Starters

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Eierstichsuppe

What you’ll need

1l of stout vegetable or bone broth, 2 eggs, 1.5dl whole milk, salt, muscat, butter

How to cook it

Whisk the eggs until creamy and light. Add milk, a pinch of salt and a whiff of grated muscat and mix well. Butter a tea cup, add the mixture and cover with tin foil, be careful to meticulously press the rim so that the cup is hermetically closed. Place the cup in a pan of water so that about two thirds are submerged and bring to the point of gently boiling. Cook for about 40 minutes. Detach the rim with a knife and topple the Eierstich out of the cup.

How to enjoy it

Cut the Eierstich into little cubes, place in a large soup bowl and pour the boiling broth over. You may or may not add some chopped chives. Serve with a silver ladle and enjoy with a glass of chardonnay.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I’m sure grandmother would have granted her approval. Chicken feed refined.

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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. 

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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): 

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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 

1 leek 

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

Salt

Xerez vinegar

4-6 eggs

Pepper

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! 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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! 

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