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Sweet Nettle and Sorrel Custard Rough Puff Tartlets — what a mouthful for these novel, mouthful- size morsels, made from all good things… Inspired by Penelope Casas.

Crema De Espinacas en Canutillos:

“At the beginning of the [20th] century, this most unusual dessert of custard and spinach was popular in Bilbao; it continues to be featured at some of the city’s finest restaurants, either in a tart shell or as a filling for pastry horns,  It is said to be a vestige of the medieval custom of sweetening just about every kind of food imaginable….”

So wrote Penelope Casas in her truly exciting collection of regional Spanish recipes Delicioso!

Nettles are everywhere now, growing taller before our very eyes. The wonderfullest of weeds, the most delicious, nutritious and ubiquitous –why aren’t they the national food of Britain, as Frank Cook asks in this video.  Am just determined to use them as frequently and creatively as I can.

So I’ve been much itching to try this sweet spinach recipe substituting with nettles and sorrel (that magic combo) as part of my semi-obsession with making dessert tarts with greens — as in Jane Grigson’s Sweet Spinach Tart and Claudia Roden’s almond-spinach confection, and of course the more famous Tourte de Blettes, a southern French chard pie.

Make your pastry (see below), and while it’s resting, crack on with the custard.  Did I just write “crack on?”  What’s becoming of me?  The following loosely follows Casas’ method:

Take 2 ounces greens (1 loosely packed cup) — in my case nettles and sorrel. Steam, drain, plunge in cold water, squeeze out excess water, and puree.  Set this aside.
To 2 cups of milk, add the peel of 1/4 of a lemon. (I used a whole lemon’s worth of zest, to augment the sorrel, and left it in; I love my fancy zester.)
Simmer the milk for ten minutes…
In another saucepan
Into 2 eggs
whisk 1/8 teaspoon salt
and 1/2 cup sugar
and 3 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved 2 tablespoons milk.
“Stir in the hot milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken.  Add the [greens] and continue cooking until the custard begins to bubble. Remove immediately from the heat and cool without stirring….”

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Curds forming over low-heat, tasted like sweet scrambled eggs.

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The pastry: 

Rather than pastry horns (canutillos) and store-bought puff pastry, I took the opportunity to try this Rough-Puff recipe for pastry, from the British Larder, gastropub of which blog I would LOVE to visit!  For the Rough-Puff I used a Light Wheatmeal* from Felin Gaol Watermill and it worked superbly — plain old white flour just tastes insipid to me these days.

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Was thrilled to find this set for a quid at a charity shop. My daughter’s Food Technology teacher says the crimped side is for sweets and the smooth side is for savouries– good to know.

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And pushed the circles into a small muffin tin for jam tart type tartlets:

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I baked them for ten minutes in a hot oven, bottoms punctured.  Removed them fom the oven, then spooned in the custard, replaced them back into the love, watched the custard set and rise, and responded to its plea for a nice sprinkle of powdered icing/confectioner’s sugar.

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I made another one too, as a tart, as a kind of control.  Seemed like the higher ratio of pastry to filling in the tartlets was just that bit nicer.

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Interestingly, this experiment was not universally enjoyed.  Children x4 (my own and a those of a friend) found it just “too eggy,” which I understand because of the unfamiliar sweet curdy texture– like sweet, solid scrambled eggs, and then of course the nettles.  Unlike my experiments with the recipes by Grigson and Roden, and the Tourtes de Blettes as linked above, there wasn’t anything of orange or marmalade, or of almonds or raisins, to add an additional screen of disguise from the truth of this composition– eggs, greens, sugar.  Indeed not for a contemporary palate.

But the verdict from several adults was that it was… delicious, and interesting, and worthy of trying. And I would not say I would not try it again. Especially with the really great Rough-Puff, about which I’ll say just a little more here:

* I wrote to the millers at Felin Ganol Watermill to enquire about their Light Wheatmeal, because it’s mildly flavoured yet nicely rustic in dough (pizza dough, more precisely) and pastry.  They wrote to me:

Very glad you like the flour. The light wheatmeal isn’t a mix, it’s produced as part of the sieving process when we pass the wholemeal through our wire machine. The idea of proportions of brown comes really from roller milling which effectively shears off layers of the grain and separates them out, different flours are then recreated by combining fractions in different amounts. Stone milling on the other hand takes the whole grain and produces wholemeal flour, so to produce a white flour we have to sieve out the bran with the wire machine. The wire machine is a graded sieve which has three grades of mesh on it and brushes inside turned by the water power. The finest grade gives us the white flour, the next what we’ve called light wheatmeal, then the coarsest mesh gives semolina, leaving the bran. I’ve attached a picture to give you an idea what it looks like.

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