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James Street South Cookery School: Shortcrust cheese tarts and steak tartare

Easy to make, cheese tarts are a classic French snack and work as a starter with any meal

I SPENT a couple of days in Paris last week and loved a couple of the very traditional brasseries I went to. There has been an explosion of chains opening up across the city, bringing international food to the locals and visitors and, like most cities, resulting in big queues out the doors.

Luckily, however, the traditional bakeries and brasseries remain stalwarts of what is great about French cuisine. A very well-made cheese tart is a great lunchtime snack or starter for any meal and if you keep ready made pastry in the fridge or freezer they're always easy to make. There is nothing like making your own and you can gloat confidently when your guests swoon over the delicious meal.

Steak tartare is another classic French dish which would be on my dinner wish list. It is hard to pull off as getting the right mix of ingredients and meat is the key. It is difficult to serve anything raw and uncooked in a restaurant kitchen due to the environmental health implications, but for so many this is a dish which is always top of the list for their ‘last supper', however hypothetical!

While not for everyone, ask most chefs and it will be on theirs.

SHORTCRUST CHEESE TARTS

(Serves 4)

600g ready-made shortcrust pastry

100g feta, crumbled

250g ricotta

200g mature cheddar, grated

2 eggs, beaten lightly

3 tblsp double cream

pinch fresh nutmeg, grated

ground black pepper

1 tblsp rosemary leaves, chopped

1 egg, yolk only, beaten to brush the pastry

Start by preheating the oven the 180C. Place the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to a circle about 35cm in diameter, ensuring that there is a high edge. You can do this by folding over the edges. Transfer from the work surface to a floured baking tray.

Beat the egg and add the cheese, cream, nutmeg and a pinch of pepper into the bowl and mix well. Spoon on to the centre of the dough, pinching the edge a little higher, ensuring the filling does not flow over.

Sprinkle the rosemary over the top of the tart and brush with the egg yolk; place in the fridge before you cook it – it is best to chill for 20 minutes.

When you are ready to cook, place in the oven for 45-50 minutes until the pastry is golden. If the tart is browning too quickly cover the edge with tinfoil. Remove and serve – be careful as the cheese will be piping hot.

STEAK TARTARE

(Serves 4)

1 egg, yolk only

2 tblsp Dijon mustard

1 anchovy fillet

1 tblsp tomato ketchup

2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp Tabasco Sauce

ground black pepper

1 shallot, finely diced

1 tblsp capers, rinsed

1 tblsp cornichons, finely chopped

4 sprigs flat leaf parsley, removed from stalk and chopped

400g fresh rump steak

4 quails' eggs, yolks only

The key to getting this dish right is how you like your meat chopped. I prefer a little texture so tend to cut half the meat really fine but leave the other half about 4mm thick. Always buy your meat from a reputable butcher as this meat remains uncooked so needs to be of the highest quality.

Start by placing the egg yolk in a large bowl; add the mustard, the finely chopped anchovy and mix well. Then add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and pepper and mix again. Lastly, add the shallots, capers and cornichons and fold in the parsley.

Finely chop half the meat and roughly chop the rest. Add to the bowl and mix well. Divide among four plates. The serving plates are best if they are really cold. Place the yolk of the egg on top and serve with French fries or chips.

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