Regional French Cuisine: Provence: Bouillabaisse

28 08 2009

The people have spoken.  (Well, a couple dozen of them, anyway.)  Thank you to all who voted in my poll; I dedicate this bouillabaisse to you.

Ugly buggers, aren't they?

The bouillabaisse adventure started with me poring over various bouillabaisse recipes, notably Robuchon’s, and making a list of the fish I would need to acquire.  I continue to be baffled by fish nomenclature.  It’s notoriously unclear even from region to region in the States – imagine trying to identify fish that come from different seas in a second language!  But that’s part of the reason I bought Robuchon’s book to begin with: with French recipes, designed for French kitchens, I should be able to find the right kinds of fish or meat for any given recipe, rather than attempting to guess at a substitution.  I dutifully wrote down the names of all twelve varieties of seafood called for in the recipe, categorized them by cooking time, and then looked them up individually in the index, to see if they had alternate names, or if they were anything I might recognize.  List in hand, Nick and I went down to the market in search of a fishmonger.  It turns out that les vacancestake a toll on the market, too.  Where we would ordinarily have had half a dozen fish stalls to choose from, this time there was one.  Fortunately, they had three of the fish on my list: rascasse (pictured above), grondin (pictured below), and congre, which was mercifully sold in slices.

Grondins, about to lose their heads

We had the rascasse cleaned, but neglected to ask for the same service on the little grondins.  Oops.  Between us, Nick and I managed to butcher the fish, and I mean that in all senses of the word.  Nevertheless, we ended up with a bowlful of fish meat and a bunch of heads, spines, and tails with which to make the fumet.

The brothy base of the bouillabaisse.
1. Fish Heads, Fish Heads…, 2. Stirring the Fumet, 3. Straining

Fumet, of course, is a fancy word for fish stock, particularly one where the fish and aromatics (including onion, fennel, tomato, bay leaf, and saffron, among others) are first sweated in oil, then covered with a mixture of white wine and water.  Instead of wine in this one, I used a couple good glugs of pastis, on Ann’ssuggestion.  After the requisite 45 minutes of simmering, Robuchon says to take out the fish bits and bouquet garni, and then pass the rest through a food mill before straining it.  That didn’t happen in my kitchen.  Everything had pretty much disintegrated by then, so I just mashed it all with a potato masher and strained it twice: first through a colander, then through a fine-mesh strainer.  This is perfectly acceptable practice when making a classic soupe de poissons,  so I figured I was safe.

Every recipe I came across for bouillabaisse (including the one I remember making in culinary school) insisted that it be served with rouille.

Read the rest of this entry »





The Land of Chocolate

25 08 2009

It seems ironic that the day I finally sit down to post my chocolate ice cream recipe is the first rainy day in a couple of weeks.  Especially since I created it in Seattle, back in June when I was still on vacation, where we had nothing but beautiful sunny weather.

writing the recipe - photo by Nick

It was a chocolate-intensive day (and sandwich-intensive, too, I might add) that started with a tour of Theo Chocolate.  While I admire their commitment to organic and fair trade production, I though the presentation got a little preachy on those topics, to the detriment of explaining, say, how ganache is made.  Not for my benefit, mind you, I make the stuff for a living, but I doubt anyone on the tour with me that day left with any real understanding of the difference between the production of a bar of chocolate and the production of a chocolate confection.  Still, it wasn’t a total wash.  We got to taste several different chocolates, from single origin bars to novelty bars to the aforementioned ganaches.  I couldn’t leave without picking up some of the Ghost chile chocolate and a box of single-malt scotch ganaches.

You can't make ice cream without cream

One of my missions while in the USA was to gather up some American artisan chocolate bars.  I was looking in particular for Patric, which my former boss can’t praise highly enough, and Askinosie, which I was turned on to by David Lebovitz.  Upon hitting the ground in San Francisco, I was on the lookout for chocolate shops.  I found Bittersweet without much trouble, and they did carry a handful of chocolate bars.  I walked out of there about $35 poorer and four chocolate bars richer, but I was a little disappointed that it was more of a café/coffeeshop than a true chocolate shop.

Whisking the chocolate into the custard - photo by Nick

Fortunately, Pete, our host in Seattle, is a chocolate enthusiast.  He had spotted Chocolopolis and wanted to check it out.  Having a couple of chocolate-loving houseguests was the perfect excuse.  So following the Theo tour (with a little lunch break) we headed to Chocolopolis.

And it was there that I found what I was looking for:

Read the rest of this entry »





Apéro Provençal

19 08 2009

It is HOT in Paris these days.  Like, too hot for me to be sitting upstairs in my apartment whose copious afternoon sun one fateful February day made me fall in love with it.  That same afternoon sun is now causing my awesome loft-office to heat up to approximately three million degrees (Fahrenheit, Celsius, it doesn’t really matter at that point, does it?).  I’ve been hearing that this is the hottest summer in Paris since the infamous death wave of 2003.  (well, August, anyway – July often required sweatshirts.)  What does all this have to do with Provence?  Nothing, really, except that down in the South they have longer, hotter summers, and have mastered the art of the refreshing apéritif in the form of Pastis.

The Classic

I’ll admit it took me a while to warm up to the anise-flavored spirit, licorice being a hard one for me to tolerate most of the time.  (There are notable exceptions.)  I still often choose a chilled glass of white or pink wine or a beer for my apéro, but thanks to some fancy boutique pastis Nick and I sampled at a salon, with a minty freshness to balance the other herbal qualities, I have found a place for it in my life.  Which is good, because Nick has taken a shine to the stuff.  We generally keep a bottle of Ricard, one of the most popular mass-market brands in France, on hand.  It is traditionally served chilled, with water to cut its potency.  We, being American, insist on ice cubes, which make it the perfect refresher on a hot day like today.  What’s cool is that when the ice and water hit the clear liquor, it turns a milky mint green color.  It even looks refreshing.

steps 2 and 3

Pastis is often enjoyed in conjunction with a friendly game of pétanque, or boules, as we call it around our house.  While the game is pretty much a national pastime in France, it is especially ingrained in the local culture of Provence, probably due to the region’s wealth of warm, sunny days.

Last Saturday

1. The First Throw, 2. Playing Boules (Pétanque)

Which I shouldn’t be complaining about here in Paris.

Just a quick reminder that my Provence poll is still open, so be sure to vote on how you want me to heat up my kitchen!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Tea for Two Tarts, the Second

17 08 2009

Mise en place for tea ganache

When we last left off, I was hoping for more opportunities to combine tea and fruit for unusually delicious Summer desserts.  As luck would have it, the downstairs neighbors invited us to dinner less than a week later.  I was informed that the pregnant wife had largely lost her sweet tooth, but I like a challenge.  I figured something featuring dark chocolate and fresh seasonal fruit would fit the bill nicely. 

A fan of white nectarine slices

Flipping through Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat for inspiration, I found a recipe for an intriguing-sounding chocolate tart with jasmine tea and peaches.  Hmmm…I do like a good ganache tart.  Nick had come home from the market with a bag of assorted stone fruits that morning, so we tasted one of each and determined that the white nectarines were really something special.  Besides the gorgeous blush color of the flesh, they had a unique aroma and delicate flavor that I thought would play nicely off the bittersweet chocolate.  Scrapping Hermé’s overly complicated tart dough in favor of a simple almond sablé (because we all know that almonds and stone fruit are like chocolate and peanut butter – they just go) and subbing in a more robust tea in the (now milk chocolate-free) ganache, I was pretty sure I had a winner on my hands.

Just Glazed White Nectarine and Tea Ganache Tart

For the final touch, I topped the über-shiny ganache with another circle of pretty nectarine slices, which I then glazed with a nappage fashioned from some handmade jam.  The neighbors were duly impressed with the tart’s beauty when I arrived at their door, and not a crumb remained at the end of the night, so I assume it tasted acceptable.  (Ok, it tasted great.  The tea subtly perfumed the intense chocolate, and the nectarines provided a juicy counterpoint.  It may be one of the best desserts I’ve ever made, and it wasn’t the slightest bit difficult.  Look! I did it while drinking a mojito!)  Even the sweet tooth-lacking pregnant woman had seconds.

Want the recipe?  Here it is:

Read the rest of this entry »





Tea for Two Tarts, the First

13 08 2009

From the moment the double CSA share’s worth of gorgeous apricots arrived in my kitchen, I knew I wanted to bake something.  As the weekend approached and the supply began to dwindle, I had to tell Nick to stop eating them or I wouldn’t be able to make him a nice dessert on Sunday.  Never mind I didn’t really have a plan, these things usually work themselves out, right?

How to fold a rustic fruit tart

And they did, with a little help from Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan.  Flipping through the French version of Desserts by Pierre Hermé for some apricot inspiration, I was immediately hooked by the recipe for apricots en papillote seasoned with tea.  (For those of you just joining us, I am a big tea drinker.)  The combination sounded wonderful, and I had the perfect floral-citrusy tea to use.  I knew it would be magical.  But I wasn’t so into the papillote.  I mean, who wants to eat roasted parchment paper or foil, no matter how delectable the insides may be?

Look how juicy!

So I joined forces with an old favorite, the rustic fruit tart.  Flaky, buttery pastry is better than parchment any day.   The apricots, tossed with some sugar and a couple pinches of tea, were glistening with juice.  In order to capitalize on the flavorsome liquid, I sprinkled the bottom of the tart with almond meal to soak up some of the good stuff – and prevent leaks, too.

I love a no-fuss crust!

Into the hot oven it went and an hour or so later, I pulled out the browned and caramelized galette.  A friend had joined us for dinner, so we democratically cut the tart in thirds.

A "slice" of apricot-tea tart

Let me tell you, tea does lovely things with apricot.  In this case, the floral aroma and hint of bitter tannin played off the sweet-tart fruit beautifully.  The crust, with its crisp flakes and rich butter flavor was the perfect foil.  Because it wasn’t.  Foil, I mean.  Anyway, I was so pleased with the results that I immediately began contemplating other ways to work tea into my summer fruit desserts…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Provence-a-palooza

10 08 2009

I’m trying not to let half of August slip through my fingers before writing something about my chosen region for the month: Provence.  I’ve actually had this one planned out since I came up with the Regional French Month idea way back in January.  Provence, to me, is all about the sunny summery flavors of fresh herbs, juicy tomatoes, plump eggplant, and briny olives.  Knowing that August is the height of tomato season, not to mention that of zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers (the Provençal “trinity” if you will), I thought it would be the perfect time to celebrate one of the best-loved cuisines of France.

A search through the archives here at Croque-Camille reveals a handful of Provence-inspired dishes and recipes, so I thought I’d round them up for you.

Eggplant, olives, tomato, and rosemary - yum!

Rereading the post about Nick’s Provençal Eggplant thing made me hungry for it all over again.  To the point where I went out and bought a couple eggplants so that I could recreate it sometime this week.

Anybody remember the fresh Herbes de Provence I found at the market one sunny morning last year?  I haven’t seen them since, but I still think about them, and how delicious they were in a light zucchini quiche.

Or how about the world’s easiest salad dressing, starring that most Provençal of condiments, tapenade?

And of course there’s the pissaladière, the original French pizza.  My version didn’t have anchovies, because while there are approximately six million varieties of canned sardine here, finding a jar of plain anchovies is next to impossible.

More recently, the zucchini bake could easily be made more provençal with anchovies instead of pancetta, and some fresh rosemary and thyme.  The potato and green bean salad was delicious made with herbes de Provence in place of the tarragon, and now that I think about it, potatoes and green beans are two of the ingredients in another provençal classic: Salade Niçoise.

Speaking of Salade Niçoise, there are obviously several more traditional dishes of Provence that I have yet to cook and write about.  So I’m putting it to a poll.  What makes you hungry for more?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





You Say Courgette, I Say Zucchini

7 08 2009

I know I’m not the only one with a glut of zucchini these days.  Every week I get at least one bag of it from the CSA panier, and I’m trying not to cook it the same way twice.  They are beautiful specimens, just the right size with lovely mottled dark green skin.  So far I’ve made muffins (I can do better), dunked raw spears into homemade ranch dressing (which reminds me that I have yet to make that fried chicken liver salad I’ve had my eye on), grilled slices of it to accompany aged Gouda cheeseburgers on homemade brioche buns, and made a LOT of pasta sauce.  And all of that has been very good – well, except for the muffins, which were edible but nothing to write home about – but I wanted to make a meal out of these tasty vegetables, rather than relegating them to side dish territory.

Pancetta makes everything better!

“Casserole” is a word that for some reason has not-so-good connotations.  “Zucchini Bake” sounds a little dumpy.  Lasagna it isn’t, even though one time I put some no-bake lasagna noodles in between the layers of zucchini planks, with delicious results.  I guess “Strata” may best describe this concoction of mine, considering it is a layered, baked dish.  But a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?  Names aside, it comes together like this: slice some zucchini lengthwise and lay them down in a baking dish.  Season with salt, pepper, minced garlic, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Top with paper-thin slices of pancetta and some caramelized onions.  Repeat.  Finish with a layer of zucchini planks and top with a couple of sliced tomatoes (which you are probably long on as well).

Zucchini Strata, before

Throw the dish in the oven and forget about it for an hour or so.  (Well, you might want to give it a half-turn after about 30 minutes, if your oven is anything like mine.)  When the tomato slices are starting to look a little roasty and the zucchini has drawn itself a nice, hot bath, put some slices of fresh mozzarella on top and return the dish to the oven until the cheese has melted.

Zucchini Strata, after

It occurred to me while I was baking my first zucchini strata (oh, you can bet there were more) that all that zucchini liquid could be put to good use.  I could have put breadcrumbs or even slices of bread between the layers to soak it up.  But as I ate, mopping up the flavorful juice with hunks of Really Good Bread, I thought it would almost be a shame not to have that saucy component.  There was the aforementioned variation with the lasagna noodles, which left plenty of liquid for my bread-dipping enjoyment.  It also had prosciutto, basil and goat cheese, which I’m telling you because I don’t want you to feel limited to my choices of zucchini accompaniments.  You don’t need a recipe, just slice up some zucchini, layer it with some other stuff you like, and bake.  Serve with bread.  It’s that simple.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





C’est Moi Le Chef!

5 08 2009

Or is it la Cheffe?  No, chef is one of those sexist French words that has no feminine form.  At any rate, the chef is on vacation this month and he left me in charge.  In addition to my usual pastry and chocolate production duties, I am now responsible for planning and overseeing what gets done each day, defrosting the freezers at the appropriate time, and all of the ordering… which has yet to go entirely smoothly. 

Following a very difficult conversation yesterday with the secretary of the produce company, I consider it a triumph that the only thing wrong with this morning’s order was that the grapes were green instead of purple.  (I was informed by a colleague after getting off the phone that their secretary is notoriously terrible – I’m glad it’s not just me and my French skills, or lack thereof.)  Today I was anxiously awaiting the call from another purveyor.  I had the order prepared as soon as I finished the morning pastries, but by the time I had finished for the day and was ready to go home, they still hadn’t called.  I eventually had to track down their number and wait on hold for what felt like hours, although it was probably more like ten minutes.  At least once I got through the lady on the other end of the line seemed to understand what I was saying.  I feel pretty confident that tomorrow morning the right quantities of the correct items will be waiting for me.

Being in charge, so far, is great.  I get to choose the music; my lunch “hour” has been reduced to 30 minutes, because I like going home early; and I don’t have to wonder what’s on today’s prep list.  It’s also much more tiring than I expected.  Upon arriving home yesterday I fell straight asleep – something I very rarely do.  Today, though, I got home and wanted to cook.  I finally made the tzatziki I’ve been promising myself for weeks, using the now-sad-looking cucumber that I got a couple of CSA paniers ago.  It is waiting patiently in the fridge, the flavors slowly melding, for the apérothat usually accompanies Nick’s return home.  But I’m not done.  Hopie has gone and written about butterscotch pudding, so now I have to make it.  Unless I decide to make chocolate pudding.  Or both.  In a pie crust.  That’s probably not going to happen.  Today.  If there are any leftovers this weekend, though…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Les Chips

3 08 2009

“It’s been a while since you did a post on Awesome Things in the French Supermarket,” Nick says to me as he pulls not one, but two bags of potato chips from the shopping bag.

“True,” I reply, pretty sure that potato chips are not a healthy part of a vegetable-heavy diet.  Especially ham-flavored ones. 

My favorite part is the old guy on the corner of the bag, lovingly inspecting a chip.

They were pretty good, though… if you like smoky bacon.  Which I do, as I am sure it is apparent to even semi-regular readers of this blog.  And I bet they’re killer with onion dip.  There was also a bag of mustard-flavored potato chips (“les chips,” pronounced sheeps, en français) which I just now had to  open and taste in order to write an informed post.  Sometimes life is hard.

...and by mustard they mean Dijon.

I may like the mustard ones even better.  The mustard flavor is subtle – no sinus clearing heat – but so perfectly paired with the potato chip that I wonder why they don’t make these in the States.  Although it’s entirely possible that a French food-lover would wonder the same thing upon first tasting a cheddar cheese-flavored chip.

Let it be noted that I am not the world’s biggest potato chip fan.  Sure I’ll eat them, and find it hard to stop, but I don’t crave them.  Given the choice I will almost always pick corn chips, crackers, popcorn, Chex Mix, or any of the multitude other crunchy salty snacks that are served at barbecues and sporting events.  That said, the range of unfamiliar flavors available in France certainly piques my curiosity – roasted chicken potato chips, anyone?

Previous Awesome French Supermarket Finds:

Bacon Wrapped Goat Cheese
Goat’s and Sheep’s Milk Yogurts
Butter with Sea Salt Crystals
Cats eat better here, too…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 312 other followers

%d bloggers like this: