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A shortcrust pastry for, say, a quiche, usually involves butter, lard or suet. But suppose you are under doctor’s orders or still recovering from Christmas?

This recipe I turn to time and again for quiches and savory tarts involves a pastry based on olive oil. I first came across it in an Italian recipe for Crostata Di Pasqua, Easter Tart.

Antonio Carluccio's brilliant "Italian Feast", recipes from Northern Italy

Antonio Carluccio’s brilliant “Italian Feast”, recipes from Northern Italy

It is on the most food-splattered page (p. 96) of my 1998 paperback edition of Antonio Carluccio’s book “Italian Feast”.

His particular tart includes artichokes and spinach and loads of other stuff. But ignore the fillings – concentrate instead on the pastry.

As with so many of Signor Carluccio’s wonderful recipes, it’s simple, light, quick, no-nonsense, cheap, tasty, low-fat and almost (dare I say it?) foolproof.

Poor old Antonio has been through the wars in recent years in terms of his finances and more importantly his health, but at least his recipes will always be brilliant.

After all my shortcrust disasters of the past I always follow his tried and trusted method.

Keep it cold

If trick #1 is to use olive oil, trick #2 is to keep everything cold. You know how bread dough or pizza dough loves the heat of your hands and the lingering warmth of a cosy kitchen? Shortcrust pastry doesn’t: it hates heat.

So minimise hand contact. Avoid adding any warmth. Don’t knead the pastry like you would bread dough, or you’ll end up with a tough old boot. Instead, use a knife to mix the ingredients before doing a very quick, minimal knead.

Better still, cheat. Use a food processor. A blender is thorough, quick, and makes a light pastry – possibly because it mixes a lot of air into it too.

Tip: minimise the washing up too. Put the blender (including the blade) on the scales, reset the scales to zero and weigh out the flour in the blender. 

The ingredients

It’s an easy-to-remember ratio: 50-50-150. As in…

  • 1 part cold water
  • 1 part oil (a light olive oil, not extra virgin)
  • 3 parts flour (plain white)

So for a medium tart for 3-4 people, take:

  • 50 ml water
  • 50 ml oil
  • 150 g flour

Making the pastry

Weigh out the flour. Pour the cold water into a measuring jug. Slowly pour the olive oil into the same measuring jug.

Add the liquids to the flour in the blender. Mix everything together for 8.2 seconds (I’m just winding you up – I mean for a short time until it miraculously becomes a neat ball of dough).

Or instead of a blender use an ordinary table knife (never your warm fingers) to mix the wet and dry ingredients together briskly for a minute to combine everything.

At this stage it should start to bind together, but it might not be a perfect little ball. So use your fingertips to knead the stuff together, lightly, for approximately 6.52 seconds so that it becomes a rough ball of dough.

Resting

Trick #3 is “resting”. Put the ball of dough into a polythene freezer bag (or a Tupperware type storage container with a lid). Leave it to “rest” in the fridge for an hour.  “Resting” has nothing to do with actors  “in between jobs”. Or maybe it does have.

The dough lies back, relaxes, becomes easier to handle and roll out. It reads scripts, perhaps it chats with other doughs about the state of the acting profession. It does nothing.

A filling

While your dough is resting, prepare the filling.

Here’s a suggested eggy type filling for a quiche (but without any ham, bacon, or onions). Add the following to a mixing bowl (or, better again, to the measuring jug you’ve just used for the pastry):

  • 4 or 5 whole eggs – or, if one is feeling “cheffy”, three whole eggs plus four yolks
  • A couple of dollops of cream or crème fraiche or yoghurt
  • Two twists of freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of salt

With a fork, lightly mix all these together for 10 seconds.

Pre-heat your oven to 180C. Lightly brush a quiche dish with olive oil.

Dust a rolling pin with flour, sprinkle flour on your work surface. If you don’t have a rolling pin, improv with a clean glass bottle.

Take the pastry from the fridge. Roll it out as thinly as possible, trying not to make any holes (or you can always patch them up later). The pastry should be roughly the shape of a circle that is slightly wider than your dish.

Line the dish with the pastry. Let the excess flop over the sides. This may look untidy, but the pastry will shrink in the oven. You can trim the unruly bits of pastry later with a sharp knife, once it’s cooked.

Lightly prick the bottom of the pie about a dozen times with an ordinary fork.

Don’t bother with all that palaver with dried beans, baking paper etc etc. And I never follow St Delia of Norwich’s advice and paint the inside of the case with beaten egg. I can’t be bothered.

Put the dish on a baking tray (this makes it easier to lift the pie without breaking its edges).

Bake initially for about 15 minutes. Do this before putting the eggy mixture into the case because pastry takes longer to cook than the filling – particularly the base.

The base should now look dry rather than damp and doughy. Take care that the edges don’t go too brown and burn.

Take the dish out of the oven if you have to for the next stage: pouring in the eggy mixture. Return the dish carefully to the oven.

Bake for a further 20 minutes or so, until the egg part is almost completely cooked – it may puff up almost like a souffle and not be liquidy any more. Try to catch it so that the egg is just about to be fully cooked, particularly in the centre, and let the residual heat do the rest of the job.

Serve with a light salad or whatever takes your fancy, and raise a glass to Signor Carluccio.

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