The easiest fruit tart known to humanity and humidity

We are in France, in the village of my heart where we spend part of each summer. Our friend Lucy (and her new dog, named Whitney Houston by the adoption centre she came from only last week) came to dinner on Monday and I wanted something to end the simple dinner of roast chicken and tomato salad.

This galette was inspired by a recipe I saw in this month’s Elle à Table by Natacha Arnoult. It was part of a feature about new kitchen equipment. The recipe begins with grinding your own wheat and buckwheat into flour. Not only am I not making my own flour, I am not making my own pastry. It is 40˚C. Butter turns to oil before you can unwrap it. Mercifully, French supermarkets carry excellent circles of all-butter pastry in their chiller cabinets (lean the hell in). Essentially, you throw some almonds and sugar on the base, mound up the fruit, varnish with a little egg wash and sugar, bung it in the oven and retreat for a cold drink and a lie down while it bakes. It’s the kind of thing I make all summer long with cherries, apricots, peaches or nectarines, rhubarb, blackberries, or whatever fruity combination I fancy.

I bumped into my friend Laurence in the market this morning, who had seen my picture of the tart on Instagram and was marvelling at my baking fortitude in face of the canicule (heatwave). Please don’t tell him about the cold drink and lying down part.

Summer fruit galette

Serves 4-6

1 circle of shortcrust all-butter pastry, approx 33cm diameter
3 tbsp ground almonds
3 tbsp caster sugar or vanilla sugar
About 600g summer fruits, I used a combination of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants
A little beaten egg or cream and a sprinkling of sugar, to finish

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/160˚C Fan/Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Lay the pastry on the sheet. Mix the ground almonds with 1 tbsp of the sugar and scatter it over the pastry – this helps stop it from becoming soggy from the fruit’s juices. Heap the fruit onto the pastry, leaving a border of 5cm free of fruit all around the edge. Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the fruit – you might need more or less depending on its sweetness. Fold the pastry border back over the fruit, brush with a little beaten egg or cream and sprinkle with a little more sugar. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden and the fruit, bubbling.

Serve it warm or cold, with crème fraîche, ice cream or cold, thick cream.

You should make Chicken Marbella, you know

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In my early twenties, I spent a few summers in Texas and this is how I discovered The Silver Palate. Though the New York deli was a thousand miles from my little Houston apartment by the Rothko Chapel, its cookbook was in my kitchen. I don’t know where it came from. It doesn’t seem likely that it belonged to my boyfriend, who liked a good restaurant but didn’t cook much, other than knowing his was around a barbecue grill.

That summer, I read The Silver Palate Cookbook cover to cover, charmed by its line drawings and quotations (“If I can’t have too many truffles, I’ll do without truffles” Colette), its sidebars (The Mustard Maze, Cooking with Herbs, Crudité Combinations) and menus (A Beach Picnic, A Vernal Equinox Supper, Country Weekend Lunch). In its pages, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins conjured up a life that was smart but not stuffy, filled with people and parties and draining the last drop of delicious from life. I made its mini quiches (it was the 80s) and American Picnic Potato Salad, Crackling Cornbread and Molasses Cookies, Tapenade and Gazpacho, Braised Short Ribs and Blackberry Mousse. I splattered up its pages with pesto and raspberry vinegar, olive oil and mayonnaise. It made me happy.

When I finally made it to New York that first summer, along with trips to MoMA and Bloomingdales, the Carnegie Deli and H&H Bagel (where I saw Dianne Weist, pushing her baby in a stroller, which rounded it out as the quintessential New York Woody Allen experience, back when that was still a good thing), I walked along Columbus Avenue, seeking out the Silver Palate’s blue striped awning. The shop was tiny, perhaps a dozen or so feet square. I bought a bottle of dressing and a tin of coffee, which I brought back to England and kept in my kitchen for months, not using them, cherishing them.

I still have my original Silver Palate book. It’s falling to pieces now, faded Post-It notes clinging to pages, remembrance of dinners past. I still use it, decades after capers, olives, filo and pancetta, once so new to me, have folded into my every day kitchen vernacular.

So when I was flipping through Ina Garten’s latest book, Cook Like a Pro, I was delighted to see Chicken Marbella (recipe in link) in its pages. It was the first main course to be sold at the deli and Ina has tweaked it slightly in her version. In the introduction to the recipe, she says, “Nora Ephron commented that in the 1980s whenever you went to a dinner party in New York City, everyone served Chicken Marbella from The Silver Palate Cookbook…”

This brings together three of my favourite things: my beloved Silver Palate; the peerless Ina (Who Can Do No Wrong); and Nora Ephron, whom I admire so much and whose book Heartburn I read at least once a year. How could I not make it? Seriously?

It marries sweet prunes (I always bring bags and bags of Agen prunes back from France with me), salty capers and the sourness of green olives. It is very simple – throw everything together in the marinade, leave it overnight and then cook it for just less than an hour the next day. Serve it with rice to soak up the delicious juices. In the SP Bible, Rosso and Lukins also say it’s good cold, or as a picnic dish. I hate eating elaborate food outside, but I might make an exception in this case. It’s great for parties as it scales up really well. I am going to be making it a lot. Many years have passed, decades even, since I first made it. Welcome back, old friend.

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The new dinner party rules

All nice and neat


The simple request, “You must come to dinner,” once a cheerful indication of intimacy, has become fraught with social dangers. How straightforward it was when all you needed to do was put on your best suit or frock, spend the first half of the evening speaking to the person on your right, the second half to the person on your left, jump into a cab by midnight, scribble a thank you note the next day, and we all got out of there alive.
Our newly casual way of living means we hardly know when we’ve strayed over some mysterious line in the sisal matting. In the latest edition of The Lady magazine, etiquette and modern manners expert, Thomas Blaikie, describes the new dinner party rules, which include leaving by 10.30pm on a weeknight and 11.15pm at weekends, never bringing wine that costs less than a tenner, and, if you’re the host, never making plated starters.
Personally, I’ve thrown so many dinner parties, my dishwasher should be receiving some sort of award for its contribution to community relations. Here are my notes from the dinner party front, to ensure both happy hosts and guests.

Ten dinner party commandments

1. Don’t be on time This is the act of a monster. The only people worse than those who arrive bang on time are those who arrive early, when you’re still in your pinny and haven’t had time to soften your more frazzled edges with your first cocktail. For the very best in civilised behaviour, arrive between 10 to 15 minutes after the appointed time.

2. Bring wine if you must but now it’s highly acceptable, not to say fashionable, to bring craft beer or cider instead. You look terribly cutting edge and no one has to drink it.  

3. Don’t take flowers Because rattling out dinner for eight isn’t soothing enough, let’s add having to find a suitable vase to this evil game of party peril? Send flowers afterwards, or take a potted plant – no cacti though, chances are there are enough pricks at the table as it is.

4. No one cares what you like If you are vegan, vegetarian or have a deadly food allergy, of course you should let your host know beforehand. If you’re just not eating dairy this week, flirting with gluten-free or drearily carb-phobic, do keep it to yourself, there’s a love. There’s honestly nothing more boring than the pick-and-mix culinary peccadillos of others.

5. Do talk politics and religion. It’s so prissy to skirt around the really interesting stuff in favour of what? House prices and minor illnesses? Do also pay close attention when speaking about your children to anyone who is not a blood relative in case of terminal eyeglazeoveritis.

6. Don’t help Of course, do offer, but you can be too casual. Unless invited, don’t start clearing tables or washing up. It’s your job as a guest to sit there and be absolutely fascinating, damn it.

7. Accept that last drink If I’m pouring the hard stuff, or that weird digestif I dragged back from my hols, it’s because I want you to stay. If I suggest tea or coffee, I am mentally calling you a cab. Please don’t expect me to actually make the tea or coffee.

8. What time to leave? Mr Blaikie speaks perfect sense when he says weeknight dinners should be over by 10.30pm. We aren’t 20 anymore and being in (you own) bed by midnight is one of the cornerstones of civilised life. But if anyone left my house at 11.15pm on a Saturday night, I would hang up my hostess apron forever. Do stay. Have another drink. Laugh. Gossip. Drag out the old vinyl and let’s dance around the kitchen. Don’t leave me this way. Not just yet.

9. Do say thank you Of course, a letter is delicious and people will remember your impeccable guestitude forever; a postcard is good and an email is fine. The most dreadful thing you can do is to resist sending an email or making a phone call as you absolutely, positively are going to write that letter. Just as soon as you track down the perfect stationery, buy an ink pen, find a stamp and master calligraphy. And suddenly you’re bumping into your hosts at another event and it’s 10 months later and they’re wondering why they never heard from you again and is it because you hated their cousin Bert or the syllabub, or, in fact, them. Send the bloody email.

10. If you’re the host, don’t show off. You need to make it look – or at least feel – effortless if you want your guests to be relaxed and have a good time. No one cares that you spent the whole weekend watching YouTube videos of how to make swans from choux pastry. Bowls of bought ice cream taste sweeter than any amount of culinary braggadocio.


It’s not thunder, it’s tutting.


What’s that low but persistent rumble in the distance? It’s not thunder, it’s tutting. Waitrose has announced that from April 3, they will no longer serve free coffee to their customers and the British middle classes haven’t been so affronted by anything since the Chelsea Flower Show lifted its ban on gnomes. (For one year only, 2013. Dark times. Let us never speak of this again.)

 

This development has been greeted with glee by some, delighted at the prospect of aisles no longer cluttered with purchase-free caffeine junkies. Their happiness will no doubt be short lived as plucky little chancers cram the tills, queuing to pay for a single grape or green bean (take THAT! capitalist oppressors) in order to collect their ‘free’ refreshment.

 

For others, Waitrose’s greatest crime against the smooth running of civilisation comes from their insistence you now complete your transaction before you can collect your free coffee. What fresh hell. For many of us, caffeine is the only legal substance that will get us through the Big Shop. You need it to spur you on as you steer through fresh produce, dairy and beyond, not when you’re trying to wrangle ten bags for life into the back of a Volvo.

 

But Waitrose, at the risk of sounding churlish, you’ve brought this grumpiness entirely on yourselves. I’ve watched enough legal dramas to know that you should never ask a question in open court to which you don’t already know the answer. Similarly, you should never give a treat which you later withdraw. Ungrateful humans will only remember the removal of privilege, not your generosity in having granted it in the first place.

 

The truth is Waitrose, and you should know this, you can forget about decent schools, many of us fork out a premium to live within the catchment area of your wholesome, artisanal, organic embrace. We’ve scrimped on the square footage and convinced ourselves we don’t mind about the lack of view/parking/en suite so we never have to be more than a mile from cooking chorizo and Fevertree tonic ever, ever again.  

 

That, dear Waitrose, your ‘essentials’ range includes amber bath foam, profiteroles, gooseberry fruit fool and champagne flutes makes us feel a little less alone in the world. We don’t even mind that the accident in the alliteration factory lead you to name perfectly innocent herbs ‘Simple Sage’, ‘Romantic Rosemary’ and ‘Tantalising Tarragon’. We thought we were friends. We had an understanding.

 

For those of us who feel bereft, betrayed, there is hope. Rumours spread quickly yesterday, at school gates and on dog walks, in offices and factories, in all places where slightly tired people gather, that Pret à Manger’s staff still have discretion to give you free coffee if they like you. Charm offensive over the beetroot and radish on rye in 3, 2, 1…

 

But there is another way. My father, a tolerant person in all other respects, is continually appalled at the dreadful modern affectation of being unable to walk more than 20 yards without clutching flat whites in our feebly under-caffeinated hands. Perhaps he has a point. How can we chastise toddlers who remain too long dependent on their dummies when we’re unable to complete the most simple of tasks without holding a cup in a death grip? We’re better than this.

Perhaps, after all – and as I have often suspected – Waitrose is here to save us from our baser selves.

Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Next weekend, 3-5 June, Stoke Newington comes alive with writers and all manner of creative types for the seventh Stoke Newington Literary festival. If you’re the hungry or thirsty sort, which of course you are, do come to any and all of the events I’m helping to run in St. Paul’s West Hackney.

We kick off with A Taste of Honey on Saturday, with Hattie Ellis, Hannah Rhodes and Paul Webb, then Sabrina Ghayour joins us to talk about her delicious new book Sirocco, the follow up to her smash hit bestseller, Persiana.  We round off Saturday afternoon with chocolate brought to us by Cocoa Runners and philosopher Julian Baggini.

On Sunday, Rachel McCormack hosts her popular Gastro Salon, with cocktail queen Kay Plunkett-Hogge, Hackney food writer Yasmin Khan and local resident and former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls, and then on Sunday afternoon Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer join us to talk about running their deliciously successful restaurant, Honey & Co.

Do come! It would be wonderful to see you.

A Taste of Honey.
Saturday 4th June, 11:00 – £6.00

Have you ever thought about becoming a bee keeper? Fancy having your own hives or simply mad about honey? Then join us as we talk all things honey with Hattie Ellis, author of Spoonfuls of Honey, Hannah Rhodes, founder of Hiver Beer, and urban beekeeper Paul Webb.

Fabulous Flavours from the East with Sabrina Ghayour Saturday 4th June, 15:00 – £6.00
Join Sabrina Ghayour, the award-winning author of the bestselling Persiana, as she talks food, cooking and her eagerly anticipated new book Sirocco. Discover what fuels Sabrina’s passion for food, the inspiration behind her new book and the key ingredients that are always in her shopping basket. There will be samples of one of the dishes from the book.
Saturday 4th June, 17:00 – £6.00

Philosopher Julian Baggini’s essay, an epilogue to the acclaimed The Virtues of the Table, extends his thoughts on our relationship with food to cover one of the greatest food groups of all, chocolate. The essay was exclusively written for Cocoa Runners, a chocolate club who are passionate about the chocolate they source and how it is produced. Both Julian and the Cocoa Runners team will be joining us for chocolate, discussions on chocolate, and more chocolate.

Chocolate will be provided…
Sunday 5th June, 13:00 – £6.00

Host Rachel McCormack (BBC Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet) talks to former model booker, cocktail queen and food writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge (Heat: Cooking With Chillies), Hackney-based author Yasmin Khan (The Saffron Tales) and former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and self-confessed foodie Ed Balls (Sport Relief Bake Off) about road trips. They dish up stories of the best – and worst – food they’ve eaten whilst travelling.

 

Sunday 5th June, 15:00 – £6.00

Since it first opened its doors in 2012, Honey & Co has attracted an intensely loyal following who pack the tiny restaurant every day. At the heart of this success are owners Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer – partners in business and life. Join them as they talk about how they got started, what inspires them in the kitchen, and how they navigate a delicious path in work and life. 

There will be samples of cake from their baking book.

 

The full Literary Festival programme can be found here, or downloaded in pdf format here.