tomato and fennel tart

i really enjoyed making this tart – after another couple of weeks away from home it was the perfect thing to spend time on and to get me resettled in my kitchen.

it’s a rowley leigh recipe and was meant to have anchovies on as the finishing touch. this was a large part of what drew me to it but which i couldn’t include as the tin i had (smoked anchovies which it took me an age to track down just before we left london - brindisa at borough market occasionally stock them, in case you also want some) exploded as i opened it and i didn’t want to risk eating them in case they had gone off. the smell of smokey fish oil that was all over my face and clothes also put me off.

however that’s not the point of this dish - the pleasure for me came with slowly making it. taking my time to make pastry; to slowly cook fennel until it softened; to slice tomatoes, salt and then dry them so they wouldn’t make the tart soggy. slowly assembling the tart – pasty thick enough to handle and not worry about it splitting; fennel pureed with cream and egg yolks which is then baked in the pastry case until is develops a gentle custard texture; laying out the sliced tomatoes on the tart and then finishing it with basil leaves and a drizzle of grassy olive oil.

i don’t think it’s a perfect recipe – the pastry was a little soggy as i didn’t check it had cooked through enough as part of the blind-baking (this was when the anchovy incident occurred and i had to take a quick shower); i’d probably roast the tomatoes next time so that their flavour is even more concentrated; and of course there are the missing anchovies.

still, it was a pleasure to make and a pleasure to eat – the mild creamy fennel flavour and the sharpness of the tomatoes work really well together and i’ve enjoyed eating the leftovers – scooping the filling out of the pastry case and spreading it on rye crackers.  which in turn prompts thoughts of vegetable pates of other sorts – perhaps something to try on another day.

rowley leigh’s tomato fennel and anchovy tart

350g plain flour

200g unsalted butter

2 bulbs fennel

125g double cream

2 egg yolks

8 slightly firm tomatoes

12 anchovies or 24 fillets

8 basil leaves

sieve the flour into a bowl (or food processor/mixer) and cut the cold butter into small cubes. add a pinch of salt and rub together with the fingertips or mix mechanically to form a grainy tilth. add four tablespoons of very cold water and knead gently into a dough, adding more water if necessary. roll the pastry into a ball and then flatten it into a thick disc. wrap in greaseproof paper and refrigerate.

split the fennel bulbs in half though the root and chop, like an onion, into fine dice. put a film of olive oil in a thick saucepan and add the fennel, seasoning well with salt and pepper. reduce the heat and let the fennel sweat extremely gently for a good 20 minutes or until tender. add the cream and stew together until the mixture thickens. taste for seasoning, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely (abby notes: at thsi point i blitzed the mixture using a stick blender, to make a cream).

roll out the pastry to the thickness of a pound coin and roll it into a 24cm tart tin. trim the edges so that there is a small overlap. line the tart with greaseproof paper and some baking beans and bake blind in a moderate oven, 180c, for 20 minutes. mix the egg yolks and stir into the fennel mixture. remove the paper and beans. spread the mixture over the tart base and bake for 10 minutes more or until set.

peel the tomatoes by blanching them in boiling water and plunging them into cold. cut into slices half a centimetre thick and sprinkle with salt. after 10 minutes, dab them with kitchen paper and lay in overlapping circles over the fennel in the tart. bake at 220c for 10-15 minutes. remove from the oven and cool. trim off overhanging pastry. decorate with anchovy fillets (whole anchovies must be rinsed in cold water and then filleted  - simply by pushing down with the thumb on the backbone and pulling the spine away from the fillets - and trimmed before use) and torn basil and serve.