I’ve rescued a heap of Victorian homework from a London junk shop. Signed ‘John, 1848′, every sheet is lined with miserable aphorisms. ‘Caution is the only protection against imposing’, ‘Venerate sacred institutions’, ‘Nominate the just’. You get the picture.
Weirdly, having rescued one batch of ancient homework, I immediately found a whole heap more in my roof. I live in a 19th Century school house and like most things in this place, the roof is on its last legs. When the builder took the tiles off he found the eaves had been packed with old homework — and it’s even more miserable than poor old John’s.
Thinking about the endless scraps of paper that we throw away so freely, I started to wonder about all the cookbooks that go out of print each year. Perhaps, like actors, they say they’re ‘resting.’ And yet while they ‘rest’, other far less impressive recipe books are doing a can-can down at the bookshop.
As a tribute to discarded cookbooks everywhere, and dedicated to 19th century John, here’s my version of a spinach and parmesan tart from one of my favourite recipe books of all, Quaglino’s: The Cookbook.
Spinach and Parmesan Tart
For the pastry
225g plain flour
125g slightly salted butter
2 egg yolks
For the filling
150g freshly grated Parmesan
450 g spinach
freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs, plus 3 extra yolks
200 ml double cream
150g Mascarpone cheese
Rub the flour and butter together with a pinch of salt. When thoroughly mixed, whisk three tablespoons of cold water to the eggs yolks and pour into the flour. Quickly roll it together into a ball, wrap it in cling film and cool it in the fridge for an hour or so.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out the pastry, line a loose-bottomed 25cm tart tin and line it with silver paper. Tip in the baking beans and bake blind for ten minutes. Remove the paper and beans and cook for a further 6 or 7 minutes until golden.
Reduce the temperature of the oven to 150 degrees C and prepare the filling. Wilt the washed spinach with the butter for a few minutes until it looks like bedraggled seaweed but still retains its bright green colour. Squeeze it out like a dishcloth and then sprinkle with a little grated nutmeg.
Beat the eggs, cream and Mascarpone together until smooth. Then repeat the following formula twice…layer of eggs, cream and Mascarpone, layer of spinach, sprinkling of black pepper, hefty dose of parmesan. Finish with a final dose of the eggs and cream mixture and a snowdrift of parmesan. Bake in the oven for around half an hour, or until golden and set. Finally, grate a little more parmesan on top and a trickle of extra virgin olive oil. Delicious with a green salad. Delicious with just about anything actually. I ate it for breakfast this morning, with a cup of PG tips on the side.