Sunday, 3 February 2013

Mediterranean Munch Time!

Tortine Salati con Finocchio, Olive, Pancetta e Timo Fresco
Fennel, Olive & Bacon Tarts with Fresh Thyme

Preparing snacks for parties, or appetizers, need neither be a worry, a chore, nor the same-old same-old thing every time. They don't have to be stodgy dips n' chips or crackers and they don't have to cause you a headache! In fact- they can be as simple and pretty and delicious as this- and be made in just 30 minutes! And I would call that a good thing!

Using the last bit of puff pastry and a little ingenuity, I came up with this idea for some very Mediterranean tasting snacks. The combination of fennel, olives and bacon, with the sweetness of the honey and the zingy fresh thyme made these really special- like an afternoon in the Sicilian or Greek sun...

I started off by chopping the fennel, greens and all, into small chunks and then adding the bacon, but rather than frying them together, I first put them into the frying pan with a little water. The reason why, was that obviously the fennel began to boil and steam and soften up more quickly, but also that the flavor of the bacon was transported through the water much better, along with the fat, and the effect was to make the fennel become silky smooth and delicious. After 2-3 minutes, the water had evaporated away anyway and the bacon began to brown gently. 

I added the olive slices, just a little salt, but plenty of black pepper, another splash of water and stirred everything together well. I didn't add any oil for a couple of reasons. One, because I consider there to be enough fat in the bacon and puff pastry combined for these little snacks, and two, because it would seep into the pastry later and make it soggy. So basically, I kept stirring away until the water was completely evaporated and then turned off the heat and set the filling for my tarts to one side to cool.

In the meantime, I cut out circles from the pastry and lay them out on baking paper. As soon as the filling was cool, I spooned it into the middle of the circles, leaving a gap of about 1" around the edges... you have to leave puff-pastry room to puff up a little after all!

These baked in a 400°F pre-heated oven for 15 minutes... then came out to get a light drizzle of honey and went back in for a further 5 minutes to brown and finish off. Once they were finished baking and had cooled off, I added the thyme, so that it would neither wilt from the heat after baking nor dry out as it would have, had I baked it in the oven... nope! This was what I wanted- a very fresh burst of flavor to lift the cooked-in and baked-in yumminess of the fennel, bacon and olives. 

These are great to prepare in advance- but I would recommend making a few more than you need. Because you WILL pinch one or two of them for yourselves before your guests arrive... You know I'm right!

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