Délice de Bourgogne

12 10 2009

Can you believe I spent an entire weekend in Dijon and didn’t have a single regional cheese?  Well, it’s true.  Not for lack of trying, mind you – I foolishly thought that two-plus hours was a sufficient amount of time for a three-course lunch.  Unfortunately, I had to cancel my cheese plate order (all made in Beaune!  I was so excited!) in order to catch the train home.  On the upside, Paris is still a pretty good place to buy cheeses from all over France.

Afternoon snack of champions

I found a little round of Délice de Bourgogne without much trouble, and took it home, stopping by Du Pain et Des Idées for some bread, which gave it just enough time to come up to temperature for my afternoon snack.

Délice de Bourgogne is a triple-crème cheese (one of my favorite categories), clocking in at around 40% butterfat.  It is made from pasteurized cow’s milk, and tastes, rather unsurprisingly, buttery.  This one is a tad underripe in my book – I like it more gooey than firm – but still has a pleasant smooth texture and buttery flavor with a hint of yogurty tang.  Later on (if I can wait that long) it will develop a fuller aroma, grassier and earthier, though it will never get as strong as its raw-milk brethren.  I think a glass of white Burgundy – that’s Chardonnay, but not the oaky juggernaut it’s become in California – would be a perfect accompaniment.

Once again, I’m just in time for La Fête du Fromage at Chez Loulou.  Be sure to see what the rest of the roundup has in store on the 15th!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Kir Bourguignon

9 10 2009

I know you’ve all been wondering when I was going to announce the French Region for October.  (Actually, I know you haven’t.  Statistics show that these “Regional French” posts are some of the least visited on this site.  And yet, some of the most searched… hmmm.)  At any rate, this is a region I’ve had planned since the beginning, and one I’m very excited about: Burgundy.  Bourgogne to the French.  I will be using the terms interchangeably.  Some of my favorite wines and cheeses in all of France come from Burgundy, not to mention some of the dishes that are inextricably linked with Classic French Cuisine, such as Boeuf Bourguignonne, Coq au Vin, and escargots.  (Let’s not forget gougères are also a Bourguignonne specialty.)  My trip is planned, and in honor of Dijon, whe’re I’m headed for a weekend, as well as in honor of Friday, I present to you Kir.

Kir by candlelight

Kir, a classic French apéritif, was invented by Félix Kir, a former mayor of Dijon (who I can’t stop imagining as the Bud Clark of France).  Cassis, aka blackcurrants, grow very well in Burgundy, so naturally the wine-loving populace came up with a way to make them alcoholic.  By soaking fresh cassis berries in alcohol, they extract a sweet liqueur heady with the aromas of the ripe fruit.  As the story goes, the drink was invented to make less-awesome white wine more drinkable by mixing it with one third crème de cassis.  And believe me, it does.  Cheers!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Balbuzard Café

30 09 2009

All summer I had my eyes peeled for Corsican restaurants in Paris.  (July was the originally-planned Corsica month, but then the spur-of-the-moment trip to Rouen happened.  Fortunately, it turns out that Fall is the best time of year for Corsican charcuterie, so I lucked out.)  I spotted one on a bike ride near the Place de la République, did some research in my Pudlo guide, and decided that Balbuzard was the place to go.

Saturday night we finally went.  Nick and I were joined by another couple, and the four of us walked there together after apéros chez nous.  We were greeted immediately upon entering the colorful (red and yellow tiled floor, lime green and magenta velvet wallpaper winding up the stairs) café.  We were seated at a table near the bar with a good view of the rest of the room, including the small Corsican épicerie (jams, honeys, and charcuterie available for purchase) in the corner.  A bottle of Corsican wine was ordered – we went with the one suggested by the waiter to compliment the cured meats – and our meals chosen, and we chatted with our friends during the brief wait for our first courses.

Salade d'avocats avec gamba et noix de st-jacques

I had chosen the avocado salad with prawn and scallops.  The prawn was great, but there wasn’t enough of him.  The avocados were perfectly ripe, and the salad was served with a cold tomato compote and a wedge of fresh cheese.  Only the scallops disappointed.  Like the rest of the salad, they were cold, and I had really been expecting freshly seared, rare-but-warm specimens.  I didn’t notice much of a difference in flavor or texture between the scallop meat and the other part (roe?  liver?  other mysterious organs?), which I thought was odd.

Terrine de sanglier

Nick had the terrine de sanglier, a delicious wild boar pâté.  Corsican wild boar live their days running around in the forest, eating chestnuts, and you can tell when you taste their extremely flavorful, slightly nutty meat.  The terrine was served with an onion jam that really put it over the top.  Table positioning made taking photos of our companions’ plates awkward, but our vegetarian friend ordered the terrine de chèvre (cheese, that is), and ate every bit.

For the main course, I opted for the figatellu.  It’s a classic Corsican sausage made from the liver and heart of wild pigs. 

Figatellu aux lentilles

The flavor is strong, but I really enjoy it.  Served on a bed of warm lentils with an oven-dried tomato and a breath-freshening sprig of parsley, the sausage really hit the spot.  I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, though, when I looked over at Nick’s plate…

Read the rest of this entry »

Miel de Corse

24 09 2009

One of Corsica’s largest crops is the chestnut.  As such, they feature prominently in dishes both sweet (cakes, candied chestnuts) and savory (various breads, a type of “polenta”), as well as in the local liqueurs.  Much of the chestnut harvest is dried and ground into flour, which has been granted a.o.c. status.  Another Corsican chestnut-based treat with the privileged status is honey.

Organic chestnut honey from Corsica

The stuff is, quite frankly, wonderful.  It has a rich, nutty aroma with floral undertones, all of which carry through on the palate.  I’ve been using it to sweeten my green tea, but I’m trying to come up with a recipe that will feature it more prominently.  (My first meeting with chestnut honey was years ago, when I used it in an orange pâte de fruits – a sort of jelly candy – for the restaurant where I worked.  It was one of my (and the chef’s) favorite flavors of jelly, so I made a lot of them, though now that I think about it, I haven’t laid so much as a taste bud on it since then.  But the reunion is going well, like when you run into an old friend and discover that nothing has changed – you can still talk for hours with no awkward silences.)

I also love the artwork on the jar.  The bee is dwarfed by the gigantic, hairy chestnut, and it looks as though he is going to have to battle it in order to get to the sweet flower.  A battle that is well worth it, in my book.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Fromages de Brebis Corses

14 09 2009

Friday afternoon, I went on a cheese hunt.  It took me deep into the 20th arrondissement, to Place Gambetta.  The area is full of neat regional specialty shops, and the rue des Pyrénées, in particular, is a great place to do some food shopping.  Within two minutes’ walk from the bus stop, I found two excellent fromageries that carried Corsican cheeses.  At the first, François Priet, I picked up a wedge of tomme Corse – a firm cheese with small holes and a gnarly-looking rind.

Tomme Corse

I’m pretty sure that kind of rind is caused by cheese mites.  So I cut it off, and the cheese underneath is outstanding.  It has the distinct tang of sheep’s milk (Corsica being essentially a mountain, sheep and goats are more suited to the terrain than cattle, and all Corsican cheese is made from sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, or a blend of the two) with an earthy, mushroomy, savory richness to back it up.  Thank you, cheese mites!

A little further up the hill, I came to  La Cave aux Fromages.  This tiny, odoriferous shop has an impressive selection of Corsican and other lesser-known French cheeses.  I honed in on the A Filetta, another sheep’s cheese, but completely different from the first.  I was attracted to it by the fern leaf atop the pale orange washed rind, and by the way it looked like it would ooze all over if you let it come up to room temperature.

A Filetta

Upon unwrapping it, Nick exclaimed, “That cheese smells.  Like a cab driver.”  It did have a whiff of B.O. and gasoline, I suppose, but I’ve come to find many otherwise offensive smells don’t bother me when they’re coming from a cheese.  When I tasted it, the first words out of my mouth were, “It tastes like it smells.  But in a good way.”  Definitely strong, definitely one of the more pungent cheeses I’ve had in some time.  Nick was less impressed.  So I probably won’t be running out to buy another half-wheel of A Filetta anytime soon, though I certainly wouldn’t turn it down.  That tomme Corse, on the other hand, may just end up in the regular rotation.

After a few months of vacation, Chez Loulou’s Fête du Fromage event is back!  I’m sending this post her way, so be sure to check out the International cheese roundup over there on the 15th (that’s Tuesday).

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

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 »

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.


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.

Cidres Normands

31 07 2009

In addition to dairy products and seafood, Normandy is known for its apples.  Naturally, the people of Normandy figured out long ago how to make their abundant apple crop into a fermented beverage.  (I’m sure this had everything to do with preservation, and nothing to do with inebriation.)  There is even a 40 km “Cider Route” for tourists and enthusiasts.  These days, a majority of the cider in France comes from Normandy, though it turned out to be distinctly hard to track down in Rouen.  Nick and I asked for local cider in most of the restaurants and bars we visited, and only two poured it!  Considering that both served the same brand, Le P’tit Rouennais, and that we enjoyed it quite a bit, we hoped we would be able to find some in a shop before leaving town.  No such luck.  Of course it didn’t help that it was a holiday weekend and just about everything was closed, but we were hoping for a Lille-style jackpot in the local Monoprix.

A fairly typical cider from Normandy

After spending several hours wandering the town in search of local ciders to purchase, we ended up in a souvenir shop of sorts.  We bought three different ciders which, upon further inspection, were all from the same producer: Les Vergers de la Morinière.  It’s a family business that has been making cider and stronger apple-based spirits for 150 years.  We were curious to taste the difference between the styles, and to see if it was detectable.  Over the next few days, we tasted the three ciders, and I dutifully took notes.  First, L’Atypique.  This may not have been the best one to start with, seeing as Nick and I were unfamiliar with the “typical” Norman cider, but there it was.

L’Atypique was extremely effervescent, with a foamy white head that quickly dissolved.  The cloudy, golden color was reminiscent of nonalcoholic apple cider.  On the palate, the cider was rather dry, with a significant yeastiness.  Nick noted, “You can tell it used to be sweet.”

Cidre du Pays d'Auge

Next up was the AOC Cidre Pays d’Auge.  If there does exist a typical cider from Normandy, this one is it.  Super fizzy (again) and dry with a hint of fermented yeast character.  Compared to L’Atypique, the Cidre Pays d’Auge had a slightly darker amber color and tasted sweeter and more apple-y.  A very straightforward cider.

Cidre Fermier

Finally, we tried the Cidre Fermier.  I’m glad we saved this one for last, as it was probably my favorite of the lot.  It definitely smelled of apple, and still had a remarkable amount of fizz.  Cloudier and just darker in color than the Cidre Pays d’Auge, the Cidre Fermier had a rustic quality to it that really appealed to me.  The flavor was fuller and more complex than the other two, just edging on barnyardy, but in a good way.  (We had a cider that was barnyardy in a bad way shortly after moving to Paris… kind of had us wondering if we were going to get food poisoning, and put us off cider for a while.)  Anyway, now I know what to ask for the next time I’m in Normandy: Cidre Fermier.  If I can find a bar serving it, that is.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


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