Thursday, 21 July 2011

Honey mango tartlets with basil sugar

I was amazed by the number of responses to a recent Facebook status of mine. I simply updated the world with the fact that "Elly McCausland may have just purchased twenty mangoes", and an hour or so later there were 24 comments. I usually think of this blog as pure self-indulgence, a way of reminding myself that perhaps I'm not completely useless in life and can at least throw together a decent meal and take a half-decent photo. I still think that no one actually reads my posts or cares about the super-delicious cake I baked yesterday or my plans for this season's fruit. Yet I'm constantly surprised by the rate at which my readers are growing (I don't mean literally, though if they are also cooking from this blog as well as reading it, they may well be growing physically too!) Every time I receive a comment on a blog post it feels like an exciting novelty. Few things have made me happier than the time a friend made my fruit cheesecake recipe and posted pictures of the success on Facebook, or when another friend of mine informed me that her mum had been using recipes from my blog, because "it's such a good cooking resource!" I appreciate every single comment, whether from friends who are my avid followers and seem to read about everything I make, or from people I don't know who have just stumbled across this blog and found they rather liked it (they were probably looking for Jamie Oliver's fish recipe or Nigella's teriyaki chicken, which is how most people find this site...but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before a quick google of 'Elly McCausland's sheer gastronomic genius' is the most popular referral for this blog).

So thank you, everyone who reads and/or says nice things about Nutmegs, Seven. It's lovely to know that there are so many people out there who not only condone but actively support my greed.

It seemed everyone cared about my purchase of twenty mangoes, which was good in that it made me feel a little less tragic for being the food equivalent of a bag lady, buying bulk quantities of fruit in season and hoarding it like a mad thing. I couldn't resist; the boxes were three for £10 and I still feel like there is so much culinary potential inherent in these golden beauties that just has to be tried out now before they disappear until next year.

Incidentally, I wanted to share an anecdote with my avid readers. It has long been a suspicion of mine that mass-produced supermarket fruit and veg just doesn't taste as good as that you either pick yourself or get from markets and smaller producers. However, I have often told myself that this is just snobbery, and that I need to make my peace with Tesco because, fundamentally, fruit is fruit. However, the other week I received nigh-categorical proof that I am actually correct. You know these Pakistani mangoes I've been raving about for weeks? I've probably bought about eight boxes now, all from the Indian grocers down Cowley Road in Oxford. That's nearly 40 mangoes. They're not always in the same packaging, so I suspect they're from different suppliers, but the quality has been consistent and the mangoes always have the same addictive, ambrosial, slightly musky sweetness and beautiful golden flesh. They're miles off anything I've ever had from a supermarket; even the best supermarket mangoes, compared to these, are watery, underripe, and lacking in complexity, flavour-wise.

Imagine my surprise when I saw my local Tesco, one of those small metro ones you get in city centres, stocking boxes of Pakistani mangoes for £5 each (four large mangoes per box). I was very surprised; usually Pakistani and Indian mangoes are a well-kept secret, something that the supermarkets can't be bothered with, probably due to the faff of transporting perfectly ripe fruit on a huge scale. I've certainly never seen them in mainstream stores, but here they were. Intrigued to compare them to the mangoes I'd already gorged myself on, I bought a box. The best way to judge whether to get a box of mangoes is if you can smell their ripe scent from a foot away. Unfortunately these were wrapped in plastic so I couldn't judge, but they felt fairly ripe (again, a first for a supermarket mango).

Can you guess which is which? (The smaller one is from the Indian grocer, the oblong giant in the background is Tesco's offering).

And guess what, dear readers? They weren't the same. Firstly, they were larger and more uniformly shaped than the other variety. Secondly, they didn't have that seductive aroma. Thirdly, they tasted different. Texturally, they were similar to the mangoes I'd got in Cowley; the flesh did have that buttery ripeness, but it was slightly paler, without that shocking marigold hue, and slightly firmer to bite into. Somehow, the flavour just wasn't the same. It was more reminiscent of your average supermarket mango; not as sweet, more tart, without that intense, sugary hit of nectar I was so enamoured of. They were definitely nice, and definitely better than normal stringy mangoes from Tesco, but they were very different and slightly inferior to the others. I'd say they were a perfected version of the supermarket mango breed, but the supermarket mango is fundamentally inferior. Interestingly, a week or so later, the Tesco mangoes are in much better condition than the other ones, which have started to crinkle and go a bit black, which again makes me wonder what kind of weird things Tesco do to their produce to give it a longer shelf life.

Being a bit sad, I thought this was really interesting - it seems to prove my point that the supermarkets do seem to get hold of the more bland and unexciting produce, and taint it with their obsessive desire for uniformity and a pristine though flavourless product. Even though these mangoes were also Pakistani, and looked similar to the ones I was used to, they did not match up on quality. Maybe there is something in my hunch that fruit really does taste better when it's been nowhere near the soulless, sterile confines of a supermarket.

Back to my twenty mangoes, then (some of which were these Tesco ones). I had several suggestions on Facebook as to how to use them: sorbet, grilled, in a guacamole, mashed in a cake like banana, in a tart, in a mind was racing with possibilities. I tried a couple of savoury recipes, like the smoked chicken and mango rice salad, but it was the dessert potential that excited me more (because, let's face it, I love dessert). Since my mango cheesecake had been such a success, I decided to further explore the combination of ripe mango with creamy dairy. Initially I was going to make a tart with a coconut and biscuit crust, filled with coconut-scented pastry cream and topped with sliced mango and raspberries. Now that I've just typed that, I cannot for the life of me remember why I didn't make I mad?!

I think reality got in the way; we didn't get home until late and the last thing I wanted to do was faff around making pastry cream (in my head it's always really simple...but it involves a lot of different bowls, pans and general mess, as well as patience to sit and stir a mixture that is apparently never going to thicken). However, there was a pack of filo pastry that needed using, as well as half a tub of ricotta. Ricotta is now my preferred filling for fruit tarts; I can't believe it doesn't seem to be more widely used. All you need to do is stir in a little icing sugar and you have an instant foil for a topping of ripe, juicy fruit. You retain that slight dairy tang, which is a beautiful match for sweetness of any kind, and it has more texture against the fruit than pastry cream. It's basically a sort of lazy person's cheesecake.

I made little filo tart shells and filled them with ricotta. In this case I didn't actually sweeten it at all, because the mangoes are so sweet. Instead, I grated in the zest of a lime and a little juice. The ricotta still had a subtle cheese flavour but also the wonderful zestiness of citrus. Seeing no point in messing with such a wonderful raw material, I just sliced the mangoes into strips and laid them atop the creamy filling.

The basil sugar was a last-minute thought. We have four basil plants sitting in the kitchen now, after I brought two home from Oxford, and I guess they caught my eye as I was making these tarts. I'm a big believer in the sweet uses of basil, churned in ice cream or torn roughly over strawberries or peaches. I just had a hunch that it would work well with the mango, its sharp fragrance tempering the intense sweetness of the golden flesh. Basil is also excellent with lime, so it seemed a possibility worth exploring.

Rather than chop it and stir it into the ricotta, which I thought might end up with the unpleasant sensation of big bits of herb in your teeth, I whizzed it in the food processor with some granulated sugar. Again, I have no idea where this idea came from. I'm sure the combination is stored deep in my long-term gastronomic memory; maybe I read a recipe for it once or ate it in a restaurant (though the latter is unlikely, as I can remember pretty much any meal I've ever eaten in a restaurant). I was sure it would be a success as soon as I tasted a little of the green, fragrant crystals: like the first time I tasted my homemade basil ice cream, I was amazed at the magic a little sugar can work on an ingredient as basic as basil. It's almost as if it belongs with sugar just as much as it belongs with tomatoes.

I scattered the sugar over the tarts, and that was it. They were totally and utterly delicious. The filo was wafer-thin, turning from crispy to meltingly soft in the mouth. The ricotta was zesty from the lime but still thick, creamy and crumbly, an ideal blanket for the mangoes, whose sugary juice and unctuous flesh was gorgeous against the cheese and pastry. Finally, the fragrant crunch of the basil sugar balanced all the flavours and added an intriguing herbal note. I never would have put mango and basil together in a sweet dish before; now I can't wait to experiment with the combination again.

These tarts are incredibly easy to put together, and they're a perfect way to show off the quality of some really good mangoes (so I'd recommend you don't use Tesco ones!)

So tell me, dear readers - have you noticed a real difference between supermarket and non-supermarket produce? Or is it just me? And, most importantly, what would you do with twenty mangoes? 

Honey mango tartlets with basil sugar (makes 4):

2 sheets filo pastry
Melted butter
Half a tub of ricotta cheese
Zest of a lime and 2 tsp juice
1-2 honey mangoes
2 tbsp granulated sugar
About 10 leaves of basil

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Brush one of the filo sheets with the melted butter and layer the other over the top. Brush four mini tart tins with melted butter. Cut the filo sheet into squares large enough to fill each tart tin - my filo cut into nine, but if your sheets are bigger you might manage twelve. Place one square inside each tart tin, then brush it with melted butter and layer over another, tucking the edges in neatly. You will have one square left - either add it to one of the tins or throw it away.

Brush the pastry cases with melted butter, prick the bases with a fork and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until golden and crisp. Remove and leave to cool, then take out of the tins and line up on a plate.

Mix the ricotta with the lime zest and juice - taste, you might want more lime juice. Spoon it into the cooled pastry cases. Peel and slice or cube the mangoes - I only used one, but if you want more mango on the tarts then use two - and arrange the fruit on top of the ricotta.

For the basil sugar, place the sugar and basil in a blender and whizz until blended, fragrant and green. Sprinkle over the tarts to serve.

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  1. Such pretty little tartlets. I agree that supermarket fruit and veg differ from home grown and that from local Asian stores and markets. The last time I bought plums, they stayed hard for three weeks and I ended up throwing them on the compost bin.

  2. Yes to supermarket fruit debate - and market fruit usually so infinitely cheaper as well! And also yes to basil in puddings - had basil pannacotta last week - weird at first, but actually really nice. Except they decided to ruin it with cheap and nasty strawberry sauce and chocolate sauce. I feel obliged to tell them that if they used good quality sauce their pudding would be infinitely better.


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