These tartlets make a superb lunch or an impressive, easy starter. The smoky fish and creamy, cheesy filling is delicious with the crisp, buttery pastry. Although these tartlets require a little work, they’re not difficult to make and make an extremely tasty, straightforward dish to serve to guests, with just a few dressed leaves on the side. If making individual tartlets is too much faff for you, just make a large tart, using the same quantities in a 25cm fluted tin. The best thing is that the tarts can be prepared in advance, or prepped before your guests arrive and assembled before you eat.
I like to use the best smoked haddock I can find, and often source it from Scotland, always sustainably caught. Dyed smoked haddock is something I steer well clear off, as I don’t wish to eat food colourings, and actually, the pale gold colour of an oak smoked haddock fillet is a beautiful thing to me. Oak smoked haddock is my favourite – the delicate smoky flavour is just irresistible. I buy individual fillets and freeze them so that I have a ready supply of excellent fish from a reputable supplier I trust.
To accompany the tarts, a mixture of watercress, rocket and baby spinach is nice, or mizuna, land cress and mibuna if you can get them. Dress lightly with a simple vinaigrette made from 3 parts oil to 1 part good quality wine vinegar, such as one from the Forvm range. You’ll see I have neither in the photo. This was my lunch the day after I cooked these tarts for a dinner party using some salad leaves in the fridge someone else bought. It highlighted just how much better good quality salad leaves are than the big-brand mixed packs of leaves, which frankly, aren’t pleasant to eat. I have resolved to grow my own leaves this year – wish me luck!
- For the pastry
- 250g plain flour, sifted
- Pinch sea salt
- 200g cold butter, cubed
- A couple of tablespoons of very cold water
- For the filling
- 300g smoked haddock fillet, undyed and skinned
- 250g frozen spinach, defrosted and all excess water squeezed out
- 200g mature, full flavoured cheddar, grated
- 300ml double cream
- 3 egg yolks
- Sea salt and pepper
- A little nutmeg
- Start by making the pastry. Place the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and stir together. Add the butter and rub it into the flour, until it forms a breadcrumb-like consistency. Add a tablespoon of cold water and stir until the pastry starts to come together to form a ball. You may need to add another tablespoon or two of water, but make sure you add a little at a time so that you add as little water as possible. This will keep your pastry light and crumbly - too much water will make it tough. This can be done in a food processor - just blitz the pastry in short pulses.
- When the pastry is made, flatten it into a round disc, wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the filling. I like to prepare the ingredients separately, and have them lined up in bowls to have to hand when filling the tarts.
- Start with the haddock. Ensure it's skinned and any pin bones are removed. Slice the fillet into slices, around 7mm thick. Set aside. Now, ensure the spinach is broken up into small pieces and set aside in a bowl. Put the grated cheddar into a bowl. Take the cream and egg yolks and whisk together. Season well with salt, pepper and nutmeg and set aside too.
- Preheat the oven to 180C Fan.
- When the pastry is chilled, roll out to approximately 5mm thick and line the tart tins (I use twelve 10cm individual fluted tins or one 25cm round fluted tin. Line with non-stick baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for approximately 10 minutes before removing the baking paper and return to the oven for 4-5 minutes more to firm up the base. For a 25cm tart, you'll need to cook it for around 15 minutes then a further 5 without the baking paper and beans.
- When the pastry cases have been blind baked, you can now fill them. Start by adding the spinach, which is best torn into small pieces and spread evenly over the base. Top with slices of haddock and season generously with pepper and a little salt. Top with cheddar. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the tart filling and bake for around 20-25 minutes for tartlets and 40-45 for a large tart. The filling will be golden brown and a little puffed up once baked.
- Serve hot or cold, with a good salad on the side.