Like almost all keen cooks, I can’t resist buying cookbooks even though I know I already own far too many, with enough recipes in them to last several lifetimes of daily cooking. But even if I don’t cook from them, I love to browse and fantasize about cooking elaborate recipes, or just admire the photos (at least in modern books).
But still. The shelves in our living cum dining room cum kitchen are full, and the reserve collection has overflowed onto the landing upstairs. Some books are well-thumbed, others are pristine and have never risked the slightest gravy splatter or smudge of grease. It was time to take action, I decided, and cook at least one recipe from each of these neglected tomes, if only to establish whether they are unjustifiably taking up shelf space. I don’t know how long it will take me because I haven’t even dared to count them. But along the way I’ll review the books and hopefully find some hidden gems.
I started with The Art of the Tart, by Tamasin Day-Lewis. This lives in the reserve collection, even though I have actually cooked a couple of recipes from it. I’m not usually a fan of “single-dish” books (it was a present) — but it’s true that the tart is a very versatile concept. And some of these aren’t even what I would call a tart, in that they don’t involve pastry. There’s so much you can do with pastry and storecupboard ingredients, from a down-to-earth quiche made from the leftovers in the fridge to a drop-dead elegant dessert. And after all, many of my most successful and popular signature dishes are tarts (see the list at the end of this post).
I’m not keen on the arch title (she even published a follow-up called Tarts with tops on), or Tamasin’s wordy style and the odd bit of name-dropping, but there are some gems all the same. The recipes here range from the obvious (quiche lorraine, apple pie, tarte tatin) to the exotic or just odd (a tart filled with aligot??). The little tomato and prosciutto tarts on the cover are both beautiful and delicious — ideal dinner-party starter material — and quick to make into the bargain. I don’t usually like chocolatey desserts, but I made an exception for Simon Hopkinson’s chocolate tart (in the “Other people’s tarts” section).
For the purposes of this blog post, I started with cheese strata — one of the “not a tart” recipes. It’s basically a savoury bread and butter pudding. I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me before to make something like this, given that buying baguettes inevitably results in a surplus of stale bread. A big chunk of two-day old pain de campagne, an ancient bit of Comté only fit for grating, some eggs approaching their sell by date, mustard, onion and cream. The result is well worth the status of default dinner, and I’ll certainly make it again. I skipped the lardons, but some sun-dried tomatoes would be a nice addition and would keep it vegetarian.
Next, I quickly cooked Mjuk Toscakaka, one of several Swedish recipes. This is another one that is easy to do and uses what you have on hand (and doesn’t involve pastry) — basically a simple sponge cake with a slightly crackly, fudgy topping of sugar and flaked almonds. On its own, a bit dull, and cream didn’t make it any more interesting. But it was considerably livened up with the complementary addition of some Italian cherries in syrup (an impulse buy in Lidl when they were having one of their Italian weeks). Any tart poached fruit would go well with this.
Verdict: I wouldn’t rush out and buy this book if I didn’t have it, but it’s a lot more useful and attractive than I expected it to be. It’s staying on the shelf!
My artful tarts
Apple crumble tart
Apricot frangipane tart
Courgette, cheese, and herb tart
Filo tarts with goat’s cheese
French tarte aux pommes
Pineapple tarte tatin
Prune and Armagnac tart
Rosemary-spiked apricot and almond tart
Tarte à la moutarde
Tarte au citron
Tarte aux myrtilles, or bilberry tart
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