Cep and Onion Tarts with Cep Cream and Parsley Butter Shallots
This combination of earthy cep mushrooms and sweet caramelised onions is divine, and comes to us courtesy of Alex Mackay, the brilliant young chef who demonstrates his talents at Delia's food and wine workshops at NCFC.
The cep cream is a delightfully simple sauce and the parsley butters shallots are a classy crowning touch. As you want to have fun both making the tarts and eating them, get the hard work out of the way early. Prepare and cook the tarts ahead, then return them to the oven for 5 minutes or so just before serving (at gas mark 7, 425F, 220C), to give them a fresh-from-the-oven finish.
The sauce can be made hours in advance and reheated. Cook the shallots ahead, too, but reheat them and mix with the parsley butter at the last minute. This is lovely served with a salad made from halved baby gem lettuces, mixed with some finely chopped shallots and a lemon mustard dressing.
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You will also need two medium baking trays.
Begin by allowing the pastry to come to room temperature, then carefully unroll the sheet of pastry and roll it out on a well-floured surface to 14 x 14 inches (35.5 cm x 35.5 cm). Next cut out 4 circles, each 61/2 inches (16 cm) - a saucer is ideal for this - from the pastry.
Grease the baking trays (or, if you have reusable non-stick liners, this is an ideal time to use them) and place two pastry circles on each of the baking trays.
Then put the trays in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. (This stops it from shrinking while cooking.)
In the meantime, peel and slice the onions finely and put them into a non-stick saucepan with the vegetable oil and 31/2 fl oz (100 ml) water. Cover the pan and cook the onions over a medium to high heat, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes, until the water has evaporated and the onions are soft and lightly coloured.
Remove the lid and cook for about another 5 minutes until well browned, stirring frequently, so that they don't catch on the bottom of the pan.
Season well with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
While the onions are cooking, prepare the mushrooms. If you are using fresh ceps, first of all wipe them carefully with a damp cloth to remove any excess dirt. Trim off the end of the stalk of each mushroom and, using a small sharp knife, peel the outer layer off each stalk.
(Don't be alarmed by the amount you will lose doing this - you should end up with about 1 lb 2 oz/500 g prepared mushrooms.) If you are using large chestnut mushrooms, you just need to wipe them.
Either way, slice the mushrooms into 1/4 inch (5 mm) slices. Next, make the parsley butter by chopping the parsley leaves finely, mixing them with the softened unsalted butter and seasoning with salt and freshly milled black pepper.
Then soak the dried ceps in 7 fl oz (200 ml) warm water for 30 minutes and preheat the oven to gas mark 7, 425F, 220C while you finish preparing the tarts.
To do this, remove the pastry circles from the fridge and spread a quarter of the onions on each circle all the way to the edge.
Then cover the onions with the fresh mushrooms, overlapping each slice by about one-third with the next slice.
Melt two-thirds of the parsley butter and gently brush it over the top of the mushrooms. Season well with salt and pepper and bake the tarts for 25-30 minutes or until golden and crisp - putting one tray on the top shelf of the oven and one on the middle shelf, swapping them over halfway through the cooking time.
While the tarts are cooking, tip the dried ceps and their soaking liquor into a fine sieve set over a bowl, and then slice them finely. Pour the soaking liquor into a saucepan and reduce it by about half, add the sliced ceps and bring back to the boil.
Finally, add the whipping cream and boil for 1 minute and season well. Next, cut the shallots in half, making sure you keep the little root on so that they hold together, and simmer them for 10 minutes in salted water until they are soft.
Then strain the shallots and put them back in the pan, return to the heat and mix them with the remaining parsley butter, heating just enough to melt it.
To serve, warm through the sauce (if it is very thick just add a little water).
Put each tart in the centre of a large plate and drizzle a little sauce round the edge (serve the rest of the sauce separately in a small jug).
Surround each tart with a few shallot halves with the melted parsley butter spooned over them.
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'A simple but sublime tart' is how Delia describes this lovely tart, which is another mouthwatering way in which to enjoy asparagus, coupled with cream, cheese and eggs. Even the pastry has Cheddar in it for extra flavour!
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