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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!

One French Word: frit, a French recipe: Pâtes fraîches aux épinards, aux câpres et à la coppa frite


Pâtes fraîches, coppa frite

Pâtes fraîches, coppa frite

We are lucky in France to be able to buy really excellent fresh pasta. All sorts. I use mostly tagliatelle. I’ve tried making them myself, but it seems to be something I’m not really very good at. Maybe I’ll take myself off to Italy one of these days and do an intensive course with a wonderful Italian lady who makes it every day… Pasta is so versatile, you can always find the ingredients for one sauce or another, and even plain, with just a little olive oil, a squeeze of garlic and a few shavings of parmesan, it is always so satisfying.

The French grammar bit (rather a lot today, if you are not interested, scroll quickly down to the recipe!):

frit, adjective, frit (m), frite (f), frits (m.pl), frites (f.pl) = fried, pronounced free (for the masculine), freet (for the feminine), don’t pronounce the s

From the verb frire = to fry (je fris = I fry)

But also a feminine noun, une frite = a chip/French fry.

Pommes de terre frites (or simply pommes frites or frites) = chips/French fries (literally fried potatoes, but when they are not in the shape of chips/French fries, they are called pommes de terre sautées, slices or cubes for instance).

Steak frites    (also written steack frites) = steak and chips/French fries, is the French national dish, the food most consumed in France, despite all the gastronomic dreams non-French nationals may have of what the French eat on a daily basis. It is the dish most often served in French restaurants, according to a recent survey. I personally eat it about twice a year, never at home, always in a brasserie (an old-style French restaurant), as I eat little red meat and few chips come to that.

Expressions include avoir la frite, or avoir la patate, both meaning to be on good form  (il a la frite, il a la patate = he is on good form).    (You can also say avoir la pêche to mean the same thing, as we saw in a previous post, probably used more than frite or patate.)

The recipe today is for pâtes fraîches aux épinards, aux câpres et à la coppa frite    (fresh pasta topped with wilted spinach, capers and fried crispy coppa). Coppa is italian cured rolled pork, something like raw ham. You can use bacon, but it’s not quite the same, or raw ham, but it needs to be a little fatty to crisp up properly.

Do read this recipe through before starting to cook! It is not complicated at all, but you need to go very fast, or the pasta overcooks or goes cold, and the crispy coppa uncrisps.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 2 to 3 people:

  • 1 packet of fresh pasta of your choice (mine are tagliatelle and the packet weighs 350gr) . You can use dried pasta if you wish. 
  • 1 packet or about 12 thin slices of coppa
  • 2 tsp of capers drained of their vinegar
  • three good handfuls of spinach leaves, washed, destalked and dried in a tea towel (they don’t have to be baby leaves, mature ones will be just as good)
  • a clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • fresh parmesan cheese, either grated or shaved (a couple of tbs per serving) 
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Wilting the spinach

Wilting the spinach

Preparation:

  • If you are using fresh pasta, which only takes a couple of minutes to cook, prepare all the other ingredients, lay the table and pour the wine before cooking the pasta in salted water. If you are using dried pasta, you should have enough time to do all that while it is cooking. Whatever you use, follow the suggested cooking time on the packet and don’t forget to salt your cooking water.
  • Cut the slices of coppa into 2cm (3/4 inch) strips (stack the slices and cut them with kitchen scissors).
  • In a frying pan or wok, with a little olive oil, fry the coppa until it is quite crispy. Stir it to separate the slices.  Remove from the pan to a plate covered with a double layer of kitchen roll.
  • Fry the garlic rapidly in the same oil, stirring, for about 30 seconds.
  • Throw in the spinach leaves, stirring rapidly, just to wilt them. Have the capers ready prepared, add to the spinach as soon as it is wilted, turn off the heat.
  • Drain the pasta. Divide between individual plates. This all has to be done very fast. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, a portion of the spinach and capers, finish with the crispy coppa. Grind a bit of fresh black pepper, and sprinkle with grated or shaved parmesan.  Don’t insult this dish by using ready grated, packeted parmesan, which is inferior and tasteless usually, compared to the real thing. Treat yourself to a chunk which you must keep wrapped in the fridge. Expensive but classy!
  • Serve quickly, accompanied by a glass of lusty red, something from the Languedoc or Gaillac if you are serving French wine.

Pâtes fraîches

Which pasta do you prefer, fresh or dried? Can you get fresh pasta where you live? Or maybe you are good at making it (in which case you can give me a lesson!).

Bon appétit!

One French word: lardon, a French recipe: salade d’épinards aux lardons


Lardon, masculine noun (le lardon, un lardon, des lardons) = a cube or a stick of bacon (pronounced lar-don (like dong but no nasal g on the end), stress slightly on the first syllable, no audible s in the plural).

Lardons

Lardons, so you can see exactly what I mean

 

Lard = a piece of fat pork (NOT lard, which is saindoux) (pronounced lar, you don’t hear the d)

Larder = a verb, to introduce long thin pieces of beef fat usually into a roast to make it more moist (nothing to do with larder in English, a place to keep food) (pronounced lar-day, stress on the first syllable)

Larder de coups = to stab repeatedly

All the above seem to have no single word as a translation, but rather lengthy explanatory phrases!

My recipe for today is salade tiède d’épinards aux lardons (warm salad of baby spinach leaves with bacon bits), which can be either a side salad or a light main course.

Spinach salad

Salade tiède d’épinards aux lardons

For 4 people you will need:

  • A large packet of baby spinach salad leaves (about 300gr)
  • 200gr of lardons ( if you can’t get these in the country you are reading from, slices of bacon cut into pieces are perfectly acceptable, or even streaky bacon slices, crumbled after cooking). I used allumettes (match-stick sized lardons).
  • Some stale bread to make croûtons (little fried bread cubes)
  • 1/2 tbs oil
  • Vinegar and pepper

 

Preparation:

  1. Begin by removing any tough stalks and washing the spinach, then pat it dry carefully.
  2. Heat the  serving plates.
  3. Cut the bread into 1cm cubes.
  4. Put 1/2 tbs oil in a frying pan, heat, and add the lardons. Lardons seem to have more water in them nowadays, and a little “starter” oil seems to get them crispier.  When they are as crispy as you want them, put them to keep warm in the oven, leaving as much bacon fat in the pan as possible.
  5. Fry the cubes of bread, shaking so that they turn golden on all sides. Put in the oven with the lardons.
  6. Put the spinach leaves into the pan, stir around and remove. This should take only a few seconds. They should be very slightly wilted, not cooked. In French we say “fatiguer“, to make them tired!
  7. Transfer the spinach onto serving plates, top with the lardons and the croûtons, add a little pepper and sprinkle literally a few drops of vinegar (no salt or oil is needed for the vinaigrette, the bacon is already salty and oily enough).
  8. If you wish, you may add pine nuts, other nuts, and even a poached egg if you need something more filling.

Bon appétit.

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