Friday 2 December 2011

Recipe: Tomato and Pepper Tart

The success of this recipe is all about concentrating the tomato flavour until it is rich and intense and edgy. A deceptively simple presentation, but when you go through the sliced tomato surface and get to the complicated combination of flavours beneath, it really is show-stoppingly good. I pefer to make it with phyllo pastry shells, which means the finished dish is light and more-ish - but a buttery shortcrust would work just as well, I'm sure.

For two individual tarts.

Ingredients: two pre-cooked phyllo pastry shells; three medium sized Tomatoes; 2 tbs finely diced Red Pepper; one small Onion; two Garlic cloves; a Bouquet Garni; 2 oz butter; Olive Oil; 1 tbs Tomato Paste; half a dozen Basil leaves, shredded; 1 tsp dried Thyme; Salt & Pepper.


1.Finely slice one of the Tomatoes (you want about twelve slices, in total), and put in a bowl with the diced Pepper; melt half of the Butter over low heat, then pour this over the Tomato and Pepper mixture, add a little salt, and mix together. Set aside.

2. Melt the remaining butter in the pan, with a little Oil. Sauté the onion, finely diced, for a few minutes until visibly softened. Dice the remaining tomatoes, and add them to the pan, along with the Garlic (minced), Bouquet Garni, and tomato paste. Cook, stirring frequently for a bout ten minutes, over medium heat, until the mixture has entirely collapsed and has lost most of its liquid - it should be quite thick at this stage.

3. Discard the Bouquet Garni. Check and add seasoning to taste, and stir in the shredded basil leaves. Divide the mixture between the two pastry shells.

4. Arrange the slices of Tomato (along with the diced Pepper) over the top of the Tomato mixture, to cover. Bake for ten minutes in a 180 degree C oven, until the slices are visibly dried out, and have started to colour at their edges. Remove from the oven, and drizzle a little Olive oil over the top of each tart, and sprinkle with the dried Thyme.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Venice in November

Crisp and sunny....and empty! Some tourists - inevitably -   around Saint Mark's ....but the quiet side canals of Dorsoduro and Canareggio were largely deserted, apart from locals en route to the market or else snatching a quick coffee and a minute or two of autumn sunshine. Venice was so quiet, in fact, that we actually went inside the Basilica, for the first time - always previously having been put off by the queues outside, and, seeing nobody waiting in line as we crossed the Piazza on Monday afternoon, we seized our chance and nipped inside. To a mess of drugget strips and guard ropes and signposts, the gloomy interior illuminated by pools of light wherever a dickensian prelate sat hunched over a cash desk, ready to sell access to some other part of the inner sanctum. We ventured inside the Treasury - three euros each - to find a rather tatty display of saintly body-parts encased in gimcrack and generally dented silver-gilt containers; all against a background of the low murmer of several hundred people all simultaneously observing the regulation 'silenzio'. We didn't stay long. Gennaro assures me that the place is magical by candlelight, for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I'll take his word for it.

Conversely, San Sebastiano, on Monday morning, and the dalmatian Scuola di San Giorgio, on Tuesday were quite spectacular. In the former, we'd gone specifically to look at the recently restored Veronese ceiling panels (in practice, I thought they'd been overdone, and the effect is clumsy) but the church as a whole is a is San Giorgio, with its painted ceiling,  and Carpaccio's panels of Saint George and Saint Jerome. We had both places to ourselves, and luxuriated accordingly. As was the case also in San Rosario, where the reflection of the sun on the waters of the Giudecca Canal outside shimmered over the foreshortened images in Tiepolo's incredible ceiling.

Otherwise, the Kieffer exhibition on the Zattere was impressive - great sheets of lead, suspended from a long rack, displaying the colours of minerals and decay - and we even managed to shoehorn ourselves into a poetry reading, on Monday evening, in a small gallery in the Ghetto, where Michael Glover's rather bland verse set off to perfection the sharp-tongued observations written and read by Philip Morre. 

And we feasted. An excellent lunch in La Zucca (just to the north of San Giacomo de l'Orio), and a pretty good one the day before at the Vecio Marangon, in Campiello Centro Pietre; dinner at Vini da Gigio was a bit ho-hum (and, not for the first time, it smelt of drains ....I think probably it can now fall off the list, as no longer vaut le detour) whilst that at Fiaschetteria Toscana couldn't have been bettered: a perfect risotto of clams and baby squid, to start with, and then deep-fried monkfish cheeks, all washed down with a memorable Gavi di Gavi, 2007. As we were leaving, La Signora bore down on us and - for some reason - starting talking with great animation of the celebrations being organised in Verona for her friend, Marcella Hazan's imminent (ish) ninetieth birthday - she appeared to think we might be on the guest list, but (sadly) I suspect she was confusing us with somebody else.

And then, of course, there were all the numerous and necessary halts along the way for coffee, and spritz,  and beer, and prosecco with which any trip like that has to be punctuated - on this occasion, most memorably on Sunday evening, when we emerged from a bar, to find a dense fog had suddenly descended, to swirl in eddies around the streetlamps, and along the edge of the canal....and then on Monday (brilliantly sunny, once more),   at the wonderful enoteca on Fondamenta Nani, which is packed in the middle of the day with venetians eating and drinking on the hoof, and all engaging in high-energy gossip at the same time.

Art, and ozone, and walking (and walking!) and food and drink....and,  before our train had even reached Bologna on the return journey, yesterday, I was out for the count!

Tonight's dinner:

Courgette Soufflés

Scaloppine alla Milanese (with prosciutto and cheese inside); braised fennel

Apple tart.