Dinner with Downton Abbey

Camembert, Sweet Onion & Spinach Tart

It’s not every day that a woman receives a castle for Christmas, but indeed that is just exactly what happened to Ms. Jeannie last December. That’s right dear readers, a castle! It might as well have been a box full of magic that’s how excited Ms. Jeannie was with her gift!

Downton Abbey Christmas Ornament

Gold, glittery and delicate, Ms. Jeannie hung her magical manor house on a nail above her kitchen doorframe, where it remains year–round as a symbol for whimsy, wonder and unexpected surprises. Passing underneath it every day, she is inspired by the stories it symbolizes and by the possibilities of passion. Without Julian Fellowes interest in history and his love of storytelling we would have never known Downton Abbey and in turn we would have never known this blog post.

the cast of downton abbey

This week Ms. Jeannie is featuring a twist on a recipe from the 2014 coffee table book, A Year In the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (Julian’s niece!). This is one of several Downton Abbey coffee table books that has been released throughout the series, but by far this is Ms. Jeannie’s favorite. It breaks down Season 5 specifically month by month as far as story lines and contains a lot of behind the scenes info on costumes, hair and makeup and cast/crew interviews. It also contains recipes of the types of fare that the Crawley family would have enjoyed with each passing season.

A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

On page 132 in the middle of the month of May, you’ll find this elegant recipe…

Asparagus Tart - Downton Abbey style!

tucked amidst the stories swirling around Rose’s coming out season. Her presentation at Court signifies her debutante status for the season, and the chapter is filled with the proper attire, mannerisms and preoccupations that such a lady would have experienced during this exciting time in the mid-1920’s. In all its behind-the-scenes glory, the chapter is also filled with the challenges the crew faced in filming the stand-in location for Buckingham Palace (which was actually Lancaster House in London) and the massive undertaking of outfitting and making up the large ensemble cast of extras at the debutante ball.

Rose as a debutante!

While the scenes in the book (and on film!) were quite elaborate for the month of May, the recipe was quite simple… Asparagus Tart. Ideal in the eating seasonably chart, asparagus is at its peek of flavor in late Spring and can be enjoyed in any dish ranging from breakfast to dinner. It is also party perfect because of its straight-lined style and a lovely way of being quite adaptable to artistic displays of culinary wonder.

There was only one slight problem with all this.  After discovering the recipe,  Ms. Jeannie had just returned from market with a basketful of two other shooting stars of the spring season – sweet onions and spinach and sadly, no asparagus. So she improvised, playing a little game of surprise with Mrs. Patmore. By switching out some ingredients for others but retaining the same tart crust and the same measurements of additional ingredients, Ms. Jeannie made a similar tart that would have served all party-goers just as well during the season. This is what she made…

Simple Ingrediants for a simple spring tart

Spinach, Sweet Onion & Camembert Tart

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

Salt and Pepper to taste

5 tablespoons butter

1/4th cup ice water

A handful of fresh spinach

½ of a large sweet onion, very thinly sliced

4 eggs

1 1/4th cups organic vanilla soy milk (or light cream if you prefer)

4 tablespoons of chopped Camembert cheese

One pinch of nutmeg

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sift the flour in a mixing bowl with a large pinch of salt. Cut up the butter in small chunks and incorporate it into the flour until you get a crumb-like texture. Add the ice water and mix together with your hands until you can form a ball of dough.
  3. Dust your workspace with flour and roll dough out in all directions so that it becomes large enough to fill an 8”inch tart pan. Place the dough in the pan, trim the extra edges with a knife and prick the dough all over with a fork. Insert baking beans into the tart shell and place in oven for 20 minutes. If you don’t have baking beans, which help weight down the dough and keep it from puffing up, you can place a pan on top of the dough – just make sure that the pan is oven friendly and fits the entire inside dimension of the tart.
  4. While the crust is baking, rinse the spinach and thinly slice the onions (so thin that they are almost transparent!). Set both ingredients aside.
  5. In a bowl beat together the eggs, milk and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  6. Remove the tart crust from the oven. Remove the baking beans or the weighted pan and return the tart crust back to the oven for 5 more minutes.
  7. Remove the tart crust from the oven and fill it with the egg mixture until it is about ¾ full. You might have extra egg left over. Evenly sprinkle the cheese in the egg mixture. Gently float the onions in a circular pattern on top of the eggs and cheese. Then add the spinach on top of the onions in the same circular fashion. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes checking often to make sure that the tart is not bubbling over or browning too quickly. Serve immediately right out of the oven!

Camembert, Sweet Onion and Spinach Tart

Depending on the time of day that you enjoy this tart, additional accompaniments that would work great alongside it include:  a mixed fruit/berry sampler or a vegetable salad, potato pancakes, buttered rolls with jam compote, a juice smoothie or sliced chicken for a more protein packed affair. Or just embrace your inner purist and serve it as is!

Just like the pretty presentation of Rose’s debut, this tart also makes perfectly wonderful party food for modern day May. Whether you are surprising Mom with brunch on Mother’s Day, hosting a bridal shower for your best friend or just getting together for an informal event, this recipe promises easy and effortless entertaining.

Camembert, Sweet Onion and Spinach Tart

*If you’d like to make the asparagus version simply omit the spinach, onion and camembert and replace them with 8-10 stalks of asparagus, 4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.

Cheers and happy Downton daydreaming!

Downton Abbey Christmas ornament

And as a final side note: new items were added to the shop last week all with an “F’ theme: french books, fire hoses and florals! Stop by for a peek!

Clockwise from top left:
Clockwise from top left: Vintage rubber lined fire hose fabric, 1960s French mystery novel, Le Juane Chien by Georges Simenon, Vintage fire hose coupling, Vintage 1970′ s French theater book, L’Avant-Grde Theatrale, Collection of six vintage fire hose couplings, Vintage Fire hose fabric, 1950s botanical Azalea flower bookplate, 1960’s French phrase book