Noix de Saint Jacques Sauce Orangée sur Lit de FenouilleNoix de Saint Jacques Sauce Orangée sur Lit de Fenouille, scallops with orange sauce sleeping on a bed of fennel. Sounds rather fancy, in reality it’s quite easy to make. And a corker if you’re into scallops like me. Orange season has begun here in France, and the first bright baubles have made their way from Corsica to our little corner. They smell of sun and alluring gardens, a swirl of the South wafting into my Christmassy kitchen.
What you’ll need
- Fat fresh scallops
- Fennel, cut in thin slices
- Sunflower seed oil
- The tiniest sip of dry white wine
- Clam juice
- Half an orange
- A large spoon of fresh icy cold butter
- Fleur de sel
- White pepper, ground
How to cook itBring water to boil in a wide pan, add the fennel, immediately take off the heat and let sit for five minutes, then strain and arrange on the plates. Put the plates in a warm spot. Cut the corail, the pink thing off the scallop, chop it into tiny morsels and set aside. In a good frying pan (I use copper usually), heat a drizzle of oil and throw in the scallops, reduce to medium temperature. Fry golden one minute each side, season with fleur de sel and pepper and arrange on the plates. Then put the chopped corail into frying pan and deglaze with white wine and add a generous drizzle of clam juice, reduce for a minute and add the juice of half the orange. Let bubble for another minute and take off the heat, then stir in the butter. Continue stirring for about three minutes until you obtain a creamy emulsion. Season if necessary and drizzle over the scallops. Decorate with grated orange peel and fennel leaves.
How to eat itA blanc de blanc millésimé, with scallops, that would be a classic.
Onion Soup on a Rainy DayRich, creamy and comforting, that’s exactly what I need now. It has been awfully cold out here, overcast days that make one sleepy, thin foggy rain pouring from all directions including bottom up. We play bistrot today, pretending we just ended up in a small French town, hungry and weary, and happily sitting down in a corner at a small table, waiters rushing busily back and forth and a loud chatter of voices, a little crowded and very warm and comfortable. Just the way we remember from the times before our lives have been restricted, when we stopped in a town up north for a night at the opera.
What you’ll need
- One big onion
- A large spoonful of flour
- A large spoonful of fresh butter
- A sip of dry white wine
- 4dl fresh milk
- 1dl fresh cream
- Grated nutmeg
- Sea salt
- White pepper, ground
- Grated cheese, gruyere or conté
- Slices of fresh bread
How to cook itPreheat the oven with the grill function at maximum temperature. Chop the onion into thin slices and brown with the flour in butter at low temperature. Deglaze with a tiny sip of white whine and reduce for one minute. Add milk, cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg and bring on the heat until it cooks. In soup bowls, place a slice of bread at the bottom and generously sprinkle with cheese. Add the soup and place another slice of bread on the top that you generously sprinkle with grated cheese. Grill for 5minutes, serve immediately.
How to eat itHot and steaming and a glass of vin jaune or, if not available sherry, does capitally on a bleak day.
Saumonette FeuilletéeIn fact I had planned on giving you the recipe of my Fameuse Pintade à la Marengo, but then it’s the year of plans overthrown, hence, today it shall be a Saumonette Feuilletée for you*. A very delicate fish, wonderfully buttery, which needs to come absolutely fresh. In case you won’t have one at hand, any other type of fleshy white fish will work too though.
What you’ll need
- One packet (300g) of very good puff pastry
- One saumonette
- 300g of fresh ricotta
- 3 midsized Swiss chard leaves
- Half a lemon
- Half a handful of tarragon leaves
- Pink peppercorns, ground
- Fleur de sel
How to cook it
Cut the green leaves from the Swiss chard and set them aside. Finely chop the stems and in a separate bowl mix them with the ricotta, the salt and pink pepper, the chopped tarragon and the juice of half the lemon. If you have a good organic lemon, grate the zest too. Roll out the puff pastry dough so as to fit and wrap the saumonette.
Lay the Swiss chard leaves on the dough and add half the bowl of the ricotta mixture. Put the saumonette on top and add the rest of the ricotta.
Preheat the oven to 200°C with fan.
Then cut the dough into parallel stripes, so as to be able to braid it over the saumonette.
Wrap one ending and form into a fish tail. Tuck in the remaining dough at the other ending to form the head. Brush with egg yolk and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180° and finish baking for another 15 minutes.
How to eat it
Dress on a nice fish plate and serve warm as a starter or as a light main for a summer déjeuner in the garden.
* Now I really made that Fameuse Pintade à la Marengo for the 14 Juillet but then we ate it before I could take any photographs.
We kids really loved Flädlisuppe because Flädlisuppe involved Omelette for dessert. Swiss Omelette. An Omelette is something between a French crèpe and an American pancake in terms of texture, a typically Swiss compromise one could say.
The Flädlisuppe consists of a thinly sliced Swiss Omelette which we call Flädli, chopped chives and clear broth. And because there’s no use in making just one Omelette for a Flädlisuppe you might very well make a high pile and stash them in the oven for dessert. With sugar and cinnamon. And apple compote.
What you’ll need:
150g flour (T80 or lower), 1 egg, 3dl milk or water-and-milk, a pinch of salt, oil for frying (I normally use sunflower seed for this purpose), 1 litre of stout bone or vegetable broth.
How to cook it:
Mix all ingredients until you obtain a liquid dough. Let sit for about an hour. In a wide frying pan heat a generous drizzle of oil. As soon as the fat is hot, pour a dollop of dough and move the pan in order to have it running flat. Fry at medium temperature until the omelette comes off. Turn and fry the bottom too.
Cut into thin slices, arrange on a soup plate and pour hot broth over it. Garnish with freshly cut chives.
How to enjoy it:
This is a simple soup, no chichi, so why not with a glass of fresh Muscadet.
Eating Colours: Red Cabbage Velouté
There he is, rotten muddy wet and a chill as freezes you thorough and thoroughly, damp and moody, November at its finest.
Bags of rain passing in front of the window, the crows cawing in the big bare oak trees, the sun a tired cold disc behind the low hanging clouds, rolling flatly along the hills and making an effort not to fall asleep. Or even worse, fall down. It isn’t easy to stay warm these days, the kettle is set on the stove, as a cup of very hot tea is the best remedy, hibiscus flowers are my favourites of the moment.
I have lighted candles inside the house, even at daytime, and put up some music to jerk myself into action in this most sedentary of all months. Eating colours, drinking colours, this is what I do to brave the grey outside, rich and cheerful colours, this is what I am about, hibiscus tea and a fantastic purple red cabbage velouté with marrons glacés, glazed chestnuts on a crunchy cheese grid.
For the red cabbage velouté:
Take half a red cabbage and finely slice it, taking care to cut off the core and the rough white parts that taste too bitter. Glaze with a dash of sunflower seed oil at medium heat in a wide pan. When you feel the cabbage soften, grate one or two apples into the pan, depending on the size of your cabbage. Gently stir. Then grate one potato into the pan, this will help you to get a velvety fluffy texture later. Deglaze with 3dl of stout vegetable broth and gently let it simmer for an hour at low temperature. You may add a spicy note by filling juniper berries, peppercorns and bay leaves in a tea infuser and let it soak in the red cabbage.
For the cheese grid:
Whisk two eggs until creamy and shiny. Add a dash of muscat, a pinch of fleur de sel and about 100g of strong cheese. Stir well, then add four spoons of rye flour and mix. Let the dough sit at room temperature for twenty minutes. Preheat the oven to 220°C.
For the marrons glacés:
Meanwhile, in a smaller pan, cook two to three chestnuts per person for about 35 minutes. Peel the chestnus while they’re still warm and be careful to remove all brown parts. Put them back into the pan with half a teaspoonful of white sugar per chestnut and a little water and bring to cook, reduce the temperature so that the sugar sauce is just happily bubbling. The water will slowly evaporate, the chestnuts caramelise. Be careful to add some water and reduce cooking temperature should the caramel get too sticky. Set aside as soon as finished.
Now back to the cheese grids. Put some parchment paper on a baking tray and form grids a little larger than the soup bowl you intend to use. I found it easiest to work with a piping spout (if you don’t have one readily available, you may use parchment paper rolled like a funnel). Bake for ten minutes.
When the cabbage is cooked soft and mellow, take out the tea infuser and blend. Add a sip of calvados and season to your taste. Let it sit for a couple of minutes.
Serve with the cheese grid and the marrons glacés.
Creatures from the Dark, Cepes on a Misty Afternoon
What strange creatures, dwelling in the dark of the earth, knitting vast palaces underneath the ground, drawing food from the soil, eating, weaving, thriving unseen even by the crawling worms. And with a noiseless sigh breathing themselves into existence only to withdraw back into the earth.They are everywhere, now, with the rain wetting their mucous beds, sprouting, well, like mushrooms. We haven’t even gone ourselves, for the cepes, they find their way to our kitchen through the hands of friends and strangers alike, and we are all equally startled by the sheer abundance these days. I dry some, only to enjoy the scent of roasted pine and sun kissed autumn leaves wafting through the house.
Outside the rain falls in silence, clouds hanging sluggish over the land, swallowing every attempt at colour, lulling our world in a seemingly aeonian twilight, the realm of fungus.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, we start cleaning the cepes from soil and dirt, gently brushing their fleshy stems. Cutting encrusted residues from their feet, scratching out the bits eaten by forest creatures, removing the mossy foam under their hats. Cutting, chopping, opening a bottle of mature pinot as we’re halfway through. The afternoon slyly steals away and leaves a mucky void of darkness behind, lurking along the river, clambering the many trodden steps from the garden up to our house, moping at the balcony doors, begging to be let in.
We light candles instead and start cooking, à l’improviste.
First a little tartine as a starter:
Take a good handful of cepes foam, chop and fry in fresh butter, very slowly. The foam will melt while frying, just keep on turning occasionally, and gently brown from all sides. Add a little grated garlic, season with parsley, fleur de sel and a whiff of pepper. Form two galettes the size of the tartine and fry crispy on both sides.
Roast two slices of old rye bread, serve with the cepe galette.
Then a little cepe sandwich to continue:
Preheat the oven to 220° Celsius, no fan.
Cut a big cepe into four slices, coat generously with olive oil and lay out on your baking tray. Given the cepes are roasted at a considerably high temperature, you may add herbs thereby gently smoking the cepes. I used some mugwort stems, very appropriate for this time of the year, I think.
Bake for about 15 minutes in the top section of your oven, check occasionally on your cepes, as the baking time will considerably depend on their size.Meanwhile fry two slices of bacon or, for vegetarians, an egg.
Season the cepes with fleur de sel and a whiff of pepper when roasted and dress them on a plate, a slice of cepe, a slice of fried bacon (or egg, alternatively), a slice of cepe etc.
The Last Days of Summer and a Couronne de Tomate
Oh but these endless days of an endless summer… Stretching like a till paper roll into infinity, all that white space to be filled with the most daring adventures, the most enticing encounters, the sweetest of memories. Or so.
That’s how I decided to view things now what with the month of August drawing to a close, alas with a dainty nod towards likewise gloriously endless days of an endless autumn. For time is not a thing but a measure of things, as I recently learned.
Therefore, I spend these last endless days of this endless summer soaking in every ray of the glowing August sun, swimming in the river and, of course, cooking. Cooking summery things. Like this absolutely superb couronne de tomate based on a recipe I came across in the late George Sand’s recipe collection. A delightful entrée for a light summer lunch, all fluffy and ethereal, yet wonderfully rich in taste.
To start with, I cooked a rich thick tomato sauce the other night. With lots of onions and white wine and garden tomatoes. Some herbs, celery and a potato to take away the acidity. You may or may not put a little temper into the sauce by adding a little red pepper. Or Hungarian gulasch paprika powder.
The next day I started on the couronne by preparing a thick sauce béchamel:
Melt two nut sized pieces of butter in a pan and heat 2dl of milk in a separate pan. Stir two generous spoonfuls of fine flour (the finer the fluffier the couronne will become – I took T45 wheat flour here) into the molten butter, and add the warm milk while vigorously whipping the mass until it sets. Take away from the heat immediately. Add salt and a pinch of grated muscat.
The couronne will be cooked in the oven in a bain barie, which means a pot in a pot of water. I used a tin casserole big enough to keep swimming the savarin mould I wanted to use to this purpose. Fill the casserole about two-third with water, put it into your oven and pre-heat to about 170°C.
Stir four egg yolks and four spoonfuls of tomato sauce into the béchamel. The mass should be thick and creamy. If you think it’s too liquid, just add another cloud of flour. Then whip the whites. Whip them white until the mass could be used to be towered up on your head like poor late Marie Antoinette’s hair. Carefully fold under the enriched béchamel (working with care here will help the couronne to rise in the oven, so don’t crush the happy egg white bubbles).
The tricky thing actually about this recipe is to get the couronne out of the savarin mould after baking. Therefore, butter your mould as generously as possible, and flour it well powdered before pouring the mass into the mould. Cover with tin foil.
Bake in the bain marie for one hour. Letting it cool for about 15 minutes may facilitate the couronne getting properly out of the mould. Serve with warm tomato sauce and fresh basil.
Nouilles à la George
We finally have fixed the workshop dates for 2020, adding two theme workshops to the existing line up! Like this year’s workshops, it’s going to be all about great food and great wine and great company, a little Italy, a bit of France, and some Swissness to round it all up. Please go to the workshop tab for the details, we’re thrilled to hear what you think of the programme!
Now halfway through the 2019 season, we have been pondering over what we would like to give our workshop guests, what it is we’d really like to share with you. And how to do things right, eventually.
And this is what we’ve come up with:
There are people who do things well, in general. And there are people, who do things less well, in general. And exceptionally, there are those people to take things a tiny notch higher, a tiny bit to the extreme. While doing things extremely less well perhaps is not exactly desirable but alas to be counted amongst the very encumbrances of life (and an occasional Zen exercise), doing things extremely well in turn means sending the average receptive individual straight into that state commonly referred to as paradisiacal. So, my friends, as to this rough lump of kitchen wisdom, let me give you a proper example. This is: you can do pasta well and you can do pasta less well. And then, you can do pasta with cognac. What a lark is this! What a subtle mind it takes, what heavenly graceful inspiration to add a sip of cognac to make that noodle dough smooth and puffy. But let’s take one step after another.
The twist goes back to a recipe book of George Sand, you know, the French lady writer who hosted the entire Paris avantgarde of the early 19th century in her beautiful French country house. She had a thing for the cuisine, apparently, and a penchant for epicurean feasts contrasting her otherwise sober and rather modest approach towards living. Perhaps that’s the exact amount of perplexity required to make a person a really interesting human being.
The thing is rather simple, and this is how it goes:
Take one egg on about a good 100g of flour. This will yield a nice portion for two persons, or about four sides. Instead of water, add a sip of cognac before mixing and kneading. A sip of cognac is the quantity that an average grown up may gulp down in two gulps without making them awkward in the head. Or 2-4cl, if measured. The liquid-flour relation is perfect when your dough is silky and soft. Form three portions and let them sleep for at least four hours. Then knead again, roll out and evenly cut noodles according to your purpose. Cook for 7 minutes.
We’ve had ours with scallops fried in olive oil and parsley. And a lady squeeze of lemon before serving. A perfect summer evening treat. And the way to do pasta henceforward.
Fête de Saint Jean and Trout façon PoissonchatI have almost missed it, the summer solstice, or the fête de Saint Jean, as it is called here. It all went a little fast, spring, a bit of travelling, peonies blooming. Only when we lighted our own out-of-doors-cooking-wild-fire-because-finally-it’s-not-raining I realised that half the year is past. It seems though we had done the right thing by instinct, for that’s what one’s supposed to do when the year turns, burn what’s no longer needed, and welcome the new episode with a boum.
For those of you who already are familiar with my blog, you may know well how smitten I am with my wood fired stove (aka the beast) that sits in the monstrous fireplace in my French kitchen. However, with summer temperatures being well over 30° C these days, the beast is having a rest. After all, the kitchen is the coolest room in the house, I rather not turn it into a furnace. Instead, we simply move the whole ménage outside, down to the river Saône’s banks, where the waters’ chill pleasantly stirs the stifling heavy late afternoon air. We start with an apéro of crispy millefeuille with goat cheese and a nice glass of white wine, followed by some fried gnocchi de semoule with a ricotta and nettle filling.
The sun is setting, and meanwhile, the fire has done its magic spitting out a bunch of fiery blazing coals, just the thing we need. I had cured a pink trout fillet the other day, with a clin d’oeuil to nordic ways of preserving salmon and other fish. It’s rather easy, though a little messy. Which is the fun part, if you ask me. The basic recipe for a truite façon Poissonchat is as follows:
- 1 fresh pink trout or salmon fillet with skin. The ones I use usually are around 500g. Ensure the fish is appropriately scaled and deboned and rinse the fillet in cold water before processing.
- 100g of honey
- 50g of sea salt
- A couple of juniper berries
- A couple of pink pepper berries
- 1 dl of Mirabelle eau de vie or any other strong alcohol you think will go well with the fish
- A generous hand full of fresh dill
Place the trout fillet on top of the mass, with the skin down. You may scoop some of the mass on the fish, depending on how strong you wish the cure to be. Put the dill on the fillet and cover everything well. I use plastic foil for this purpose, not yet having found any ecological substitute that works. Put it into the fridge and let it soak for at least 12h. Generally, the longer it soaks the stronger its taste, however, I wouldn’t recommend to leave it for more than 48h. You may feel the skin starting to get a typical leathery texture. Rinse it well under fresh running water. Dry it for a few hours in a dark and cool place. The trout now keeps a few days in the fridge, you may serve it for example with grilled bread, crème fraîche and a squeeze of lemon. For the fête de Saint Jean, however, we had decided to take the process a little further by a hint of smoke and fire. To this end, the cured trout is nailed on a wooden board and placed near the open fire. For the actual smoking, we use a bunch of old dried herbs no longer needed now that the garden provides an abundance of fresh ones. Juniper twigs, some dried oregano and fennel leaves in particular. Note that the fish shouldn’t cook but only gently be enveloped in the fumes of the smoking herbs. For our purposes, we smoke the trout about as long it takes to grill a batch of sliced eggplant and zucchini, rubbed with olive oil that I perfumed with fresh herbs for three days, as well as some fresh violet onions along. Serve with a warm olive oil and lemon emulsion. Oh and for dessert we have tiramisu. With armagnac. Heavenly. The recipe will follow!
Where I Come From
Where I come from, the sky is a vast stage for clouds devising mad plays with light. It’s a theatre for giants, the steep rocks of the mountains lining the valley. Imitating the frills and laces of the ladies’ dresses. You can tell the weather by its holes, by the way.
Where I come from, there is a singular dish. It’s said to be had only in the Rhine valley. Made from ground maize, very similar to Italian polenta, but not the same. Ribel we call it (or chicken feed, as my grandmother would say). Türggeribel. Turkish corn. Maize flour cooked for hours on end with milk and water, in an immense cauldron over the fire. Food for the poor it was. Almost lost in oblivion when the post war boom hit even our back then still very rural plains. Neglected patrimony when people endeavoured to seem well off, scorning the past, eagerly embracing progress and toast Hawaii.
I went to France for the unkempt landscapes of my past. To rediscover the particular mood of cultivated land seemingly untouched by the iron grip of optimisation and efficiency. I sought simplicity and quiet. And stumbled across Ribel in my new home. In a casual chat with the former village teacher. Gaudes, they call the ground maize in their local French patois. Or blé Turc, Turkish corn. It’s said to be had only in the Franche-Comté. Cooked for hours on end with milk and water, in an immense cauldron over the fire. A silky thread linking my origin to my chosen place of home. Defying me to pay it attention, transforming it into a (decent) dish, bearing in mind my grandmother’s somewhat accurate verdict. A dish that flatters the palate instead of making you choke on a seeming handful of sand. I relied on the well established risotto principle, using the bramata version of Ribel, which is of a bigger grain, less sandy. It worked out remarkably well, even earning me a surprised nod by my mother.And this is how it goes:
Pour a generous puddle of sunflower seed oil into a large, wide pan, add 1-2 cloves of garlic and a laurel leave. Heat up slowly, you would not want to burn either of the ingredients. Pour a good handful of grossly ground maize per person and glaze gently for a couple of minutes and then add a sip off white wine. Enjoy the hiss and the steam. Throw in a piece of (very) old cheese rind if available, it will add flavour and savour. Cook and stir, clockwise, adding an occasional scoop of vegetable stock (homemade, I say you owe this to yourself), keeping the grains covered and nonchalantly simmering. It is the risotto principle, meaning that this isn’t a dish that tolerates negligence (or showing off your fabulous multitasking skills). It calls for your steady attention. Meditation in the steaming copper pan will do just perfectly. Thing with the Ribel bramata is that theoretically you can cook it forever, it won’t go over the point of being al dente. I find this very practical when we are having guests. Generally, it’s done after about 30 mins of cooking.
When the grains are cooked, add a helping of cream and some grated stout aged cheese. I took a Methusalem of a sheep cheese for the purpose. A nut of butter and cover and let it rest for a couple of minutes. You may have to taste whether it needs another bit of salt, depending on the seasoning of your stock.
Now top it with whatever your heart desires. I fancied some cooked chiccorino rosso and blue cheese. A dash of fiery black pepper. There you go.
I’m sure grandmother would have granted her approval. Chicken feed refined.
January Comfort Food
Warm lentil salad. Comfort food. It’s January, dreariness raw wind and heavy clouds. The cold sneaks into your bones, it’s hard to shake it off your skin. Incredibly short days, the world seen through a sleepy foggy filter. January calls for some food remedy, an easy one, no exaggeration, simplicity instead. This is a fairly plain recipe but take your time nevertheless, don’t rush things. Winter food is of a slow cooking type.
In line with my philosophy, I use a local variety for the salad, called lentilles des Vosges. Green, flat and savoury. But any other variety should do too, feel free to make your choice. I like the green lentilles des Vosges for their buttery taste but after all because I usually get them from the decidedly most charming Fromager, the cheese maker, in the county. Sure he makes excellent cheese and sure he has a range of best quality products from the surrounding farms in stock. But to be honest, he is just such a flattering man, I can’t help it, I always feel a bit elated and very buttered up when I leave his little shop. To put my senses straight, I grab some carrots, leek and eggs from the farmer’s on my way home. That’s almost all the ingredients you will need to prepare a lentil salad for about four to six persons (depending on whether you’ll serve the salad as a starter or as a main course):
2 Picardie glasses of lentils (the organic green lentilles des Vosges usually need a little sorting out before put to use. A bit like Cinderella. So not to risk any broken teeth.)
1-2 nice carrots
A bit of oil (sunflower seed is a good choice because it stands the heat)
3 Picardie glasses of red wine (I like to cook with red in winter, while in summer I’d rather use white, as it’s lighter.)
3 Picardie glasses of water
Herbs to your taste (laurel, thyme and sage, and anything else your heart is telling you)
A bit of chilli
A few parsley leaves for the finish
Cut leek and carrots à la paysanne (meaning small little carrot cubes and finely sliced leek). Fry them 2-3 minutes in oil, medium heat only. We want them glazed and not burnt. Add the lentils and fry another 2-3 minutes, so that they shine and sparkle. Increase the heat in the last minute and add the liquids, wine and water, a noisy hiss and steam is capital!
Add some herbs of your preference. I always use 1-2 laurel leaves, a twig of thyme and 4-6 leaves of sage: Laurel to keep you strong and healthy, thyme to make your tread light and feathery, sage to make you speak wisely and truthfully. And a little chilli to make your heart beat warm in your chest. I leave it up to you how much you’ll need. I usually use half a chilli and add more in the end in case it’s not enough. And salt.
Cook it over low fire, covered, for a good hour at least. Stir occasionally, breathe the steam, smell. Taste. The lentils are done whenever they feel soft and buttery on your tongue. Season with Xerez vinegar while still hot and let them cool gently in a quiet spot.
For the poached eggs, fill a large pan with water, add a little vinegar and bring it to boil, gently. The tricky bit: crack the first egg and slip it carefully into the softly boiling water. Don’t worry if it gets jellyfishy. You may wrap the egg white around the yolk with a large spoon. Crack the rest of the eggs with equal care. In order for the eggs not to stick to the pan or to each other, it is important that the pan really is large and wide enough. And that the water boils happily while not overflowing. Poach them for 1-2 minutes, so that the yolk is creamy and smooth.
Arrange the warm lentil salad on the plates with a poached egg on top each, a whiff of pepper and salt and a couple of grossly chopped parsley leaves. Serve with a light glass of white, an elegant Pouilly-Fuissé for example. Enjoy!