Well, King Julien the XIII (the conceited but fun-loving lemur from the cartoon Madagascar. “Maurice, my arm is tired. Wave it for me. Faster, you naughty little monkey!”)
My self-declared expert status on food means that when I invite friends over for dinner; there is a little bit of implied ‘Okay sister; bring it on.” After all that talk I would expect nothing less.
Still, it makes me sweat a little (a lot). This weekend I invited my friend Margue for dinner. The first time I met her was at Winterfeldplatz market where she had picked up a thick slice of veal liver which she was going to cook for her family later that afternoon.
Offal for children? And they eat it?
She must be gifted, I thought.
And did I mention she’s French? Oh ya, she’s French. And cooking for a French person, well – they wrote the book on cooking. Plus they actually wrote the book on cooking! Careme, Escoffier, Point, Bocuse, Roux, Ducasse.I opted to deploy the bulk of my energy on a main course of herb tortellini with an oxtail ragu. The ragu was not a thick chunky murky soup but rather a clear jus which took an hour of diligent skimming, in it two large tortellini filled with a light chicken mousse flecked with chervil and parsley. Around each tortellini, a shawl of prosciutto ham. It’s an elegant dish and one which takes a lot of preparation.
The recipe comes from Bruce Poole‘s: Bruce’s Cookbook. As part of my Leiths diploma, I spent an evening at Chez Bruce in Wandsworth (London) doing ‘work experience’, which turned out to be grating half a wheel of Parmesan before service and then folding myself into an out-of-the-way corner when service was on. The large tortellini was on the menu and the chef whose station it was coming out from ran out half way through service. Not missing a beat, he pulled out a round of pasta from the neat stack in his fridge rolled it once through the manual pasta machine, put a large dollop of filling in the middle, sealed it, into water and then plated it. Considering it took me 10 minutes to plate up my pre-made tortellini for four people, I retroactively sent him some respect brainwaves.Despite having been through a crushing service, when it was all over, that chef made me up a plate and made it look as pretty as if was going out to a paying customer. I was really touched by that and after ‘working’ in a few more kitchens I realized that such generosity was definitely not the norm.
Because the main was such a showpiece, I served a simple salad as a starter. Beetroot, slices of peeled peach, butter fried pecans drizzled with a punchy shallot and dill dressing. I put the sumac and quinoa lavosh (from The Modern Pantry a book by Anna Hansen) into a large kilner jar for everyone to help themselves. (By the way, that lavosh? Unbelievable! So good. Have to post it separately.)For dessert a mouth puckering lemon tart ( a recipe from Angela Hartnett’s A Taste of Home), with plenty of raspberries a scattering of lavender and a shower of praline (which I still had from this recipe). A good tart is my favourite thing to serve for dessert. Mainly because you can’t buy a good tart. The pastry is always too hard or thick as a biscuit.
Usually, I make the pastry early in the week, line the tart tin, wrap it tightly in cling film and freeze it (even better I make double the recipe and store one case, unbaked, in the freezer). I prefer baking from frozen because the pastry shrinks less and because it means one less thing to do in the run up to my dinner party. Plonking the lemon filling in and gently cooking it while I set the table.
Setting the table in the morning rather in the hectic run up to dinner is another tip. That way you can use that crucial half an hour before the door buzzer goes off to put on some mascara and freshen up. (Unless you’re a dude in which case, maybe just freshen up.)And just so you don’t think I apply my acerbic criticism only on others, the dinner was far from perfect. The portions turned out to be too small, especially for the salad; for which I also forgot to put on the goat cheese I had been planning to use. I should have put more filling into the tortellini and put each one on its own piece of parchment paper because you are supposed to throw them into the water, paper and all otherwise they tear when you try to pry them off. I had to make the pasta dough twice because the first time I forgot a yolk. The lemon filling was a shade to sour. I didn’t push the pastry into the corners well enough.
But as Julia said “You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.'”
Lemon Tart with Raspberries (adapted from Angela Hartnett, A Taste of Home)
4 medium eggs
200g caster sugar
125ml whipping cream
Grated zest and juice of 2-3 lemons (about 130ml)
220g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
pinch of salt
65g icing sugar
135g cold butter, diced
2 medium eggs
1. To make the pastry, sift the flour, salt and icing sugar into a bowl. Add the butter and rub it with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Or do it in a food processor using the pulse button.
2. Beat 1 egg and add it to the bowl, mix well to form a dough and wrap in cling film. Chill for at least 1 hour.
3. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until it is about 2mm thick. Use the rolling-pin to help you, rolling the pastry over it and then draping it quickly over your tart pan. Working quickly, tuck the pastry into the corners of the pan. This pastry is very delicate, it will start to rip and will warm up if you go slowly. Make sure to push the pastry really well into corners. If you can, chill in the fridge for half an hour or even better, put in the freezer overnight.
4. To bake, pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Cover the pastry with a piece of baking paper and fill it with baking beans. Blind bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the pastry starts to turn golden.
5. Remove the beans and paper, paint the case with egg wash and bake for a further 2 minutes. Then repeat. This will seal the base.
6. Turn the oven down to 110ºC.
7. Make the lemon filling by whisking the eggs with the caster sugar until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream, lemon juice and grated zest.
8. Pour the lemon mixture into the pastry case and bake in the oven for 45 minutes until the filling is set.
9. Once cool, store in the fridge but let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before decorating with raspberries. (I also put on lavender and praline but the original recipe doesn’t call for it.)