Food writer Nicola Miller explains how many of your most-used recipes will have evolved over time. One of her personal favourites, dates back to a scrapbook she made back in 1997
Sometimes you return to a recipe for years – even decades – without remembering its origins. I hate it when this happens because a recipe’s ‘family tree’ is important to me. How much better is it to be reminded that your fail-safe fruit cake recipe came from your gran’s old Be-Ro cookbook but now has orange juice added to its batter because that’s what your friend suggested (and it tastes good)? Recipes evolve over time and we record their genealogy. They are all the more interesting for this and that’s before we even start to address the importance of crediting the work of other food writers.
As a kid I was constantly designing and making my own food-related magazines and ‘anthologies’; the latter consisting of torn out scraps from newspapers, books, magazines or the backs of packets and boxes. I would write my own introductions above each scrap then decorate the margins of the pages with drawings of cakes. My magazine even had its own ‘agony aunt’ who was more likely to answer you if you wanted help with matters of the stomach as opposed to matters of the heart. I wish I had kept them. I then took an extended creative hiatus until the children came along and I needed to cook my way out of the 20-ways-with-mince rut that tends to lie in wait for busy parents who would rather read about food than actually cook it after a long day at work. I resumed my habit of squirreling away tearsheets from what was then a booming food magazine industry with the aim of making every recipe ‘one day’ and as my children left home, some of them took me up on my offer to make them their own cookery scrapbooks.
This recipe for a cornmeal and buttermilk pastry dough is one of my favourite ways to make pastry and it comes from a scribbled few lines in one of my old cookery scrapbooks dated ‘July 1997’. Sadly, I failed to record where the recipe originated from (which is rare for me). It’s handwritten and not on a tearsheet and is bookended by recipes from Anne Willan (a doyenne of French cooking) and a torn-out advert for American Cherry Mash candies, which – to this day – await the development of a recipe hack. (Incidentally, if you too are nostalgically interested in the history of American sweets, Candy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond is the book for you.)
This is the only known history of ‘my’ recipe for a cornmeal and buttermilk pastry whose flaky, sweet texture is suitable for savoury or sweet pies and tarts. It sounds American and when I posted about it on Instagram, Stefano Arturi of Italianhomecooking.co.uk suggested it might be a Julia Child recipe, having seen it in her book Baking With Julia. I had a look: it is similar, but not the same. There is an almost identical recipe on the Washington Post website for an ‘endlessly adaptable galette dough’ but their version dates to 2018 and not 1997 or before. It is very similar though and makes enough for two crusts, which mine does, too. I should really get in contact with the paper to ask about their version’s history.
As I have said, you can use this dough for savoury or sweet tarts. It’s easy enough to pile it up with berries, or sliced pears and apples, scattered with spice-scented sugar, and bake in the oven for a quick pudding.
However, I have gone for a vegetable and cheese galette that is a little more labour intensive. You will need to cook the different components separately before tumbling them onto the crust, which is then pleated to hold them safely in one place before its time in the oven. This method intensifies the flavour: you get a layer of sticky, jammy onions and leeks; toasty-edged squash and potato chunks; and mushrooms that roast properly in the oven instead of limply steaming in their own (prolific) juices. The Comté cheese is essential but don’t buy the aged, vintage kind. You want a creamy, fruity younger cheese of around one year old in age which will pair exceedingly well with the milky-toasted hazelnuts scattered all over its surface.
This galette is perfect for winter, keeps well (it’s good cold) and holds its shape in the hand.
WINTER VEGETABLE AND COMTÉ CHEESE IN A BUTTERMILK AND CORNMEAL GALETTE
To make the pastry:
16oz plain flour, plus more as needed
8oz cornmeal or polenta (but not quick-cook polenta)
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8oz cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2fl oz very cold water
2fl oz buttermilk
Method:Stir together the flour, polenta, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the cubes of cold butter and toss them around until they are coated in flour. Using your fingertips or two forks, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
Mix the buttermilk and water together and add a few tablespoons at a time to the butter and flour mix. Stir until the dough is moist but not sticky or claggy. A spatula is best for mixing. How will you know when it is ready? Well, if you pinch the dough, it should gather as one clump. When you have formed the dough into one mass, cut it in half to give you two equal amounts then lightly shape each one with your hands to give you two discs. Wrap each one in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, although you can refrigerate them overnight should you so wish.
Now, while the dough is chilling you can prepare your filling.
NOTE: The pastry can be prepared in a food processor by adding the diced butter to the dry ingredients before adding the wet, and processing until a ball of dough forms. If you want to make the dough ahead, it can be refrigerated for three days or frozen for three months. This recipe makes two pie crusts; one for this tart and one to freeze for another day. You will need two heavy-based fry pans in which to cook the filling and a heavy-duty baking sheet.
I large white onion, halved and sliced into thin half-moons
1 large leek, trimmed, halved, and sliced into thin half-moons
2 finely-diced cloves of garlic
160g baby potatoes, skins left on, sliced into rounds the thickness of a pound coin
160g small diced butternut squash
200g small chestnut mushrooms left whole
100g Comté cheese, plus extra to serve
25g crushed hazelnuts (I buy them whole and leave the skins on)
Olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper
Method: Heat a large frypan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is warm, keep the heat at low-medium and add the leek, onion and garlic. Season with salt. Allow to cook down very slowly until the vegetables are golden, sticky, and soft. Add more salt if you think it needs it. This process will take at least 50 minutes.
Turn the oven to 375°F/190°C to heat it up.
After the leeks and onions have been cooking for 30 minutes, warm the other fry pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Over a low-medium heat, cook the potato slices, four leaves of fresh sage, and cubed butternut squash. Add salt to taste. Keep an eye on the pan because you don’t want its contents to burn. Stir and turn the vegetables regularly. When the potato and squash have softened (but are still holding their shape well) and are starting to develop a golden crust, remove your pan from the heat and pour its contents into a bowl.
Return the pan to the heat, add more oil if necessary, keep the heat at medium and pour in the whole mushrooms. Don’t overcrowd the pan. What you are aiming to do is drive off some of their liquid. Cook for three minutes then drain and remove mushrooms from the pan. Set aside. Remove one disc of dough from the fridge and lightly flour a work surface. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the dough out into a 32cm circle (about 0.4cm thick) and move it onto the baking sheet.
To assemble for baking:
Spread the leek and onion mixture evenly over the base of the dough, making sure you leave a 5cm margin all around. Scatter 20g of the grated cheese over this. Top with the mushrooms, the potato, and squash. Fold the edges partially over the filling; you can pleat it to make a rough circle but don’t worry about attaining perfection. Galettes aren’t meant to look anything other than rustic.
For the egg wash:
1 small egg
1 tablespoon milk
Whisk the egg and milk together. Brush the edges of the galette dough with the egg wash using a pastry brush.
Place the galette in the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes then remove from the oven, sprinkle over the remaining cheese and the hazelnuts and bake for another five minutes or until the cheese is melting and bubbly and the hazelnuts are toasted to gold. Keep a close eye on the galette while it is baking – not all ovens are the same.
To serve, add even more cheese!
Follow Nicola on Twitter: @Nicmillerstale