I grew up in the seaside town of Musselburgh on the east coast of Scotland. A town named after the seafood bounty that made it famous many, many years ago. Although the mussel beds are long gone I wanted to honour my home town with these Musselburgh Tarts made with mussels and leeks.
This weekend I went back there to visit my lovely friend Madge. The weather was wonderful, one of those precious pockets of Indian Summer that lift our hearts and make us really appreciate the wonders of nature. I knew exactly where I wanted to go as soon as I arrived in my home town. Almost as if drawn by a magnet I headed for the beach. Alas not a tropical delight with turquoise water and silver sand, but a beach nonetheless, and there is something truly magical about a beach wherever it may be.
The gentle sigh and hiss as the waves breath against the shore.
The crunch of shells underfoot contrasting with my steps on soft forgiving sand.
The warmth of the sun, the scent of the sea itself.
Healing, beneficial, soothing, I need this.
A walk on the beach
I walk as I did as a child, head down looking for shells and the elusive treasures of softly gleaming seaglass and tiny pieces of faded pottery. Things softened by the sea. Hard edges worn away, only gentleness remains.
Time eases out with the waves, I have been walking for two hours up and down the length of the beach.
Time is present, I am here with a few others intent on enjoying this beautiful day of autumn sunshine.
Time is past, the centuries and millennia that have produced this sand underfoot.
Time is moving, all the detritus of time set out upon the beach. The seaglass, the pottery, even the less savoury aspects of sea shore flotsom and jetsom. They are all marks of time. Some from centuries past and some more modern.
A therapeutic walk on the beach and a dance with time itself. I feel renewed, revived and so relaxed as I walk slowly back to the harbour carrying my little pocketful of treasures.
Mussel and leek tarts
So what can I share as a recipe today? It has to be my mussel and leek tarts that I have named Musselburgh Tarts from my new book A Wee Taste Of Scotland due for release at the end of October.
Musselburgh was once famed for her mussels (though the mussel beds are long forgotten and poluted now) and has also given her name to a strain of leek – so for my recipe I married the two together, the soft sweetness of the leek and seaside bitterness of the mussels, it works really well.
You can make these in party size or just roll your pastry out as one larger pie.
So here is my recipe for Musselburgh Tarts (aka mussel and leek tarts);
- 1 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil
- 1 small leek cleaned and sliced
- salt & pepper to taste
- 10 fresh mussels in shells
- 1 large egg
- 150 ml/5fl oz single cream
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 yellow pepper halved & deseeded
- 150 g/5 oz plain/allpurpose flour
- pinch of salt
- 60 g/2 1/2 floz chilled diced butter
- 1 tbsp water
- Make the pastry by rubbing the chilled butter into the dry ingredients to form a breadcrumb like mixture.
- Add enough water to form a dough and wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.
- Grill the pepper until skin blisters, pop into a plastic bag till cool and remove the skin. Cut the flesh into thin strips and set aside.
- Scrub mussels and remove beards.
- Preheat oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5 and lightly grease tart tins
- Roll out the pastry to 2-3mm thick and using a fluter cutter create circles to fit the tart tins, about 5cm in size. Pop them into the tins and prick all over with a fork. Fill with baking beans and bake blind for 8 minutes.
- Remove from oven and take out the beans. Put them back into the oven for a further 4 minutes or until the tart shells are lightly golden.
- Reduce the oven temperature now to 180C/350F/Gas 4
- Heat the oil in a pan and cook the leek for about 10 minutes until soft and begining to brown.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- In a large pan bring 2.5cm/1" of water to a boil and add 2 tsp of salt, now toss in the mussels and cover the pan. Cook on high for 4 minutes.
- Discard any mussels that have not opened and scoop out the mussel meat from the good ones.
- Beat the egg and cream together and add to the cooked leeks.
- Put a spoonful of the leek mixture on to eact tart case, top with a mussel or two (depending on size) and a criss cross of the yellow pepper.
- Beake for 15 minutes or until just firm.
- Garnish with parsley
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