Portion/Yield:Serves 6 as a starter
Winter has settled in and rain, snow and sleet is at the order of the day. Autumn has passed quickly this year. I did however managed to capture the beautiful colours of autumn that took over my beautiful apple tree. I have now managed to take a photograph of this wonderful tree in every season and I must confess that the rusty brown colours during autumn are possibly my favourites.
At this time of the year, we have an abundance of chestnuts and walnuts, along with pears, quinces and apples, all of which we squirreled away at the end of autumn going into winter. These ingredients will not last long but whilst available can be used to create some delicious and warming recipes.
I am a sucker for a good tart, savoury or sweet, and when the pastry is homemade, it’s even better. I recently made a large batch of my rough puff pastry, a recipe I am very fond of as it’s a success every time. First, I made my sweet fine pear tart for our weekly lunch menu, and then the following week as there was still plenty of the pastry leftover (which I had kept in the freezer), we felt it was time for a savoury number. Keeping the pastry in the freezer is brilliant as it remains as good as when you first made it and it’s very handy to have some as a back up for when you need a tart in a hurry.
There is something both very satisfying and gratifying about making your own pastry, in fact, I think that a good cook is defined by the quality of their homemade pastry – perhaps a bold statement but nevertheless one to think about. My keys to success for a flaky and very puffy rough puff is that all the ingredients must be very cold, you must work quickly, do not knead the pastry and follow the rolling process meticulously, and success should be guaranteed every time.
These tarts are rustic, not pretentious, and they are very gutsy in taste indeed. If you are going to do it properly, do it with meaning, I say! I have chosen a Norfolk-made blue cheese, called Binham Blue, made by Mrs. Temple, and it’s a punchy blue cheese with perfect acidity and creamy ratios. I like it to such an extent that I class this as one of my all time favourite blues. It’s from our region and simply feels right, but do find your own favourite local blue cheese for this recipe, if you like.
With the really chilly weather, hearty and punchy flavours are needed to keep the cold at bay. The combination of blue cheese, walnuts and pears is a classic, but I do not mind classics as they taste good together and work very well for me.
Ingredients & Method
- 200ml milk ¼ onion, peeled
- 2 cloves
- 30g unsalted butter
- 30g plain flour
- 120g Binham Blue cheese, crumbled
- 600g rough puff pastry
- 4 ripe pears
- 100g walnut pieces, lightly toasted
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 large handfuls of fresh watercress, to garnish
- classic vinaigrette, to serve classic vinaigrette, to serveclassic vinaigrette, to serve
First, make the thick béchamel sauce. Put the milk, onion and cloves into a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a low heat. Once the milk is hot, remove it from the heat, leave it to infuse for 5 minutes, then strain through a sieve and discard the flavourings.
While the milk is heating, melt the butter in a separate saucepan over a medium heat, then stir in the flour with a little salt and pepper. Stir until the flour combines with the butter to form a ‘roux’, then slowly add one third of the warm infused milk, whisking well. Add another third of the milk and whisk well until smooth, then add the last bit of milk and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring continuously until thickened and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 60g of the blue cheese, then transfer the sauce to a small container and leave to cool while you roll out the pastry.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to 4–5mm thickness and cut out 6 discs, each about 12cm in diameter. Place them on the prepared baking sheet. Divide the thick béchamel sauce evenly between the 6 pastry discs, spreading it over the pastry, but leaving a 1cm border around the edge.
Peel 3 of the pears, then cut them in half, remove the cores and then cut each half into 3 wedges. Place 3 pear wedges on top of each tart and scatter over half of the walnuts. Bake the tarts in the oven for 22–25 minutes or until well-risen and golden brown and the pastry is cooked and crisp.
Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and let the tarts cool and rest for 10 minutes, then transfer them to serving plates. Cut the remaining pear (leave the skin on) into quarters, remove the core and then use a mandolin or sharp knife to finely shave the pear into thin slices. Dress the watercress in classic vinaigrette. Garnish each tart with the dressed watercress, shavings of pear and the remaining crumbled blue cheese, then sprinkle over the remaining walnuts and serve.