Sunday, 1 May 2011

Butternut, sage and Pancetta Tart. It's Deep.

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in France. And to make it even more beautiful, we have the day off to enjoy it. I love spoiling myself on a Sunday morning with a cheeky breakfast, which today was a boiled egg with 2 pieces of buttered, toasted walnut bread. And although I had no agenda in mind I found myself at the market with my trusty trolley a little while later. You really do fit in with the crowd if you have a trolley in tow so no sniggering at the back please. And boy was there a Sunday crowd.

Today I had the time to enjoy it. I didn’t need anything and so therefore I bought a few things. No pressure to buy, so pleasure-purchasing ensued. I do think you’ll agree that a bulging bag of fat, dried Cep’s, teamed with a fragrant, potted lemon-thyme plant can lead to a pleasing list of dinner ideas. I’ll leave you to ponder that one and move on to ‘Roger’s Pie’, your recipe for today.

The crew attended a ‘Team-building’ course during the week (hence my absence). It was held at our Captain’s home in the French country-side, a great relief from living in the city and an enlightening, few days.

To make things easier for me, we had simple buffet lunches of French bread, cheese and ham’s and salad. But to add a little something warm and pleasing I had made 2 tarts in advance that needed simple heating and serving. Roger’s pie in 2 forms; original and vegetarian.

Roger Smithers was my Dad’s best friend and the Smithers family and our family grew up together. Roger very sadly died at the age of 58 from Prostate cancer. We held the wake at our house and I did the catering. I had planned to cater for 100 people and thought I had it all sussed and organised. But the night before the funeral, I had a small panic attack and decided that there wasn’t nearly enough food, especially if more than a hundred people turned up. Roger was a wonderful guy; 200 hundred people turned up.

It was a case of ‘make what I can from what’s in the house’ and thus ‘Roger’s Pie’ was invented. Quiche is easy enough to make and can feed a lot of people if you make lots of them, but I had only 4 eggs. So instead I made a huge batch of thick, white sauce and added my 4 eggs to that which filled 3 large tarts. It makes for a much creamier tart, without the ‘egginess’ of a quiche and suited the ingredients of the tart very well, being I think a little bit more ‘robust’. It set perfectly well too once cooled.

The filling was my favourite combination of roast butternut, sage, onion and cubetti de pancetta. The vegetarian version replaces the pancetta with feta cheese which gives the same ‘salty’ element to combine with the sweetness of the butternut. It really is such a goody, especially when made with homemade, wholewheat, shortcrust pastry, and it freezes so well. You must make this, you’ll love it.

For Roger’s Pie, you will need;

1 quantity of homemade, wholewheat pastry. (Or bought shortcrust, you know me, I love short-cuts)
2-3 eggs
1 butternut squash cut into thick wedges, skin left on.
2 medium onions, finely chopped
A bunch of fresh sage, around 15-20 leaves
1 pack of Cubetti de Pancetta (Italian lardons basically or use normal UK bacon lardons if you can’t find any)
A good grating of fresh nutmeg


  • Begin by rolling out the pastry and lining your chosen tart tin. With shortcrust, like most pastries, it is not necessary to grease or flour the tart tin first, so just roll it out and bung it in there. Bake blind on gas mark 5 for 15 minutes. (Cut a piece of baking paper that lines the pastry and comes out and over the top edges of the pastry in its tin. Fill with baking beans or a bag of rice as I do, which stops the pastry from rising and the sides from collapsing in. Bake like this for 15 minutes.)

  • Take out of the oven to remove the baking beans and paper and put back in the oven for another 5-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool a little. Leave the oven on for the butternut.

  • While the pastry is cooking, and your white sauce is cooling, (recipe for white sauce in blog titled, ‘A Glamorous Lunch in Cannes’) roughly chop up the butternut-squash ready for the oven. Drizzle with a little sunflower or olive oil and season with salt and pepper in a baking tray, making sure they are not too cramped together. I do it this way because it’s a lot easier to peel the cooked butternut flesh out of the skins once it has cooked. It can be a lot of hard work peeling one of those little rascals when it’s raw.

  • On a fairly high heat, fry the cubetti de pancetta in a small drizzle of sunflower or olive oil till cooked and starting to brown. Set aside.

  • In the same pan, gently sauté your finely chopped onions in the bacon fat. Add some salt and pepper and ½ tsp sugar. Continue sautéing until the onion has just started to colour a little. Chop half of the sage leaves up finely and add to the onions, sautéing for another 3-5 minutes. Set aside with the Pancetta.

  • When the butternut has roasted and is soft and smelling divine, cool a little before using a sharp knife to peel the flesh out of the skins and chopping, roughly into small bite-sized bits.

  • Start to layer up the ingredients in the pastry shell, beginning with the sautéed onions and sage. Then add the pancetta and follow with the butternut.

  • Add the beaten eggs to the cooled white sauce and add a good grating of fresh nutmeg. Stir well with a wooden spoon, perhaps giving it all bit of a beating to combine.

  • Pour the white sauce over the onions, sage, pancetta and butternut, filling the tart as much as possible (I sometimes give it a good jiggle to ensure the white sauce has got to the bottom) and decorate with the remaining sage leaves.

  • Bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes. Leave to cool before serving but it is best left a little warm if you can. It reheats very well too.

Wow, that was a long one. It can be made in stages so that once you’re ready to make one you have the pastry case all cooked, ready to be filled and the white sauce prepped up to a day in advance. But it truly is such great tart to make and enjoy for lunch with a salad. Obviously with the vegetarian version, replace the Pancetta with a pack of feta cheese. I go for a whole pack and break it into big crumbly pieces on top of the butternut. It is super-delicious I promise.

The vegetarian version with feta cheese
I used to make this for a great deli I worked for in the Hamble, Hampshire and apparently some guy used to come in and have it for his breakfast every morning. I’m not sure I can say it’s good with coffee but I guess he thought so. Anyway, the crew loved both versions on our team building course. Oh yeah, I promised photos of our last sailing day, so here they are. As you can see, the weather was a little boisterous but great fun.

I’ll let you know what happens with the cep’s and lemon-thyme. I’m pretty excited.

I hope plants in pots don’t get sea-sick…

Natty and Matt on the wet side being very brave.
Enjoying the company of 'Halloween', another beautiful Fife design.