Al Dente: Roasted Pepper Tartlets

Thank you Todd. You know, for years, I stole David Baddiel’s joke about how LL Cool J’s name was actually Lionel Lionel Cool J.

People believed me.

This troubled me. It soon became apparent I had a gift, an ability to communicate…good and…other stuff…good…So I made a decision. I would travel to the nearest lawless city. I would go into its streets and walk amongst its people. The City. My, The City. Soon it would know me. Soon, it would NEED me. And when I saw the very worst of it, when my city looked up and cried save us? I would look down and whisper ‘How about a nice roasted red pepper tartlet instead?’

Welcome back to Al Dente, everyone!

So let’s torture some peppers. Because that’s literally what roasted red pepper tarts involve. By the way, we’re singing from the book of St Jamie of Oliver this time.

We lug in his name

(Shakes balsamic infuser)

For lo it is pukka.

VICTOR! (God I love saying this again) SHOW ME THE USUAL SUSPECTS!

So what have we got here? I’ll tell…me…and also…you…see, I write GUD.

-A red pepper. With no concept of what awaits it…

-Some Feta.

-Some baby Asparagus

-Some plastic. It’s round.

-A red onion

-Some salad potatoes.

-Some frozen pastry cases.

A brief word on pastry. It’s one of those areas, much like elasticated bow-ties, boneless chicken and EASY mode on any computer game ever made that is absolutely justified. Do you have a couple of hours to painstakingly whittle Filo pastry from the Filo trees of North Brazil? Are you prepared to stay in your kitchen for hours at an end, whispering warm nurturing things to the pastry egg waiting for it to hatch? Do I in fact have ANY idea how pastry is made that doesn’t involve the words ‘pastry fairy’ somewhere?

Let’s face it the answer to each of those questions is no, so let’s torture some vegetables!

This is a mandolin, the prettiest name for a vegetable IRON MAIDEN I have ever encountered. This thing is precise, light, easy to use and clean and has one job; mutilate whatever is run through it precise, strangely aesthetically pleasing ways. I love the mandolin. I also fear it. And, as you can see, the pepper is starting to realize it may not be having the best night…

So,  what we’re going to do is slice the onion up using the mandolin which first involves impaling the onion on something which looks suspiciously like the Tree of Woe from Conan. Seriously, look at this thing.

Once you’ve impaled this you need to crank the Mandolin’s blade up to the thickness you want to flense these poor innocent vegetables and then sweep the handle, or Impaleotron 5000 as I like to call it, down across the Mandolin blade in slow, even strokes that at no point involve you yelling:

‘I SAVED MY GREATEST WORK FOR YOU MR POE!’ and cackling maniacally.

Once this is done, chop the salad potatoes lengthways, drop a lug

We lug in his name

Of olive oil into a bowl and add whatever spices you like. I normally go for Paprika because it’s both delicious and fun to say. Then roll the halved potatoes around in there and lay them out on a pan, in the oven, at 200 degrees C.

Now, blanche the asparagus. Which is a polite way of saying ‘Dunk them in boiling water’ as this will only take about three minutes and, in my limited experience, once they go darker green, that’s a good thing.

In fact, ONCE THEY GO DARKER GREEN, THAT’S A GOOD THING is a pretty good name for a cookbook. Certainly better than ANYTHING SMALLER THAN AN ENTIRE CHICKEN WILL COOK IF YOU PUT IT IN THE OVEN AT 200 DEGREES CELSIUS FOR 20 MINUTES: MY LIFE AS A STUDENT ‘COOK’.

Once they’re blanched, take them out and leave them to cool. Now put the pastry cases in the oven at about, you guessed it, 200 degrees C and prepare. For now, it’s time to torture the pepper, using the most terrifying hob I have ever stood near:

This is a situation where going full on Jack Bauer is mandatory. For those of you who don’t know, Jack is possibly the single most horrifically traumatised action star in history. Played by Kiefer Sutherland, he’s a former special forces operator turned CTU (Counter Terrorism Agent) who, in the original series of 24, is blackmailed into attempting to assassinate the President. He not only saves the man but stops the assassins, uncovers corruption at CTU, revisits an enemy from his past, continually saves his family’s lives and doesn’t sleep, or go to the bathroom, for the entire 24 hours of the season. Oh and reluctantly, but very efficiently, tortures people for information.

There are eight seasons. And a movie. This is literally the nicest thing that happens to him.

So, holding the pepper in the flame and yelling ‘DAMN YOU FOR MAKING ME DO THIS!’is positively recommended. It will take a while, longer than you think, because these peppers are TOUGH. But after a while you’ll see the black crusting you see in that photo form on their skin. When that happens?

Put them in solitary.

Seriously. I’m, not even kidding, the best thing to do is let them sweat and soften and the best way to do that is to throw them in a couple of bowls, one over the other and let them sweat it out.

When they come out, peel them of the outer skin, which will look baggy and shuck off pretty easily. Then, leave them to try and collect themselves for a moment and check on the pastry cases. They should look like this:

If they do, you get to do the funnest job in this entire meal. There’s a little disc of pastry, a lid, that covers the hole (The hole douerve! Ha Ha! I’m so sorry) that will also have risen along with the sides of the case. Score around it with a knife and you can then flick these out, collect them and eat them like tiny, tiny puff pastry scones. It’s brilliant.

At the same time, check on the potatoes and get so excited that the camera loses focus

But you must not because now you must inflict one final indignity on the poor peppers. Slice them, mix them with the onion and the asparagus and drop them in a frying pan with some oil, some seasoning and about a quarter of a bottle of Marks and Spencers’ finest Actually Giving This Away With The Food wine. Let it reduce down for a bit and check on the squash to see if it’s ready.

Oh it’s GOOD to be back. Once your delicious heap of vegetation smells great, drop it out on the chopping board for a practically useless but aesthetically please shot. You’re up, Victor!

Now comes the second funnest part of the job. Carefully and with a lot of attention and patience, ram as much of your delicious vegetable collection, or medley, as cooks who never use words like ‘ram’ would say into each pastry case. It will surprise you how much fits in each and weirdly, you’ll be able to tell when it’s full because the vegetables will warm up the now cooled pastry cases. Once that’s done, chop the Feta finely and place it on top of each tart.

Although dropping a Feta half brick on each one works too as you can see. Then, put them back in the oven for five or so minutes and then pull them and the potatoes out and serve. Let’s do the table photo!

You know what, I’m actually very happy with that. Yes it’s not a huge plate of steaming puff pastry deliciousness but the spirit is still very much there, if the pastry is not quite. Plus they taste amazing, the Feta and the peppers melting around one another and the paprika on the potatoes giving it just a little heat. This was really fun to make and even more fun to eat and that’s always a good sign.

What I learnt:

-Mandolins are hilarious and, much like tigers, will respect you if you respect them. However, a tiger would almost certainly not fit in any of the kitchen cupboards and I shouldn’t experiment to find out if it would.

-Frozen puff pastry cases are delicious, easy to make and surprisingly high strength. Not one of them cracked.

-On a similar note, Peppers can survive a remarkable amount of torture. All I’m saying is, if the Rebel Alliance had relied on Peppers rather than Bothans, there’s a reasonable chance they’d have got those Death Star plans sooner.

-It turns out the mystery box contained pre-chopped red onion. Yay!

So there you go, we’re back. Next time will be mushroom soup and I’ve been sent some fabulous baking recipes by friends that I’m going to try out, blog about and link to their sites because they’re lovely people and they gave me recipes to play with. In the meantime, remember, as always, we lug in his name.

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