I think that one of the saddest moments a keen home cook can have is when you look in the cupboard and just feel drained of inspiration. That “Jesus, must we have pasta AGAIN?” Feeling which is very particular to Monday and Tuesday nights, usually. I often find that they can become “leftover days” quite easily, before I’ve had time to head to the Wochenmarkt and see what tempting things abound. On these days, the sullen stare of the leftover veg in the drawer prick my conscience and I try to think of ways to make them delicious, although most fibres in my being scream “just make a damn salad!”.
It’s at times like these that I crave something quick, easy and no-brainer. Being meat-free in the week means that I’m thankfully a little healthier these days, and so the option to grab meat-and-veg is not on the table. That being the case, I often reach for Quiches and stir-fries, fried eggs on toast even. Anything simple and good which doen’t require too much effort. I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are days when you just cant even. Ruby Tandoh has written about the importance of acknowledging that “we don’t have the time, resources, skills, confidence, energy, ability or money to cook from scratch everyday” and that sometimes all we want is the food which turns on the dopamine receptors in our brains.
Sometimes all I want is a proper frozen pizza – you know, the kind which has that cardboard-snap crust and that toasted cheese smell from about 5 minutes into cooking time? I love those. I love how that, no matter what the topping, your primary flavour is toasted cheese and dried-herbs Mariana-style tomato sauce. I love that my husband wants it at 9 minutes and still soupy in the middle, whereas I like it at 12 minutes when the cheese is crusted and bubbling and the base is solid at the edges like a water biscuit. Of course, our brand-new German doctor would never approve, but then that’s half the fun. I think it appeals to me because it meets that basic cheese-on-toast pleasure – a nice crunchy base topped with something salty and satisfying. It’s easy to enjoy and as good crammed into your face in front of the television as it is nibbled delicately outside while befriending the neighbourhood squirrel.
However, in a world where I stare into the fridge on a Monday early evening and ponder the stranded vegetables and half-block of feta staring balefully at me, I turn away from the frozen-delights aisle in Lidl and find myself instead at the reduced offers pile. Hidden under squashed yoghurts and a frankly inexplicably large pile of Greek sheep’s cheeses (one of which I nab), I find a squashed packet of puff pastry which has seen better days. Instead of pizza, I will instead have a Pissaladiere – or something like it, naturally. It’s cooked from scratch-ish but requires very little effort to be delicious. From start to finish it will take about an hour, but you can do steps 1 and 2 ahead of time if you need a break. Which is sometimes just what you need.
Weeknight leftover-veg Mediterranean Tart
Serves 6 hungry eaters with salad
Be warned – this is a Pissaladiere in the same way that a frozen pizza is a Pizza Napoli – i.e. not really the same thing at all and so much the better, in my view. The point is that the toppings are pretty much interchangeable to match your cupboard contents, mood and inclination. If you don’t have sweet potatoes, try butternut squash, or add more mushrooms, or whatever it is you fancy or – more realistically – what’s on special offer. In high summer, I rather think that tomatoes and aubergines may complement the courgettes. The only requirements are a packet of cheap puff pastry, plenty of onions, and lots of cheese. It should be said that this is very very easy to vegan-ise – simply omit the cheese or substitute in your favourite cheese-style product.
1 pre-rolled puff pastry sheet, to cover a baking tray
4 large onions, sliced thinly
2 large sweet potatoes, sliced into thickish rounds
1 large courgette, cut on an angle into medium-width slices (around the thickness of a pound coin)
A handful of mushrooms, pepper or similar, sliced
125g feta, crumbled
50-100g grated cheese (I used a Lidl bargain-bin Hard sheeps cheese called Kefalograviera but any will do – I imagine Gouda or Comte or cheddar might be very nice)
Oil, salt and pepper
Rocket and parsley, to serve
1. Ahead of time: First, pre-cook the sweet potatoes (or any harder vegetable you’re using such as pumpkin, squash or potato) by popping on a baking tray, seasoning and baking at 180C for around 15-20 minutes until lightly coloured. This helps even out the cooking time for the tart later on.
2. Ahead of time: While the potatoes are pre-cooking, take a large non-reactive pan and put it over a medium heat with a good splash of oil. Tip in the onions and cook gently for around 10-20 minutes until golden, very soft and sweet-smelling. Season and leave to cool for at least 10 min. .
3. When you’re ready to assemble and cook, preheat the oven to about 180C, and line your tray with baking paper (I find puff tends to stick otherwise).
4. Lay out your pastry, leaving a small gap around the sides, then pile on your onions, making sure they aren’t too wet. If they are, you can drain them a bit. Crumble over the feta and then arrange your potatoes and courgettes on top. Then tuck in slices of mushroom, pepper or whatever you’re using. Finally, cover with a generous layer of grated cheese.
5. Season with pepper and drizzle over a small amount of oil (less than a teaspoon), then put onto the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden, puffed up around the edges and very cheesy-smelling. If the top browns a bit fast, drop the heat to 160C or pop a bit of foil over the top.
6. Cut into thick slices, scatter with parsley and serve with a crisp green salad. This is particularly good cold for lunch on Day 2, and travels well.