One of the other Durham student standards was lunch at Hollathan's: any pizza or pasta for about £4 on weekday lunchtimes. This is where I learnt of Laura's penchant for spinach and ricotta, as that was the pizza she invariably chose.
So, skip forward a few years, and Laura is celebrating her birthday with a picnic and Pimm's in Regent's Park. What should I take? Obviously, it has to be something that the birthday girl will like, and that will travel well. Tarts and flans and quiches are perfect for sharing on a rug, and if left in their tin can survive a fair amount of shaking and jiggling around during the journey. The answer is plain: all Laura's favourites, in a tart. Here then, is what I did, and I have to say, I think it worked out really rather well...
For a 23cm tart:
Make the pastry case. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Cook the salmon: place on a microwaveable plate or dish and cover with clingfilm. Microwave on high for 2 and a half minutes (this was enough in our 800W model). Leave for two minutes as it will continue to cook. Cut into the middle of the thickest piece to see if it is cooked through (it really doesn't matter in this case if you make it look a bit of a mess as you're going to flake it into a tart anyway). If the centre still looks rather translucent, zap for another minute. Leave whilst you get on with the rest of the filling.
Finely chop the spring onions. Melt the butter then add the onions. Sweat over a low heat, stirring occasionally until they are softening but not colouring. Meanwhile, rinse your spinach if you think it necessary and shake off any excess water. If you have full sized leaves, chop them very roughly (for baby spinach this isn't necessary). Add to the pan with the onions, cover and turn up the heat. Steam for about 4 or 5 minutes, until the leaves have wilted and are gorgeously deep green. Remove from the heat, empty into a sieve and press to remove as much liquid as possible.
Beat the egg and egg yolk with a fork. Add the milk, ricotta, a light grating of nutmeg and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper and beat again to combine.
Spread the drained spinach over the base of the pastry case. Break up the fish into chunky flakes and distribute evenly. Gently mix around a bit, being careful not to damage the pastry. Pour over the ricotta mixture. Using a fork, rough the filling up a bit to encourage the cheese mixture to seep down through the solid ingredients and the whole lot to meld together.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. When the top is starting to look set, sprinkle the pinenuts over the top, then continue baking until it is golden, about another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. You could eat this still warm, but it was excellent cold, alongside a bit of salad and a glass of champagne.
Happy Birthday, Laura!