Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Fun Food and No Clowning!

Torta Salata "Arlecchino" con Agnello Tritato, Menta & Peperoni
"Harlequin" Tart- with Ground Lamb, Mint & Peppers

I love food- I love to enjoy my food and I like it to be healthy and tasty- and fun! It is very important to me- but I don't get "all serious" about it like some people. To make too much of an art or a science of food takes the enjoyment out of it in my opinion. Food that is so beautiful you almost feel afraid to eat it, is well... a bit silly in my opinion. Life is too short to be too pretentious about food- let's be sensible but have fun!

This is a simple dish made of simple ingredients- but as nature deemed to make bell peppers such beautiful colors, isn't it a bit of a crime to cook them down to an unidentifiable brown mass? When you can turn them into a kaleidoscope of cuisine instead!

This was put together in just a few minutes, using convenient store-bought puff pastry, a little ground lamb and half each of a red, yellow and green bell pepper. I began by sautéing the slices of pepper in a dry frying pan- there is enough moisture in them that they will cook just fine without any oil and this way, by adding just a little salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, the flavor intensifies really nicely. I only needed to stir them off and on for 5 minutes or so and they softened up nicely... that's all it took to prepare them!

In the meantime, I started to sauté the ground lamb in another pan- also without adding any oil... there really is plenty of fat in ground meat, even if it is relatively lean. After 2-3 minutes, I added some finely chopped onion and garlic, salt, pepper, a pinch of cinnamon and a little cayenne. I let it sweat down for a while and in the meantime chopped a handful of mint and parsley as finely as possible and added it in, along with just enough pureed tomatoes to cover the lamb. I let it simmer for 4-5 minutes and turned off the heat to let it cool down and to let the flavors mingle nicely... and started preparing the pastry base whilst that happened...

Being as the filling was rather moist here, I decided to use my trick of baking the pastry on a frying pan, so that I could start it off on the stove top and get plenty of heat to the underside, so that it would have a head-start on the rest of the pastry and not become too soggy... nothing would be worse than that!

So I cut out a circle of pastry and a few long strips, which I laid around the outside edge to make a decorative border. I did this by simply folding the strip back on itself, over and over, adding a new strip each time I finished one, until I had reached full circle.

I then carefully laid this into my non-stick pan and turned on the heat... exciting! The first thing that happened was that the butter in the pastry melted and it became very, very soft and looked like it was ruining right before my very eyes! Oh, but I am a fearless one! And I knew that it would soon begin to dry up, crisp up and puff up- and that was my cue to remove the frying pan from the heat and to begin adding the topping!

I simply spooned the minced lamb and mint sauce on top and spread it out evenly- the puffed up pastry soon flattened out and things began to take shape... only the fluted border was still pale and raw, but still- I could already see how nice this was going to turn out- especially with the addition of the colored peppers. Once I had the tart put together and looking pretty, I added a good pinch of coarsely ground pepper and popped it into the oven to finish for 10- 15 minutes or so at 400°F, until it was fully puffed up on top and golden brown. 

The sweet bell peppers are a great addition to the classic combination of mint and lamb, and the fruity tomato makes this into a wonderfully Mediterranean treat that I am sure you will love! Great for parties, as an appetizer... or an evening meal for yours truly! 

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