Tortas de Aciete

These thin- flaky-lemony-aniseedy-crispy-wrapped-in- paper-and-tempting-me-on-the-plate biscuit sensations are stunning.  Best eaten on a hot Spanish night, gazing at the stars with a chilled Anis del Mono to hand. You know the sort of thing……. the sun has been hot, the evening long, the cicadas are  churring and the sheep bells still tinkling away in the darkness.  The sky is a deep velvet blue and the stars hang so low you could pluck them down with one stretch of the arm, if you could be bothered to move.  Inside somewhere, music is playing but you are outside and wondering why the hell you don’t just move here. Then someone brings you the liquer and a Tortas de Aciete, invisibly presenting it over your shoulder and you reach out wordlessly, place the glass on the table and unwrap the Torta from its waxed paper wrapping.  It’s thin, it’s crisp, it’s crumbly. It tastes of lemon and anise and it has a dusting of sugar on top.  It’s a bit like a Cadbury’s Flake moment. But far far better.

These proportions make 6-8 tortas. Heat 115ml cup virgin or extra-virgin olive oil with strips of lemon peel from one lemon and one star anise for 5 minutes then leave to cool.

Meanwhile whisk 200g plain flour with 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast, 1 teaspoon of caster sugar and 80ml tepid water.  Strain the olive oil into the water (discard anise and lemon peel) and mix into the dough and knead in the bowl for five minutes, dusting with a bit of flour as you go.  Then cover the bowl and leave for a couple of hours till it has doubled in size.

Heat oven to 150C (fan oven) 160C (conventional)  You will do better to err on the cooler side of this temperature if your oven runs hot.  Well of course, all ovens run hot, but I know that my fan oven is about 10C too hot on every measure of the dial. You will know the foibles of your own oven.

Turn out the dough, knead again and form into 6-8 equal sized pieces, then leave for five more minutes (it will be worth it, promise) then roll out on a lightly floured board till very thin.

Cut out a piece of baking parchment to fit one or two baking trays and put the baking sheets in the oven and bring up to temperature again.  Then take out quickly, slide the parchment onto the trays and then place your Tortas on the tray, leaving plenty of space between them.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes till gently brown, take out of the oven and drift with caster sugar into which you have grated lemon rind, or added caraway seed.  Another good wheeze is to add about 15ml Anise liquer into the olive oil.

I swear you will never taste anything more gorgeous.  Yet again this post is without a picture, for the most obvious reason – they don’t stay long on the plate –  but I’m making some more tomorrow so will add the picture then.

Sweet little cigars – baclava

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These are easy peasy and so impressive. Ask John and Het, they loved them!

Mix 100g ground almonds with 2 teaspoons of golden caster sugar and two teaspoons of cinnamon.  Unwrap one pack of filo pastry.  Dampen a clean tea towel, fold it in half and sandwich the filo pastry between to stop it drying out.  Melt 100g sugar in a pan with 150ml water and the juice of a lemon.  Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes then let it cool. Add 2 teaspoons of rosewater.  Prepare a baking sheet by laying a sheet of baking parchment on it (simples!).

Work with 2 sheets of filo at a time but keep the rest covered with the damp cloth. Take 2 sheets of filo but dont separate them. Cut in half then each half into four or eight depending on the size you want.

Dampen all the edges with a little water. Put a dessert spoon full of the almond and pistachio onto the pastry then fold one long side inwards (to stop the filling falling out), then roll up from the bottom. Pinch the other end together or fold over, whichever you prefer. Keep doing this till you run out!  Brush with melted butter or oil and bake in the oven for 10 minutes tops.  Allow to cool a little, then transfer to a shallow bowl and pour the syrup over them.  Now, the trick is to resist eating ‘just a little one to test it’s ok!’

This is the sequence….

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Samosas with mango salsa

A long run of visitors and little time for the blog.  Apologies.

Tonight we had a re-run of last night’s farewell curry festival when Mark spent the last night with us before returning to Norway. I was sad to see him go – we had rekindled so easily, the friendship of our childhood and shared many happy family memories.  But I made far too  much curry  – lamb rogan josh, eight hour chick peas, hot and sour vegetable curry, cauliflower and potato curry,  mango salsa, potato and pea samosa – which meant that tonight there was only a small amount of cooking to do (ie replenish the samosa stock).coriander and coconut chutney

So here’s the samosa recipe.

You’ll need your food processor for ease, but you can also mix the pastry by hand.  Mix together 300g gram (chick pea) flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 25ml vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon black mustard seed and 1 teaspoon cumin seed.  Then add cold water bit by bit until you have a soft dough.  Put the dough in a plastic bag and leave for about an hour.

Dice four medium sized potatoes into small dice (don’t bother peeling them).  In a shallow pan heat about 1 tbsp oil then add 2 tablespoons of the garam masala spice mix (on this blog). Cook it gently for a minute, then add half a finely chopped red chilli.  Then add the potatoes and mix in with the spices.  Fry these for about 5 minutes then add 75ml water and put the lid on, cooking the potato gently until all the water has disappeard and the potato is just cooked.  Then add a mug full of frozen peas, stir into the spice and potato mix and then add some salt.  Take off the heat and allow to cool completely.

The key to a good samosa is remembering two things.  1) the filling should be hotter (chilli heat) and slightly saltier than you think it should, and 2) the oil for the final frying should be smoking hot (that way the samosa gets crispy but doesn’t absorb the oil).

Take the dough out of the bag and knead it.  It should be fairly soft but not sticky.  Then scatter the work surface with coarse semolina (I use this instead of flour), pull walnut sized pieces off the dough and roll out quickly  and cut into circles.  Then cut each circle in half.

P1020863Pick up a semi-circle of pastry and dampen the straight edges, then fold it and press together the straight edges.

P1020864P1020865Now open it out so the open edge is at the top and fill with the spiced potato and peas, then dampen the open edges and pinch together carefully.

P1020866P1020867P1020868Repeat this many times, getting into a gentle, contemplative rhythm, until you have tons of samosas looking like this.

P1020869Now, simply fry them in very hot oil, a few at a time so the temperature of the oil doesn’t drop, probably about one minute each side, then remove onto kitchen towel.

Serve piping hot with mango salsa  finely chop one green mango, and mix with half a chopped red chilli, a one inch cube of finely chopped fresh ginger, mint or coriander leaves, a little salt, about a teaspoon of sugar and the juice of one lime.  Then fry a tablespoon of black  mustard seed in a tablespoon of oil with some more chopped chilli for about 30 seconds, then pour over the salsa.

Hope you enjoy them!.

Enterprise in the sticks

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Joao Villanova-Smith makes authentic Pasteis de Nata. She should know, she’s Portuguese. Her kitchen is full of genuine pasteis tins all the way from Lisbon. I am toying with the idea that I might never need to make them because why would you with Joao living just up the road?  They require  (apparently) the fusion of maddening combinations of temperature characteristics – cool enough to set the wonderfuly lemony custard but hot enough to cook the pastry without burning and (this is the really maddening part) really hot so that they acquire their characteristic burnt sugar spots on top.  That’s it – I need never make them with Joao in close by. Just eat them.

Al Watts

All set for expansion, there are plans for new ovens, more Lisboa tins and a machine to make the pastry.  Go girl!

Pasteis de Belem


Waiting for a train on a windswept and miserable Diss station in January my old friend Joao appeared like a vision. We hadn’t seen one another for nearly 20 years, other than across a crowded field at the Burston Strike School rally, and then only fleetingly. In the space of 1 hour 35 minutes we traversed the work, career, family stories, catching up, leaning over the table, laughing, touching hands and cupping faces affectionately. It was a joy.  More joyful still was to find that in her REd Riding Hood bag, were gorgeously warm and vanilla fragrant Pasteis de Nada – those emblems of Portugal and the Lusophere countries.  Joao was on her way to Portugal to see her mother, but via London to deposit three dozen Pasteis de Nada at her son’s birthday gathering.

The year before, Lynne and I had spent an adventure-and-a-half week in Lisbon staying with her brother and sister in law. Our best day (marred only by the stolen bag on the tram) was a slow and scorching wander along the waterside at Belem and then across to the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem to watch them make the little beauties, and then for us to eat them! It was my first introduction to the heaven which is a little pastry, warm and soft, filled with lemony, vanilla scented, cinammon dusted cream, cooked in the oven till slightly caramelised at the edges.

So Joao and I indulged in memories but also in pastries, and poor Adriano was a little short on his birthday order.  Earlier this year we spent a delectable long summer afternoon familia with Joao and Peter at their house drinking wine, eating Portuguese tapas and celebrating Alistair’s graduation.  For pudding, again were those Pasteis. Divine on a late summer afternoon, sprawling on the grass, grossed out on Bacalao, olives, salads and bread, and squinting at the sky through the trees.  Now Joao’s Pasteis can be found in outlets across the Waveney Valley, including  Diss station, where they tempt me every morning as I dive in the cafe for a quick coffee before catching the 07.02. Rarely have I been known to desist.

And so, to the arcane.  Today I transported 2 year old grandson to Dereham where he and I had a brief meeting with the accountant before emerging, blinking, into daylight.  And then to find, that along with a fine market on a Friday, there is also a Portuguese delicatessen. Oh glory. More Pasteis de Nada.     6 swiftly purchased and deposited at Lynne’s later in the day for Andy’s birthday on Monday.  These pastries are haunting me.