Last Night’s Dinner: Cheese and onion flan with tomato salad

Monday 22 August

I don’t know anyone who remembers school dinners with much fondness. I certainly don’t. I stopped having them as soon as I could and took packed lunches instead, then dinner money to spend down ‘the street’ where there was a bakers that did a nice old-fashioned cheese sandwich.

One thing I did like at school though was the sizzling hot trays of cheese flan, or cheese and onion flan, or cheese and tomato flan (it was a long time ago). Even in sixth form some of us used to nick into the refectory for a slice. It was so savoury and delicious.

I say flan ā€“ and I think I mean it. It wasn’t at all elegant, so ‘tarte’ is definitely wrong. And it wasn’t a quiche. In my mind, a quiche is light, the egg ‘custard’ fluffy and pale. You might eat quiche cold.

But a flan… a flan is unpretentious. There’s no milk added to the egg mixture, it’s not overly whisked, it’s just a plain old simple open pie. That’s what I set out to make, stuffing the pastry case with (in this instance) onion, tomato, eggs and cheese to approximate that old school dinner.

I bought the pastry for this one, rolled it out and flopped it into a 10-inch flan tin. Blind bake the pastry for around 15-20 minutes at 190/200 degrees (ie, cover it and weigh it down so it doesn’t rise, and cook until the pastry is just golden and not raw/soggy anymore). Finely chop and fry an onion. Spread that across the cooked base of the pastry case. Halve four medium tomatoes, take out the pips and finely chop the remaining flesh. Scatter that into the flan base too. Then, beat five eggs in a bowl, add some pepper and grate a fair amount of strong cheddar cheese into the bowl. It should be a cheesy-looking egg mixture, rather than simply beaten eggs with a spoonful of cheese.

Pour the mixture into the pastry case and spread evenly. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes on no more than 140 degrees ā€“ the lower temperature means the eggs will set without the pastry starting to burn (hopefully). When the egg/cheese mixture looks set, take the flan from the oven, grate some more cheese over the top and place a few thin slices of tomato across the top too. Put it back in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

It’s nice to serve this with new potatoes and a green salad, but on this occasion we had a beautiful punnet of mixed tomatoes that came in reds, oranges, yellows and purples, as well as regular tomato and ‘pear’ shapes. Gorgeous. Halve the tomatoes, place in a bowl, season with a little salt and pepper, add a dash of sherry vinegar and a splash of olive oil, mix well and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

Job done.

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