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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!

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Duck and crispy potatoes


Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

One French Word: paillasson, a French recipe: Confit de canard, pommes paillasson (duck and crispy potatoes)

A thing one should absolutely always have in the storeroom is a tin, or several tins, of confit de canard. Legs and thighs of duck, preserved in their fat, have become much more common in recent years, and much less expensive. You can use them in a dish of cassoulet (haricot beans, duck and pork, shall I give you the recipe here some time soon?), fried into crispy morsels on top of a salad (recipe here), or just heated in the oven and accompanied by chips, sliced sautéed potatoes (pommes sarladaises = potatoes the way they eat them in Sarlat), or, as in my recipe, pommes paillasson, which is the French name for the better known Swiss rösti. This consists of grated potato fried in a thick pancake until it is crisp on the outside and melting on the inside.

This is the very classiest fast food to serve to guests who turn up unannounced forty-five minutes before supper time, and a morale boosting dish when you are feeling low. With a lovingly prepared green salad, and some ice-cream served with the alcoholic raisins I mentioned in last week’s post, you will have rustled up a meal fit for kings in half an hour or so.

The French language bit:

paillasson (masculine noun), un paillasson, le paillasson, les paillassons (a doormat, the doormat, the doormats)

from the word une paille = a straw, which also gives us une paillasse = a straw bed (une paillasse is also said of someone who is weak and gets walked over; and sometimes also, but not very usually, the draining board of a sink).

Une paille is also a drinking straw;  and a colour – jaune paille = straw coloured, literally straw yellow.

Etre sur la paille (literally to be on the straw) = to be broke, to have no money.

Un chapeau de paille = a straw hat

Une botte de paille = a bundle of straw, or a bale (but it would be the old, small bales, not the new enormous round ones)

Paillasson in my recipe refers to the texture and colour of the potato pancake, which is strawlike. Where it is evident that we are not talking about a dessert, potatoes (pommes de terre, literally apples of the earth) can be simply called pommes (which also means apples).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for two people :

  • 2 preserved duck legs and thighs, (I buy mine individually frozen, but they are more usually found tinned), with most of the fat removed. Keep this fat for roasting potatoes, or frying vegetables for soup.
  • 4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and not too finely grated
  • Optional: onion, or garlic, and/or bits of bacon
  • Oil and a little butter for frying
  • Salt and pepper

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Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Place the pieces of duck on a non-stick baking sheet, or on an oven tray covered in grease-proof paper (be careful of aluminium foil, they tend to stick; actually they tend to stick anyway!).
  • Place in the oven when it comes up to temperature, 20-25 minutes if tinned, even if cooked from frozen.
  • Peel and grate the potatoes. Place in a sieve, squeeze with your hands to remove a maximum of moisture. You can them pat gently between several layers of kitchen roll to remove still more moisture.
  • Add 1/4 level tsp salt per potato used, and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • If you are going to add onion or garlic and/or bacon bits, fry these up and mix with the raw potato. I personally prefer my pomme paillasson “nature”, that is, without added trimmings.

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  • Heat a tbs of oil (I used olive) with a small knob of butter in a frying pan, when it sizzles, scrape the potato into the pan and flatten it out with a spatula (choose a size of pan which will allow you to flatten the potato to a thickness of about 1cm or just a little more, so that it reaches the sides of the pan). Press it down, work a fork around it so that it is perfectly formed. It should not be thin around the edges.
  • Turn the heat down to medium. The potato should brown nicely on the outside but soft in the middle. If you fry it too briskly, it will burn without properly cooking on the inside. When you are ready to turn the potato cake, after about 4-5 minutes, run a palette knife under the potato to loosen, place a plate over the frying pan and turn the plate and the frying pan simultaneously. On the plate, the fried side of the potato will be on top.

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  • Put another tbs oil and a little butter into the pan, heat well, and slip the potato from the plate back into the pan, without breaking it, press down, bring the sides in a little to make it regular. Turn the heat down slightly again, and fry until the underside is uniformly golden. About another 5 minutes. When it is ready, slip it onto a clean plate, sprinkle with salt and serve.
  • Take the duck out of the oven and serve onto warmed plates with a portion of potato cake.
  • Serve with a salad : I did an endive (chicory I think it is in English, you can see from the photo below what I mean) and orange salad. Orange goes well with duck. Just slice an endive, peel and slice an orange, pouring the juice over the salad, add some parsley or coriander and a little walnut oil, salt and pepper. It needs no vinegar because of the orange juice.

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Both the duck and the potato should be really crispy. Nothing worse than confit which has not been crisped up properly. And the potato should be melting in the middle. Doesn’t your mouth water just looking at the picture?

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!

One French word: parmentier, a French recipe: hachis parmentier


Parmentier, a surname which has become an adjective : parmentier (invariable), denotes a dish in which the potato plays a great part. Pronounced par-maan-tyé,  with no particular stress.

Monsieur Antoine Augustin Parmentier, 1737-1813, was by profession a chemist, whose major work was in agronomy and nutrition. The humble potato arrived in Europe from Peru in the 16th century, but was cultivated simply as animal fodder. Considered unfit for human consumption, it was the work of Parmentier that convinced the Faculty of Medicine in Paris in 1772 that the potato was a useful source of carbohydrate for the starving population.

Parmentier, 1737-1813

Antoine Augustin Parmentier, picture taken from wikipedia

His findings, however, did not convince many people. So he resorted to a ruse to get the population to try the new tuber: he had the potato fields outside Paris kept by armed guards during the daytime, but not at night. Puzzled as to why the fields were valuable enough to be guarded, people came to steal the potatoes by night and found them to their liking.

Thank you, Monsieur Parmentier; where would we be without the potato today? Now you will know if you see “parmentier” on the menu of a French restaurant that we are talking about potatoes. All sorts of dishes are named after him, but the most famous surely is my recipe for today: le hachis parmentier, the French equivalent of shepherd’s pie (hachis simply meaning chopped, here chopped meat).

Hachis

This is what the texture of the chopped meat should look like

For 6 people you will need:

  • The meat taken from the remains of a joint of lamb, about 160gr per person
  • A large onion
  • A bunch of fresh parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Left over gravy and meat juices
  • 800gr potatoes
  • Some cream, butter and grated cheese

Preparation:

  1. Peel and halve the potatoes, put them in a pan of cold salted water, bring to the boil, and cook for 20 minutes or until quite tender (but not disintegrating).
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, cut the meat into large cubes and put into your mixer with the peeled and quartered onion, the washed parsley, and a couple of garlic cloves. Add a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce, a little freshly ground pepper, a little salt (not too much, the meat has already been salted and the potatoes will be too), and the remains of any gravy or meat juices from the meat dish. Grind on “pulse”, coarsely (you don’t want to end up with a paste, it is nice to have texture left, but the pieces of onion shouldn’t been too evident).
  3. Place in a fairly shallow serving dish (or individual dishes). The proportion meat:potato should be about 2/3:1/3.
  4. Pre-heat your oven at 160°C.
  5. Drain the potatoes, add a large lump of butter and mash with a potato masher or ricer, not in the mixer, as I have said in another post, this makes them goopy.
  6. Add cream until the texture seems to you to be pleasing.
The mashed potato topping

The “parmentier” part.

7. Spread a layer of potato over the meat in your serving dish or dishes. Make pretty marks on the top with a fork, sprinkle with grated cheese (optional but delicious) and pop two or three little pieces of butter on top.

Butter and cheese

With butter and cheese on top

8. Put the dish in the oven for 25 minutes, and finish under the grill to brown the top of the potato and/or the cheese.

Crusty hachis parmentier

This dish freezes wonderfully, so it is worth making a lot. I freeze individual portions.  It’s so lovely to have it sitting there when you don’t feel like cooking. You can either freeze just the meat in portions, and add potato later, or the whole thing, cheese and all, before the oven stage. Then all you have to do is unfreeze and heat up.

Bon appétit.

There is a good little children’s cookery book called Les Recettes de Monsieur Parmentier which teaches them easy recipes.

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