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.





Chou-Fleur de Bretagne

13 04 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I got a big, beautiful head of cauliflower in my CSA panier.

Hello, Gorgeous!

The accompanying literature indicated that the cauliflower came from Brittany (Bretagne, en français) which was odd, considering the CSA is called Les Paniers du Val de Loire, and all the participating farms are located in the Loire Valley.  I’m looking at it as a bit of serendipity, though.  I know it’s been hard to tell, but April is Bretagne month here at Croque-Camille.  While Brittany is best known for its crèpes, kouign amann, and shellfish, my preliminary research indicates that modern Breton cuisine focuses on fresh local produce and the bounty of the sea.  So lucky me, a fresh, local ingredient landed right on my doorstep, and all I had to do was figure out what to cook with it!

Fortunately, Mark Bittman had a suggestion for me, referenced in a glowing post about Parisian market-purchased cauliflower (I wonder where his came from originally?) – cauliflower pasta.  It sounded easy, fast, and hence perfect for my cooking-for-one needs while Nick was in the States.

Cauliflower Pasta

Looks a little bland, though, doesn’t it?  Kinda tasted that way, too, even with whole wheat spaghetti and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes.  I think I can sum up the problem in two words: boiled cauliflower.  We all know that boiling is not the way to coax intense flavor out of anything, except maybe a reduction.  The good news is that I only used half the cauliflower, so I still had the other half to play around with.

Read the rest of this entry »





Spring is Here!

3 04 2009

Not that you’d know it from the weather today, but trust me, there have been more sunny days than not this week in Paris.  And last Sunday at the market I bought asparagus, peas, and sweet strawberries!

To celebrate the arrival of spring, I made this risotto with the asparagus and peas.

Early Spring Vegetable Risotto

It tasted as good as it looks.  I also made a fresh fruit tart with the strawberries and the kiwis that I got in my CSA panier (who knew kiwis grew in the Loire valley?).  The meal was a lovely first taste of spring, and made me hungry for more.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Regional French Cuisine: Savoie: Tartiflette

30 03 2009

You didn’t think I could get through Savoie month without discussing Tartiflette, did you?  I’ve made variations on the theme in my kitchen before, but this time, I wanted to try my hand at the real deal.  Using Robuchon’s recipe as a reference, I began by sautéeing lardons and added thinly sliced leeks once the bacon had rendered.  (Onions would be more traditional, but the CSA people keep sending me leeks.)

Bacon and leeks - before

While the leek-bacon mixture cooked, I cut some potatoes (also from the CSA panier – look at me, cooking all local and organic!) into cubes – didn’t bother peeling them – and boiled them until they were tender.  When the leeks were beginning to caramelize, I poured some white wine into the pan and let it cook a few minutes longer until the wine was reduced to a glaze.

Wine-braised leeks and lardons

I scraped this heavenly-smelling concoction over the drained potatoes and stirred gently to coat the potatoes in the bacony, winey goodness.

Read the rest of this entry »





Winter Vegetable Mystery Box

5 03 2009

Back in my culinary school days, we used to get at least one “mystery box” assignment per term.  I always kind of enjoyed them, because it required me to come up with something beautiful and delicious on the fly, without relying on specific recipes.  (Of course, sometimes it was stressful, like when I drew strawberries, chocolate, and mint, plotted out an elaborate dessert, and then went to the walk-in only to discover that there were no strawberries!  Luckily, blueberries made an easy substitution.) Anyway, I like to think of my CSA panier as a weekly, stress-free mystery box.  So far, I’d say it’s been working out pretty well.

The layered look

One of the more esoteric vegetables we’ve been getting lately is the topinambour, or Jerusalem artichoke.  These knobbly tubers have the look of dark pink or purplish overgrown ginger roots.  I took the time to peel them the first time I cooked them, then determined (with a little help from my friend, Joël Robuchon) that it wasn’t worth the effort.  After baking them into a savory clafoutis and puréeing them into a spicy curried soup, a box of unused lasagna noodles idling on the shelf inspired me to try a topinambour lasagna.  Fresh béchamel sauce, sautéed leeks (also from the panier), some grated Comté, and a handful of toasted pine nuts completed the picture.

Topinambour lasagna

You know you’ve done something right when you tell your husband “We’re having the same thing we had for dinner last night,” and the response is, “Oh, cool!”

* * * * *

Speaking of CSAs, I have written another article for Secrets of Paris, this time about some of the various organic produce delivery options available in Paris.  The information should be useful for residents and visitors alike!

Greenmarket Alternatives

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





We’ve Got The Beet

3 03 2009

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. 

Remember the last time I cooked beets?  (I know you probably don’t, that’s why I put the link in there.)  Well, I ate them, but the recipe obviously didn’t have me clamoring for more.  And I made no more attempts to cook them until they showed up in my CSA panier a few weeks ago.

Just look at that color!

You see, I really want to like beets, especially this time of year.  They are such a sexy shade of deep red, in striking contrast to the whites and browns of most of Winter’s root vegetables.  So what can I do to make them taste as sexy as they look?  In a word: bacon.  Oh, I threw some chestnuts in there for good measure, and drizzled it all with a little Balsamic vinegar, all of which I’m sure helps the cause, but we all know it’s the smoky, meaty bacon that makes the magic happen.

Love the array of warm colors in this dish!

Balsamic Roasted Beets with Bacon and Chestnuts

 

Here it is – the recipe that finally made me like beets.  

 

3½ oz. / 100 g lardons

2 medium beets, peeled and diced into ½ inch (13 mm) cubes

4½ oz. / 130 g roasted, peeled chestnuts, roughly chopped

1 shallot, thinly sliced (optional)

Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme

Olive oil

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Balsamic vinegar

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C.
  2. Place the lardons in a small saucepan and cover with cold water.  Place over medium heat and bring up to a simmer.  Remove from heat and drain.
  3. Combine the beet cubes, blanched lardons, chestnuts, shallot (if using) and thyme on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper and splash a little olive oil on top.  Stir to coat.
  4. Roast 20 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, drizzle the beets with a little balsamic vinegar, stir to redistribute, and roast for another 20 minutes, or until beets are tender.  Serve hot.

 

Serves 2 as a side dish.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





A Panier Improv That Worked

5 02 2009

I was very excited last week when we got two HUGE parsnips in our CSA panier

Tasty winter produce

I had never once tasted a parsnip before I spent Christmas in England a few years back, but it was love at first bite.  Roasted crisp with carrots and potatoes, I loved their crunchy caramelized outsides and subtly sweet, tender insides.  I am such a fan of roasted parsnips that I have rarely strayed from the straightforward recipe I first fell in love with.

But the panier encourages experimentation.  Ever since we started getting it, we’ve been long on apples.  It’s a different kind every week, from sweet goldens to the tart, perfectly-sized-to-fit-in-your-palm snacking apples we got yesterday.  But still, that’s a lot of apples.  I’m trying to come up with new ways to use them, so when I got out the parsnips and noticed the giant (we’re talking softball-sized) apples reposing next to them, I thought, why not?

And a new favorite Winter side dish was born.

Roast Parsnips and Apples

 

This is a delicious, simple side dish that is fantastic with roast chicken.  For something a little more substantial, you could make it into a gratin by crumbling some blue cheese on top after the parsnip is tender, and baking until the cheese has melted a bit.  A little bacon in there would definitely not suck.

 

2 very large parsnips (or about 4-5 medium or 6-8 small)

1 large apple

Leaves picked from one stem of rosemary

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 C / 375 F.
  2. Peel the parsnips and cut into bite-size pieces.  Dice the apple, but don’t worry about peeling it.
  3. Spread the parsnips evenly on a baking sheet or in a small roasting pan.  Season with salt, pepper, and rosemary.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. 
  4. Roast for 20 minutes, then add the apple and stir.  Continue roasting another 20-25 minutes, until the parsnip is tender and beginning to brown at the edges.  Serve hot.

 

Serves 2 hungry people as a side dish.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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