Sometimes when I’m on my own I eat cherry tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt and a glass of pink wine for dinner. Sometimes I’m sensible, follow my own advice and turn to one of my ‘cooking for one’s recipes – most often the sea bass with green beans and burnt butter and almonds or miso salmon with zucchini noodles. And sometimes I just don’t bother to eat at all.
Then there are the times that I take advantage of the fact The Hungry One is gone and I sneak into the house things that make his face wrinkle in displeasure. Chief on that list is smoked salmon. I’m not sure if it’s the slippery texture or its slight marine funkiness, but he can’t abide it. To him, it’s a suspicious fish.
Yet to me those salty strips of pink fish are a reminder of happy times; of bagels eaten in Central Park and open sandwiches scoffed in Scandinavia. It’s Christmas lunch and high tea sandwiches. It’s sunshine and tea roses, open toed shoes and small tables set with finger bowls.
As I write this The Hungry One is out and about – his Dad’s come over to visit. They’re currently gallivanting around Cardiff. Soon they’ll be in Scotland. Later they’ll be gadding through Eastern Europe eating enough schnitzel and dumplings to hobble a small horse.
While he’s been gone a few of my meals have been eaten out of a bowl from the couch. Tonight, I’m heading out for meatballs with an old friend. But when I want to feel a little special and he’s gone, this is what I turn to.
Let me sing some of the praises of this humble tart. There’s a double hit of smoked salmon; some is blended through the cottage cheese and goat’s cheese for a pastel whispering taramasalta style base. The rest is wafted over the top with slivers of courgette/zucchini and apple for sweetness. Trust me on the apple. It’s subtle, but it works. A few bitter leaves and basil transform it all into a sprightly salad.
Sometimes I eat the salad on its own from a bowl, on the couch. But when I want a bit of extra crunch, prettiness and indulgence I pile it on a baked length of rough puff pastry and fashion a rustic open faced tart.
This is really a dish that deserves to be served in a garden*, with a jug of Pimms to your left and some dappled light to your right. Add a few friends (of yours and of smoked salmon) and finish with some droopily whipped cream and berries. It’s just the thing to distract you until the light of your life walks back in the door.
(*nb by eating it in a garden he’s also less likely to screw up his face and ask ‘can I smell smoked salmon?’ as soon as he steps into the flat. In that instance, transfer some cookie dough from the freezer into the oven, spray some perfume around, open a window or light a candle or two. Or just say ‘yes- and it was very, very good’.)
Smoked salmon, basil and courgette tart
Serves 2 (or one very hungry one)
Half a sheet of puff pastry, or 125 grams of rough puff pastry, rolled out into two DL envelope shapes
1 teaspoon of milk, for brushing the pastry
3 tablespoons of cottage cheese (low fat is fine), or ricotta
1 tablespoon of goat curd
100 grams of smoked salmon
1/2 a courgette/zucchini, shaved into ribbons
1/2 a red apple, shaved into wafty strips using a vegetable peeler
1 large handful of watercress and baby spinach (or rocket)
1 large handful of basil leaves
Drizzle of olive oil
Cracked black pepper
Here’s how we roll
1) Preheat the oven to 200C/392 F. Place a few basil leaves on top of the pastry slices , brush with milk and bake in the oven for 20 minutes until puffed and golden. Set aside to cool as you make the salad topping.