuvre or bite sized appetisers. The most famous of these being little-stuffed Vol-au-vent cases topped with a little lid or delicate Crolines, small lattice topped parcels. My recipe today is how to make the third, great little tartlet case that can be used in a savoury starter, light lunch or filled with whipped cream and fruit as a simple, elegant dessert.

*The fog returned Monday morning with a vengeance and it was more than a tad chilly.

Feuilleté Pastry Tarts

Why not try roasted Provençal vegetables topped with whipped Goat’s cheese and a little rocket dressed with sea salt and Balsamic, creamy garlic mushrooms or a seafood medley as well as fruit purées and Confectioner’s custard, glazed poached peach halves and raspberries.

Puff pastry ( ready made or homemade )

Egg wash

For the method please follow this link.


For the Filling

6 -8 Gamba’s or large Shell on Prawns

500 gr Fresh Mussels Fresh Clams

500 gr Fresh Clams

12 Scallops

6 large Banana Shallots, peeled and finely diced

3 cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed

A small handful of fresh Dill

200 ml thick double cream

50 ml of Vermouth ( White Wine is a great substitute )

25 ml Olive Oil

25 gr Butter

Juice of one fresh Lemon

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan ( with a tight fitting lid ), melt the half of the butter and add half of the oil. Over a medium heat soften the shallots for ten minutes without colouring. Add the garlic and cook out for two or three minutes stirring continuously. Tip in the mussels and clams and add the Vermouth place on the lid add steam the shellfish for five to six minutes. Carefully holding the pan with a heat proof cloth remove from the heat. Place a colander in a large glass bowl and tip in the mussels and allow to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid to be used to make the final sauce.

When cool pick the majority of the mussels and clams from their shells leaving a handful for garnishing. Carefully pour the cooking liquid through a fine strainer into a small pan and place on a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the volume by half. Add the cream and simmer for a couple more minutes before seasoning with a generous grind of pepper. Melt the remaining butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan and saute the gambas, over a gentle heat, for three minutes before turning up the heat and adding the scallops, turn over the prawns and the scallops as soon as they are brown. After two more minutes remove from heat, squeeze over the juice of one lemon and keep warm.

Heat the mussels and clams gently in the sauce. Take care not to boil or the shellfish will toughen, add the remaining lemon juice and finely chopped dill, taste and add more pepper if required. Place a warm pastry case onto a deep lipped plate and carefully spoon in the picked mussels and clams. Add a couple of scallops then fill with sauce and top with the prepared lids or a large prawn. Spoon around a little extra liquid and the retained shellfish in shells and sprinkle with a little extra dill to garnish.


Quiche Lorraine

The Quiche Lorraine is a crisp pastry case filled with a thick layer of creamy, wobbly egg custard flavoured only with some fried cubes of really good bacon. Quiche Lorraine was originally an open pie, rustic in style, made with bread dough for the crust, in a cast iron pan. Today a rich shortcrust or flaky rough puff pastry is used to line a pie dish. Regional variations include adding Gruyère cheese which makes a Quiche Vosgienne and onions a Quiche Alsacienne. Adding tomato to the recipe creates a Quiche Provençal and spinach a quiche Florentine. This is my recipe for what is essentially a Quiche Alsacienne with Parmesan pastry for an extra tasty crisp crust.

Slice of Quiche.JPG

Quiche                                                                              serves 8 – 10

for the pastry

250 gr Strong White Flour

50 gr Cold Beef Dripping, cut into small pieces

50 gr Cold Butter, diced

50 gr finely grated Parmesan

2-3 tablespoons Ice Cold Water

A generous pinch of Salt

Quiche 2

for the filling

150 gr Bacon Lardons preferably cut from a thick piece of bacon

1 medium sized White Onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 free range Eggs

250 ml  Double Cream

25 gr Butter

1 tablespoon quality  Olive Oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped Parsley

2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and pureed

¼ teaspoon freshly grated Nutmeg

A generous pinch of Cayenne Pepper

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8-inch flan ring ( at least 1 inch deep )

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add both fats and rub together with the fingertips lifting and separating the fat with the flour until you achieve the texture of bread crumbs. Add the Parmesan and pour in one tablespoon of water and gentle form together as a dough. Use more water as required. Do not knead the dough and treat gently for the best results.

PastryAlternatively, blitz ingredients to the crumb stage in a food processor, then add water until you get the same result. Wrap in cling film and chill in the refrigerator to relax for at least half an hour.


Rolling Pastry

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6. Roll out the chilled pastry on a clean, floured, work surface to a thickness of approximately a quarter of an inch. The pastry will need to be wide enough to line the bottom of the tin, the sides and provide a little overhang that will reduce as the pastry shrinks during cooking.

Lining Tin with Pastry.JPG


Butter a flan dish or pie ring and carefully roll the pastry onto your rolling pin. Roll back over the flan dish and push to the edges trying not to split the pastry. If you do tear the pastry take a little surplus from the edge and gently push over the gap to patch the hole. Trim the edges leaving a half inch overhang over the lip of the pie dish.

Pastry Overhang.JPG

Chill again for half an hour then cover the pastry with a sheet of baking parchment and fill the dish with rice or baking beans.

Blind Baking.JPG

Place on a baking tray and put in the oven. After ten minutes turn the oven down to 375°F/fan 190°C/gas mark 5 and bake for fifteen more minutes. Carefully take out from the oven and remove the baking parchment and rice or beans. Beat up one of the eggs with a fork and brush the inside of the pastry case with a soft pastry brush . Bake in the oven for a further ten minutes until light gold in colour, this is to seal the tart. Take out and set aside to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 350°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. When cool trim off any excess pastry.

In a medium sized heavy bottomed frying pan, melt the butter in the olive oil over a low heat. Cook the onion for ten minutes without colouring then remove. Replace the onion with the bacon lardons and fry until crispy and light brown, add garlic and cook for one more minute then mix together with the onions. In a large bowl beat the remaining eggs with nutmeg, cayenne pepper and season sparingly as the bacon will naturally add salt. Whisk in the double cream and then strain into a jug to remove any strands of thick egg white. Take the pastry case and evenly spread with the cooked onion and bacon. Place baking tray with the pastry case onto the oven shelf, then pour in the custard mix, filling the case right to the top. Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes, or until the filling has just set and is slightly wobbly to the touch and the top of the quiche is lovely and golden brown.


National Sandwich Week

Croque Monsieur Monte Cristo

It is apparently National Sandwich Week and not surprisingly bacon and chicken feature at the top of all the polls for people’s favourite sandwiches. I am sure you are aware that the sandwich was created by a gambling-obsessed Earl who asked a servant to put meat between two pieces of bread to enable him to continue playing cards and eat. Interestingly his direct descendants founded a chain selling guess what?

Now I like a bacon sandwich as much as any person, it is almost the chef’s staple diet but my favourite is a little different. At the simplest level, the Croque Monsieur is a French grilled ham and cheese sandwich. One of those all important combinations where the sum of the parts, in this case, ham, cheese (typically Emmental or Gruyère), white bread and butter transcend their humble origins and make a perfect match. Golden brown, crisp toast with a blisteringly hot creamy, melted cheese and slightly salty ham filling. C’est Magnifique as the French would say.

Unfortunately, for the French nation, there is no accurate record where or when the first Croque Monsieur was made and who was the unrecorded creator, they first appear on a Parisian café menu in 1910 and in literature in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in 1918. The rise of the Croque Monsieur is such it is now offered in Paris branches of McDonalds as the Croq McDo. C’est horrible. So for a classic Croque Monsieur, I am going to offer you the recipe of a magnificent pair of redoubtable chefs who should know their classic toasted French ham sandwich, the Francophile Julia Child and the even more actually French Jacques Pepin.

Croque Monsieur

This recipe below is directly from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home

Julia’s Croque Monsieur – One sandwich

2 slices fresh, reasonably soft home-style White bread, removed from the loaf in sequence for accurate reassembly*
1 tablespoon Mayonnaise, preferably homemade
½ teaspoon Dijon-style prepared Mustard
2 or more slices Swiss Cheese (Gruyère or Emmental, 3/16 inch thick and large enough to cover each bread slice.
1 slice excellent baked or boiled Ham, 3/ 16 inches thick, trimmed of fat, and same size as the cheese
2 tablespoons clarified Butter

Preheat the oven to 300F / 150C / Gas mark 2. Assemble the sandwich as follows, on one piece of bread spread the mayonnaise and a thin smear of the mustard top with one piece of cheese. Add the ham the second piece of cheese and the second piece of bread. Gently push down on the fresh bread. Using a very sharp knife remove the crusts. Wrap in cling film until required.

Melt half of the butter in a medium sized heavy bottomed, oven proof frying pan over a medium to high heat. When very hot but not browning, lower heat to moderate and lay the sandwich in the pan, pressing down several times as the sandwich browns rather slowly on the bottom, for around two minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of clarified butter to the pan, then turn and brown the sandwich on the other side, pressing down upon the sandwich several times until its bottom, too, is lightly browned. Place the frying pan into the oven and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted.[Child, Julia and Pepin, Jacques. 1988 Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York.] 

*Very Precise instructions for sandwich making.

The Next Level – The Croque Monsieur has been adapted both successfully and perhaps not quite so, I leave you, dear reader, the pleasure of deciding which,from the selection below;

Croque-madame with a fried or poached egg served on the top

Croque provençal with the addition of sliced tomato

Croque auvergnat with the substitution of bleu d’Auvergne cheese

Croque gagnet with sliced Gouda cheese and cooked Andouille sausage

Croque norvégien with smoked salmon instead of ham

( I would go so far to add a little sprinkling of dill )

Croque tartiflette with sliced potatoes and Reblochon cheese

Croque bolognese / croque Boum-Boum with Bolognese sauce

Croque señor with a tomato salsa

Croque Hawaiian with a slice of pineapple

But now we get into the territory of the serious sandwich maker, traversing from the original fast-food snack served in Parisian cafés and bars to grand, elaborate creations some coated in a Béchamel or Mornay sauce, the use of eggy bread ( Pain Perdu or French Toast ) and Montecristo – the sandwich not the Count or cigar. This sandwich varies across the world and in particular across the United States and many include sliced turkey as well as cheese and ham. They may be open or closed, grilled with extra cheese on top, mustard mayonnaise or Thousand Island dressing and even dredged with icing sugar.If you feel inspired may I suggest to you the one and only Grilled Cheese Invitational for those of a seriously competitive nature? I am working on a few ideas already – see you there.

The Grilled Cheese Invitational for the cheese sandwich enthusiast.

My Croque Monsieur Monticristo – One sandwich

2 slices fresh, thick sliced White Bread

1 slice of good Smoked Ham

2 or more slices Swiss Cheese, enough to cover bread twice

20 gr Baby Spinach leaves, very thoroughly washed

½ oz strong grated Cheddar cheese or Cheddar and Parmesan

4 tablespoons single Jersey Cream

1 egg

½ teaspoon Dijon-style prepared Mustard

A good pinch of Cayenne pepper

Sea salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

2 tablespoons clarified butter

Preheat the oven to 300F / 150C / Gas mark 2. Press the washed baby spinach between two layers of kitchen paper to completely dry it. In a medium sized bowl whisk together the cream, eggs, cayenne and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Create the sandwich as on one piece of bread spread a thin smear of mustard and top with one piece of Swiss cheese. Add the ham, the spinach and a second piece of cheese and the remaining slice of bread. Gently push down on the fresh bread. Using a very sharp knife remove the crusts. Dip the sandwich in the seasoned egg mix, allowing both sides to soak up the liquid.

Melt half of the butter in a medium sized heavy bottomed, oven proof frying pan over a medium to high heat. When very hot but not burning, lower heat to moderate and lay the sandwich in the pan, gently press down several times as the sandwich browns rather slowly on the bottom, for around two minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of clarified butter to the pan, then turn and brown the sandwich on the other side, pressing down upon the sandwich several times until its bottom, too, is lightly browned. Remove from heat and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Place the frying pan into the oven and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted.

* A Monti Cristo with Thousand Island dressing is I am reliably informed by Wikipedia called a Cumberland Head. Anyone know why? As well as dusting the savoury versions with sugar, sweet Monti Cristo sandwiches usually contain fruit, berries, sour cream, sugar and/ or Maple syrup.