Recipes from 2007
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Petits-gris de charente en surprise (December 2007)

 from Chef Jacques Cagna   

  • 8 grenaille or 4 medium-sized red potatoes
  • 6 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 hazelnuts/walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 small tsp anisette or anise extract
  • 24 petits-gris or tiny cocktail shrimp
  • salt, freshly ground pepper

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water.
When they’re cooked, cut a thin slice lengthwise off the bottom so the potato lays flat. Then slice off the top.
Carefully remove most of the inside. (As a precaution, cook a few extra, just in case.)
Keep the cooked potato for other uses, for example a potato frittata or to add to a spinach and bacon salad.
While the potatoes are cooking, mix the butter, parsley, shallot and garlic in a food processor.
By hand, blend in the nuts (optional), then the anisette.
Season to taste with salt and freshly-ground pepper.
Into each potato shell, put three petit-gris shrimp (or several shrimp or shrimp pieces).
Top with a dollop of the butter mix. For a pretty finish, use a pastry bag.
Bake in the oven at 350ºF for 10 minutes.

Serve with a chilled dry white wine, such as a pouilly-fumé. Serves 4.

Soupe de potiron auvergnate (November 2007)
(Reran November 2013)

  • 1 pie pumpkin, about the size of a basketball
  • 4-6 slices of Cantal cheese
  • 4-6 slices of Poilane bread
  • 2/3 to 1 qt of milk, cream or half-and-half
  • freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Cut open the top of the pumpkin, saving the cap to use as a lid.
Carve out the seeds and fibers.
Place the pumpkin in a rimmed baking dish and fill the inside with alternating layers of cheese and bread.
Pour the milk/cream over the bread and cheese, filling the pumpkin to the top.
Add freshly ground pepper to taste.  (Cantal cheese is naturally very salty.)
Replace the cap on the pumpkin.
Bake for 60 minutes.
Serve by cutting the “bread/cheese melt” into sections and pouring the liquid over it.
Feeds four.

This is an easy recipe to make in France.  In the United States, you can replace the Cantal cheese with a very mild Cheddar.  The Poilane bread can be replaced with any sturdy whole-wheat bread, provided it’s dry enough; or else you can leave the bread out overnight so it dries a bit.  And yes, this is a perfect recycling dish for bread that’s going stale (but not moldy!).

Lapin à la moutarde (October 2007)
(Reran October 2014, November 2015)

  • a 3-lb rabbit, cut in pieces
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 T peanut oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 minced shallots
  • 2 branches of fresh rosemary
  • 4 T Dijon mustard
  • 2 T crème fraîche
  • 2 egg yolks
  • juice of ½ lemon

Brown the rabbit pieces evenly in the oil and butter over fairly high heat.  (You can play around with the proportion of oil and butter to suit your tastes and diet, but using some butter will give a better flavor and the oil keeps the butter from going brown.)
Lower the heat and add the rosemary, shallots, salt and pepper.
Simmer covered for about 30 minutes or until the meat is tender, adding a bit of liquid chicken stock or cognac if it goes dry before it’s cooked.
Remove the rosemary.
Blend the Dijon mustard with the crème fraîche, egg yolks and lemon juice.  Mix well and pour over the rabbit.
Simmer over very low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly.
Serves 4.  Accompany with rice or boiled potatoes to make the most of the sauce.

You can see it’s an easy recipe:  only 5-10 minutes of preparation for 40 minutes cooking. You can make it even easier by eliminating the egg yolk and lemon juice, but I think it has more layers of flavor this way. Or you could make it more rustic by using a bit of moutarde à l’ancienne (with the mustard seed in it): 3 T Dijon to 1 T ancienne. And don’t worry about it being too strong because cooking the mustard removes a lot of the “bite.”

Recommended wine:  a red burgundy (Savigny-les-Beaune) or a dry Chablis if you prefer white

Moules marinières (September 2007)
(Reran September, 2014, October 2015)

  • 6 lb mussels
  • ½ c minced shallots
  • 2 c dry white wine
  • 6 large sprigs of parsley
  • 3 T butter
  • freshly ground pepper
  • minced parsley to decorate

First and foremost, if you find any shells that are open, prick the mussel inside with a sharp knife.  If the mussel is still alive, the shell will close; if it doesn’t move, it’s dead and you need to throw it out.
      Most mussels now come cleaned, but if not simply scrub them with a vegetable or nail brush to remove any dirt.  If there are any barnacles on the shell just scrape them off with a knife, along with any seaweed “beard”.  Usually just rinsing the mussels well in cold water and rubbing them against each other is enough to clean them.  You may get a tiny bit of sand at the bottom of the broth once the mussels are cooked, but you can strain that off.  Some American cookbooks tell you to soak the mussels so they open and lose their sand, but then you lose that saltwater taste.  They won’t lose that much sand anyway, and any sand that is left you can strain off from the broth once they’re cooked.

Mince the shallots.
Put the cleaned mussels in a large pot with the white wine to create some steam.
Add the shallots and the sprigs of parsley.
Cover tightly and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, shaking frequently without opening the pot so that all the mussels steam open.
Put the cooked mussels in a large serving bowl, strain the broth, stir in the butter, and pour it over the mussels.
Sprinkle with some chopped parsley and freshly ground pepper.

Serve with French fries on the side - or some other type of potatoes.  Provide a large side bowl for the empty shells and a soup spoon for the delicious broth.  And some good hot French bread for dunking.
Serves 6.

Goes perfectly with a dry Grave or a Muscadet, but my favorite is a Pouilly-Fumé.

Soupe de melon et pastèque (August 2007)

Even though this is a very simple recipe, you’ll need to start about three hours before you want to serve it.  But most of that is for refrigerating with very little actual prep time.

  • 9 oz of watermelon (this is how much you’ll get from a 1½ lb piece of watermelon)
  • 9 oz of cantaloupe (this is how much you’ll get from ½ of a large cantaloupe)
  • 1 cucumber, medium-sized
  • ½ tsp unflavored gelatine (about 1/4 packet of Knox unflavored gelatine)
  • dash of tabasco
  • 1 T liquid honey

3 hours before serving, remove the seeds from the watermelon, or buy a seedless one, and cut the flesh of the watermelon into pieces.
Put the watermelon into a blender or food processor and add a few drops of tabasco.
Blend at slow speed and not too long so that the watermelon doesn’t lose its color.
Add the gelatine.
Warm the watermelon over low heat and stir so that the gelatine melts.
Pour into a bowl and leave in the refrigerator for an hour until it starts to thicken.

2 hours before serving, cut a washed, unpeeled cucumber into very small cubes.
Fill a parfait glass half full of the cucumber.
Pour the watermelon mixture over the top.
Put back in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

About 15 minutes before serving, cut the cantaloupe into cubes.
Add 1 T of liquid honey.
Blend at slow speed and not too long.
Pour over the chilled watermelon-and-cucumber and put back in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
Decorate with some shredded cilantro.

Makes 4.

Serve with a Rivesaltes, a Pineau de Charente or other sweet white wine.

 Salade niçoise (July 2007)
(Reran July 2014, August 2015)

  • salad greens to line the bowl (usually Boston lettuce or red leaf lettuce)
  • 1 lb fresh thin green beans, cold
  • 2 or 3 medium-sized potatoes, cold, cooked and diced
  • 3-6 medium-sized tomatoes, ripe but still very firm
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 c chunk tuna (about 6 oz), flaked
  • 12 anchovy fillets
  • 1 T capers
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • pitted ripe olives
  • 1 c vinaigrette
  • chopped fresh herbs such as chervil and tarragon (1 T each)
  • salt & freshly ground pepper
  • optional:  6 scallions, minced

    Cut the tips off the green beans and peel the potatoes.  Blanch the beans and cook the potatoes separately in salted boiling water until they are barely tender.  Then pour off the water, cool under running water for a few minutes or in a bowl with ice water so that they don’t continue to cook.  Drain well.
    Wash the lettuce, throwing away any wilted leaves, and spin or gently pat dry.
    Dice the potatoes and cut the green beans into pieces about 2" long.
    Wash the tomatoes and cut them into four or six pieces, depending on their size.
    Rub the bowl with the garlic and line the bowl with the lettuce.
    Mix the potatoes and green beans together with the capers.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Then season with a little of the vinaigrette dressing, and arrange in the bowl.
    Decorate with the tuna, anchovy fillets, olives, and the egg and tomato wedges.
    Season with the remaining vinaigrette and sprinkle the minced herbs (and optional scallions) over the top.

Two tips:
- Remember: both capers and anchovies are salty, so you might want to go easy on the salt.
- Small, French-style black olives are best, but canned olives can be substituted if necessary.  Large Greek-style olives are not recommended.  A word to the wise:  the French rarely pit their olives, so be forewarned!

Ratatouille (June 2007)
(Reran June 2014, July 2015)

  • 1 lb eggplant (many small or 1 medium-sized)
  • 1 lb zucchini
  • 1 lb tomatoes
  • 2 large green bell peppers
  • ½ lb onions (preferably yellow)
  • olive oil
  • 2-6 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • 2 springs fresh thyme (or 1 t dried)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Before you start cooking, scald the tomatoes to peel them, then remove the seeds and cut them up into large pieces.  You can blanch the peppers so they’re more digestible, if this is a concern, but always remove all the seeds and membrane, then slice them and cut the slices in half lengthwise.  Scrub the eggplant and zucchini.  Half peel the eggplant lengthwise so that one stripe is white and the next purple, then cut it into large chunks.  Cut the zucchini into slices about as thick as the eggplant.

Now for the cooking.
    Slice the onion thinly.  Cook it, stirring at regular intervals, until it’s translucent but not browned.  Remember:  ratatouille should be a stew, not a fry-up.
    When the onion is almost cooked, add the peeled garlic (either whole or pressed) and cook for about 2 more minutes.
    Put these ingredients into a large bowl while you cook the other vegetables.
    Using the same olive oil, cook the eggplant about 2 minutes, then add the zucchini and cook another 3 minutes.  Strain off the olive oil, which you can save to make a deliciously flavored vinaigrette.  Put the eggplant and zucchini in the bowl with the onion and garlic.
    Finally, add a few drops of olive oil to the skillet and cook the tomato and the bell pepper for about 5 minutes.
    Put all the vegetables back in the skillet.  Add the thyme and bay leaf.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Turn the heat down low and cook covered for 10 minutes.  Then remove the cover and turn up the heat a bit, basting with the juices several times.  Be very careful here not to scorch the vegetables in the pan.  When only a few tablespoons of the juice is left, you’re done.

If you reheat your ratatouille, do it over very low heat.

Some recipes that specifically call themselves ratatouille niçoise list fennel among the ingredients. If you choose to do this, then use 1 head of fennel and cook it with all the other vegetables. Some cooks just add a touch of fennel seed after they’ve cooked up the vegetables.

And for those who don’t have the time (or the inclination), you can drain a can of peeled tomatoes and just stew all the vegetables together, once the onion is cooked.

Soupe au crabe et aux asperges (May 2007)
(Reran May 2015)

  • 1/3 stick (50 g) butter
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • fresh (i.e. uncooked) stems from one bundle of white asparagus
  • 4 T (40 g) flour
  • 3 c (70 cl) water in which the asparagus was cooked
  • 3 c (70 cl) milk
  • 8 oz (220 g) canned crab
  • ½c (10 cl) crème fraîche
  • cilantro
  • 1 t salt
  • freshly-ground pepper

    Cut off the tips of the asparagus and set them aside for another dish.  (You could grill them and serve them over a good steak with sautéed fresh mushrooms.)
    Cut off the tough end of the asparagus stems and peel off the hard outer layer of skin.
    Melt the butter, but don’t let it brown.
    Dice the shallots and sweat them until they’re translucent.
    Meanwhile, boil the asparagus stems for 3-4 minutes.  Remove them from the water, but don’t throw the water out.
    Add the flour to the shallots, stir and lower the heat.  Simmer for 1 min.
    Pour in 3 c of the water used to cook the asparagus.
    Add the milk and salt and bring to a boil, then let simmer for 15 min.
    Remove any cartilage from the crab.
    Mix the asparagus and the liquid in a blender, then strain.
    Stir in the crème fraîche and pour into individual bowls.
    Decorate with the crab and cilantro.

Crème fraîche isn’t always handy, and when it is, it can be pricy.  According to Julia Child, French cream has a butterfat content of 30%, which makes it comparable to American whipping cream.  “If it is allowed to thicken with a little buttermilk, it will taste quite a bit like French cream, can be boiled without curdling, and will keep for 10 days or more under refrigeration.”  By “a little buttermilk”, Julia means 1 T of buttermilk for 1 c of whipping cream.  You just heat it a bit, NOT to boiling by any means, pour it into a partially-covered jar and let stand for a few hours.  Then stir and refrigerate.

Navarin d'agneau printanier (April 2007)
(Reran May 2013, April 2015)

  • 3 lb shoulder or neck of lamb cut into large pieces, with bones
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • a large sprig or two of fresh rosemary (or 1 t dried rosemary)
  • bay leaf
  • salt & freshly ground pepper.
  • ½ bottle of light red wine
  • 6 young carrots, cut in half
  • 6 small young turnips, cut in half
  • 12 spring onions
  • 8-12 tiny new potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • 2 good handfuls (½ c) of fresh shelled peas

- In a skillet, sauté the lamb pieces in ½ butter ½ olive oil until they are well-browned on all sides. Put the lamb into a large stew pot or Dutch oven and sauté the onion in the same pan you used for the lamb.
- When the onion is translucent, add in the whole cloves of garlic, letting them cook for just a minute or two. (Garlic contains a lot of sugar and it burns very quickly.) Put the onion and garlic into the Dutch oven with the lamb.
- Add just enough of the wine to cook off the drippings from the bottom of pan.  These will add lots of flavor to the stew.  Pour the gravy over the lamb and vegetables in the Dutch oven.
- Add the rosemary and bay leaf, plus some sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Pour in the rest of the wine, cover and let simmer for 1 to 1 1/4 hour.  If the liquid is getting low, add a bit more wine as needed.  (Remember:  the alcohol will cook off, so this dish is fine for children.)
- When the meat is almost done, put the spring onions, carrots, turnips and potatoes into a separate pan and brown them for 10-15 minutes in ½ butter ½ olive oil.
- Blanch the peas in boiling salted water for 5 minutes.  Drain them well.  (If you do this ahead of time, be sure to leave them in the colander under cold running water for 2-3 minutes to stop the cooking and keep the peas bright green.  Then you can set them aside until you're ready for them.)
- Add the vegetables and the peas on top of the meat and let them steam for about 10 minutes.
- Arrange the meat on a platter and decorate with a few sprigs of curly parsley.  Serve the vegetables in a large tureen or other deep serving dish.
- You can strain the gravy if you want, but personally I like those little crunchy bits.  Pour it over the meat or the vegetables or both . . . or serve it separately.
Serves 6.

Ask the butcher to cut the lamb into 2-3 inch pieces.  Some bones can be left to add to the taste.
     If you want to make this more of a provençal dish, just after you've sautéed the onion, add some fresh tomatoes, skinned, seeds squeezed out, and the tomato “meat” cut into 8.
     If you can't find spring vegetables, you can always use bigger ones cut into pieces.  And frozen peas can be substituted, if necessary.
     If you're pressed for time, you can make the stew part ahead of time and just heat it up while you're browning the vegetables.
     The perfect wine with “the delicate flavor of young spring lamb”, according to Julia Child, would be a Bordeaux-Médoc.  2000, 2003 and 2010 were all good years.

Fondue Savoyarde (March 2007)
(Reran March, 2014, 2015)

Fondue involves few ingredients, so the choice of the wine and the cheese is of vital importance. The wine must be a light and dry white, such as a Neuchâtel, Rhine, Riesling or Chablis. The cheese is traditionally Emmentaler and/or Gruyère.  Fondue made with only Emmentaler is mildest, both together is a bit stronger, and well-aged Gruyère alone has the strongest flavor.
     In preparation, cut up some hard-crust French-style bread, leaving at least one side of crust (or better yet two) because if you lose your bread... well, see above. The drier the bread, the better, so if you have a lot of bread left over from a party, this is an excellent opportunity to use it up. Remember: the Swiss dunked their bread because they weren’t wasteful. How do you think the country got so rich?
     Kirsch (cherry brandy) is the traditional Swiss choice of brandy for a fondue savoyarde. You can use cognac, light white rum or even hard cider. Or maybe a Poire William pear brandy from Alsace, another French region.  But kirsch is the real deal, and marries best with the cheeses.
     Utensil: For cheese fondue, you use an earthenware pot, called a caquelon (pronounced “kah - keh - lo”). Metal fondue pots are for the hot oil of meat fondue.
     Unlike fondue bourguignonne, where you just put in your fork and leave it until the meat is done to your liking, with cheese fondue you have to go one at a time, so arm yourself with patience. More time for conversation. Besides, if several people have a go at the same time, someone could knock someone else’s bread off, and that’s sabotage (again, see above). So one at a time, please, and making a figure-8 motion so that you get the most cheese possible and stir the molten cheese at the same time. (Remember, the Swiss are famous for precision: watches and such.)
     At the end you'll have a rich brown crust on the bottom of the caquelon. This is considered “the best part” and it can either be divided up or awarded to the one who didn't lose their bread.

  • 1 lb of “Swiss” cheese
  • 2 c white wine
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 2 or 3 T kirsch, or other brandy/cognac
  • a dash of nutmeg
  • salt & pepper
  • clove of garlic
  • crusty bread

- Cut the cheese into very small pieces. It will melt more smoothly than if you grate it, and be more flavorful.
- Warm the white wine over direct low heat until air bubbles start to rise to the surface. NEVER BOIL THE WINE!
- Right away start adding the cheese, a handful at a time, and stir with a wooden spoon. And stir. And stir. Until the cheese is melted. Then add another handful. And stir.
- When all the cheese is melted, add the cornstarch diluted in the brandy. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible).
- Cut a large clove of garlic in half and thoroughly rub the inside of a round earthenware pot (caquelon) for an added layer of flavor. Pour the cheese fondue into the caquelon and light it up. Use a sterno or other type of fuel heat; candles won’t keep the cheese warm enough.
- Should the cheese get too thick, stir in a little wine. If it separates or gets lumpy, put it back on the burner, stir in ½ t of cornstarch diluted in a bit of warm wine and blend it in with a wire whisk.
- Now grab a fondue fork, spear yourself a crust of bread and start figure-eighting in the cheese. Remember: the cheese will be very hot, so just blow on it a bit before you pop it into your mouth. Plus that gives the others a chance to dip.

Crêpes (February 2007)
(Reran February 2014, 2015)

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 T butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 T water
  • 1 T rum (or lemon or orange zest)
  • sugar to taste (remember, these are dessert crêpes)
  • pinch of salt

      Heat the milk to a boil. Take the milk off of the burner and add the [melted] butter. Leave it to cool.
      Put the flour in a large bowl. Make a "well" in the center of the flour and break the eggs into the well, one by one. Whisk well.
      Add a pinch of salt, then the water, then the flavoring (or zest).
      Slowly stir in the cooled milk. The batter should have no lumps, or else you need to strain them out.

For those of you who have never made crêpes, here’s the drill:
      Stir the batter before making each crêpe.
      Pour a small "ladle-ful" of batter into a hot, well-greased crêpe or omelet pan, tilting the pan until just the bottom is thinly covered. Remember: these are not pancakes. The crêpe should look almost like lace.
      When the edges start to brown, run a spatula knife under the crêpe, from the sides in, to make sure it doesn’t stick.
      Toss the crêpe to flip it and let it finish browning.

Don’t cook the crêpes too much; they should be golden, like the sun that they may once have represented at this half-way point of winter.

Gratin d’endives (January 2007)
(Reran January 2014, 2015)

  • 8 endives
  • 1/4 of a stick of butter
  • 3 T of flour
  • ½ t salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 to 1 1/4 c milk
  • 1/4 c grated parmesan
  • 6 to 8 thin slices of prosciutto or other dry-cured ham
  • 2 T of shavings of Emmenthal or Comté cheese
  • 1½ t freshly ground pepper

- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Wash the endives.  The white base of the endive is what makes it bitter, so you want to cut off just that part.  Take too much off and the endive will fall apart.
- Melt the butter over low heat so that it doesn't color.  As soon as it starts to bubble, take the pan off the burner and whisk in the flour, salt, nutmeg and Cayenne pepper. Stir until it thickens.
- Put the saucepan back on the burner and slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly.  (Whole milk preferably, or else 2%, but NOT skimmed, as it could make the taste too “thin”.)  Turn the burner way down and continue to stir until there are no lumps.  Let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring regularly.  It's done when it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Add in the parmesan and continue to simmer for 2 or 3 minutes until the cheese melts into the mixture.  Give it one last stir to make sure the cheese is evenly distributed, then take it off the burner.
- Butter the bottom and sides of an attractive deep baking dish big enough to hold all eight endives in one layer.  (An attractive one so it can go directly onto the table.)  Arrange the endives in the dish and drape the ham over them.  (Another way is to wrap each endive in a slice of ham, provided the slices are large enough or the endives skinny enough.)  Pour the sauce over the top and add a few little dabs of butter on top.  Then sprinkle the cheese shavings evenly over the whole thing.
- Put the dish into the oven for 25-30 minutes until the top becomes lightly browned.  Check that the endives are tender by sticking them with a knife.
- Grind some fresh pepper over the top and serve in its dish while it's piping hot.

If you want to enjoy a glass of wine with this, try a crisp white wine, such as a côtes du jura or a riesling.

Obviously this dish will be much more delicious if you work from scratch, grating the nutmeg and parmesan yourself and using the more expensive types of ham.  But you can also make it with packaged sliced cooked ham and pre-grated Parmesan if you're strapped for time and short on cash. It's still a very tasty all-in-one meal that children just may like if you tell them it's basically cheese and ham.  With the endive being white, they may not even notice it's a vegetable.

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