Tag Archives: cheese

Light golden onion soup for after-party supper!

I always love old classics and this is a favourite of “Bistro cooking”, the sort of no-fuss, hearty and comforting cooking you might find in a true Parisian Bistrot. I know there are less and less of those haunts in Paris nowadays but they are worth seeking out. This soup reminds me of late night suppers after a play or a dance in Paris… It was a perfect student days pick-me up and it was served at my own wedding to give strength to the dancers around midnight – with this, most of us managed to last until 6am on the dance-floor!

Ingredients list:

(This serves about four bowls. You can easily freeze it too if you are doing it for yourselves.)

  • Roscof onions, 5 to 6 ( a lovely pink onion from Brittany)
  • Garlic cloves, 2
  • Ghee or butter, 2 Tbsp
  • Grape or date syrup, 2 Tbsp
  • Chicken stock cube, 1
  • Bay leaf and “bouquet garni” to flavour
  • Water, 500 ml
  • Cider, 200 ml

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Peel the onions and garlic and chop it all together in a food processor- this will save lots of tears!
Melt the onions in a large saucepan with the ghee or butter. Leave to melt on low heat for about 20 minutes, watching closedly in order to avoid burning the bottom.
Add two spoonfuls of grape or date syrup – a little fruit sugar is needed to counteract the bitterness of the onions. I use grape molasse for its lovely spicy taste. I source it from Middle Eastern shops.
Add the chicken stock (made of one cube and 500ml water) and the bay leaves and bouquet garni. If you prefer, replace with a bunch of thyme and tarragon.
Herbs should play a big role in our spring cooking: they give it seasonal flavour, awaken the senses and have anti-viral properties.
Reduce and simmer for another 30 minutes.
The soup should be thick and golden. Add salt and pepper to taste, just before serving.

Beautiful Roscoff pink onions

Beautiful Roscoff pink onions

I serve this with a thick brown toast, brushed with garlic and spread with olive oil. It is also nice with melted cheese on toast. Dip in and enjoy!
This is health in a bowl. A perfect Friday supper after a couple of drinks down the pub! Onion soup is strengthening and good for recovery; the reason it is usually served at midnight during late parties in France is because it clears the head and gives you a nice boost before heading home…

Butternut, goat cheese and honey filo tartlets

This is an old favourite with a sweet twist. The combination of butternut squash,  fresh goat cheese and honey works miracles on your taste buds and it is VERY difficult to be satisfied with only ONE of these tartlets… You have been warned! They make a lovely starter , pretty and dainty, for a dinner party – and because they are the opposite of fuss, they do belong to this blog…
Select a very soft, fresh goat cheese from a good cheesemonger for best results. I go to Beillevaire in Montpellier street for their gorgeous dairy products and the most delicious truffle oil, by the way…
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 Ingredients list:( per mini tartlet)
  • Filo sheets, 1 per mini pan
  • Butternut squash, diced (1 cupful)
  • Olive oil
  • Liquid honey, 1tsp
  • Pepper and salt
  • Soft goat cheese, 1 Tbsp
Rub the diced butternut with the olive oil and some sea salt flakes.
Roast for 15 min until soft, at 200°C. Reserve.
Fold you filo sheet in four like a hankerchief : Put several layers of filo brushed with a little oil into a a few large muffins holes or  individual tartlet pans . The tray in the photo has several dips for smallish tarts and is ideal!
Chuck in some roasted squash with torn bits of cheese. Fill it up nicely.
Sprinkle with mace and black pepper.
Put under a hot grill until the cheese has melted and the filo turns a nice golden colour. Watch out for it tends to burn quickly! Drop a little honey all over the cheese.
Serve straight away as filo sheets tends to soften as they cool down and I love a crispy light base for this.
PS: if you are in France and can’t find any COURGE MUSQUEE, try it with pumpkin: it’s just as delicious.
Nutrition notes: Filo is a great and tasty alternative to the usual pastry base for tartlets. I use it all the time for convenience and nutritional reasons. Half the  pastry and twice the taste! What’s not to like?
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Cheese on toast à la Harold Pinter

This brilliant title is not mine! But belongs to a delightful recipe book by Mark Crick :  “Kafka’s Soup”, Granta.com

The author is a photographer and writer who came to write a recipe book because he loved cooking but never read a recipe up to the end. He thought he would though if this recipe happened to be written by some of his favourite writers! So he has pastiched their style and themes in the most hilarious and erudite recipe book that could ever grace your kitchen shelves. I was lucky to be invited to a reading during which he proved so funny, personable and genuine that I urge anybody who loves style and literature games to rush and buy his books!

I made this easy and tasty recipe for the kids lunch and they absolutely swear by it now… Me, I love his tongue in cheek take on two British classics – Hence the unusually long post.

cooking the books

Ingredients list:

  • 1 loaf of ciabatta
  • 1 aubergine
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Pesto
  • 200g mozzarella
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
(recipe by Mark Crick in the style of Pinter)
ACT I
A kitchen, cluttered. A fluorescent tube is flickering, trying to light. Beneath a window is a sink, piled with dirty dishes. The bin is overflowing with rubbish; nearby, empty bottles are standing. There is a small kitchen table; newspapers and unopened letters
obscure the surface. At the table are two chairs. There is the sound of a key in a door, muffled voices. The door bangs shut; instantly HURLEY, a young man dressed in a leather jacket, and CLACK, an older man, tramp-like in appearance, enter stage left.

HURLEY. Come in, make yourself at home.
(CLACK enters and looks around)
Bloody light. I’ve been meaning to get a new tube.
(HURLEY reaches up and taps the light with his finger until
it stops flickering.) I’ll make you something to eat.
CLACK. I haven’t eaten all day. I can’t remember the last time I had a proper
meal. I mean a proper sit-down meal, something hot.
HURLEY. (Looking in the fridge) Do you want to use the
phone? Call your daughter?
CLACK. What, at this time? I’ll call her tomorrow. She won’t
want to come up here tonight, she starts early in the
morning.
HURLEY. I can’t offer you much. I haven’t done a proper
shop for ages. How about cheese on toast?
CLACK. What sort of cheese?
HURLEY. Mozzarella.
CLACK. Mozza what?
HURLEY. Mozzarella. It’s Italian.
CLACK. Not for me. I’ll have a slice of toast though.
Pause
HURLEY. I must wash this grill sometime.
(He is holding a grill pan covered with dried cooked cheese.
He cuts a ciabatta in half, lengthways. Similarly, he finely
slices an aubergine and puts the pieces into a frying pan
where some oil is heating.)
CLACK. Not a bad little place you got here. All yours is it?
Pause
This must be worth a few bob. How long you been here?
HURLEY. I don’t know . . . about three years.
CLACK. Made a few bob on it, have you?
(HURLEY puts the ciabatta under the grill to warm)
That’s a big slice of toast.
HURLEY. It’s ciabatta.
CLACK. Cia what?
HURLEY. Ciabatta. It’s Italian bread.
CLACK. You Italian are you?
HURLEY. Everybody eats it these days: ciabatta, focaccia,
schiacciata, panini.
CLACK. Can’t you just put me a couple of slices in the
toaster?
HURLEY. Toaster’s broken.
Pause
I’d like to have a little Italian eatery one day. Nothing
fancy, mind. Simple snacks: panini on ciabatta, focaccia,
bruschetta; pasta lunches, spaghetti, penne, rigatoni; the
basic sauces, pesto, Bolognese, arrabiata. Classic mains:
carpaccio of tuna drizzled with truffle oil, pan-fried fillet
of beef on a bed of wilted spinach in its own jus. You
want a cup of tea with it?
CLACK. Now you’re talking. A nice cup of tea.
HURLEY. You ever been to Italy? I knew a bloke there once,
bit like you. That was years ago. He’s probably dead
by now.
(He removes the aubergine from the pan, the flesh has
soaked up the oil and is a golden colour with dark stripes left
by the ridges of the frying pan. The ciabatta has now
warmed and he spreads a thin layer of pesto onto the cut
side). Where’s your daughter live then?
CLACK. My what?
HURLEY. Your daughter. The one who was meant to pick
you up at the station.
CLACK. Oh, her.
Pause
She lives in Catford.
HURLEY. Catford? I used to go to the dogs there. I remember
one night I was doing well, nearly all winners I’d picked,
till I put the lot on the last race. I did a forecast, two and
four. I don’t know why, I nearly always did two and four
about. But that night I didn’t. Only came in four and
two. I lost the lot. You a gambler?
CLACK. What, and throw my money away like that? Not me.
(Pause as he looks down at his lap)
You haven’t got a safety pin have you?
(HURLEY lays the slices of aubergine on top of the ciabatta
and pesto and begins to slice the mozzarella.)
HURLEY. You can give her a call in the morning. I’ll make
you a bed up.
CLACK. She works in the morning. I told you.
HURLEY. You like olive oil?
(He lays the mozzarella over the aubergine, drizzles olive oil
on top, and finally adds a sprinkle of chopped oregano,
before placing the ciabatta under a hot grill.)
CLACK. I don’t want none of that foreign muck.
HURLEY. Olive oil? It’s good for you.
CLACK. It’s for cleaning your ears out, ain’t it?
HURLEY. (Drops a tea bag into the overflowing bin) Here you
are, a cup of tea for you.
CLACK. (Gives a sigh of contentment) You can’t beat a nice cup
of tea.
(He sips at the tea and pulls a face)
You got any sugar?
HURLEY. Over there, on the table. I don’t use it much.
(The sugar has hardened. CLACK chips at it with a
teaspoon until he has sweetened his tea enough. He checks it
occasionally throughout the process. The sound of sizzling
comes from the grill. HURLEY waits until the mozzarella
has turned brown and golden in places.)
HURLEY. Here you are. It’s ready.
(HURLEY cuts the two lengths of ciabatta into pieces.)
You’ll try some, won’t you?
CLACK. Not for me. That’s no good to a man like me.
(HURLEY puts the plate of ciabatta onto the table.)
Don’t look bad though, I’ll give that to you. It’s . . .
Pause
Well presented. That’s what it is, well presented.
HURLEY. I would have done a salad garnish, or a few fresh
basil leaves if I’d had them.
CLACK. Don’t look bad at all.
Pause
I’ll just have a taste.
(He takes a piece and bites into it. The mozzarella sticks to
his beard in long threads. His face brightens in surprise.)
CLACK. That ain’t bad, that ain’t. I reckon you might make
a go of that caff yet.
He reaches for a second piece. HURLEY is already eating.
The two men sit in silence, occasionally sipping at their tea.
The fluorescent tube begins to flicker again, but this time
HURLEY ignores it. Lights slowly fade.
Curtain

cheese on ciabatta

Reading note: Each recipe is a small, contained, perfect work of humour and lightness, erudition and emotion.
M. Crick endorses the voice of others with a faithfulness and brilliance that reminds me that painters of all times have always learnt by copying masters. His pastiches are not only clever “exercises of style” but original and often illuminating personal work. They’ll be by my bedside for a while!

Butternut and goat cheese risotto

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The Italians serve risotto as a starter, in smaller portions, which I think is a better way of appreciating it than when you get a big main course plateful. This recipe serves five, as usual here on the blog!
For a light lunch, serve with a crisp salad and some sliced Speck or Parma ham.

Ingredients list:
Risotto Arborio 250g
Shallots 3
Olive oil 20ml
Butter 20ml
Handful of fresh chopped basil and parsley
Stock 450g (Chicken cube and water is fine)
Pumpkin or butternut squash flesh 250g (peeled and diced)
Salt and pepper
Dry white wine 200ml
Creamy goat cheese 125g
Some grated cheese for topping

For the wine, I used a lovely Sancerre with hint of citrus and a crisp finish which made the dish taste quite lovely and lemony- like an italian lemon grove! You need a zesty and quite acidic white for this.

Prepare the squash flesh by peeling and dicing it with your sharpest knife.

Season the butternut with salt and pepper and rub some oil into the cubes. Put in a roasting oven for 15 min, checking and shaking regularly. Take out when the flesh is tender et slightly charred on the sides.

Chop the herbs and shallots finely and fry them in a thick bottomed pan: I used a wide cast iron one that I’ve owned for the whole of my Londoner’s life.

Add the rice to the pan with the fried shallots. Add the stock and wine bit by bit while turning: let it bubble on low heat. When  all of the wine and stock has be absorbed, the rice should still be slightly ‘al dente’ under the tooth. Better to leave it too soupy than to dry it out! Check the seasoning and add some- or not. I added a good scraping of butter but you don’t have too if it is moist enough.

At the last minute, chuck the cooked flesh and the goat cheese into it.
Just before serving, pour into a warm gratin dish, with a sprinkling of olive oil, some cracked pepper and a generous amount of grated cheese such as cheddar and put back a few minutes under the grill until it turns a nice golden colour, 3 to 4 min at the most.

Once you’ve got the hang of it, risotto is actually a fool-proof dish and a great fall back recipe for when the cupboard is bare. The key is to cook it long enough and not to let it dry out.

Soufflés variations

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No, I am not talking here about music or windpipe but simply about the simplest of sophisticated dishes: the soufflé! I fell for it when I was a student in Paris. During a visit from my father, we discovered the magnificent soufflés of the eponymous restaurant “Le Soufflé” on rue du Mont-Thabor in the first arrondissement. The variations on their specialty were mind-boggling and belly-rumbling at once! We worshipped all of them and went back often.
But since then, I have always approached Le Soufflé with awe and a slight nervousness. I should not have since my reading of Hervé This‘ book “Révélations Gastronomiques” (Belin) has now rendered all this molecular mystery as clear as cristal and today I feel much more confident when tackling so iconic a recipe.
The one offered here includes roquefort cheese but souffles can be made in any sort of flavours, from sweet to savoury, and here lies their curiosity appeal: Follow your own taste and experiment on the given structure…
Eager to share my new proficiency on the subject, I will try to summarise.
First you have to understand that a soufflé will rise if there are three conditions:
  1. A good binding made by the flour and yolks mixture- in which the yolks are put in off the hob so they don’t curdle by cooking too fast.
  2. Enough oxygen in the molecules of the egg whites so that when they dilate with the heat, the mixture then expands upwards! The more you beat the eggs, the more bubbles you create and the more stable the substance becomes.
  3. The heat must come from the bottom of the oven so the souffle will rise in the best fashion.
So far so good.
A scientist at the INRA, Hervé This is a also a fantastic educator and some of his classes are available on video. I could spend hours listening to him! Always enjoyed being taught though – science especially but only since I left formal education behind and don’t have to deal with fractious maths teachers…
  • Ingredients list for a roquefort soufflé:
    Roquefort 80g
    Butter 30g
    Flour 50g or 40g of potato flour (my favourite for lightness)
    Egg yolks 6
    Egg whites 6
    Milk 250 ml
    Salt
    Pinch of baking soda in the whites
    Nutmeg
    Cayenne pepper

 

Take two bowls and separate each egg : no yolk in the white or the fat will prevent the protein skin forming around each bubble of oxygen. Remember your science. Keep aside.
Now, melt the butter in a small pan, then add the flour. Turn continuously with a wooden spoon while you add the milk slowly and the mixture will start thickening. Do keep on low heat and be patient so you get a good coating of your spoon.  Turn off the hob and add the egg yolks one by one, still turning the spoon in regularly. Add the cheese and spices while its still hot then put aside.

Whip up the whites until very firm. It is important to beat them well and long enough so the bubbles are as numerous and dense as possible. Very fresh eggs are a pre-requisite for successful egg whites; discard any watery or discoloured eggs for they are likely to ruin your best efforts. Which would be a pity! The traditional pinch of salt or baking soda in it helps break up the molecules and sets the mix quicker.

Gently but swiftly fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture, avoiding to break up too many of the precious bubbles!
Pour into a greased soufflé dish immediately and put straight into a warmed oven: 20 min at 180°C. Less if you are making individual soufflés.

Lastly, a soufflé should not wait but as I discovered last week, if your guests are not sat down by the time it is ready, do not despair: Back for a few minutes in the oven, it will actually rise again!
Mi-ra-cu-lous.More tips for the perfectionists – not that I am counting myself in:
Herve This also advises to use a slightly tulip shaped container, as opposed to the cylindrical shape of most soufflé dishes. I used both and I am not sure either had an incidence but both raised beautifully (see both pics and draw your conclusions… ).
In fine, Monsieur This recommends putting the mix for a few minutes under the grill – before baking- in order to achieve the top-hat effect soufflé you get in restaurant – but I like my crackled and bumpy look…
Think I’m definitely not a perfectionist… That’s what 3 babies and married life do to you.