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Don’t you find that sometimes you need a recipe so simple you don’t even have to think?  That’s the case with these tarts – especially as I was inspired by the recipe on the packaging of the ready-made pastry I’d bought!  Nonetheless, these make for an impressive supper if you’re called on to rustle something up in a hurry for unexpected guests, or if you just fancy something a little different.

Pesto Tarts

Pesto Tarts

1 pack ready-made puff pastry
4 heaped tsp vegetarian / vegan pesto
2 – 3 tomatoes, sliced
10 – 12 pitted kalamata olives, sliced

Pre-heat the oven 220˚C / 420˚F / Gas 7

Roll out the pastry to roughly 1/2 inch thick.  Cut it into 4 equal pieces and place on a greased or lined baking sheet.

Spread the pesto over the 4 pastry pieces, leaving the edges free, to make the crusts.  Top with the sliced tomatoes and olives.

Bake in the oven for approximately 12 minutes, or until the pastry is risen and lightly golden.

I have to admit that despite my best efforts, I don’t have the greenest of fingers.  I therefore feel disproportionate joy at the smallest success!  Talking of disproportion, I enjoyed reading about giant veg over on igrowveg this week, but all the time knowing that this is something I will never aspire to.  I’ve been delighted by my first attempt at growing cucumbers as there is currently a healthy looking fruit, about 7-8 inches (hardly giant!) in length.  I think today might be the day it gets picked as I’m too excited to wait any longer…

One of the things I have loved about growing cucumber is that each fruit is covered by a prickly skin with sharp thorns which deter even the kind of super-determined slugs and snails we get in our garden.  You see the prickles clearly on the baby fruit:

There are actually a lot of the baby fruit on one plant, but will there be enough good weather left in the year to help them grow?

The other produce we’ve started to harvest is the tomatoes.  This has been a pleasant surprise, as the summer was generally wet and quite dark, ensuring that no tomotoes ripened for some time and making me fear they would all be lost to blight.  But a couple of weeks of sun in August, and suddenly there was progress.  I tried three varieties this year, Moneymaker and Alicante, both of which have produced ripe fruit and San Marzano, a plum tomato, which was very slow to grow in the cold weather and has produced a small number of large fruit, which have yet to ripen.  Again, will September be warm enough to ripen them?

fresh picked tomatoes

fresh picked tomatoes - green and red

A couple of weeks ago, it was time to cut down the tomato vines and bring in all the remaining tomatoes, ripe or unripe.  Fortunately the weather was gorgeous, so there was a happy hour or so spent in the garden, and then it was time for even more happy hours spent in the kitchen!  First of all I made up a big(ish!) batch of a simple tomato pasta sauce, half of which was eaten straight away and the other half went into the freezer.  Then it was time to get started on the green tomato chutney.  I make a lot of chutney, but this is one of my favourites.  I think it is the combination of the bitter taste of the tomatoes with the sweet of the sugar and the sultanas, and it is perfect on cheese on toast!

the tomatoes are ready!

the tomatoes are ready!

Green Tomato Chutney

1lb / 400g Green tomatoes
3/4lb / 300g cooking apples
1/2lb / 200g Onions
2 Cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 level tsp salt
3/4 pint / 0.5 litres Malt vinegar
4 oz / 100g Sultanas
2 level tsp freshly grated ginger
2 level tsp caraway seeds
2 level tsp nutmeg
10oz / 250g Demarara sugar

Prepare the tomatoes, apples, onions and garlic by chopping them finely or mincing them in a food processor.  Put them into a heavy bottomed pan with all the other ingredients except the sugar.  Bring to the boil and simmer for around 20 minutes to allow the tomatoes to soften, then add the sugar.

Leaving the pan uncovered, simmer the chutney until it thickens.  This should take 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile heat some clean jars in an oven set at 100C for at least 10 minutes to sterilise them.

Pour the chutney into the jars and seal straight away.  Leave the chutney for at least 2 weeks before eating, to allow the flavours to fully develop.

green tomato chutney

Green Tomato Chutney

phil vickery seriously good gluten free cookingPhil Vickery is a tv chef and ambassador for Coeliac UK, who’s spoken out about the need for more gluten-free food to be available.

This book’s strength is that it contains lots of new ideas that just happen to be gluten-free, rather than concentrating solely on trying to reproduce other recipes without the usual gluten.  Having said that, there are recipes for cakes, bread and pastry, which contain special ingredients, but this makes the book suitable for people living gluten free as well as others looking for inspiration to feed gluten-free friends, without the need for too many unusual ingredients.

But I’d like to get a gripe out of the way early on!  The book has a chapter of vegetarian recipes, but not only does Phil commit the very regular sin of including parmesan cheese without explaining that ‘parmesan’ is never suitable for vegetarians, but he also includes anchovies in one of his recipes.  He really would have been better off not having a veggie section if his expertise in dietary requirements doesn’t spread to vegetarianism!  Especially as there are vegetarian recipes throughout the book, so these recipes could have been included elsewhere.

Still, I’ve tried a couple of the recipes and have a list of several more I’m keen to turn my hand to, so there’s lots here to enjoy. 

The Bramley Apple and Pear Crumble was very successful – actually I made an apple and raspberry crumble, but obviously the topping was the same.  The recipe instructs not to pack down the crumble, but I think I preferred it pressed, as the result was less floury and like a crumble of old, but that’s probably a matter of taste.

I used his recipe for a gluten-free flour, using chestnut flour instead of the alternative of fine cornmeal (maize) and then made a half quantity of his pizza base, which I topped with tomato and courgette.  This was also very successful, although, next time I will make the base thinner than I did on this occasion and place it on a pre-heated tray, in order to make the base crisper.  But this was a minor quibble – the pizza went down a storm!

gluten free pizza

Gluten Free Pizza by Phil Vickery

75g chestnut flour
125g brown rice flour
50g cornflour

Pizza Base
1 tsp sugar
150g gluten free flour
150ml lukewarm water
7g sachet of dry yeast
1tsp xanthan gum
1 level tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tblsp olive oil

Dissolve the sugar in half the warm water, stir in the yeast, mix well and set aside for 5 minutes for the yeast to start to work and froth.

Place the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add yeast mixture and oil and mix well, adding the remaining water a little at a time.  Mix through until you have a smooth, fairly wet dough.

Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for about 15 minutes.

Preheat the over to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

I then flattened the dough onto a greased and floured baking sheet.

Bake the pizz for 8-10 minutes and then remove to add the toppings of your choice.

I made a tomato sauce with 1 small onion finely chopped, 1 clove garlic finely chopped, cooked in a tblsp olive oil, add 1 tin chopped tomatoes, 1 tblsp tomato puree and heaped tsp dried basil.  I cooked that for about 10 minutes to thicken it.

I spread that on the pizza, then grated on some emental cheese and topped that with thinly sliced courgettes (zucchini) and quartered cherry tomatoes.

Return the pizza to the oven, and bake for a further 15-20 minutes until bubbling and golden.

I topped the pizza with fresh basil leaves and served straight away with a large salad.

It was delish!

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