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: épinards, a recipe for Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach
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 épinards – mettre 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
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.
Sprinkle with a tsp of nigella seeds before bringing to the table.
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.
One French word: pot, a French recipe: pot au feu, classic beef and vegetable stew.
Half of France must eat pot au feuat 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
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
9 large carrots
One large onion
8 small turnips
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 tartelettefor 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
Ingredients per person:
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
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
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.
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.
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 pâtissièreif you are using it.
Finish with a layer of orange slices, placed in an attractive pattern like little fans.
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
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 pâtissière, here (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!
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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: morue, a recipe for Morue à la portugaise (salt cod and potatoes as they cook it in Portugal)
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.
Ingredients for 4-6 people:
400gr salt cod
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
Mixed chopped herbs to garnish
You should need NO salt
Ready for the oven
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.
This is not an expensive dish, the only difficulty being to remember to start soaking the salt cod well enough ahead of time.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
navet, masculine noun (un navet, le navet, des navets) = turnip (pronounced nah-vey) .
Not most people’s favourite vegetable, but when they are young and fresh in spring their flavour is delicate and not overpowering as it often is in autumn and winter, and they can easily be eaten raw. Or used to accompany a meat dish, boiled briefly then glazed in a sugar and butter mixture.
Un navet is also currently used to denote a flop, when talking of a bad film, theatre performance or book.
My recipe today is a little different to the taste buds: pétales de légumes = vegetable petals.
Main ingredients – looks a bit like a still life, doesn’t it…
For each person you will need:
One small raw spring turnip
One small raw beetroot
One ripe tomato (I used a beef tomato)
One small courgette (zuccchini)
and any other vegetables you may feel like that can be cut into fine slices (radishes?), or fruits (oranges, strawberries?)
Wash and trim all the vegetables. Peel the beetroot but do not peel either the turnip or the courgette.
Slice the courgette into as many thin lengthways strips as possible, discarding the first slice, which is just skin (simply for aethetic reasons), and place around the edge of each person’s plate in wavy, curly shapes.
Peel and slice the beetroot into very fine slices and being careful not to taint the courgette with beetroot juice (again for the aesthetics), place an overlapping circle of beetroot slices inside the ring of courgettes.
Wash your hands, the knife and the chopping board. Finely slice the turnip and place another ring inside the beetroot ring. Do not season.
Core and skin the tomato (plunge it into boiling water for a minute or so, the skin will come off easily). Cut into small cubes, place in a bowl with the equivalent of one smallish dried chili (outside and seeds), flaked. Quite a lot of salt (tomatoes need salt), but you can rectify later. One tbs raspberry vinegar. 2 tbs olive oil (if you are several at table increase the oil and vinegar). Mix to a smooth paste with a soup mixer. It makes a sort of rather thick gazpacho-like mixture. Taste and rectify seasoning. It should be fairly chili hot, vinegary, with a good strong flavour of olive oil. Place a spoonful of this mixture in a tiny bowl in the centre of your vegetable plate. Leave the rest of the tomato dressing in a larger bowl on the table, because it is more-ish and people can help themselves and drown their plates in it if they like. But it looks better to present only a small quantity.
This is an excellent starter, fresh and appetizing-looking, but you can also make a main course of it if you are feeling fragile and only want raw vegetables, maybe accompanied with crusty bread and butter, or viande des grisons (thin cured beef slices). Or parma ham.