Throughout our lifetimes, we occasionally stumble upon experiences that change the way that we think about food. It could be beachside shack serving up the freshest of grilled fish, or a market stall in an exotic bazaar that fills our eyes with wonder and awe; it could be fine dining by an open fire in a swanky Michelin-starred restaurant or discovering a bold new chef before reputation lifts them beyond our reach. For me, the simpler and more unexpected the experience, the longer it lives in my heart. As a family, we used to regularly travel to the medieval town of Cadouin deep in the heart of the Dordogne in France. Back then, there was just one restaurant; not that it was a restaurant as such, rather it was the front room of a genuine bon vivant and his sweet, shy wife. They couldn’t have been more different in character or more solid as a couple whose passion for sharing their home-cooked food was so inspiring and joyful. Having obeyed strict instructions to arrive no later than the allotted hour one evening, we found just four tables laid for two, all of which were heaving under the weight of a huge bottle of home-distilled eau de vie, two bottles of local white, two of red and a small carafe of water (no, the irony wasn’t lost on me). Once we were seated, the door was locked – presumably to prevent anyone else from joining the party – and we were presented with dish upon dish of simple seasonal food; everything from a surprisingly refreshing garlic soup to a rich and hearty white bean stew; a tarte paysanne served with a lemon-dressed frisée salad to cheeses and walnuts; all finished off with a calvados-soaked apple cake served with a dollop of crème fraîche. At the end of this almighty feast, we were invited to join our hosts in the kitchen to discuss recipes and share stories over even more alcohol. I just about remember staggering back at some bonkers hour, our arms laden with bread, cake and even more bottles. Unsurprisingly, that evening turned out to be one of the most memorable meals of my life, so much so that I still often try to recreate all the recipes. In the first of a series, here is one for the tarte, a delicious melange of roasted tomatoes, herbs, mustard and cream that I have since adapted for a lighter taste. This makes an absolutely beautiful summer lunch for family and friends, best served just warm with a lemony salad and a glass of ice cold Chenin blanc.
1 sheet of ready made puff pastry
300g crème fraîche
8 tbsp Dijon mustard, you can also use wholegrain mustard
6 large plum tomatoes, peeled and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
2 tsps dried lavender florets
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, preferably with flowers, leaves picked
Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (optional)
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
How I make it
Heat an oven to 180C. Roll out you pastry and use it to line a 30cm tart tin with a removable bottom.
Mix together the crème fraîche and Dijon mustard and spread over the pastry base.
Arrange the tomato slices over the filling, season and liberally scatter with thyme leaves, lavender florets and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (if using). Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally to achieve an even colour.
Remove from the oven and leave to settle in the tin until cool.
Drizzle with a little olive oil immediately before serving.