Spinach tart and homework

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

Serves 8

For the pastry

225g plain flour

125g slightly salted but­ter

2 egg yolks

For the filling

150g freshly grated Parmes­an

450 g spin­ach

30g but­ter

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.

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