When I left home, I made my mother teach me three or four meals that I reasoned I couldn’t live my adult life without.
There were some recipes that I refused to be taught like the garlicy and lemony roast lamb that often appeared on a Sunday evening ( and which tasted even better the next night) or the meatloaf which I’m pretty sure was a recipe handed down by grandmother. I’ve never wanted to eat these anywhere other than around the family dining table.
But I studied how she made her simple bolognese sauce and macaroni cheese. I scrawled down the recipe for the spicy sausage ragu which we have every Christmas and learnt her technique for making risotto.
These recipes have become my trusted standbys. When I can’t think what to have for dinner, I turn to one of them. I know that I can pick up all the ingredients on the way home from work and have a meal on the table with in half an hour or so. This is the food that I make by feel and by sight; there’s no measuring or weighing required and I don’t have to repeatedly refer back to a recipe.
As a infuriatingly picky eater (a fact which I hated as much as anyone) when I was a child, it was always a relief when one of these ‘safe’ dishes appeared on the menu. At university, my cooking facilities consisted of an electric hob and nothing else and these recipes were perfect for when I needed a taste of home. When I started work, I quickly discovered that a bowl of pasta and bolognese sauce is the best cure for a mid-week hangover.
Over the last few years, I’ve added a few more recipes to my collection of standbys. I must make Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with butter and onion at least once a week. Nigella’s coq au riesling pretty much makes itself. My boyfriend is never happier than when I announce we’re having toad in the hole for supper. I like the idea that one day, these dishes will grace our family dining table and maybe our (currently hypothetical) children will commit them to memory as I did with my mother’s recipes.
My mother didn’t really have any sweet recipes to share with me. She has never been particularly interested in dessert and the world of gluten free baking in the 1980s was a rather strange and frightening place. Dessert never really featured on our dining table at home. Usually we’d just have a yoghurt or, when we were on holiday, an ice cream and be perfectly content with that.
Clearly though, dessert plays a major role in my life now. On a Saturday night in particular, I love stretching out on the sofa with a film and a bowl of something sweet and crumbly and delicious. When summer comes, we indulge in the combination of sticky fruit and pastry of all descriptions.
This is the kind of recipe that has become second nature to me over the last few years. The free form pastry (here with olive oil rather than butter) comes together in moments. There’s no need for any fancy equipment or special pan and, frankly, the more rustic your tart looks the better. While pastry clearly involves a level of precision, after a while you start to learn what the dough should look like. As for the filling, it’s really just whatever fruit seems particularly fine that day and a touch of sugar (and a little acidity thrown in for good measure). I’m slowly building up a new collection of sweet recipes that I’ll rely on for as long as I’m able to wield a wooden spoon
Blackberry galette with olive oil crust
Pastry adapted from Martha Rose Shulman as published in New York Times
Yield: Serves 4 -6
I love this olive oil crust for its simplicity but you can clearly use any pastry here – feel free to use butter if you are not convinced by the idea of olive oil. You can also use whatever fruit you have on hand although you will have to play with the sugar levels. As there’s no sugar in the crust though, you can be a bit more generous than you might otherwise be.
- 100g (7/8 cup) whole wheat spelt flour
- 55g (1/2 cup) white spelt flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 30ml (2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
- 90ml (1/3 cup + 2 teaspoons) ice cold water
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 225g (about 1 1/2 cups) blackberries
- 2 tablespoons demerara sugar plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon corn flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- A splash of balsamic vinegar
To make the pastry, combine the flours and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the speed to low and drizzle in the olive oil. Mix until droplets are spread throughout the flour. Add the water and lemon juice and continue to mix until the pastry starts to clump together in a ball. Gather it together with your hands and swiftly knead it into a ball. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for an hour or so. (You can also used a food processor for this stage).
Roughly mix together the blackberries, sugar, corn flour, vanilla and vinegar in a bowl.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F (fan). When the pastry has chilled, roll it out on a well-floured surface. Add the blackberry mixture in the middle and fold over the sides as shown in the pictures. Sprinkle with a little more sugar and bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is firm to the touch and the blackberries are sticky.