Corn Chowdah

12 09 2009

Corn showed up in the CSA panier a couple of weeks ago.  I was excited and wary.  Excited because yay, corn!  Wary because the few ears of cob corn I’ve had in France have been unpalatably starchy.  So before even tasting it I devised a plan.  Corn chowder.  That way I could extract the flavor from the cobs, while the chopped, cooked kernels would have less of a chance to be offensive when combined in a creamy soup with bacon and potatoes.  (How do you make anything taste good?  Bacon and potatoes.)

Corned cream

Fortunately, when I cut the corn kernels from the cob and tasted one, I was rewarded with the crisp crunch of sweet corn.  Hooray!  No animal feed for us tonight!  I reserved the kernels for later and put the halved cobs in a pot with a little cream (okay, a lot of cream), a bay leaf,  and a few sprigs of thyme harvested from my windowbox garden.  I brought it up to a simmer, then covered it and lowered the heat so the cobs and herbs could really infuse the cream with their flavors.

The start of a delicious chowder

As we all know, a good chowder always starts with bacon.  Potatoes are another must-have.  Keeping it simple, I rendered some lardons while dicing potatoes, then threw the potatoes on top of the bacon and tossed to coat the cubes of potato in bacon fat.  I cooked them like that for a few minutes, then added a little white wine and water to cover.  Salt, pepper, and 10 minutes of simmering later, the potatoes were tender and tasty.  Time to strain the corned cream into the pot and add the reserved corn kernels.  Back up to a simmer for another couple of minutes to heat the corn through, and dinner was good to go.

Summery, yet hearty soup

Simple, classic, and great for those first few chilly nights of the changing season.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Corsican Summer and a Birth Announcement

9 09 2009

In an attempt to prolong the summer – I’ve been getting some great little poires Williams (Bartlett pears) in the CSA panier for the last couple of weeks, and their appearance has made me wistful – this month we will be visiting the cuisine of Corsica.  This Mediterranean island has changed hands many times over the years, belonging at various times to the Romans, Goths, and Berbers, just to name a few, but has belonged to France since the reign of Louis XV in the mid-eighteenth century.  Strangely, Corsica, despite its being situated in the middle of the sea, doesn’t have much of a seafood tradition.  No, the Corsicans embrace the mountain on which they live, and instead of fishing, grow grapevines along the coast.

Corsican red wines are made from a few different grapes: Nielluccio (alias Sangiovese in Italy), Vermentino,  and the unique Sciacarello, which makes wines that are light in color but bold in flavor.  They also produce some very flavorful and refreshing rosés, perfect for the last few of summer’s sultry evenings.

It's all Mediterranean Food

This red prompted Nick to ask, “Why isn’t Corsica part of Italy?”  Mainly because its juicy character was distinctly reminiscent of Chianti (and it could well be the same grape).  So I whipped up a quick pasta sauce featuring tomatoes and zucchini from the panier – they haven’t started sending us winter squash just yet – and we enjoyed a Mediterranean island-inspired dinner.

Speaking of the panier, and seasonal produce and menus, it’s time for the birth announcement!  Croque-Camille has spawned a mini-blog dedicated to the weekly bounty of the CSA, along with ideas about how to use it.  True, I’m located in Paris, but the seasonal availability should be pretty similar across the Northern Hemisphere (those of you in the Southern hemisphere will just have to wait about six months).  So hop on over to Seasonal Market Menus: A Dispatch from Croque-Camille’s Kitchen, and get inspired!  I’m also putting an RSS widget for the new baby blog in my sidebar, so you can keep up to date on both blogs at once.  Enjoy!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.
Sciacarello Grapes on Foodista





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.





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.





Tarte au Ganache Cassis

13 07 2009

The CSA panier that I get usually contains about 5 types of vegetables and 1 fruit every week.  And every week there is at least one surprise, which is one of my favorite things about it.  I love the challenge of coming up with recipes for things I don’t think I like, or new ways to use things I’m getting tired of, and especially playing with new (to me) ingredients.  Picking up my first delivery after coming back from vacation, I was expecting a bag brimming with luscious summer produce – tomatoes (check), zucchini (check), eggplant (not yet), stone fruits and berries (no dice).  The first fruit I got (of which I got a double ration) was cassis.

Definitely not blueberries

At first glance I thought they were blueberries, which excited me greatly.  Further inspection revealed two pints of blackcurrants (cassis in French).  Tart and seedy, they didn’t lend themselves to out-of-hand eating, so I set about finding something to do with them.  A search of my Frenchie-est cookbooks came up fruitless (rimshot).  Desperate for some inspiration, I opened up Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat (which, regrettably, doesn’t seem to exist in English, at least not on Amazon) and found one recipe using cassis.  It was a ridiculously complicated chocolate and cassis entremet, with multiple layers of cake, ganache, syrup, and glaze.  Way fussier than anything I want to do outside of work.  I did, however, think that the ganache portion of the dessert had potential.  A cassis ganache tart sounded terribly sophisticated, and easy, too.  So I threw together a quick batch of my favorite sweet crust and baked it to a crisp golden brown.

The ganache itself was quite simple.  Minimalist, even.  I buzzed the fresh cassis with my immersion blender and was delighted by the rich burgundy color.

What do you get when you put cassis in a blender?

I pushed this mush through a fine-mesh strainer and was rewarded with an impossibly shiny, jewel-toned purée.

Mesmerizingly shiny cassis purée

I combined the purée with some water, sugar, and crème de cassis liqueur and brought the mixture to a boil.  As soon as it was hot, I poured it over some chopped chocolate (70%, from Madagascar, because chocolate from there tends to be fruity and I thought it would be a harmonious pairing), let it sit for a minute to soften the chocolate, then stirred until the ganache was silky smooth.  Hermé’s recipe called for as much butter as chocolate, but I was afraid that would dull the flavors.  So I whisked in a teaspoon or two of butter and called it good.  While it was still warm, I poured the ganache into the cooled tart shell and carefully set it in the fridge to set up.  There was a little extra ganache, so Nick and I dipped strawberries and apricots into it to get our chocolate fix for the evening.  I’m pleased to report it was delicious.

The next night, I removed the tart from the pan and cut a couple of thin slices.  They looked lonely all alone on their spare white plates, so I strewed a few fresh cassis over them and called it dessert.

Chocolate-Cassis Ganache Tart

Every bit as elegant as I had hoped, the ganache was the perfect consistency: firm enough to hold its shape when sliced, yet soft enough to melt upon contact with the tongue.  The chocolate and cassis made great friends, too, the bittersweet chocolate taming the puckery cassis while allowing it to keep its personality.  Which makes me wonder… why aren’t there more chocolate-cassis recipes out there?  And what would you do with fresh cassis?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Exploring France: Pays Basque: Piment d’Espelette

15 05 2009

When did it get to be May 15th?  And here I am, writing my first post for what is supposed to be “Basque month.”  I have been doing some research, but so far that has not been apparent on my blog.  At any rate, I’m kicking things off with one of the produits phares* of the Basque Country.

Piment d'Espelette in its dried, ground, jarred form

Piment d’Espelette is a mild (around 4,000 on the Scoville scale for you chili geeks out there) red pepper with hints of smoke and a slight bittersweet quality.  It was brought to Europe from Mexico in the 16th century, along with many other New World food “discoveries” such as potatoes, tomatoes, and corn.  The Basque country was found to be an ideal climate for cultivating the small, elongated, bright red peppers, and the piment d’Espelette soon became an integral part of Basque cooking.  It gained AOC status in 2000, and now commands fairly hefty price tags.  On account of this, I had been holding off buying some, until one day, browsing in G. Detou (after stops at La Bovida and Mora- Les Halles can be dangerous!) I found a jar of that lovely reddish-orange powder for half of what they were charging at the grocery store.  I also came home with 3 kilos of Valrhona cocoa powder, but that’s neither here nor there.

The humble beginnnings of a tasty pasta sauce

I’ve been using it sparingly here and there, but this week, all that changed.  Apparently Spring’s sudden onslaught (and just as sudden retreat) has wreaked a bit of havoc on the farms that provide me with my CSA panier.  The bag was positively bulging the previous week, with more lettuce than two people could possibly eat in a week, barring some kind of fad diet.  This week, though, they had to supplement with some zucchini from the Drôme.  And they are beauties.  Small, slender and sweet, they gave me the urge to sauté them up with a little tomato and toss them over a big bowl of whole wheat spaghetti.  And then it occurred to me that the piment d’Espelette might be just the thing for a light, summery pasta dish such as this one.  And it was.  The faint heat was a great match for the fresh, sweet zucchini.  I see piment d’Espelette playing a pretty big role in my kitchen this summer.  Good thing I know where to get it cheap.

*WATCH! As my grasp of the English language slowly devolves into franglais.  Literally, this phrase says “lighthouse products,” but obviously that’s not what it means.  Maybe “beacon” would be a better translation.  Anyway, it’s a product that gets a lot of attention, or is especially connected with a region or company.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Poireaux Vinaigrette

11 05 2009

This is one of those ultra-complicated Classic French recipes. 

Leeks + Vinaigrette...

I kid, leeks vinaigrette are every bit as uncomplicated as they sound.  Two ingredients: leeks, vinaigrette.  (Please, trim, halve, and wash your leeks very well before cooking them.  And I’m saying vinaigrette is one ingredient, because counting the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, etc. as separate ingredients just seems a little nit-picky to me, especially when they are all pantry items.  It’s not like any shopping is required.)  My point is, if you have leeks in the house, you can make this.

Traditionally the leeks for leeks vinaigrette are boiled, but I’ve had some very bad versions of this dish in mediocre cafés, where the soggy, grayish leeks swim in a pool of industrial vinaigrette.  Maybe you have, too.  If so, I urge you to give these a second chance.  I think we’ve all learned some valuable lessons about the comparative merits of boiling and roasting vegetables.  So I roast mine.

... + broiling = delicious side dish

Broil, to be more exact.  I drizzle them with a little vinaigrette (one made with tarragon vinegar and hazelnut oil is nice) both before and after cooking, and voilà, instant side dish!  Don’t tell the French I’m suggesting improvements on their classics, but I bet these would be great on the grill, too, what with summer fast approaching.  Just be judicious with the vinaigrette before cooking – you don’t want drips and flare-ups stealing the show.  And it doesn’t even have to be leeks!  Try this treatment with other seasonally appropriate vegetables – asparagus and green beans are two of my favorite candidates.  Of course, now we’re veering even further away from the original, but it just goes to show that a little technique goes a long way.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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