Why the humble tart should be your go-to summer dish.

Thought to have sprung from medieval pie making traditions, there’s a reason that tarts are such a popular summer food. Although I love them all year round,  when the weather is warm and cooking feels like a bit of an effort, they come into their own as a deceptively hard working foodstuff – hear me out…

Made with whatever pastry you can lay your hands on, be it shop bought puff, a sweet short dessert pastry (or, if you’ve a bit of time on your hands some herby shortcrust), making a tart is as labour intensive as you want it to be. A sweet or savoury dish that’s on the table inside of 45 minutes and needs nothing more than a salad or a (huge) dollop of clotted cream, It’s a brilliant catch all for a fridge full of leftover ingredients or to use up the odds and ends from your fruit and veg box. And the best bit is that if you make it big enough, you’ve got tomorrow’s lunch sorted as well.

This week we had the end of a piece of Blue Boy from Country Cheeses in Topsham to use up (if you haven’t already tried it -it’s delicious!). With some creme fraîche, spinach and marinated artichokes it made a great little puff pastry tart – virtually no effort and cheap to boot.

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Blue Bay, spinach and marinated artichokes with creme fraiche.

When you’re feeling a bit more committed to the kitchen, or have a spare bit of baking time it’s easy to upgrade your toppings with cured meats or fresh seafood and a slow cooked sauce as a base. Another version is the French Galette which is traditionally made with buckwheat flour –  making the crust is actually very easy and I love the golden, folded over edges. That said, this recipe from the fabulous Lavender and Lovage uses puff pastry and always goes down brilliantly with guests.

I could go on and on with this topic – on the sweet side, the list is pretty much endless….portugese custard tarts, tarte tatin and rhubarb with ginger are just a few suggestions, proving (in my opinion!) that as a low effort mainstay – the tart is a real workhorse. Let me know what you think – tag me in your tart recipes on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – extra points for photos!

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Peaches soaked in sauternes, blueberries and a lemon marscapone cream.

Horn & Cracker


My Top 10 Summer Foods

Fish and chips on the beach, chilled glasses of rosè, garden pizza, raspberry pavlova, warm artichokes drizzled with olive oil and rosemary… All foods that I associate with warm weather, the smell of suncream and a flip flop tan.  

Summer is, in my opinion the best of the seasons. The combination of sunny days and warm evenings with the fresh, ripe produce available is unbeatable – the whole lot goes hand in hand with barbeques, outdoor eating, picnics* and an Aperol spritz in the sunshine.

For the months of June, July and August, the seasonal bounty available to us lucky folks in this part of the world includes: Courgettes, cod, rocket, lamb, gooseberries (who remembers being forced to pick these as kids!), raspberries, crab, watercress and radishes, peaches, cherries, rabbit, fennel, blueberries, lettuce and lobster, beetroot, monkfish, kohlrabi, plums, blackberries, broadbeans, chard and sole. Phew! – and there are so many more.

So, these are my top ten summer foods…

Rosè

I know, I know – It’s not even a food for gods sake. BUT. June is officially rosè month and let’s be honest, how often do we drink it through the winter? I like mine as pale as possible or full of bubbles and this sparkling rosè from Pebblebed is a tough one to beat. 

Artichokes

I love these all year round, but this recipe from Jamie Oliver using globe artichokes is a brilliant side dish for barbecues and always goes down well with guests.

Summer berries 

Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries all come into their own at this time of year – sprinkle or smother over pancakes, pavlovas, roasted peaches and pastries. Plus they also add interest to home made ice lollies. 

Ice-cream

You can’t have a top ten summer list and not mention ice-cream. It wouldn’t be right. Not just for the good old vanilla cornet with a flake (and a dollop of clotted cream if you’re as greedy as I am) but for its versatility too. Semifreddo, frozen in an attractive mould has made me look like a much more proficient cook than I really am more than once. Especially when my ice-cream making skills are more than a little lacking! Worth noting – Exeter Cookery school runs a half day course on ice-cream making here but if you do just want to sit in the garden, tub and spoon in hand – Otter Valley’s Salted caramel with chocolate brownie gets my vote every time
Watermelon 

My kids get really excited when they see one of these on the kitchen side and I have to admit, the fragrance of freshly cut melon is gorgeously summery and something I never get tired of.

Seafood 

We live on the coast, there is a readily available supply on our doorstep AND we are privileged as a county to be home to many of the top seafood restaurants and chefs in the country – Mark Hix and Mitch Tonks are perfect examples and I have both of their books in my collection. For a slightly different dining experience – you’ll need to book up early, but my favourite place for seafood in the summer is the River Exe Cafe – as much for the atmosphere as the fantastic food. 

Fennel

As a rub for slow roasted pork belly, roasted with parmesan, garlic and cream, or as the main ingredient in Bill Granger’s fennel slaw (my favourite), fennel is a proper all rounder and goes beautifully with meat and fish alike.

New potatoes 

Hasselback with a sprinkling of parmesan, roasted whole with garlic and rosemary, boiled with butter and dill or in a potato salad with chives, the super versatile new potato is a regular and welcome guest this time of year in veg boxes. Riverford’s recipe page is full of suggestions but I particularly like this one for easy eating after a busy day. 

Rocket 

Often overlooked for being just a bagged salad, rocket’s peppery flavour has the ability to add life to most dishes – under scallops with chorizo, as a pesto in place of basil, shredded and mixed with warm cous cous, artichokes and sun-dried tomatos or used in these deliciously simple fishcakes.

Salad

Salad is, in my opinion the backbone of british summer food. When the weather is blisteringly hot, cold crisp baby gem leaves served with ripe tomatoes, cold meats/seafood, slaw, tabbouleh and other pleasingly chilled additions make a welcome meal. However, for the days when the weather feels distinctly more british, finer leaves can be added to spinach, mixed with freshly cooked orzo, strips of marinated pepper and prosciutto before being drizzled with warm oils to make a slightly more comforting meal. Brilliantly, there are no limits, rules or wrongs when it comes to salad – which also makes it an amazing weekday staple. If we throw the remnants of our winter veg boxes into stews in the colder months, then I like to think of salad as being a good way to do the same during the summer.

So there we have it, my top ten summer foods, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. I like them in the form of easy meals for when it’s too hot to cook, as a collection of dishes on a table for people to share, eaten cold as leftovers, or to prop up long boozy lunches. I’d love to know what your favourite summer foods and recipes are.

Horn & Cracker

 

* I realised whilst writing this that picnics deserve a topic all of their own – keep an eye out on the East Devon Eats pages for a series on picnics this July.

 


Why I love to bake…

I have always had a healthy interest in food (read that as ‘I have always been quite greedy’). As a child, some of my favourite memories involved being allowed to choose a mandarin yoghurt at the end of the Sainsbury’s shop, picking fruit at Pick-Fresh to make jam with my mum and sisters and having chicken cobbler with tiny button mushrooms for tea on chilly days, served with mash and fine green beans (I hated the green beans). But I was never that bothered about baking.

Later on, my favourite treat was to go out for dinner – especially if it was for a chinese which in late eighties Devon, was the height of teenage sophistication. As an adult, going out for dinner is still absolutely my favourite thing, but life gets in the way and with small children, ‘friends over for dinner’ replaces ‘out with friends for dinner’ as the new norm. So you up your culinary skills and rejoice in the fact that Cards Against Humanity is much better played at home anyway. But I could never really be arsed with making a pudding as well, so broken slabs of whatever posh chocolate was on offer were bunged on the table instead.

A few years ago I belonged to an all female supper club, as good friends we were more than happy to be honest about the climbing level of competition and as the weeks went on, I remember wanting to make some lemon Macarons that I had seen Nick Nairn wow the Masterchef judges with.

31 batches of Macarons I made. 31 BATCHES. Each one as terrible as the last but in a slightly different way. One month later, after buying three books on macarons, countless bits of kit, trialling french vs italian meringue, googling the meaning of tant pour tant (nope – if I had to, so do you) and feverishly monitoring oven thermometers, I served perfect lemon Macarons with popping candy shells to my supper club guests – who had the decency to look exactly as impressed as I had hoped they would.

And I haven’t stopped baking since. I discovered the therapeutic qualities of precisely following a recipe, tweaking, adjusting it and eventually make it your own. I learned that choux pastry is an absolute doddle but looks really impressive at the end, that Friands are utterly delicious and Clafoutis is not. I also learned that I never want to decorate a cake using fondant again. It doesn’t always end well, but that’s ok (all the swearing might understandably cause bystanders to think otherwise), baking has become a way of giving myself time to slow down and not think about anything other than the task in hand, which to me is absolute bliss.

Horn & Cracker