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Angela Hartnett: Watercress and goat’s cheese tart

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2012 by Robin Gosnall

(Source: Grauniad)

Celebrate the fact that spring has sprung with some fresh watercress, which is just coming into season. If goat’s cheese is not your thing, a good cheddar or blue will work just as well. The most important thing to get right with a tart is the pastry – too often it’s soggy and the ruin of any good filling.

300g ready-rolled shortcrust pastry
2 bunches watercress minus the large stalks, torn roughly
125g goat’s cheese, rind removed
3 free-range eggs
200ml double cream
salt and pepper

You will need a tart ring of around 8in in diameter – use one with a loose bottom, or put it on a baking tray.

Roll the pastry out to overlap the edges of the tin. Blind bake the pastry – prick the base with a fork, add some baking beans (or dried pulses or rice) to preserve the shape. Bake for 15 minutes at 180ºC.

Remove the baking beans and cook the pastry for a further five minutes, until golden brown, then allow to cool.

Beat the eggs and cream together and season.

Steam the watercress to wilt it, dice the cheese roughly, then scatter both around the tart base and pour over enough of the egg mix to cover (we’re binding the filling, not aiming for an eggy tart).

Bake in the oven at 180ºC for 15-20 minutes until set. Allow to cool, trim the excess pastry and serve with a green salad.

• Angela Hartnett is chef patron at Murano restaurant and consults at the Whitechapel Gallery and Dining Room, London.

Angela Hartnett’s midweek suppers

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Percy Grainger: the ninth best composer ever

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

(Alfred Hickling, Guardian, 10 November 2011)

Fifty years after his death, it is hard to conceive how great a celebrity the Australian composer, pianist and folk-song collector once was. Widely acclaimed as one of the most gifted concert pianists of his generation, he earned the equivalent of £60,000 per week, befriended Grieg, Gershwin and Duke Ellington and got married on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl before an audience of 20,000. Yet Grainger, born in Melbourne in 1882, never quite lost the taint of an outsider – a loose cannon whose personal eccentricities threatened to overshadow his achievement.

Grainger was, by any standard, unaccountably odd. He favoured garish, towelling outfits of his own design, was known to mount concert platforms at a running leap, and pushed his favourite piano stool round in a wheelbarrow. In 1945 he devised his own composer-rating system and ranked himself ninth, below Delius but above Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

Practically all of Grainger’s compositions are miniatures, between two and eight minutes in length, and often feature unconventional forces such as harmoniums, banjos, theremins and ukuleles. His disdain for classical form extended to a rejection of Italianate terms for tempo and dynamic markings – Grainger’s scores indicate “louden” rather than “crescendo”, or instruct the player to interpret a passage “with pioneering keeping on-ness”. His rejection of the symphony, sonata and concerto was deliberate, but contributed to the impression that he was merely a dilettante or a purveyor of light music.

Grainger was the first to use a phonograph to record folk songs, and held untutored musicians in high esteem. “These folk-singers were the kings and queens of song!” he declared. “No concert singer I ever heard, dull dogs that they are, approached these rural warblers in variety of tone quality, range of dynamics, rhythmic resourcefulness and individuality of style.” In 1912, he travelled to the Pacific islands to notate native songs whose random combination of musical elements anticipated John Cage’s experiments in “chance music” by some 40 years.

Though his music is rarely solemn, there is a darker side to Grainger’s personality that is difficult to ignore. His views on the superiority of blue-eyed Nordic races are not easy to accept, and he made little secret of a violently aberrant sexuality: in the 1930s, he endowed a museum in his birthplace of Melbourne, and entrusted it with a large collection of whips, pornography and blood-stained shirts: “Music is the art of agony,” he noted. “It derives, after all, from screaming.”

Grainger established the museum – which is still in operation – as part of his lifelong aim to become recognised as Australia’s first significant composer, though he left the continent as a teenager and spent the majority of his life in London and the small town of White Plains outside New York. He died of cancer in 1961, convinced his efforts had been in vain: “All my compositional life I have been a leader without followers … Where musical progress and compositional experiment are discussed, my name is never mentioned. Can a more complete aesthetic failure be imagined?”

Brown Bread: Pete Postlethwaite

Posted in Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

An awful start to 2011. Pete Postlethwaite, born in Warrington, has died of cancer aged 64.

The obituary in the Times was shockingly poor. They enlarged the photograph to fill out the page. Basically a list of his work. Nothing about the man.

Obituaries are in theory written well in advance and updated to reflect events (which is why so many of the Guardian obituaries of opera singers are by Alan Blyth, years after his own death). So it may be more to do with the fact that Pete Postlethwaite was not the sort of actor who appealed to the Rupert Murdoch world-view.

Anyway, Postlethwaite was one of our finest actors, I loved him with Sean Bean in When Saturday Comes. I was only talking about him the other day and I am very saddened to hear of his passing.

The great thing about this man’s acting is when watching him you never felt he was acting; everything was very real and natural to me which is what made him a cut above the rest.

I look at Ben Kingsley or Ian McKellen and I find it all so much ham and am personally unable to enjoy all their work but with Pete Postlethwaite I’m engrossed from the moment he is on the screen.

In my twenties I went to the the Royal Court to meet a girlfriend. I was always about an hour late for anything in the hazy days of my youth, so I didn’t see the play. I finally found her and she invited me to a party which was around the corner from the theatre. I got there and felt awkward, lots of older people and actors, one of whom was a very kind, down-to-earth Pete Postlethwaite. He saw that I wanted to be anywhere but with those people, and invited me to the pub round the corner. So we left the party. I had no idea who he was, in those days. I have never forgotten that gesture, although it was many years before I realized it was Pete Postlethwaite.

He’ll be sadly missed by all people who enjoy great acting.

R.I.P Pete Postlethwaite 1946-2011

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