Climaxity

Stuff that matters

Lunch was a late affair, as it so often is on a summer’s day. I’d taken my time over making a tart, rubbing thyme leaves into the pastry, lining the old tin carefully, meticulously patching the faintest tear to prevent the filling leaking. I brought my work to the table, still warm, its custard barely set, the gentle pinks and greens of salmon and dill interrupted only by clouds of cream cheese. There was a cucumber salad on the side, too, with a grain mustard and wine vinegar dressing to lend a little edge to the calm summer notes.

Few round the table knew the amount of work that went into that tart, albeit done at a leisurely pace, radio on, the kitchen door wide open to the garden. At the other end of the scale, equally seasonal pastries appeared the next day, made in minutes this time from a sheet of frozen puff pastry and a bag of ripe nectarines. On this occasion, a layer of cream cheese was stirred through with ground almonds and vanilla extract, and hidden under the fruit.

There is often some sort of light, fresh cheese in the fridge at this time of year. The labneh I make by straining yogurt, salt and lemon though muslin overnight; the full-fat thick stuff in tubs from the deli for spreading on toast and scattering with broad beans and olive oil; and a sharper-tasting white goat’s curd as fluffy as a mousse. Such slightly bland, airy, paper-wrapped cheese takes summer flavours well, especially cucumber and radishes, salmon, raspberries and herbs, like mint and basil.

I also keep it for midnight, too; that final bite before I turn in for the night. Current favourite nocturnal fridge raids involve toast, a thick wave of silky white cheese, a scattering of raspberries, or a sliced apricot, then a pool of olive oil as deep and green as a rock pool.

Salmon and cream cheese tart
It is essential not to leave tears or holes in the pastry case. I give the pastry a brief kneading before I roll it out, using a light dusting of flour on the work surface, then wrap it loosely round the rolling pin and lower it into the tart tin. Patch any tears as you go, but they must be well sealed before baking the empty case. Serves 6-8

For the pastry:
plain flour 200g
butter 100g
egg yolk 1

For the filling:
salmon 450g
olive oil 1 tbsp
dill 4 tbsp, chopped
eggs 4
cream 400ml
spring onions 2

cream cheese 200g

Make the pastry. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Reduce the flour and butter to coarse crumbs in a food processor, then add the egg yolk and a few drops of water and bring together to form a ball. Wrap in greaseproof paper and chill for 30 minutes.

Put the salmon in a roasting dish, trickle with oil and season with salt, pepper and half the dill. (I often wrap the salmon in foil to make cleaning the dish easier.) Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly cooked. Remove and leave to cool.

Roll the pastry and use it to line a 22cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Make sure there are no tears or cracks. Fill the pastry case with greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the baking beans and foil and return the pastry to the oven for 5 minutes until dry to the touch. Remove the tart case and lower the heat to 180C/gas mark 4.

Beat together the eggs and cream until lightly mixed, then season with salt and pepper. Finely slice and add the spring onions. Break the salmon into large flakes and place in the pastry case. Add the remaining dill, then the cream cheese in tablespoon-sized pieces. Pour in the egg and cream mixture, then slide back into the oven on top of the heated tray and bake for 25 minutes.

The tart is ready when lightly set. It should be wobbly when you gently shake the tray. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before cutting.

Nectarine and cream cheese pastries

I make rectangular tarts, so as not to waste pastry. You could cut round tarts and make cheese straws with the trimmings, brushing strips of leftover pastry with beaten egg and tossing them in grated parmesan before baking. Makes 6

puff pastry 325g
nectarines ripe 4
fruit jelly such as quince or apple, 6 tbsp

For the filling:
full-fat cream cheese 200g
ground almonds 50g
vanilla extract 1 tsp
caster sugar 1 tbsp

Roll the pastry into a rectangle, about 35cm x 22cm. Cut into 6 equal rectangles, place them, with space between, on a baking sheet. Using the tip of a sharp knife, score a smaller rectangle 1cm in from the edges of each piece. Place the pastries on a baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes.

Put the cream cheese in a mixing bowl, add the almonds, vanilla extract and sugar and mix briefly. Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 8 and put a baking sheet on the middle rack. (Placing the sheet of pastries on top of this will help them to crisp.)

Bake the chilled pastries for 20 minutes until pale gold. Meanwhile, halve, stone and thinly slice the nectarines.

Remove the partly baked pastries from the oven. Using the back of a teaspoon press down the scored area in the centre of each tart to leave a hollow. Fill with the cream cheese mixture, then place some of the nectarines on top, divided equally.

Return the tarts to the oven for a further 15 minutes until golden. Melt the fruit jelly in a pan. Remove the tarts from the oven and brush with the melted jelly. Leave to cool and serve the same day.