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Simple Country Lentils*

28 Sep

(* this dish is a version of the one listed in the fabulous “French Farmhouse Cookbook” by Susan Herrmann Loomis)

a simple lentil dish

a very simple lentil dish – minus the sausages

Nothing like keeping the monsieur happy – and at this time more than any other. Harvest time means good, honest, country cooking and this very simple (the best kind!) lentil dish is a winner in our house.  It’s easy and so versatile – it’s great on its own or delicious paired with country sausages, pork chops, lamb chops, whatever you feel like.  They say that dried pulses were a staple in many homes during the harsh Winter months, a time when people also consumed more preserved, salted meats (no wonder I feel like large slabs of juicy ‘petit sale’ with my lentils).

porc demi-sel

pork for your fork
(‘petit sale’ or ‘porc demi-sel’)

And it’s another one of those dishes that tastes better and better each day it gets older!

I first tried this dish here in France at Benji’s parents’ house.  A large cast-iron pot was plonked in the middle of the table and we helped ourselves to this comfort-food’ – the country sausages (mmn, like a bit of country saucisse, but not these!!) swimming in a dark brown-green mass of  steaming lentils, with dollops of Dijon mustard, soaking it all up with crusty bread and wine.

I’m wondering if it was the first time I’d had ‘Puy’ lentils?  These are a dark green/grey coloured lentil commonly found in ‘Le Puy’, in the Auvergne area of France.  Grown in volcanic soil, they are very small and lovely to cook with as they retain their form.  Until that time, all the lentil dishes I’d tried were mostly Indian influenced, eg dhal, using red or brown lentils.  Come to think of it, I used to eat a lot more ‘Asian’-influenced dishes in Australia.  Coriander, soy sauce, chillies and limes were far more common sights in the kitchen than wild thyme, bay leaves and olive oil.  Who would have thought…

Simple Country Lentils

ingredients:

500g green Puy lentils (this will serve about 6 people)

2 onions, diced

4 carrots, chopped

250g salted pork, cut into chunks (optional)

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 sprig fresh thyme

bay leaf

country sausages/ frankfurters (1-2 per person) – (optional)

parsley  and mustard for serving

pepper to taste (if you are using the salted pork you will not need to add any salt)

method:

Fry your onion until golden in a generous amount of olive oil, in a heavy casserole pot

+ During this time, boil a full kettle of water for pouring over the lentils later – the hot water greatly reduces the cooking time +

Add the roughly cut chunks of salted pork and fry for a few minutes, stirring frequently

Add the carrots and the garlic, give a good stir

Now add the lentils, stir well

lentils 1

add the lentils and stir

Pour boiling water to cover well.

N.B. During the cooking, you will find that the lentils soak up a lot of water, you may need to add a second pot of boiling water over the mixture if you have no liquid left.  I know, it may look like you are drowning the lentils with water, but believe me it does dry up!

lentils 2

pour boiling water over the lentils etc and then cover

Add herbs and pepper to taste.  

N.B. You do not need to add salt if using the salted pork (I’ve made that mistake!) – but if you’re not using meat DO NOT salt at this point.  – adding salt to lentils during cooking may toughen them up.  Add it after the cooking.

Cover with lid and let simmer for one hour (if you have too much liquid, leave the lid slightly ajar) – or until lentils are tender.

Voila! – and enjoy with a light red or a dry white…

Philippa’s Oven-Baked Asparagus

1 Jun
it's almost gone!

oops, missed the photo opportunity this time round – it is THAT good!

I want to share a little recipe with you.  It’s asparagus season here and every year we eat tonnes of it and the way we’ve normally prepared it, is steamed until al dente and served on a platter with boiled egg scattered over the top and then washed over with a mustard vinaigrette (essentially an oil-based sauce with vinegar – to which you can add lemon juice, salt, pepper, mustard etc,  whatever you feel like!).

asparagus olonzac market

asparagus at the Olonzac market

another asparagus grower at the Olonzac market

…more asparagus at the Olonzac market

asparagus carcassonne market

asparagus at the Carcassonne market

We’ve been eating it for years and I’ve never considered preparing it any other way, I like it so much!  That is, until I ate Philippa’s oven-baked asparagus.

Philippa and her partner John have a winery here in the Minervois – Hegarty Chamans – where they make a great range of organic and biodynamic whites (I love their Marsanne Roussanne!) and reds.  Their philosophy of how they make their wines follows into the kitchen.  Philippa is an amazing cook and meals there are a real treat.  It’s like a celebration of fresh produce (often from their ‘potager’/ vegie patch), colours and aromas.   There’s no messing around, just simple, pure flavours blended beautifully together.  And it all feels so healthy! (if I leave my wine consumption out of the equation).    This dish in particular is a beauty.  Thanks Philippa, I’ve been hooked ever since you served this entree of asparagus!

oven-baked asparagus

Oven-Baked Asparagus

Philippa’s Oven-Baked Asparagus

(Yum!  and great served as an entree…)

ingredients:

2-3 bunches green asparagus

olive oil

a good cup full of grated Swiss Gruyere (my favourite cheese EVER) or Parmesan

3-4 dried chopped dried chillies (or 1 or 2 fresh – very hard to find around these parts!)

salt and pepper

method:

chop the ends off the asparagus spears (I never really peel the ends), then rinse and pat dry in a teatowel

pour olive oil into bottom of a good heavy baking dish and swirl to spead the oil

place the spears, then top with the cheese, then the chillies, drizzle more oil and then add salt, pepper to taste

bake in moderate to hot oven (in my old gas oven I cook them on ‘7’) for 30 mins ( or for however long you want, depending on how much crunch you want to leave in the spears)

et voila!  so simple and so delicious!

…and a note on the wine!  Asparagus is a difficult thing to match with wine.  But if you really can’t resist, go ahead and eat them with a dry but fruity white

It’s time for Ratatouille! …have I got the spelling right??

16 Sep

…Umm, here we go again!  For those of you who saw this as a ‘mini-post’ a few hours ago, you must have been thinking ‘so where the heck is that recipe then?’.   Well, I was in a hurry to pick up our child from school and WHOOPS pressed the ‘publish’ button instead of ‘save draft’.   I’ll give it another try.

As for the spelling  …well yes, I checked in the cookbook.  It’s one of those words, like ‘rhythm’ or ‘Mediterranean’… I always have to think twice about it or look it up!

So here is my version of a ‘Rattatooey’ (that’s how I pronounce it, causing grimaces all round I’m sure) – a very traditional French dish that for me, unlike any other dish, evokes Summer in the South.  The colours of the ingredients are sublime and just thinking about cooking it conjures up images of potagers (vegetable patches), big cast-iron casserole pots simmering on country kitchen stoves, lashings of fresh basil and chilled French wines.  Many households are cooking up this dish right now and on my visits to friends’ houses I love nothing more than peeking into their pots to see what theirs look like.  Vegies cut big or small? Diced or sliced??  Oily, not so oily?  Fresh tomotoes, tinned?

I say ‘my’ version as yes, there are many.  The ingredients are almost always the same, but the cooking methods differ.  I’m a little embarrassed admitting that mine has conserved tomatoes in it instead of fresh, but it has.  A good friend of ours came to stay this Summer (more of him in later posts) and being the most wonderful cook he is (and being French, I must also add) I was eager to get his opinion on what the ‘correct’ way to prepare this is.  Strike out!  He insisted the tomatoes had to be fresh.  Ohh, I thought to myself, now I feel unworthy.  Oh well.  It’s always tasted good to us and what’s the point in arguing with this Frenchman, whose opinions on cooking and wine I admire so much.

I should add that my two of my  favourite references for cooking are Stephanie Alexander’s ‘The Cook’s Companion’ and Susan Herrmann Loomis’s ‘French Farmhouse Cookbook’ and I first accessed this recipe from their reassuring pages.   They were both wedding presents and how many times did I think to myself in those early days as a mute-non-speaking the local language-housewife with her apron – ‘where wold I be with out you??!??’   Well I must say that neither of their versions use conserve/ tinned tomatoes either!

Our friend did have a little extra advice for me too.  On his departure, he mentioned that during the vintage I should be preparing many good meals for my husband, be kind and – with a wink –  be a ‘bonne femme’.  What did he mean?  Did he really mean the housewife variety relegated to her stove or being simply good to Him?  In the kitchen, elsewhere? (now don’t go there…).  Mais merci, I’ll take that on board.

Incidentally, in  French, ‘bonne femme’ could be either ‘good woman’ or ‘good wife’ – it’s the same term for both.  For the blokes however, there’s no such confusion as husband has its own word – ‘mari’.

I’m beginning to think we’re all destined to be good housewives here! (in the countryside anyway, if not the towns).

Anyway, here’s my recipe, minus the fresh tomatoes, from one Bonne Femme to you!

‘Ratatouille’

With these quantities, you can serve this to 6-8 people and still have left-overs.

This is one of those dishes that just gets better and better on the second and third days.  Ideally, I make this the night before serving.

ratatouille

ratatouille

Ingredients:

(I change my portions each time, according to how it looks in the pot, so these quantities can be varied according to your taste)

4-5 medium onions, sliced (I love them!)

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 eggplants, sliced

8 zucchinis, sliced to 1cm thickness

3-4 capsicums (that is, peppers or poivrons, depending on your country!) – green, yellow and red, seeded and sliced

1 x 690g bottle crushed tomato pulp (you may not want to pour all of it in)

2 x 800g tin tomatoes

salt, pepper

olive oil, sunflower oil for frying

chopped parsley and torn basil

method:

Cut the eggplant into 1cm (or finer if you like) slices, place the slices in layers on a large tray, sprinkling salt over each layer.  Cover with tin foil, weigh down with a heavy book and leave for one hour.

Heat up a generous amount of oil in a large cast-iron casserole/ heavy-bottomed pot and fry the onions over medium-low heat until soft and golden.

a lotta onions

I love onions

While the onions are frying,  seed and chop capsicums, chop zucchinis, chop garlic.

'tricolore' de poivrons

a ‘tricolore’ of capsicums

As the onions become soft and golden, add the capsicum and the garlic and stir well.  Increase heat to medium-high, stirring frequently to mix the ingredients.

Lower heat, cover with lid.  Cook for further 15 minutes.

onions and capsicums

During this time, rinse the eggplant slices, drain through a colander and pat dry with tea towels.

Prepare one or two fry pans for  shallow frying eggplants with generous amount of blended olive oil/ sunflower oil in each.

Stir in the tomatoes into the pot.

tomatoes added

Stir in zucchinis to the pot, add freshly ground pepper and continue simmering with lid on.

Over a high heat (watch that the oil doesn’t burn) fry the eggplant slices until golden, re-adding oils to the pan/s regularly.  This step is one of the most time-consuming in this recipe, but I really think it makes a difference to the dish. Once slices are cooked, I lay them aside on paper towels on a large tray.

Please note: I don’t salt the pot until I’ve tasted it with the eggplant added – even if the eggplants have been well-rinsed there can be a residue of salt.

frying the eggplant

Using two fry pans can reduce the time spent over the stove!

Once all the eggplant slices have been fried, I add them to the pot, taste for salt and then re-cover and leave simmering for another 20 minutes.

almost there with the ratatouille

Serve cold, warm or hot the next day with torn basil leaves and freshly chopped parsley.

This is a great side dish for bbq’d meats – especially lamb.  It also goes very well with country sausages.

barbecued country sausage

barbecued country sausage

We also enjoy serving left-over ratatouille as a pizza base or tossed through pasta – it’s a delicious mix with spaghetti or fettuccine, sprinkled with basil and parmesan. 

It’s a great way to get Lilas to eat her vegies!

ratatouille spaghetti

ratatouille spaghetti

a very simple cauliflower dish

7 Sep
Cauliflower Polonaise

a very big version of the ‘Cauliflower Polonaise’

This has to be one of our all-time favourites and is so ridiculously easy to make!   The combination of flavours with the simple cauliflower base is completely moreish (especially if you’re a salt lover like me).

It wasn’t until I moved to France that I started eating so much of this vegetable.  At home my parents didn’t really serve it – note: we DID actually eat vegetables at my parents’, and not just the frozen variety either, just in case you were thinking ‘ahh, those Aussies with their chops and three frozen veg’…  But I remember it well at one of my best-friend’s mum’s…  She would always serve ‘cauliflower cheese’ with a family roast and we’d all fight over it.  But these were probably the only times I ate it. In France my husband’s family eat it regularly and eat it as an entree or sidedish, boiled or steamed and then served with a vinaigrette poured over the top and chopped parsley.  This recipe isn’t very different to this, just a few more flavours and time in preparing each ingredient.  It comes from one of the queens of cooking in Australia, Stephanie Alexander, in her brilliant ‘The Cook’s Companion’.  When Benjamin and I first moved to France this was one of the only two cookbooks we brought with us on the plane (and you should see how big the book is), and I can’t believe how helpful it’s been, all this time.

We eat this as an entree, or to accompany a BBQ.   And it is amazing as left-overs the next day or two (if you’re anything like me and love to eat food upto a week after it’s been in the fridge.  Parents from the Depression and their influence!!..)

‘Cauliflower Polonaise’ (from Stephanie Alexander) – serves 4 with these quantities, but I tend to always double it!

ingredients:

1-2 cauliflower

2 hardboiled eggs (no time for arguments!)

2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs

40g butter

oil or butter for frying the capers

1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

salt

freshly ground black pepper

Oh, and I almost forgot: a small cup of home-made vinaigrette (I have added this to the recipe as I like it moist!)mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper, red-wine vinegar, olive oil

method:

Steam cauliflower, section it up  and then put aside on a serving dish.  (You may like to prepare all the ingredients ahead, so that the dish is served hot or warm, or otherwise serve at room temperature).

Shell the eggs, and separate the yolks from the whites (my husband thinks I’m nuts every time I insist on doing this).  Chop up the whites and then crush the yolks with the back of a fork, keep apart in bowls for later.

In a frying pan, toss the breadcrumbs in the butter, always tossing to avoid them burning.  I like my mix to have larger crouton-sized chinks as well as crumbs, so maybe do the chunks forst and then add the crumbs at the end.  Fry until very golden.

Drain and then fry the capers in some oil or butter until they open.

Scatter ingredients over the cauliflower in this order – egg whites, yolk, breadcrumbs/ croutons, capers and then the parsley.  Pour over with vinaigrette… et voila!

so typically French!

29 Aug
chez le coiffeur

the barber shop in Carcassonne

Do you ever find yourself smiling at some of the things you pass by during your day?

I love those moments and have started to record them with my camera.  I can’t help it.  Everything in France seems so exotic to me, being a ‘non-Frenchie’!

Here’s some pics to share with you, but be warned!  There’s a few of them, so I hope you don’t get bored!!

baker at the market

Pierre the baker having a ‘tranquil’ pause at the morning market

Citroen 2CV

A lovely orange 2CV, shining like a beacon in the morning light

citroen 2CV

…those 2CVs are EVERYWHERE!

chien chic

‘Chic Dog’ (you know how they put their words backwards!) – every pooch needs a parlour

pooches

Hotel de Ville de Narbonne

Hotel de Ville in Narbonne flying the Bleu Blanc Rouge

Frenchy frilly bits

Frenchy frilly bits…

hanging out to dry

…and not so frilly bits

les chaussures roses

…les messieurs like a bit of pink too

Mamy Jeanne's recipe book

It’s the real thing! – one of Mamy Jeanne’s much-loved recipe books

…a Mamy Jeanne dish

(& check out the brilliant photo of her!)

our village library

And while we’re on the topic of books, I just love this. It’s the bookshelf in our local village library… gives you a small taste of what the public are reading up on! Recipes, winemaking, a history of Europe, a history of France and, bien sur, a little bit of psychotherapy.  Tres francais.

colon poster

Yes, it’s the GIANT COLON!! Be curious!! Roll up for a visit to the centre of the giant colon!… (thanks for the poster Mat, you know me too well!)

the cheese trolley

Colon health, giant ‘chariots de fromage’ (cheese trolley). Ever heard of the French paradox?

brocante

At the local ‘brocante’. This poor guy got caught, but we still hear his friends in our garden at night

french doorhandle

the doorhandle to one of my favourite brocantes

Cine

a cinema in Limoux (where Blanquette is made)

baguette in a basket

take-away baguette

a trip to the patisserie

Really love this one too. The scene, the clothing (so now!) and the little guy at the back just happens to be some Vigneron I know…

lady of minerve

a regular vision in these villages

les hommes de Toulouse

les messieurs sur les bancs

Still there?  Hope you made it!

how do you boil a bloody egg?!??

22 Jul
eggs

eggs eggs eggs

Scene –  The kitchen, somewhere in rural France.  Table set for lunch, wine open and salad ready for tossing

‘Who wants an egg, and how do they want it ?’ I shout over the vigorous conversation of  the happy crew who are finishing off  the last of their aperos and picking what’s left of the olives out of the bowl.

Orders are noted – soft, almost hard, soft – and I place the six eggs in the pot of water, place it on the stove and light the gas.

‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING ???!!!!???’

‘I’m making the eggs,’ I reply calmly, blowing out the match.

‘You’re What ??!???  You do NOT boil eggs like that.  They need to be placed AFTER the water has boiled!!’

‘But (I say, hand on aproned hip, beginning to think that this coversation could take some time) I’ve always boiled eggs like that and we’ve always enjoyed them .’

‘No I do not think so.  Like I said, that is NOT how you boil an egg.  You can never boil an egg like that.  It must be placed in the water only after it is boiling and then you must time it!’

At which point family member no. 2 adds :

‘Oh yes, that is the ONLY way to ever make an egg.  It is nonsense to try it any other way.  I have never heard of boiling an egg in this way.’

Okay, so I’m outnumbered in my own home.

‘What is all this about ?’ enquires family member no. 3.

‘Why can’t she just make an egg how she wants to ?  …Actually, I must say that I haven’t ever heard of this method myself, but maybe it could work ?…  We could give it a try ?…’

‘You really believe that ??!!!!????  But surely you are not being honest !  You have never seen eggs made like that, why would you say it is okay ??!!??’

Glad to have the vote of confidence, I soldier on with my defence that I’ve always done it this way, place the eggs in the water, bring it to boil and continue boiling for 3-10 minutes, depending on how soft-hard you want the egg, and that it’s always been successful.

But I don’t think I’m being heard.  The conversation has turned up a notch and way past my comprehension.

Full-scale war you could say.  And the time is 12.17pm.

It’s all on, men vs women and I’ve turned off the gas.

Family member 3 seems to be continuing valiantly in my defence but I’ve completely lost track of the ‘discours’ and am losing interest in the eggs.  If they want eggs, they’re welcome to it.  I’m not cooking them.

Suddenly the noise has lowered and family member no 1 is firing up the stove and asking how everyone wants their eggs.

Would I like a glass of red ?, family member no 2 gaily asks me ?

‘Why yes, I’d love one !’

Bon appetit

Mamy Jeanne’s Jardiniere de Legumes

15 Jun

pea

It’s the season of peas.  How delicious and sweet they are – served in the pods as a nibble during the aperitif, or boiled or steamed.  I grew up with my fair share of them – Mum always hid them in the mashed potato –  and I loved them like that even if ‘green’ was a no-go zone at the time.  But I must say that the peas we ate were more of the frozen in a bag variety (feeding a family takes a lot of shelling I now realise).  Now it’s a delight to find so many fresh peas around at the markets and Lilas and I’ve had a great time sitting amongst the rows of vineyards (Benjamin uses them as a ‘green fertiliser’) picking and eating them.

Lilas shelling peas for Mum

Lilas shelling peas with her mum

A couple of years ago, my parents-in-law brought Mamy Jeanne with them to stay at our place (Mamy Jeanne is Benjamin’s maternal grandmother and ever since my arrival in France has been a huge support – even when my French was non-existant and communication was conveyed by gestures).  Not one to sit around and enjoy  being waited on , Mamy wanted to help contribute to the numerous family reunions we were having that week and prepare a few of her favourite Spring dishes from over the years.  And we’re talking a few Springtimes here – Mamy is 90 and also been known to wield a ping-pong bat in games against the great-grandchildren.

Mamy Jacqueline et Mamy Jeanne

I just love this photo of the two Mamys: Here is Mamy Jeanne on the right and Mamy Jacqueline on the left. Tres stylish femmes!

Jardiniere de Legumes

Jardiniere de Legumes

So I took Mamy to the local market and she was very keen to buy up on the peas.  She wanted to show me how to make a Jardiniere de Legumes (as one of my husband’s favourite dishes, it was almost a family duty to add this to the repertoire) and I was very eager to hover over the stove as she did it.

When the peas are abundant in Spring and you have the arrival of the other ‘legumes nouveaux’ (new vegetables), this dish is served on many French tables.  It’s extremely easy, colourful and healthy. We had some Australian friends to stay recently and with a couple of vegetarians amongst them, it was a perfect meal.

Mamy Jeanne’s Jardiniere de Legumes

(please note that quantities are approximate – I vary them, depending on how it looks in the pot)

 

ingredients:

10 or so lettuce leaves (any type of green salad leaf)

10 carrots

10 potatoes

6 turnips

4 onions – or about 8-10 new baby onions

367 432 peas (that’s what it seems like – but make it about 800g, unshelled)

bay leaves

fresh thyme

butter, olive oil

salt, pepper

salted pork (this is optional – depending on how you feel and if there any any vegos)

 

method:

First I like to fry the onion in a good chunk of butter and olive oil until almost golden as I enjoy the sweetness (and easier for hubby to digest).

(I read a recipe where a women likes to caramelize a bit of sugar in her pot first, but I really don’t think you need to when the new vegetables are so sweet and fresh)

Once onion is done, add the salad leaves and stir well until leaves are floppy.  If using pork, add now too.

            Then add the carrots, potatoes, turnips, all cut into random, small chunks (some like to perfectly dice each vegetable but I think this looks too neat!), and herbs.

            Add water to the pot, until vegetables are just covered, close lid and simmer after boiling for about one hour – or until vegetables are to your liking (the French have a reputation for very well-cooked vegetables, something unheard of in the Asian-focused cuisine so popular in Australia!)

Remember to add the shelled peas about half-an hour into the cooking time.  I don’t like to add them from the beginning as they can get mushy.

 

Serve on its own or as an accompaniment to veal, pork or chicken, with a big pot of French mustard on the side.

served up

served up

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