|Caramelised Shallot & Chestnut Tarte Tatin|
Old recipes need to be revisited. Viewed afresh. Updated. There are new ideas and techniques. Ways to improve. Ingredients which have become more readily available. Others which are outdated or have fallen out of favour.
So this is my updated Caramelised Shallot & Chestnut Tarte Tatin. The perfect vegetarian and vegan centrepiece for Christmas dinner. I first wrote a version of this recipe back in 2009, having made it for Christmas dinner a few years earlier. My Uncle John was visiting from Ireland for Christmas, an event in itself, which always involves much silliness, standing on chairs singing nursery rhymes and a vegan alternative to turkey for us all to share.
The original recipe (such as it was, made, eaten and enjoyed, but never written down) was vegan, but the pastry will no doubt have been made using White Flora, a white vegetable fat, which has long since vanished from shop shelves. Its closest dairy-free equivalent, Trex, is made from palm oil. Whilst it may make good pastry, I won't buy it. The same goes for the principal dairy-free ready made puff pastry on the market, Jus-Rol, or indeed anything containing palm oil. Its connection with rainforest deforestation, human rights violations, child labour and animal cruelty (to name but a few) is well documented. I'm with Joanna Blythman, journalist and author of Swallow This, when she says that going into 2017 it is time to abandon palm oil.
So this tarte tatin has a classy new pastry to be proud of. Rich and packed with fresh thyme, it is simple to make and work with. There's no need to be careful and light of finger when mixing the ingredients, and definitely no rubbing fat into flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. When dry ingredients meet wet ingredients, the pastry comes together in a matter of seconds. A vegan-friendly pastry recipe which uses olive oil instead of palm oil.
For the pastry:
225g white spelt flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
75ml extra virgin olive oil
For the rest:
2 tbsp olive oil
500g shallots (about 400g peeled weight)
150g cooked, peeled chestnuts
100g chestnut mushrooms
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp muscovado sugar
1 tbsp madeira*
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Begin by making the pastry (this can be done up to 24 hours ahead). Put the flour, baking powder, salt, fresh thyme leaves and nutritional yeast (if using) into a large mixing bowl and whisk together with a balloon whisk. Add the olive oil and 70ml cold water. Using your hands, bring the ingredients together to form a rough ball. Knead lightly for a few seconds until the pastry is smooth.
Flatten the pastry out into a patty, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (longer if possible).
Whilst the pastry is chilling, prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Peel the shallots and slice any large ones in half lengthways. Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a piece of kitchen roll, then trim off the stalks and cut into quarters.
Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan).
Put a tarte tatin dish dish (20cm diameter) or an oven-safe frying pan of the same size over a medium heat. Add the olive oil, then place the shallots into the dish, cut side down (for those you have sliced in half). Cook for 10 minutes until the shallots are starting brown slightly. Add the chestnuts, mushrooms, thyme leaves and sugar, pushing the chestnuts and mushrooms down gently between the shallots. Cook for another 5 minutes, then add the madeira, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove the pastry from the cling film and place it on a lightly floured surface. Roll out, turning with each roll, until it is a rough circle measuring about 22cm in diameter. Using a pastry brush, brush a little oil around the inner rim of the tarte tat in dish, then careful lift the pastry over the shallot mixture, tucking it in, and any surplus pastry back on itself, to form a seal.
Bake for 30 minutes, until the pastry is a light golden colour.
Slide a knife around the edge of the pastry to loosen. Put a plate over the dish and then carefully tip the dish with the plate held firmly on top over so that the tarte tatin is sat shallot side up on the plate. Remove the dish. If any shallots decide to stick to the dish instead of the pastry, carefully lift them off the dish with a fish slice or spatula and put them back into position on the pastry.
I like to serve this with roast potatoes, buttered kale or cabbage and vegan gravy.
*not all brands of madeira are vegan-friendly, so if you are making this for someone who is vegan it is worth checking.