Blackcurrant and Basil TartPosted: March 17, 2017
In food, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s really difficult to be original. Whatever blinding flash of inspiration you think you’ve had, I promise you that it has been done before; usually better, sometimes worse. If it hasn’t been done before, then that’s usually a good indication that it’s not such a great idea (i.e. it was done before and discarded because it wasn’t fab at all). If it was fab, we’d have heard about it in the last 5000 years. This goes for top-level chefs as well as for the humblest baker.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with tweaking a recipe and putting your own spin on it. Tweak it enough and then you can claim it as your own (and acknowledge the inspirational recipe, but it’s surprising how many people seem to forget this bit).
Example: Ian Dowding and the invention of Banoffi Pie. Except, of course, he didn’t invent it, he readily admits that it evolved by adding bananas to a recipe for Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie brought back from the US by Russell the chef, with whom Dowding worked in a restaurant in Berkshire. Read all about it here.
And so to this week’s recipe. I recently watched an episode of a food show from the US and one of the items shown was a Goat’s Cheese and Blueberry Pie with fresh basil. I liked the unusual combination and re-watched the clip several times in order to jot down what looked like the quantities/ingredients. It took a couple of tries to get the sweetness and texture right, and my overall verdict was: No. The goats cheese was odd. The tart lacked zing. The fresh blueberries were OK, but had no pop of flavour, and so I set my notes aside.
Until I had a brain wave a couple of weeks ago with: blackcurrants! I resurrected my notes and swapped in blackcurrants for blueberries and it was amazing (she said modestly). The fresh basil is very reminiscent of the aroma of blackcurrant leaves and the amazingly tart pop of flavour from the berries was just what had been missing from the original. After guarded compliments from friends after the first attempt, I swapped the goats cheese for cream cheese and found I didn’t miss the lack of tang at all. – it was creamy, but not so dense as to push it into cheesecake territory (although it’s close!). Disliking unnecessary waste, the surplus egg-white from the filling ended up in the topping, along with butter instead of margarine, which all made for a crunchy variation to the original. Finally, there was a need to balance out the basil: the boldness of the blackcurrant flavour meant a larger quantity was needed in order for it not to be lost in the background whilst avoiding being too heavy handed and tipping it over into a borderline savoury tart. Luckily, the perfect amount was almost exactly the quantity of leaves you get in a 28g pack of fresh basil in the supermarkets.
Interesting Fact: I read recently that blackcurrant is, for the most part, an unknown flavour in the US, due to a ban in the early 20th century when it was thought to harbour a disease harmful to the logging industry. All can say is: you’re missing out, my friends across the water, and it’s high time you invested in blackcurrant bushes in order to enjoy all the wonderful things you can do with them. Exhibit A: this pie! If you’re lucky, you will be abe to find frozen berries in your supermarkets and farm shops until your bushes bear fruit themselves.
So yes, I did not conjure this fabulous tart up out of thin air, I evolved it from something else. That doesn’t mean it’s not fabulous and you should all rush out and get some blackcurrants immediately. If nothing else, for the vitamin C, doncherknow.
“But where!? It’s March!” I hear you wail. If you’re not lucky enough to have some in your own freezer from the bounty of last summer, then (in the UK) some supermarkets have them in the frozen fruit section. You can also find them in farm shops that have large chest freezers, alongside other berries and fruits in a kind of scoop-your-own setup.
I’ve opted for a pastry crust, but you could just as easily use a cheesecake-like, biscuit-and-butter crumb instead. Fresh basil is a must – don’t even think of trying to fudge it with dried.
It goes without saying – but I shall say it anyway – that, obviously, you can sub back in all the stuff I took out and try it for yourselves and make it YOUR own. 😀
Blackcurrant and Basil Tart
1 x 20cm shortcrust pastry case, blind baked (or biscuit base of your choice)
300g cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg
1 large yolk
60g caster sugar
15g fresh basil leaves, shred finely (from a 28g bunch/pack)
300g blackcurrants – frozen is fine
50g caster sugar
1 large egg white
50g flaked almonds
50g melted butter – cooled
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Whisk the cheese until smooth, then add the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour and mix thoroughly.
- Stir through the shredded basil and the blackcurrants. The blackcurrants can be used frozen, just make sure they’re not all stuck together in a big lump.
- Pour the filling into the prepared tart case.
- Whisk the sugar and egg-white together, until frothy, then stir through the almonds. Add the cooled butter and mix thoroughly.
- Pour the topping evenly over the filling.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes until almost set, and the topping is golden brown. Allow to cool, then chill thoroughly before serving.
In case you missed it:
This week on DejaFood.uk: A super quick, fruity Soda Cake from 1835