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.