When I was a kid, chocolate didn’t really appeal. I rarely ate crisps, though I’d be lying if I said Space Invaders didn’t hold a special place in my heart. I did have a certain weakness for sour sweets, but my truest and most enduring love was and remains olives.
I like their saltiness, I like the way they pop in your mouth. I even like struggling with a too-big fork in the jar. They’re beautiful, too, those velveteen black bullets of delicious flesh. Olives are one of my greatest pleasures, not just in food but in life.
The great thing about this dish is that it combines rich olives with the sweetness of cooked tomatoes, heat of chilli and halloumi – a more recent but almost equally loved acquaintance. I think it conjures images of the roasted slopes of the Adriatic. It’s light but packed with flavour and filling enough for lunch or as a starter for a heavier pasta dish.
An admission – I’m terrible at scientific cooking. It’s probably evident by now that I mostly just throw ingredients at a pan and hope for the best. The idea of making pastry from scratch fills me with dread. I once tried to make a sweet pastry crust for a chocolate and peanut butter tart and it came out as dense as lead and about as tasty. Probably because of this I don’t think it makes a fig of difference if you use the bought stuff, it’s like arguing that one brand of flour is better than another in making pizza dough. Nonsense.
Right! That’s it mate! I’m not a violent man but I’m going to have to make you a tart.
Puff Pastry Black Olive, Cherry Tomato and Halloumi Tart
- One sheet of puff pastry
- One tin of black olives
- Two cloves of garlic
- One medium-hot chilli
- Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half. Probably about 4 or 5.
- Halloumi, thinly sliced.
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper.
- A few drops lemon juice
- Balsamic vinegar
Drain the brine off the olives and empty them into a bowl that isn’t going to get chewed up by a handheld blender, or just put them straight into a food processor. Crush the garlic cloves with the back of a knife, peel and add to the olives. De-seed a chilli and add that too. Start whizzing the whole lot together, adding a little olive oil as you go until you have a thin, spreadable and smooth tapenade. Don’t get too gloopy though, otherwise it’ll soak the pastry. Season and stir in a couple of drops of lemon juice.
Take the shelf you’re planning to use out of the oven and cover with a piece of tin foil just bigger than the sheet of puff pastry and brush it very lightly with olive oil. Get the oven pre-heating now, to around 220ºc, or “really rather hot” as I think of it. Lay the pastry sheet flat on top of the tin foil and spread the tapenade over it, leaving a good inch of uncovered pastry as a kind of border or frame.
Lay a grid of halloumi on top of the tapenade, still leaving the border uncovered. There should be enough space in the gaps between the halloumi strips for a halved cherry tomato to sit quite snugly. Pour a couple of inches of balsamic vinegar into a bowl and dip each tomato in the vinegar before squidging them into the tapenade in the gaps left by the halloumi grid. Season with a good twist of salt and pepper and lightly brush the exposed pastry with olive oil.
It should take about 25 minutes at 220º but keep an eye on it. The pastry should puff up around the edges and go golden brown and the tomatoes should split. With any luck the halloumi will begin to brown around the edges too. Yum. I drank a dry white Burgundy with this, but I can’t remember name or grape, so just go for something dry and citric and you shouldn’t go far wrong.