An exhibition centre is not a place I would association with food inspiration. I've stood for hours as an exhibitor at many of the UK's event centres and very rarely take the time to eat lunch, largely because I'm not convinced the long wait in line will be worth the reward.
I didn't post on 7th, 8th and 9th Feb as I was working away from home at the Kent Event Centre. The weekend coincided with Storm Ciara. Unsurprisingly the hurricane-force winds and heavy rain that swept across the country kept most people at home on the Sunday and so I was at leisure to stroll along to the cafe.
With no queue to speak of and starved of customers to serve, the staff were forthcoming on the merits of the soup of the day and baked potato fillings. But, it was a Mediterranean vegetable tart served with salad that caught my eye and I decided on the spot to have some lunch.
Tasting as good as it looked (perhaps it was the sunshine vegetables on a stormy day) I wanted to recreate it at home, but with shortcrust pastry to make it would have to wait until a weekend. Here's my version...
For the pastry
225g organic plain white flour
100g cold diced butter
2-3 tbsp water
1 tbsp dried Italian herbs
For the tart
100g asparagus tips, cut into 2cm pieces
2 red bell peppers
1 yellow bell pepper
1 courgette, sliced into 15cm rounds, quartered
1 red onion chopped into eight chunks
100g fresh pesto
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
For the crumbly topping
A couple of ends of a sourdough loaf (or two slices of dry bread)
Handful of walnuts
1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
You'll also need four individual tart tins.
Heat the oven to 200 degrees / 180 degrees fan oven.
Start by making a basic shortcrust pastry. Sieve the flour into a large bowl (preferably pre-chilled in the freezer). Add the butter and rub together using your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix through the herbs and then add the water and combine so that it comes together into a dough. Knead very gently on a counter top and then wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the red peppers on a baking tray and roast for 40 minutes until the skins have charred. (Turn half way through roasting). Place in a plastic bag to cool before removing the skins and chopping.
Put the courgette, onion and asparagus on a separate tray. Brush with olive oil. Mix around until the oil is well distributed, but keep the vegetables segregated (you can use different trays if you prefer) and season with salt and pepper. Put in the oven with the peppers. Remove the asparagus after 10 minutes and the onions and courgette after 20 minutes, or until they look nicely roasted and a little crispy at the edges.
While the vegetables are roasting grease four individual tart tins (I use the kind with loose bottoms). Roll out your pastry, cut a disc for each tin and line with a pastry disc.
You'll need a separate oven to the one the vegetables are in to blind bake your tart cases. I have long wrestled with the traditional method of blind baking at 200 degrees celsius for 20 minutes. Mine always burns. So I was pleased to discover Ottolenghi's method of baking for longer at a lower temperature. I blind baked my pasty cases for 35 minutes at 160 degrees (fan oven) (cases lined with parchment paper and filled with baking beans) and then for a further 5 minutes without the baking beans. I safely managed to elude the soggy bottom using this method and my pastry retained a light golden hue.
To make the crumbly topping, blitz the bread and nuts in a food processor until breadcrumb like, then set aside.
Once the tart cases are cooked, divide the pesto between the four pastry cases and then pile the vegetables on top until the cases are full. Top the tart filling with the bread crumbs and then sprinkle on some parmesan cheese.
Bake in the oven at 200 degrees / 180 degrees fan for 15 minutes.
I served our tarts with black nerone rice and Donna Hay's crispy sprout bowls with honey tahini dressing (from BBC Good Food Magazine, December 19 issue), except I swapped the brussels sprouts for broccoli and I left out the pear. The salted honey walnuts that sit atop this vegetable dish were truly delicious. But inevitability there is a down side to something so good; beware - they are also the devil's work for messy cooks (like me!)