One French word: frais; a French recipe: Pâtes fraîches aux palourdes
Clams (palourdes in French)
We have just had exceptional tides here in the Finistère, together with storm winds, enormous waves and torrential rain. But when the tide is out, far out, the sands are dotted with people digging for shellfish. Palourdes are plentiful this week, and cheap for once, so I bought a few to spoil myself.
Examples: de la crème fraîche (fresh cream), du pain frais (fresh bread), une haleine fraîche (nice breath), des fruits frais (fresh fruit), des huîtres fraîches (fresh oysters). The noun is la fraîcheur (freshness), which can also be used of temperature: la fraîcheur du matin (the cool of the morning).
My recipe is simple and delicious, you just have to be able to get hold of palourdes or clams. You can quite well use dried pasta, just adjust cooking times, and it doesn’t have to be tagliatelle.
Ingredients for 4 people:
2 shallots (finely chopped)
1 heaped tbs salted butter
the outer leaves of a nice, fresh, green lettuce
a large glass of dry white wine (you can also use cider, I did)
2 tbs thick fresh cream
a handful of chopped green onion stems
1kg small clams (or palourdes if you can get them)
300gr fresh tagiatelle
salt and freshly ground black pepper
If you are not sure your clams are clean and sand free, place them in a bowl of cold water with a cup of vinegar for half an hour, they will spit their sand out. Drain. (Should you by any chance have harvested them yourself, you can leave them in a bucket of sea water overnight to get rid of their sand.)
Wash the lettuce leaves, roll up tightly, and cut into a chiffonnade, that is, very fine slices, excluding the stalks at the end.
Warm your dinner plates.
Put salted water on to boil for the pasta.
In a heavy bottomed pan, melt the butter and fry the shallot until transparent.
Add the glass of white wine, stir, bring to the boil and throw in the clams. Stir and put the lid on the pan. Lift the lid and stir occasionally so that the clams cook evenly. They should just open, if you cook them longer they will be tough and tasteless. This takes only a few minutes.
Put the pasta into the boiling water in the other pan. Bring back to the boil. Fresh pasta should only cook for a couple of minutes, watch it carefully so as not to overcook it.
Add the cream to the clam saucepan and some freshly ground black pepper, stir well, turn off the heat.
Drain the pasta.
Place a layer of chiffonnade on each serving plate, place pasta on top, leaving some lettuce showing (it adds colour and some nutrients), ladle clams on the top of the pasta, with a generous serving of juices. You can also, and I think this is more typically Italian, add the pasta to the clams and stir before serving, to coat the pasta with the juices.
One French Word: noisette, a French recipe: pommes au four, sablés aux noisettes
Another delicious autumn recipe, with apples and hazelnuts this time, quick to produce for unexpected guests, comforting as a family supper dessert.
You will see raisins among the ingredients. A little trick I use is to keep raisins, covered with alcohol, in a corked jar. It can be any sort of alcohol, rum, calvados, gin, vodka… The fruit soaks it up and will keep for a very long time this way. You can add a teaspoonful to fromage frais, baked apples, ice-cream, French toast… Just top up the jar with raisins and alcohol from time to time. If you have these in your cupboard, you can produce something quite a classy in no time.
Jar of raisins
The French language bit (quite a lot this week, if you just want the recipe, scroll down quickly!):
Noisette (feminine noun), une noisette, la noisette, des noisettes = a hazelnut, the hazelnut, hazelnuts.
-ette is the diminutive of a feminine noun, a little (feminine) something or other, as in une chevrette = a little goat (chèvre), une maisonette = a little house (maison), une poulette = a little hen (poule), from which we get pullet in English.
The masculine diminutive equivalent is -et or -elet, for example, un garçonnet = a little boy (garçon), un jardinet = a little garden (jardin), un porcelet = a piglet (porc). There are rules as to how to form the diminutive in the masculine, but this is the basic procedure.
There are of course other feminine and masculine forms of the diminutive, and as you will have noticed from the audio clip, the pronunciation differs between the original word and the diminutive.
Une noisette is often used for a hazelnut-sized quantity of something, typically une noisette de beurre = a little blob of butter (if a larger blob of butter is required, it reverts to une noix de beurre, a walnut-sized blob).
Not to be confused with beurre noisette, which is hazelnut-coloured butter, the colour butter goes when it has been ever-so-slightly burned. This is used in several French dishes, often with fish. The ones that come to mind are skate, scallops and sole (respectively de la raie, des coquilles st jacques and de la sole au beurre noisette). Skate used to be presented with black butter (de la raie au beurre noir), a classic French dish, but this was found to be unhealthy because of the blackened butter, so it lightened a shade to become noisette instead.
So noisette can also be used to denote a colour, as hazel in English. It is usually used to describe eye colour: des yeux noisette =hazel eyes. When used as an adjective, it is invariable, that is, one doesn’t add an s even if eyes are in the plural.
The recipe today is in fact two recipes, one for baked apples with hazelnut oil (des pommes au four à l’huile de noisette), and one for crumbly hazelnut biscuits (des sablés aux noisettes). The word sablé comes from sable = sand, and refers to the texture.
Butter a thick slice of brioche about 10cm square and place in the oven dish.
Put the apple on top of the brioche, fill with raisins, scatter a few raisins around the apple.
Put a knob of butter (somewhere between a noix and a noisette!) on top of the apple.
Sprinkle a little sugar (optional, but this will make a bit of caramel).
Cover the bottom of the oven dish with water to half way up the slice of brioche, that is, about 1/3 of a cm,1/8″) of water.
Pop it all in the oven for about 20 minutes.
Ingredients for the Sablés aux noisettes (this makes about 18 if you use up all the dough scraps):
110gr sugar (if you like sweeter biscuits, add up to 30gr, I have used the minimum)
1tbs hazelnut oil
150gr flour (I think you could use coconut flour if really you do not want to use wheat, but I have not tested this)
1/2 tsp raising agent (baking powder) if you are not using self-raising flour
125 gr powdered hazelnuts (if you can’t find this, just put the same weight of hazelnuts through the blender)
A pinch of salt
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
Melt the butter.
Beat the egg, salt and sugar vigourously until the sugar has fully absorbed the egg and is pale and frothy.
Add the flour, raising agent, salt and hazelnuts, mix well with a fork, and then add the melted butter and the hazelnut oil.
Knead by hand until a ball of pastry is formed. If your pastry is too buttery, add some flour until it is dryer. But it should be quite rich!
Flour a baking sheet or a silicone mat and press the ball out flat with your hand to a thickness of 1/2″. Flour the top of the pastry lightly so that it does not stick and cut rounds with a glass for instance, or a cookie cutter, ideally no more than 2″ across. I used a cocktail glass.
Pop into the oven for about 10 minutes. Watch them, they should go golden, not dark brown. You can do the biscuits in advance, or separately altogether, or the apples can be put in the oven at the same time, but they should cook for about 20 minutes.
Remove the biscuits from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
To serve: If the apples are not in individual serving dishes, scoop up an apple with its slice of brioche with a wide spatula, and place on a warmed dessert plate. If the water and sugar has made some caramel, spoon this over each apple. Pour a good teaspoonful of hazelnut oil over each apple before serving, accompanied by a hazelnut biscuit on the side. Place the rest of the biscuits on an easily accessible plate in the middle of the table.
There is no hurry to do this, the apples are very, very hot and a little bit dangerous to eat for ten minutes or so.
It is important not to cook the hazelnut oil with the apples. The flavour is much richer when it is raw. It is also fabulously good for your health. (You can use hazelnut oil as seasoning on salads and fish.)
Mmmm… though I say it myself… and I even made the brioche!
One French Word: gascon, a French recipe: Pastis gascon
This is the most spectacular apple tart you ever saw. Simple enough once you have practised a little; you will astonish everyone, even yourself. And there are apples galore this autumn thanks to our lovely summer.
But you must use filo pastry, nothing else (unless you are clever enough to make the real pastry they make, or used to make, in Gascony) to make this wonderful dessert.
I can’t remember where I found the recipe – I have been making it for years, but certainly didn’t invent it. All you need is filo pastry, butter, apples, sugar and ideally armagnac, since that comes from Gascony. I use calvados, apple alcohol from Normandy, because it enhances the apple flavour of the whole. Don’t skimp on the alcohol (but don’t drown the pastry either). The spirits will evaporate in the cooking, so even for children will no longer be noticeable, but the flavour will remain.
The French language bit:
gascon (m.), gasconne (f.), adjective = from Gascony (add an s to either in the plural, but never pronounce that s)
Gascon can also denote an inhabitant of Gascony, or someone who originated there, and also the language of the area. Gascony is actually an ancient region, the boundaries of which often changed. It occupies the farthest south-west corner of France, roughly from Bordeaux to Toulouse and everything south of there to the Pyrenees. It conjures up musketeers and bon vivants (people who eat and live well). It is a land of robust wines, armagnac, ducks and geese, and rugbymen.
The changing boundaries of Gascony (thank you Wikipedia)
Pastis means pie in Gascon (same as the Cornish pasty I should imagine).
Ingredients for 4 to 6 people in a 25cm tart dish
1 packet of filo pastry (Filo pastry is extremely fragile, it dries out really fast and is impossible to work with then as it starts to break up. If you have any left, re-wrap it quickly and freeze it.)
About 4-6 apples (I used golden delicious and a few a friend gave me, merci Christine). They must not “melt” in the cooking.
Sugar (about a small tsp per layer)
About 75grmelted butter (du beurre fondu)
Some armagnac or calvados (about a tsp per layer)
Building the layers
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Melt the butter.
Peel, core and quarter the apples.
Brush the tart dish with melted butter.
Open the pack of filo pastry and put two sheets into the bottom of the dish, at angles to each other (see photos). Brush with melted butter (even the pastry that overlaps the dish and is hanging outside). Work fast, so that the filo does not dry out.
Finely slice apples over the layer of pastry, to a depth of about 1/4″ (about one and a half apples). The finer the slices the further the apple goes and the quicker it cooks. Sprinkle with a little sugar, and about a tsp alcohol.
Start again, put two sheets of filo at right angles, brush liberally with melted butter, slice apples, sprinkle with sugar and alcohol.
And again (this is the third layer of pastry),brush with butter, add apples, sugar, alcohol.
Brush all the pastry hanging outside the dish with butter. Gather it up artistically, over the last layer of apple, and if you have any pastry left over, use one sheet to make a sort of “rose” in the middle. Brush again with melted butter to make sure the underside of the extraneous pastry and the central rose are covered.
Pop it into the oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, watching it closely. It should be golden all over, no uncooked, unbrowned patches of filo.
This tart should be served warm, but is also fine cold. But don’t put it in the fridge, it will go soggy and the butter will congeal. Don’t serve cream or ice cream for the same reason (soggy).
Ready for the oven
Out of the oven
Now tell me honestly, even though some of my photos are not brilliant, have you ever seen such an extraordinary apple tart?
One French Word: basquaise, a French recipe : poulet basquaise
Basquaise is a feminine adjective, pronounced bass-kezz and means “from the Pays Basque”.
In fact, it should be “à la basquaise“: chicken in the manner in which it is cooked in the Pays Basque. Like “à la bordelaise”is a dish as it is cooked in and around Bordeaux.
The Pays Basque is situated in the south western corner of France (Biarritz, Bayonne, St Jean de Luz) but also the north western corner of Spain. The Basque people are a cultural and linguistic entity, who have for a long time demanded their autonomy, with some force, from both Spain and France. But I won’t go into politics, it is not the vocation of this blog, and I’m hardly qualified.
“(A la) basquaise” denotes a dish cooked with green bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and piment d’Espelette. Green and red are traditional Basque colours. Basquaise does NOT include aubergine/eggplant or courgette/zucchini. That would be ratatouille,
something quite different.
Espelette is a village in the Pays Basque where this particular hot pepper is grown. In the autumn, you can see strings of peppers drying on south facing house fronts, before being ground into coarse, fragrant powder for sale. It is the only pepper which has an “appellation d’origine contrôlée” (AOC), which means that any pepper sold as “Espelette” must have been produced there, and only there. It is extremely fashionable at the moment, and rightly so, it is quite delicious and adds a distinctive flavour to any dish. It is easily found anywhere in France. Abroad I don’t know… if you can’t find it, use a pepper which is slightly hot, but very flavoursome. Not simple cayenne, something Mexican maybe?
When I was a very small child, I spent some time with my family on the outskirts of St Jean de Luz, a Basque fishing village, because my Father’s work had taken him there. I remember little, but have retained a love of Basque crockery and table linen, some of which has been handed down to me by my Mother, and which dates back to that time. It is the deep red and navy pattern you see so often in my photos. I have collected it over the years, and have far more than I really need! The only original pieces are four “raviers“ (hors d’oeuvre dishes, often oval) and a table cloth and napkins.
This dish was always a favourite with guests eating at my table d’hôte. It is not difficult to make, but requires fresh, high grade ingredients. Good quality chicken, ripe tomatoes and if possible “old variety” (I used tomates cornues, horned tomatoes, large, long pointed ones).
Ingredients for 2 people with good appetites, or 4 with smaller appetites:
2 chicken legs and thighs, separated at the joint, or 4 thigh pieces
One very large onion, roughly chopped
500gr tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
One large green bell pepper, cored and sliced into rings (or two if you are fond of bell pepper)
2 cloves of garlic, smashed with a cleaver
2tbs olive oil
1 level tsp piment d’Espelette
1/4 bottle of dry white wine
Rice to accompany
Basque colours – red and green
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan and fry the chicken pieces so that they are golden all over
Remove the chicken from the pan, and fry the onion, browning it slightly
Replace the chicken in the pan, together with the tomato, garlic, bell pepper, a tsp sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper and a tsp of piment d’Espelette. Do not stir.
Add the white wine, and as soon as it looks like boiling, turn down to a simmer.
After 10 minutes, put water on to boil for the rice, or start getting your rice cooker ready.
After 20 minutes, stir gently to mix the ingredients top to bottom to cook evenly. Put the rice on.
Cook for a further 20 minutes. Your rice should be ready. Make a bed of rice, and serve the chicken and the sauce on top of it.
The white wine makes a far finer sauce than chicken stock, water, or chicken cubes. But you cannot really identify the fact that it is white wine. So if you wish to drink red with the dish, you can do so perfectly well. Or the remainder of the bottle which you opened to cook with.
We are lucky in France to be able to buy really excellent fresh pasta. All sorts. I use mostly tagliatelle. I’ve tried making them myself, but it seems to be something I’m not really very good at. Maybe I’ll take myself off to Italy one of these days and do an intensive course with a wonderful Italian lady who makes it every day… Pasta is so versatile, you can always find the ingredients for one sauce or another, and even plain, with just a little olive oil, a squeeze of garlic and a few shavings of parmesan, it is always so satisfying.
The French grammar bit (rather a lot today, if you are not interested, scroll quickly down to the recipe!):
frit, adjective,frit (m), frite (f), frits (m.pl), frites (f.pl) = fried, pronounced free (for the masculine), freet (for the feminine), don’t pronounce the s
From the verb frire = to fry (je fris = I fry)
But also a feminine noun, une frite = a chip/French fry.
Pommes de terre frites (or simply pommes frites or frites) = chips/French fries (literally fried potatoes, but when they are not in the shape of chips/French fries, they are called pommes de terre sautées, slices or cubes for instance).
Steak frites (also written steack frites) = steak and chips/French fries, is the French national dish, the food most consumed in France, despite all the gastronomic dreams non-French nationals may have of what the French eat on a daily basis. It is the dish most often served in French restaurants, according to a recent survey. I personally eat it about twice a year, never at home, always in a brasserie (an old-style French restaurant), as I eat little red meat and few chips come to that.
Expressions include avoir la frite, or avoir la patate, both meaning to be on good form (il a la frite, il a la patate = he is on good form). (You can also say avoir la pêche to mean the same thing, as we saw in a previous post, probably used more than frite or patate.)
The recipe today is for pâtes fraîches aux épinards, aux câpres et à la coppa frite (fresh pasta topped with wilted spinach, capers and fried crispy coppa). Coppa is italian cured rolled pork, something like raw ham. You can use bacon, but it’s not quite the same, or raw ham, but it needs to be a little fatty to crisp up properly.
Do read this recipe through before starting to cook! It is not complicated at all, but you need to go very fast, or the pasta overcooks or goes cold, and the crispy coppa uncrisps.
Ingredients for 2 to 3 people:
1 packet of fresh pasta of your choice (mine are tagliatelle and the packet weighs 350gr) . You can use dried pasta if you wish.
1 packet or about 12 thin slices of coppa
2 tsp of capers drained of their vinegar
three good handfuls of spinach leaves, washed, destalked and dried in a tea towel (they don’t have to be baby leaves, mature ones will be just as good)
a clove of garlic, chopped finely
fresh parmesan cheese, either grated or shaved (a couple of tbs per serving)
salt and pepper to taste
Wilting the spinach
If you are using fresh pasta, which only takes a couple of minutes to cook, prepare all the other ingredients, lay the table and pour the wine before cooking the pasta in salted water. If you are using dried pasta, you should have enough time to do all that while it is cooking. Whatever you use, follow the suggested cooking time on the packet and don’t forget to salt your cooking water.
Cut the slices of coppa into 2cm (3/4 inch) strips (stack the slices and cut them with kitchen scissors).
In a frying pan or wok, with a little olive oil, fry the coppa until it is quite crispy. Stir it to separate the slices. Remove from the pan to a plate covered with a double layer of kitchen roll.
Fry the garlic rapidly in the same oil, stirring, for about 30 seconds.
Throw in the spinach leaves, stirring rapidly, just to wilt them. Have the capers ready prepared, add to the spinach as soon as it is wilted, turn off the heat.
Drain the pasta. Divide between individual plates. This all has to be done very fast. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, a portion of the spinach and capers, finish with the crispy coppa. Grind a bit of fresh black pepper, and sprinkle with grated or shaved parmesan. Don’t insult this dish by using ready grated, packeted parmesan, which is inferior and tasteless usually, compared to the real thing. Treat yourself to a chunk which you must keep wrapped in the fridge. Expensive but classy!
Serve quickly, accompanied by a glass of lusty red, something from the Languedoc or Gaillac if you are serving French wine.
Which pasta do you prefer, fresh or dried? Can you get fresh pasta where you live? Or maybe you are good at making it (in which case you can give me a lesson!).
All sorts of tender, colourful, flavoursome Spring vegetables are appearing in shops and on market stalls. You must seize the opportunity now, they will soon lose their tenderness, and their attraction. When we come out of Winter, we are hungry for something different and fresh.
Cornflour added. The bits of yellow you can see are strips of ginger I added, just for me!
Slice the chicken breast into thin strips, put into a bowl with a good tbs cornflour to coat and 1/2 tsp salt.
Wash, prepare and chop the vegetables: chop the broad beans into one inch pieces, with their pods; peel the carrots and slice into four lengthwise; take the outer skin off the onion leaving a couple of inches of stem and slice into four lengthwise; chop the celery into long pieces; crush the garlic with a cleaver and chop roughly; cut the mushrooms into four.
Put a little oil into a non stick pan and fry the chicken pieces quickly, turning, for about 2 minutes.
Add all the vegetables (and a little more oil if necessary) and fry for about 5 minutes, stirring.
Dilute a tsp of fond de veau in 100ml water or white wine and pour over the vegetables and chicken. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
Serve in soup plates, seasoned with a little fleur de sel.
Chopped broad beans
A word about fond de veau: this is a rich stock which you can make from scratch with pieces of veal, veal bones and vegetables. You can also buy it in powder form, made by Maggi, which is very good. It’s a bit like a powdered stock cube. If you can’t find any, use a crumbled chicken or vegetable stock cube. Together with the cornflour from the chicken, this makes a rich sauce, slightly thick and shiny. If you are using a stock cube, be careful about resalting.
Frying the chicken and vegetables
And a word about fleur de sel: the very cream of salt, not to be used for cooking but sparingly, as it’s expensive, to season dishes on your plate. I shall be doing a whole post about it one of these days.
Savour every mouthful, eat each vegetable separately, taste the flavours: Springtime in your plate.
a handful of chopped stoned olives, green or black or a mixture
grated cheese (optional)
Boil a large saucepan of salted water and cook the coquilles for two minutes less than the time recommended on the packet (mine said 18 minutes, I cooked them 16 minutes). Put a little olive oil in the water to prevent them sticking to each other or to the sides of the saucepan. But keep an eye on them and detach them if you see them trying to get too close. The problem if they stick is that they break and split and are difficult to stuff afterwards.
While they are cooking, mix the cream cheese with the herbs, pepper, and pine nuts. Don’t salt, the cheese is already salted.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Drain the shells gently and put them the right way up in an oiled baking dish to cool.
With two teaspoons, place a tsp of mixture into each shell. Cover well with fairly liquid tomato sauce (home made or your favourite bottled version). I used Panzani Fresh Tomato and Olive, which I’m very keen on at the moment. No pasta should be showing or it will dry out in the oven. Add grated cheese if you wish.
Place in a hot oven for 10 minutes, this will warm up all the ingredients and finish cooking the pasta. It is quite a good idea to do them in individual dishes so as not to have to disturb the shells when serving them. Add more chopped basil before serving.