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Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach – pommes de terre aux épinards à l’indienne


Spicy potatoes

Spicy potatoes

One French Word: épinards, a recipe for Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach

Spicy potatoes - main ingredients

Spicy potatoes – main ingredients

You either love or hate spinach. Most children won’t even come to table if there is spinach on the menu, but it’s a favourite vegetable of one of my little grandsons. Baby spinach leaves are preferable to larger, more mature ones, but the latter have more flavour. In India, spinach is used in an enormous number of recipes. Just wilted, it keeps its colour and a lot of its nutrients. I add a handful to all sorts of things – last night I had baked eggs with spinach, the day before the recipe I am about to share. I eat baby leaves in salad, wilted by pouring crispy bacon bits and their fat over them.

The French language bit:

épinards (masculine plural noun) (theoretically it has a singular but this is never used) = spinach (never pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of the word).

We saw last year that the circumflex (^^) often denotes a missing s in English, that is, if you put an ‘s’ in the place of the circumflex, you will sometimes be able to guess what the word means. It is often the same with an initial é. Replace it with an s and you will have, sometimes exactly, sometimes near enough, the English word. So épinards = spinach; épice = spice, I can’t think of any more right now.

Just one expression with épinardsmettre du beurre dans les épinards = to ameliorate something, to allow a little luxury (literally to add butter to your spinach), for instance a second salary will make everything easier = un deuxième salaire mettra du beurre dans les épinards.

And so to the recipe.

Ingredients for 1 person as a main meal, 2 people as a vegetable dish accompanying meat :

  • 1 very large potato
  • 2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
  • 4tbs corn or peanut oil
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about 2cm square, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely sliced (the slices going from top to bottom and not across)
  • 1 smoked cardamom (they are large and black), opened up, the seeds only to be used (if you can’t find this, try green ones, or leave it out altogether)
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbs turmeric (curcuma)
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1tbs mustard seed
  • a little salt
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds

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Preparation:

  • Cut the washed potato into 6 pieces (you do not need to peel it), place in cold salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15mns.
  • Wash and drain the spinach (you don’t need to pat it dry, just get rid of as much water as possible)
  • Drain the potatoes and cut into smaller pieces.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the spices and the garlic, the ginger and the shallot to the hot oil and fry for a minute or two, stirring.
  • Add the potatoes to the pan and stir to coat with the spices. Don’t be gentle with the potato, it is better if it crumbles a bit, it will go crispier later. Fry for 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring and turning the potato pieces so that they brown on all sides. It doesn’t matter if the shallot colours and crisps up.
  • When the potato is quite browned, add the spinach to the pan, stir to wilt thoroughly, salt with great parcimony, as the spices have probably given enough flavour. You can always salt later if you find there is not enough.

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  • Sprinkle with a tsp of nigella seeds before bringing to the table.

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This is an excellent vegetarian dish, very satisfying. But if you feel you need meat, it can accompany any meat dish. Of course I cannot pretend to have invented this, but let us just say that I used no recipe to concoct it! I just pulled spices out of the cupboard and thought very hard of a dish I tasted in India.

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Bon appétit!

Pot au feu – classic beef and vegetable stew


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One French word: pot, a French recipe: pot au feu, classic beef and vegetable stew.

Half of France must eat pot au feu at the weekend in Winter. It’s a staple of the French diet, cheap and easy to do, comforting, and with its different variations on leftovers, lasts all week. If not a pot au feu, then a potée or a ragoût, variously named each according to its region.

Pot au feu literally means pot on the fire, and used to be a cauldron bubbling over an open hearth. Now of course it’s a presssure cooker more often than not (but not in my house, I’ve never understood pressure cookers).

Un pot au feu is always made with beef, cheap cuts that need ample stewing, with onions (des oignons), leeks (des poireaux), carrots (des carottes), turnips (des navets), sometimes swedes (des rutabagas) and parsnips (des panais), and of course potatoes (des pommes de terre). It should stew for hours and hours, until the meat is meltingly tender, and the vegetables, some of which are just added half an hour before serving, tender and colourful.

Une potée is usually made with pork, a hock (un jarret), some fat smoked sausages (des saucisses de Morteau for instance), a piece of salted pork belly (un morceau de petit salé), and maybe a trotter or two (des pieds de porc). Accompanied by vegetables as above, but often also a Savoy cabbage (un chou frisé) cut in two or four pieces, tops the pot. It is then known as une potée au chou.

Un ragoût is usually made with mutton (du mouton ou de l’agneau), pieces of neck (du collier) and belly (du sauté d’agneau), fried first with a large onion, to which beans of one kind or another are often added.

Another variation on this theme is a poule au pot,    an old hen, stuffed with rice (it then becomes une poule au riz), boiled for a couple of hours with vegetables as before.  Legend has it that Henri IV, a popular French king, who was nevertheless assassinated, but not before declaring that he would ensure that each labourer in his kingdom should have the means to place a poule au pot on his Sunday table! Here is a video on the subject which you might like to listen to to practise your comprehension of spoken French http://videos.tf1.fr/jt-13h/2010/henri-iv-et-la-legende-de-la-poule-au-pot-5852134.html

Since the word of the day is pot, here are a few expressions or meanings of the word:

un pot is a pot; a flower pot = un pot de fleurs; a chamber pot = un pot de chambre; a bribe = un pot de vin (literally a pot of wine); a drink = (just) un pot; to be lucky = avoir du pot; an expression “le pot de terre contre le pot de fer“, literally an earthenware pot against an iron pot, in other words, an unequal combat, where one side is stronger than the other.

But my recipe this week is for a pot au feu, the beef and vegetable stew described above.

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 1kg500 stewing beef, try a mixture of cuts
  • A marrow bone per person
  • A piece of celery, a bay leaf and some thyme to make a bouquet garni
This is a bouquet garni

This is a bouquet garni

  • 9 large carrots
  • One large onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 8 small turnips
  • 8 leeks
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 4 parsnips (optional)
  • 4 swedes (optional)
  • 8 large potatoes
  • 3 star anise
  • salt, pepper, pickled gherkins

Preparation, Day 1:

  • In a very large saucepan, or a pressure cooker, in which case you will have to modify cooking times all by yourself, place the meat (but not the bones) in enough cold water to cover it all amply. Add the onion, into which you have inserted the cloves (spices, not garlic), the star anise, a small handful of coarse salt, the whole garlic cloves, the whole green top of one leek, and one carrot cut into small pieces.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 hours.
  • Place in a cool place until the next day.

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Preparation, Day 2:

  • Skim any solidified fat off the top of the contents of the pan and remove the leek greens, the star anise and the bouquet garni.
  • Peel the carrots, cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise. Top and tail the turnips, leave the peel on.  Wash the leeks and remove the tougher parts of the green leaves, cut them into two pieces. No need to peel the potatoes, just scrub them clean and cut into two or four if they are too enormous. Peel and cut the parsnips and swedes into pieces if you are including them.
  • Place all the vegetables and the marrow bones into the pot (you see why you really need a very large one!). The marrow bones will add flavour and if you like beef marrow, will add an extra treat on your plate.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for half an hour.
  • Serve each person a helping of meat, vegetables and a marrow bone. Add only a little of the bouillon (soup), it is nice to mash the potatoes in it.
  • Place toasted bread, coarse salt and gherkins on the table to accompany.
  • The marrow should be extracted from the bone, spread on toast with a little salt on top.

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Day 3:

  • Strain off some of the liquid into another saucepan, add some very fine vermicelli or alphabet pasta, heat for 10 minutes and serve as soup with crusty bread.

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Day 4:

  • Boil some salad potatoes and season while hot with white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a chopped shallot, a chopped hard boiled egg,some chopped parsley and the rest of the pot au feu meat in 1cm cubes. This is a really excellent cold salad.

Day 5 :

  • Mix up whatever vegetables are left with the remaining bouillon with a soup mixer. I tend not to mix too much, to leave a rich coarse soup. It has become concentrated and is particularly flavoursome.

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So you see that with very little effort on days 1 and 2, you will have readymade dishes on days 3, 4 and 5 as well! Just be careful to keep your pot in the fridge if you have room, or in a very cool place (out of doors if Winter temperatures are near freezing).

Bon appétit!

Tartelettes à l’orange


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One French Word: tartelette, a French recipe: tartelettes à l’orange

When I first worked in Paris, rue de la Glacière in the 13th arrondissement to be precise, and to be even more precise, this was almost 50 years ago, there was a pâtisserie diagonally across the road from my office. I discovered orange tarts there, and it soon became an afternoon ritual to pop out and indulge myself at tea-time! It says a lot about the relaxed working atmosphere in France at the time, that it was not considered at all unusual to leave the workplace to buy a little something to eat at (almost) any time of day.

The French language bit:

tartelette (feminine noun), une tartelette, la tartelette, les tartelettes = little tarts (of the pâtisserie kind of course!)

We looked at diminutives a couple of weeks ago, here’s another one. Une tarte is a tart, une tartelette is a little tart, a tartlet, an individual portion.

And an expression: Ce n’est pas de la tarte = (roughly) it isn’t a piece of cake, it isn’t simple

Oranges are in season in France, they are juicy and full of flavour. Here is a recipe which is a little bit different, and which could quite well grace your table around Christmas time. I advise you to take the trouble to do individual “slices”, that is, to make une tartelette for each of your family members or guests. One large tart is so difficult to cut, the orange doesn’t come apart willingly, and you are likely to mess up all your hard work.

Buy your oranges untreated if possible. In any case, wash them thoroughly because you will be using the skins. Use freshly bought oranges, not ones that have been sitting forlornly in your fruitbowl for a couple of weeks (or more…).

Home candied orange slices

Home candied orange slices

Ingredients per person:

  • 1  orange
  • A rectangle of good quality puff pastry, made with pure butter 12cm x 20cm (about 5″ x 8″). This sounds a lot but you will be rolling the edges inwards to form a ridge all the way round.
  • 1tbs of your favourite orange marmelade
  • 1tbs crème pâtissière (optional but moister, see recipe below)
  • 100gr sugar and a wineglass of water

Preparation:

To prepare the orange pieces:

  • Wash the orange and cut into fine slices (about 3mm). Recuperate the juice. Cut each slice carefully into four quarters without tearing. It doesn’t really matter if your slices become irregular towards the end of the orange!
  • Boil up the sugar with any orange juice and the water to make a syrup, put the orange pieces into this syrup, lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring regularly to ensure even coverage of the pieces, for 15 minutes or so. Do watch them so that they do not burn. They should be soft and translucent, and almost all of the syrup should have gone.
Candied orange ready to dry

Candied orange ready to dry

  • Place the orange slices with tongs on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper  to dry a little in the pre-heating oven. It doesn’t matter if they start to colour. Just 5 minutes. Don’t let them dry too much or they will become stiff and crunchy.

Pastry ready to cook blind

To prepare the tarts for the oven:

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  • Cut the rectangles of puff pastry, roll the edges to form a ridge, prick with a fork, brush the edges with an egg yolk beaten with a little milk, fill with dried peas or beans and cook blind for 8-10 minutes. There is a very fine line between undercooking (the underside is not completely cooked) and overcooking (the pastry is as hard as a board). Better slightly on the undercooked side, in my opinion.

Pastry ready with chickpeas

  • Remove from the oven, take out the beans or peas, when cool spread the bottom of the tartlet with 1tbs marmelade, then a thin layer (about 3/4cm, 1/4″) of crème pâtissière if you are using it.
  • Finish with a layer of orange slices, placed in an attractive pattern like little fans.

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For the optional crème pâtissière (makes about 500ml (1 pint), so do divide the ingredients according to the number of people you are feeding.

  • 500ml (1 pint) milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 50gr corn starch
  • 60gr granulated sugar
  • 1tsp freshly grated orange rind
  • 1tsp vanilla powder

Place all the ingredients in a mixer and mix for 4 minutes. Pour into a saucepan and heat over a moderate flame, never ceasing to stir, until the mixture thickens. A WARNING: if you heat too fast, or stop stirring, your eggs will scramble and you can start all over again. When the mixture coats a spoon thickly, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

This cream can be used to stuff éclairs, sponge cakes or as an ingredient of ice cream. I found this recipe, which is much quicker than other recipes for crème pâtissièrehere    (the site is of course in French).

Now, I didn’t use crème pâtissière, and the result was delicious, but it is definitely moister if one does add a small tablespoonful under the orange slices. The choice shall be yours!

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Bon appétit!

Baked apples with buttery hazelnut biscuits


Pomme four sablé

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

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.

It is the diminutive of noix of course. We’ve already had une noix, a walnut, in the recipe for celery salad with dates and walnuts. Une noisette is just a “little nut”.

-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.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for the baked apple, per person:

  • 1 cored apple
  • 1 slice of brioche (or failing that, bread)
  • A little sugar, a little butter, a few raisins
  • Water in oven proof dish
  • 1 tsp hazelnut oil for serving

Baked apple1

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
  • Butter an oven proof dish, or, ideally, individual oven proof dishes.
  • Wash and core the apples.
  • 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):

  • 1 egg
  • 110gr sugar (if you like sweeter biscuits, add up to 30gr, I have used the minimum)
  • 65gr butter
  • 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

Pastry

Preparation:

  • 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.

Cut biscuits

Cooked biscuits

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.

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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!

Bon appétit.

Portuguese baked fish and crispy potatoes


One French Word: morue, a recipe for Morue à la portugaise (salt cod and potatoes as they cook it in Portugal)

Morue à la portugaise

Morue à la portugaise

Cod, fresh or especially salted and/or dried, has long been a staple of the peoples living along the Atlantic coast of Europe (and probably of America and Canada too). Now cod is becoming rare, but in the last couple of centuries, men in rather small boats would leave on extended trips to colder waters around Iceland and Newfoundland, braving dangerous seas and foul weather, to earn a living catching this precious fish. Nowadays trawlers are small factories, with freezers. Then the fish was gutted, spread open, salted and dried, and the result was a sort of elongated triangular board.

It is still sold like that, the cook must soak it for days to ready it for cooking. But it is also sold rehydrated in vacuum packs, which only need soaking for a matter of hours to rid it of excess salt. The taste is quite different from fresh cod and the Portuguese especially are past masters at preparing it.

One of the most famous and delicious dishes using salt cod is the French Caribbean recipe for accras de morue, crispy mouthfuls of fiery fish and chili, which I shall certainly publish here one of these days. And brandade de morue, a sort of garlicky mixture of mashed potato and salt cod.

The French language bit:

morue (feminine noun), une morue, la morue, les morues = salt cod

Fresh cod, that has not been salted, is cabillaud (le cabillaud, du cabillaud), a fillet of cod is un filet de cabillaud, a slice of cod is une darne de cabillaud, a nice fat chunk from the back of the fish is du dos de cabillaud.  

De l’huile de foie de morue = cod liver oil   

Un pinceau queue de morue = a broad flat brush used by painters (literally cod’s tail paintbrush)  

My recipe today is for morue à la portugaise, a dish of baked cod layered with a little tomato and a lot of potato, the top layer of which crisps up beautifully in the oven. It should be eaten as soon as it is cooked, it does not re-heat well especially because the potato loses its crackle.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 4-6 people:

  • 400gr salt cod
  • 600gr potatoes
  • 1 hard boiled egg per person
  • 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed with a cleaver and roughly chopped
  • A little tomato sauce (optional) (homemade, or in a jar, spaghetti sauce with olives is what I used)
  • A dozen stoned black olives (unless they are already in your tomato sauce)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Mixed chopped herbs to garnish

You should need NO salt

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Preparation:

  • Soak the pieces of cod for about 10 hours changing the water regularly (unless you have found already de-salted cod). Carry out this stage carefully; nothing worse than going to all this trouble only to find your dish is too salty to eat.
  • Tear the cod into large bite-sized pieces or strips.
  • Pre-heat the oven at 180°C.
  • Wash the potatoes (no need to peel them) and cut into very fine slices (1mm or 2 thick).
  • Fry the onion in a little olive oil until transparent, add the pieces of cod, stir and turn off the heat.
  • Coat the bottom of a casserole dish with a little olive oil.
  • Place a good layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish. Pour all the cod and onion mixture on top, and add the crushed chopped garlic and a spoonful of olive oil.
  • Grind some black pepper over this mixture, and sprinkle the olives and tomato sauce sparingly over the top.
  • Place another layer of potato on top of this, and end with an artistic layer, carefully overlapping the slices.
  • Dribble about 3tbs olive oil over the whole top layer. (The Portuguese put much more than this!)
  • Pop the dish into the oven for about 45 minutes. The top layer of potato should be browned and very crispy.
  • While the cod is cooking, hardboil an egg per person, shell and slice.
  • Serve piping hot with crusty bread, green salad, and slices of hard boiled egg (optional but this is the way it is done in Portugal), sprinkled with fresh herbs.

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This is not an expensive dish, the only difficulty being to remember to start soaking the salt cod well enough ahead of time.

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Bon appétit!

Pastis gascon – not your average apple tart


Pastis gascon

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.

Thank you Wikipedia

The changing boundaries of Gascony (thank you Wikipedia)

Pastis means pie in Gascon  (same as the Cornish pasty I should imagine).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

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 75gr melted butter (du beurre fondu) 
  • Some armagnac or calvados (about a tsp per layer)
Building the layers

Building the layers

Preparation:

  • 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).

Pastis gascon, srunching

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

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Now tell me honestly, even though some of my photos are not brilliant, have you ever seen such an extraordinary apple tart?

Pastis gascon served

Bon appétit!

Chocolate and chestnuts


One French Word : châtaigne, a French recipe: 

Close enough to eat...

Moelleux au chocolat noir et aux châtaignes = little moist dark chocolate cakes with chestnuts

It’s the chestnut season, at least here in Quimper. When I walk the dog, I pick up about a pound of chestnuts daily with no effort. But then they tend to sit around a bit while I decide what to do with them. You can roast them on an open fire, of course, Nat King Cole (or Michael Buble) style. Or stuff the turkey with them. Or make them into ice cream. I freeze a few bags of peeled chestnuts for use during the winter.

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In France, the prime producer of chestnuts is the département de l’Ardèche,   which is a region (very vaguely) to the west of Grenoble and to the north of Montélimar (to the top left  of the bottom eastern quarter of France, if you see what I mean). Chestnut growing (la castanéiculture)   is closely linked with the history of the area.

The French grammar bit:

Une châtaigne (feminine noun), la châtaigne, les châtaignes = sweet chestnut (a horse chestnut is un marron). Horse chestnuts are not edible, but strangely, when a sweet chestnut has been cooked, it becomes un marron, as in marrons glacées (sugar soaked Christmas confectionary), la dinde aux marrons (turkey stuffed with chestnuts), de la crème de marrons (a sort of sticky jam/spread made of chestnuts with loads of sugar, that is eaten as a dessert in France mixed with fresh cream).

Sometime last year, I explained that a circumflex (^^) often denotes an s that has been lost somewhere. Châtaigne is a case in point: castagna in Spanish, and the Spanish instrument castagnettes (little chestnuts). The English word chestnut retains the s. The chestnut tree is un châtaignier, which comes from the Latin castanea and the Greek kastanon. Chestnuts are crammed by twos or threes into a prickly shell which in French is called une bogue. Because of them, dog walking in the chestnut season is, for the dog, a very painful, hoppy skippy process.

Lots of expressions :

Une châtaigne can also mean a black eye.

Etre châtaigne sous bogue”    means to be basically nice under a very prickly exterior.

Tirer les marrons du feu     (literally to get the chestnuts out of the fire) means to obtain something with difficulty,  with effort, and for someone else’s benefit.

Etre marron means to have been tricked, or to have fallen into a trap.

Here is a very quick idea to be done now and eaten around Christmas, with chestnuts, sugar and rum:

Make a cross cut with a knife in the top of the chestnuts, pressure cook covered with water for 15 minutes. Leave to cool slightly but in the hot water. Peel the chestnuts being careful to take off both skins and trying to keep them whole (you can really only use whole ones for this recipe). Make a syrup with 500gr sugar and  180gr water. Simmer the chestnuts gently in this syrup for about 15 minutes. Drain. Put into jars and cover with rum. Wait at least a month before eating them.

But my recipe today is for petits moelleux au chocolat noir et aux châtaignes.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients:

  • About 400gr peeled chestnuts (see method above)
  • 150gr dark cooking chocolate
  • 20gr + 100gr butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 100gr sugar (don’t reduce the sugar, the chestnuts need it)
  • 2 tbs armagnac, or cognac, or whisky (optional)
Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven at 160°C
  • Place the chestnuts (it can be the crumbs that you have not managed to keep whole) in a blender and blend briefly, you can leave some lumps
  • Melt the chocolate over a pan of hot water with 20gr of butter. Add to the chestnuts with the egg yolks, the sugar, the armagnac and the rest of the butter which you have melted (this can be done in the chocolate saucepan, the butter will take up any of the chocolate that has been left in the pan). Beat this mixture together.
  • Spoon the mixture into muffin or cupcake molds and pop them into the oven for about 30 minutes. This seems a long time, but that was what it took mine to solidify enough on the outside. They should be very  moist, almost liquid in the centre. Serve warm with a custard if you like that. Cold they are fine too.

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Mine came out of the oven very glossy. They were quite dense, with little crunchy bits of chestnut, but moist in the middle. If you wish them to be lighter, I suggest adding a little raising agent, and maybe saving the egg whites, beating them up firm, and folding them into the mixture at the last minute.

The following day they were just as melting. I have frozen most of them – there is a limit to the number that one person can ingest…

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I made a frothy custard (not going to tell you how to do that, I use my Thermomix which takes all the pain out of the process), and placed my little cake in the centre of a tasty yellow pool.

Bon appétit!

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