My daughter Nicola, her wife and 4-year-old son stopped off overnight en route to the Channel Tunnel and a trip through France, Switzerland and Italy. I wanted to cook a nice meal for the evening but also take into account that with my son’s three boys (2, 5 and 8) coming over for a while in the afternoon, something reasonably simple was in order. With four little boys running in and out of the garden through my small kitchen, nothing too elaborate was going to be possible. And I wanted to prepare as much as I could ahead of suppertime. But even a simple meal can be great. The main would be an Italian inspired fish dish (see this recipe): slices of new potatoes, onion, yellow pepper, halved cherry tomatoes and a sprinkling of dried oregano, coated in olive oil, would be roasted in the oven and at the last-minute pieces of cod loin would be laid on top for the final ten minutes of cooking.
A special meal has to have a dessert too. I’ve been buying lots of apricots. I do like apricots. It’s hard to find some in London that match the glorious, sweet-flavoured ones you buy in Mediterranean markets in the summer, but they’re still a lovely treat. So I decided to make an apricot tart, following the French Apple Tart recipe I’ve been using for years.
The apricots I’d bought were only just ripening and so I decided to roast them for a short time to get the cooking started before adding them to the tart. Also, roasting them a bit with a small amount of sugar would add to their flavour. The tart was made in the morning and sat happily waiting for suppertime. I’d usually serve fruit tarts like this with some single cream. However, there was a little double cream left over from the ‘custard’ in it, but I also had lots of ice cream in my freezer. I decided everyone could choose an accompaniment. Though I guess if you were in France you wouldn’t add anything but just eat it as it is!
A French-style Apricot Tart
- 225g plain flour
- 140g butter (soft, not straight from the fridge)
- 1 tablespoon icing sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- a tablespoon of water
- 8 apricots, plus a little caster sugar for cooking
- 75ml double cream
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 1 egg
- about 2 tablespoons apricot jam or marmalade
- a little water
Make the pastry first so it has time to rest for a half hour or so in a cool place before you use it. Put all the ingredients into a food processor then process until they all come together into a ball of dough.
Wrap the dough in some cling film and leave in a cool place for half an hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the apricots. Halve them and lay cut-side up on a baking tray. Sprinkle over a little caster sugar – only about a dessertspoon. Put into a 200C/180 Fan/Gas 6 oven for about 10 minutes until just showing signs of softening.
Grease a 24cm loose-fitting flan tin. Roll out the pastry until fairly thin (about 2-3cm) and lift into prepared tin. Press it carefully into the edges and you should be able to press of the excess pastry on the top of the tin’s side. There’ll be a little left over. Now crumple up some greaseproof paper and lay on top of the pastry. Fill with baking beans (or dried beans if you don’t have baking beans – I have some ceramic ones that are about 40 years old!). Place on a baking sheet in the hot oven and bake for just 5 minutes. Remove and take out the beans and paper. Put back into the oven for just a minute or so. This is all the prevent a soggy bottom!
Mix the double cream, 2 tablespoons caster sugar and egg together.
Lay the prepared apricots in the flan case, cut-side down. Then carefully pour the custard mixture over it, avoiding as much on top of the apricot halves as possible. Put the tart into the hot oven for 30 minutes.
When the tart is cooked, remove from the oven and cool in the tin.
Make the glaze by heating the jam or marmalade in a small pan with a little water – about a tablespoon. Stir to mix it together and let it bubble up for a minute or so. Then paint the glaze over the tart with a pastry brush.
The pastry is quite fragile and I decided to leave the tart on the base to serve. But it’s incredibly light and wonderful to eat!
By the time we sat down to supper it was just three of us: Nicola, Rachael and myself. Son Jonathan had taken his three boys home much earlier and Rufus, Nicola’s 4 year old was tucked up in bed asleep.
Nicola and I have always been happy to use any excuse to open champagne – we both love it. And having them to stay at the start of their big holiday was reason enough. I had a half bottle in the fridge – I always have a half bottle in the fridge. You never know when you’ll need champagne! We’d already had some non-alcoholic beers and nibbles in the garden earlier when Jonathan came for his boys. So now we sat with just our glasses of champagne and enjoyed a relaxing moment, time to talk, and time for the cod dish to finish cooking.
The cod and roasted vegetables was delicious. When it came to the apricot tart, various ice cream options were offered. Rachael stuck to the rest of the cream from the custard; Nicola chose vanilla ice cream; and I couldn’t resist a scoop of some Hackney Gelato Dark Chocolate that Waitrose had delivered that morning. I’m not sure if a French patisserie chef would approve, but I couldn’t see anything wrong in apricots + chocolate!
The tart was wonderful. The pastry light and flaky. The apricots such a gorgeous deep flavour from the cooking. And it all came together so well. Nicola said it was a great dish to put them in a French mood for their holiday.