Tart up the table

We are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the whole nation has been relegated to the home front in an unprecedented lock down. Flour started disappearing from supermarket shelves weeks before the government finally announced strict social distancing measures on 23rd March 2020. Luckily, for my family, I am a hoarder of most things and on this occasion my fear of not having ingredients to hand when the urge to bake strikes has been a bit of a blessing. With flour and butter in stock and weeks of isolation ahead it a pie or two was inevitable.

Mushroom and pancetta tart

They may be high in calories but when food might be in short supply or difficult to source, pies and tarts can be a delicious way to eat sensibly. They are really versatile and readily scoop up any odd bits of leftover meat or vegetables. The tart pictured here is inspired by a recipe from Richard Bertinet's book 'Pastry', which I recently treated myself to. I am a big fan of Bertinet's bread making methods and highly recommend you look him up on You Tube.

The pastry is easy to make. Although I have been baking most of my life, pastry is something I came to later in life because I always believed it required some greater skill. It was only when I threw some flour and butter together in a food processor and added an egg and some cold water that I realised how easy peasy it is to make pastry. Typically pastry is a half fat to flour ratio with a bit of fluid to bind it all together - but only just. This is the part few books will actually reveal. The liquid to bind pastry has to be just enough to bring it together without making it soggy. So here's how this tart came together.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 4. Grease a 28cm tart tin.


Plain white flour - 200g

Semolina - 50g

Salt - 1tsp (use 3/4 tsp if you don't like it too salty)

Chilled butter - 125g (chopped up into cubes)

I Egg beaten

Cold water - 35g (around 2 tablespoons)

Whiz the flour, salt and butter till the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Add the beaten egg and water. You can beat the egg and water together first but I'd suggest beat an egg with one tablespoon of water first and then add the second tablespoon if the dough is too crumbly. Run the processor long enough to start to bring the dough together. Empty the contents on a clean surface and then pat it all together so the loose crumbs get incorporated into a ball. Pastry does not like being handled too much. When you work a dough the gluten in the flour stretches and this makes the final product tough. So gentle touch with the pastry. Once it is in a ball, pat it down into a disc, cover with cling film and chill for 30 mins in the fridge - or leave it a few hours or even overnight till you are ready to use it. (You can freeze it for a month too but take it out 24 hours before you intend to use it).

The sauce for the filling

50g plain white flour

50g unsalted butter

1/2 litre milk

2 eggs beaten

25g cheese - any you fancy and you can increase the amount to taste

1/2 tsp English mustard - or any you fancy

salt & pepper to taste

Put the butter in a pan on the stove and melt it before adding flour. Use a whisk to blend it to a smooth paste. Add the milk and keep whisking to remove any lumps. I turn down the heat at this stage so that the mixture doesn't thicken with lumps. Once the mixture is thick and lump free, add the grated cheese, mustard and seasoning. Simmer for 2-3 mins till sauce is thick and smooth. Take it off the heat, and add the beaten eggs, whisking quickly so they don't scramble. You could wait 30 seconds before doing this.

Mushroom filling

500g mushrooms sliced

1 large onion sliced

2-3 cloves garlic crushed

Dash of Worcester sauce

Mixed Italian herbs

Pancetta ham in strips

Fry the onions in olive oil, add crushed garlic till onions are caramelised. Add the mushrooms, saute with Worcester sauce and herbs till they are soft. Add the strips of ham and stir on heat till the mixture is blended.

Making the pie

Roll out the chilled pastry to fit a 28cm tart tin (I use the one with perforations, I think the pastry cooks more evenly in this). Using a fork prick the pastry a few times - this helps heat circulate and prevent soggy bottom. The pastry needs to be blind baked first before adding the filling. Line the pastry with baking paper and put baking beads (or uncooked beans) to weigh it down. Bake at 200C/Gas 4 for 20 minutes. Remove the beads and lining and brush the pastry with a beaten egg. This seals the pastry and stops the filling making it soggy. Bake it for another 5 - 10 mins till pastry is light golden brown. It should not be very brown, just lightly done.

Mix the mushroom mixture with the cheesy sauce and add to the pastry evenly. Use a spatula to smooth it down. Then bake for 30 minutes. Remove and cool in tin for 30 mins till the pastry is set. Then gently remove from the tin onto a plate. Enjoy.

NOTE: You can vary the mushroom filling. I have used the same sauce with other fillings like ham, broccolli and sun dried tomatoes. You basically saute some vegetables and meat (chicken and mushroom would work too but make sure the meat is cooked properly).

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