Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Baked Pasta with Puy Lentils, Basil & Gruyère

A mirepoix is often the best way to start a sauce or stew. Ingredients vary but usually consist of carrots, celery, and onions. The finely chopped veggies are sauteed, actually closer to being braised, in a good amount of olive oil or butter.

For the lentil sauce, I subbed shallots for the onions and added tomatoes along with some fresh basil, all from our potager.

Shallots are my 'desert island' vegetable as they are sublime

Lentilles Vertes du Puy are described as green, but they are more speckled than anything else. These tiny, delicious discs stay firm after cooking while tasting of black pepper and hazelnuts. Grown in Le Puy-en-Velay, commune in the Haute-Loire department near the Loire river, they have been given an AOC.

For around a litre and a half of lentil sauce, finely dice one medium carrot, one celery stalk, and four shallots. In two tablespoons of warmed olive oil and over low heat, saute the vegetables. Stir frequently. Their aroma will fill the air as they become translucent and soft which takes about fifteen minutes.

Add three diced medium tomatoes and continue to simmer with occasional stirring for another ten minutes. Towards the end, toss in a small handful of basil leaves which have been finely minced.

Stir in 370 ml of rinsed lentils.

Pour in a litre of either water or broth (I used homemade chicken but a veggie one is fine). Bring to a simmer and cook gently for forty-five minutes. Add liquid if it becomes too dry.  Salt to taste as lentils become tough when salted during cooking. Remove any tomato skins that have risen to the surface.

The speckles vanished!

The sauce can be frozen or used as a base for lentil soup (just add more broth) or served over brown rice/polenta. In this case I made pasta enough for two, drained it, added several ladles of sauce which was partially pureed via a stick mixer, a few tablespoons of cream, and salted the mixture to taste making sure that it was wet enough to withstand the drying effect of baking. The pasta was placed in a baking dish and covered with lots of Gruyère. Baked for about ten minutes in a 177 degrees C oven, it became creamy but crusty and totally wonderful. For a larger amount, layers would be more appropriate, alternating between pasta and cheese which would require a longer baking time.

Gruyère was chosen because it melts so well.

Though most pasta shapes will be suitable for this dish, small shells double as adorable little serving platters.

A sprinkling of fleur de sel is a nice touch

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Blackberry Clafoutis

Clafoutis, a speciality from Limousin, is essentially fruit cake with a built-in custard. The generous amount of fruit, milk, and eggs in this homey dessert also makes it a lovely choice for breakfast. Traditionally made with un-pitted cherries, blackberries from our garden's wild area were used instead.

Vanilla and a light dusting of icing sugar are wonderful accents

Though vanilla sugar can be found in stores, a vanilla pod whose beans have been scraped out for some other recipe can be buried in a jar of sugar. As it is used, more sugar is added and the same pod just keeps on flavouring.

Still going strong after several years!

Coating well the baking dish with softened butter and then sugaring it makes for a delectable, caramelised crust.

The silicon tart pan that The Calm One got for me allowed easy cleaning

(makes a 23 cm round for 8 ample servings)

  • Blackberries, fresh, 450 g
  • Sugar, vanilla-flavoured (or regular, but add 1 tsp of vanilla extract to the batter), 75 g
  • Flour, white, 75 g
  • Eggs, large, 3 or 4 medium
  • Milk, whole, 300 ml
  • Butter, sweet, 60 g, melted
  • Salt, a large pinch
  • Extra sugar and butter for the baking dish
  • Confectioner's/icing/powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 210 degrees C. Put sugar, flour, eggs, salt, and milk in a mixing bowl. Whisk until thick and creamy which will take a bit of elbow grease and a few minutes. Blend in butter.

Rinse the berries.

Put them in the buttered and sugared pan. Pour batter over berries.

Place in oven and bake for fifteen minutes then lower temperature to 150 degrees C for another twenty-five minutes or till firm and well-browned.

Let cool for about ten minutes before dusting with icing sugar and slicing.

Using a small sieve ensures a more even dusting

It tastes wonderful served warm, tepid, or even cold. In the last case, I am betting a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top would be a perfect addition.

As I was making the clafoutis, Dirac the Cat was working hard also inspecting some new bed linens which passed his muster as he stayed ensconced inside a pillow case for nearly an hour.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Enticing Estratto

What to do when your towering tomato harvest has reached the stratosphere? Make estratto, that's what.  Plainly described, estratto is just tomato paste. A more florid handle is that it's ambrosia: a mere teaspoon is enough fuel to leave this tedious earth behind and enter a realm of gustatory pleasure that Dionysus would envy. Get out your biggest pot, chop up those toms, simmer for ten minutes, sieve them, and then slowly roast several hours for a paste that the tubes or cans found in supermarkets will never contain. Garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, and coarse salt added to the pot rounds out the flavour even further.

The scorched bits taste like delicious sticky toffee

Since the sixteen kilos/thirty-five pounds of tomatoes from our potager already processed into tomato-sausage sauce, stewed tomatoes, and tomato concentrate have filled up the freezer with no space to spare, preserving without freezing was necessary to handle the present batch of four kilos/nine pounds.

After several weeks of scorching heat, some tomatoes started to dry on the vine. They went into a makeshift sun-drying apparatus. A rectangular plant nursery plastic holder of small pots was scrubbed and placed on two bricks to allow air to flow under it. The toms were washed and quartered then placed uncut side down. Horticultural fleece was attached via clothespin to keep the flies out.

Each day they were turned.

Within a week they were completely dried but still supple.
Four humongous tomatoes shrunk down enough to fit inside a small spice jar.

In Italy, it is traditional to spread tomato puree on trays in the sun. Though my sun-dried tomato experiment worked out well enough, I nevertheless regarded the oven as a better way of making estratto. Wash and quarter four kilos/nine pounds of tomatoes. Place in a non-reactive pot along with two bay leaves, three peeled garlic cloves, two large pinches of coarse salt, and four tablespoons of olive oil. Simmer for ten minutes. Preheat oven to 15o degrees C/300 degrees F.

Puree via a food mill or press through a sieve with a wooden spoon. If the puree is fairly thin, it can be reduced in an open pan on the stove. In any case, pour the puree in a glass, steel, or ceramic dish and put in oven.

After two hours, turn-over and spread-out with a spatula. Roast for another hour, turn-over and spread-out again and roast for a remaining hour or till a thick paste forms.*

Closer to jam than paste, it can be gobbled up straight from the jar. I exercised restraint, so far that is. Hopefully it will still be around when I make enchilada sauce in a few days. 

Refrigerated and well-lidded, it will keep several months

In the potager, the pumpkins have stayed green much to my consternation, and then, whoosh, within a day, orange galore.

À la prochaine!

* Adapted from the recipe at The Italian Dish

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Individual No-Bake Ginger Peach Cheesecake . . . and a tomato harvest in full swing

Halfway between cheesecake and parfait, these are easy to do and a handy way to use fresh fruit. Mascarpone fills out a bed of buttered cookie crumbs. After a nice refreshing in the fridge, the whole lot gets decorated with the juiciest, sweetest, and ripest fruit. 

Gingernut biscuits/cookies formed the base while peaches & strawberries the garnish

After an absence of a harvest for several years because of incessant insect infestations, our tree gave a small but precious one this season so it was only fitting to showcase their splendour in this dessert. 

Careful winter & early-spring sprayings with the right dosage of the correct chemical worked!

For each serving, crush one to three cookies depending on their size and the desired base depth. Either crumb in a mixer or place the cookies inside a plastic bag and grind with a rolling pin which is what I did. Other choices than gingernut could be vanilla wafers or digestives. Mix in about a tablespoon of melted butter to get a malleable consistency. You may need more or less butter depending on the amount of cookies used.

Fill the bottom of a jar or glass with the crumbs and press down either with your fingertips or with an appropriately sized lid.

A finger-printed base!

If subbing for the mascarpone, follow the directions here. Candied ginger could be folded in at this time for even more of a gingery boost. Or if you are going with a vanilla theme, vanilla extract can be blended to taste now. Carefully spoon around ten heaping tablespoons of the filling over the base. Refrigerate covered for at least an hour. The more time in the fridge the more it will firm.

Slice a whole peach thinly and scatter over the cheese. Add a few berries for colour like raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. I used strawberries from our potager. If your fruit is not that sweet, then a dusting of powdered sugar may be in order.

The crunchy base awaiting under the plump fruit and smooth cheese makes a pleasing contrast.

In the potager, tomatoes are being harvested at a rapid pace. 

Liguria, an Italian beef-heart variety, is just fabulous with little seed and juice.

Their substantial fleshiness are perfect for stuffed tomatoes, whether cooked or raw. They also make excellent concentrate and paste which will raise the deliciousness quotient of many a dish.

A pot of basil provided fresh leaves which go so well with tomatoes

À la prochaine!


How to make tomato concentrate to be used in tomato soup
Tomato soup with Edam and brown rice
Tomato-sausage sauce for lasagne
Raw tomatoes stuffed with tuna/shrimp/chicken


How to make estratto (tomato paste) which not only uses an excess of tomatoes, it is also so much better than store-bought.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mint Blackberry No-Churn Ice Cream . . . and preserving sweet red peppers

Angoulême experiencing several days registering over 90°F (32°C) heightened my already significant appreciation of ice cream. Splashing cold water on my face cooled me from the outside while eating ice cream did that from within, a two-sided approach unbeatable both in its efficacy and sensory pleasure.

Churning breaks down any ice crystals so when not using an ice-cream maker, it is important to have ingredients with a low-water content such as fat, sugar, air, and alcohol. Condensed milk which is sweetened evaporated milk will freeze into a creamy mass especially if whipped cream which adds more fat plus air is folded into it. Since there are both blackberries and mint from our potager, they went into this ice cream. For about a litre/quart, add a handful of fresh mint leaves to 237 ml/8 fluid oz of heated-up cream, cover, and steep overnight in the fridge. The next day, strain the cream.

The wild area in the back of our garden consists mostly of brambles. The berries are smaller and more fibrous than the blackberries that already have been harvested from our cultivated bush.  But what flavour! Deep and encompassing. To make the coulis, put several large handfuls of berries in a sieve placed over a bowl and crush them well with a fork. Sweeten the juice with powdered sugar and thicken it with some cream.

Makes around 237 ml/8 fluid oz

Whip the cream. Put 237 ml/8 fluid oz of condensed milk into a bowl. Plop the whipped cream on top.

Gently fold in till it is blended but still airy.

The best way to achieve clearly defined swirls which is not what I did is to put a layer of partially frozen ice cream, dribble the blackberry coulis, and then swirl with a butter knife. While stirring only the latest layer, repeat till tub is filled. Instead I added the coulis just following the folding of the condensed milk into the whipped mint cream and before freezing. After a couple of hours in the freezer, most of the coulis sunk to the bottom so I gingerly stirred it throughout which resulted in a splotched appearance which was fine since I love all things piebald. Freeze about 4 hours.

The mint imparted a herbal freshness, while the blackberries added mellowness

Being somewhat melty, this ice cream appealed to my inner child who had a soft spot for ice-cream soup. All-in-all, this method produced an excellent result. Its texture is the creamiest I have ever had, not much effort is required to make it, and if you love the taste of the Indian frozen dairy dessert, Kulfi, which consists mainly of condensed milk, then this is the ice cream for you. The condensed milk is a flavour in itself, a slightly carmelised one, providing a subtle background for other ingredients so it may not appeal to purists.

In the potager, Corno di Toro Rosso, an Italian sweet red pepper, is beginning to be harvested with the bulk anticipated in about a month.

Grilling on all sides till charred about 15 cm/six inches under the broiler, placing in heat resistant ziplock bags for ten to fifteen minutes to loosen the skin then removing it, and chopping the flesh followed by freezing is an excellent method of preservation.

These will be used in Roasted Red Pepper White Bean Soup (includes detailed instructions for roasting peppers) and Roasted Garlic Sweet Red Pepper Fennel Spread/Dip.

À la prochaine!