p1: Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur

The Dish

b840179a361e48ef94435b49a7c01546I’m no longer allowed to make ANYTHING lamb when my mother is around, since SOMEONE’S sensitive about it being ‘not as old’ as Mutton… doesn’t matter what age it may be, but nooooo more lamb allowed in the house. So for a particular recipe I’ve been gearing to make for a while, I’ve had to wait for that perfect opportunity where 1: the folks are out on vacation, 2: I’ve got enough time in my schedule to plan and set up a night to cook it, and 3: have the opportunity where I can bring in at least a few friends and family member to make it a fun food gathering, as it should be. Yay me I got a perfect evening on the LAST weekend that I had the whole house just to myself.

And what is this dish? Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur. Translated as “Weeping Leg of Lamb Roast,” the whole idea is that it’s indeed just a simple roasted lamb leg… sitting on a rack over a bed of potatoes, so every little ounce of melted fat, dripping juices and other goodies fall onto and absorbs into the delicious tuber as they cook. A full on foray into the indulgence and epitome of a pure meat and potato dish.

Now what’s the history of this dish? Truthfully… there really isn’t anything significant that I can find at ALL. The time that sheep became used often for food in France is the time these roast dinners would have popped up. And there’s no real particular region for this either; it’s famous in Bordeaux, grass-eating sheep in northern Normandy form delicious rich flavors, and the particular Buzzfeed list this came from has it under the southern reaches. So no help there. Not to mention it comes in many forms; the whole ‘roasting over potatoes’ thing is really only just one of a few twists to the preparation next to just cooking the lamb on its OWN. It’s not necessarily THE most traditional form of it, though gotta admit it’s one of the most rustically beautiful and delicious.

One interesting thing I’ve found. The French word for leg of lamb, ‘Gigot,’ comes from a root that means ‘fiddle.’ Rather apt considering the shape. But the thing is this word, ‘gigue,’ derives from Middle High GERMAN term ‘gige.’ Potential past influence via European neighbors/invaders? Considering the potatoes… possibly.

A Word On…

20151213_120924Lamb: This is rather simple, we’re just looking for a leg; so long as you’ve found a favorite and reliable butcher/deli, it’s a snap just to order. Though I doubt you’ll be getting a whole leg unless you’re willing to put down a LOT of money [my partial leg at 5+ lbs set me back 60 bucks], so a partial/center cut section of leg is fine. Just make sure there’s a big bone inside for flavor! That and to make some soup afterward.

Flavor Infusion: Garlic and rosemary are the boss here; there may be some use of OTHER herbs a la thyme, oregano, bay leaf, parsley, etc [mixtures known as ‘herbes de provence’], but truly these are the only two used consistently and to the best, most distinctive effect. Plus you just gotta love rosemary [oh how I wish I still had my pot of it…]. But the main consideration here isn’t what aromatics to use, but HOW to use them.

There are two techniques. One of the more classic and sort of ‘fancy,’ or presentable, ways of doing it is to literally push big chunks of garlic and rosemary INTO the lamb, ‘studding’ it with flavor that will then permeate as it cooks. This is what I’m doing as I’ve been really wanting to try it out for meat flavoring, that and the whole compound-butter-under-poultry-skin thing. The second technique is, quite simply, cutting a big bunch of each up [maybe making a paste with some butter/oil] and rubbing it all over the lamb as a seasoning/marinade. This is used quite often too, and I actually wanted to do BOTH to really ensure an awesome flavor all inside and crusted outside… but of course I didn’t properly check my garlic stocks until last minute. Soooooo nowhere near enough, I get to see what JUST studding will do for me.

Roast Time, Lamb: So, interesting, my favorite super-classic-French-food-‘encyclopedia’ states that a roasting temperature of 425F with a time of 20-22 minutes per lb of lamb yields a perfect pink center. But all other recipes seem to hang at 350-400, mostly leaning towards the latter half, stating 18-20 minutes at MOST for the pink insides. By the way, you want the pink… ‘fully’ cooked at brown throughout, that’s just wrong. You ‘well done steak’ people are monsters, you do understand that right? Ahem, anyways, I’m attempting mine at something close to what my book states, 400F with an average of 20 minutes a lb, of course giving the poke test around that time to see if it’s where I want it to be. With luck, it’ll be beautifully golden brown on the outside and tenderly medium-rare inside!

Roast Time, Potatoes: 2 hour maximum, if not a little less. It’s something that needs noting, as some legs of lamb can go for even longer. In which case, you’ll have to roast it in or over another pan before transferring the taters into the oven at the appropriate time. Which has a great benefit in that you can use the other pan, filled with some lamb juices, fat, and hopefully the crusty fond, to make…

Sauce: There’s nothing really traditional ‘have to have’ with gigot d’agneau a la pleureur, but I just don’t see doing a lamb and potato dish without some good sauce. But in these scenarios, one can’t beat a simple pan sauce. That’s when you’ll take your roasting pan with that beautiful fond in it, or a sauté pan that some of the meat has been seared in, put it over a hot stove and add some wine and, preferably, a related broth/stock. This will dissolve all those delicious goodies from the meat that’s sticking to the pan, adding their flavor, and cook down into a perfectly thick and flavorful liquid. From which one can adjust with any number of herbs, spices, or other aromatics. I ended up making my own last-minute kind of pan sauce with some scraps, a ‘recipe’ which I added after the gigot to give an idea on what you yourself can do at home.

Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur
1 Bone-in Leg of Lamb
4 large cloves of Garlic, at least
6-10 Rosemary Sprigs
4-6-ish Russet Potatoes
½ an Onion
Salt and Pepper
1 stick Butter
Pan Sauce [a recipe follows]

Directions

  1. Remove Lamb from wrapping, rinsing off thoroughly in sink, drying just as thoroughly with paper towels
  2. Start cleaning the lamb. With a sharp boning knife, or other delicate blade, carefully slice off as much skin, film, and fat from the surface of the meat as possible, still leaving a bit of fatty outside sections for rending and flavor. Reserve for sauce20151213_120834
  3. On the side, cut each clove of Garlic into 4 slivers and break Rosemary stems into 2-3 solid bunches each
  4. Taking your boning, or some other thin sharp, knife, carefully stab around 16 deep slivers into the leg. Into each of these, force one piece of garlic and rosemary, leaving the newly studded meat to rest at least one hour before cooking20151213_125434
  5. Preheat oven to 400F
  6. Thoroughly rub butter all around the lamb, judiciously seasoning the outside with a light crust of salt and pepper20151213_151505
  7. With a mandoline, slice your Potatoes and Onion into 1/8-1/4” rounds. Layer these in roasting pan with dabs of the remaining butter and sprinkles of salt and pepper20151213_151105
  8. If lamb is expected to cook for OVER 2 hours, set it on a rack over a separate roasting pan, preparing to move to potatoes later on in the baking. If UNDER, rest lamb on rack above potatoes and slide into oven now
  9. Roast as directed, 18-ish minutes per pound, until brown and delicious on outside and almost fully cooked, thus nicely pink, inside20151213_165644
  10. Remove lamb, setting to rest on cutting board at least 10 minutes [w/ foil tent over ideally] before cutting. Leave potatoes in oven to cook further as this happens20151213_170520
  11. Cut lamb into slices after removing potatoes, working carefully around the bone
  12. Plate meat and potatoes together, finishing with a prepared Pan Sauce
  13. Enjoy20151213_171010

Andrew’s Substitute Pan Sauce
Leftover Lamb Scraps
Another ½ an Onion
1 cup or more, as needed, Red Wine [preferably French]
1 Sprig Rosemary, Chopped
1 tsp Capers, Chopped
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a pan to a high, but NOT scorching/smoking, heat
  2. Throw in Lamb Scraps, the cut off fat and skin, letting it sear and sauté for 5-10 minutes with minimum stirring20151213_152335
  3. Once the stuff is somewhat browned and, more importantly, the pan has started developing a fond, remove almost all the lamb and pour off most of the excess fat. Feel free to leave in any little chunks of meat that may have been attached to the fat20151213_152517
  4. Dice Onion, tossing in to sauté in the rendered lamb fat, 2-4 minutes or until somewhat soft20151213_152855
  5. Deglaze with Wine, adding in the Rosemary and Capers, leaving to boil and reduce until the wine has thickened20151213_153923
  6. Remove from heat, taste, and season with Salt and Pepper as desired
  7. Reserve for lamb

20151213_171144The Verdict

I love it when a lamb comes together [get it!? Like the A-team… yeah I’m not proud of me either]. And darn if this didn’t come out… just like I wanted it to. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, the cook-time estimates I found had it go a BIT beyond what I personally wanted; would much rather prefer having more pink, but it was still there closer to the bone. Besides, the not-so-pink meat was still juicy and tender, and damn if it wasn’t full of flavor. Perfectly rich lamby taste, seasoned good… and I admit I didn’t expect MUCH effect from just the studding-infusion of the garlic and rosemary without also having a rub, but they actually gave a notably gentle aromatic addition to the flavor.

THEN we get to the potatoes… a bit on the fatty side of the flavor, so a big plus in my books. Flavors have officially soaked in. But it’s when you take a giant scoop of meat, potatoes, and sauce together that it’s best. What starts off as a fancy-like, seemingly classically haute-dish reveals its highly rustic charms as all I wanted to do was shovel more and more of it into my mouth. I just love when I fully enjoy one of these recipes like so. I could and probably should try to talk about other ‘elements’ of it and execution, but this is about all I want to really say.

20151213_170236Primary Pairing – “Koggen”

One of the epitomes of French Meat and Potato dishes, I’ve gotta use a beer sooner or later [I’ll try not to use one in the next meat-potatoes-ish one]. Something dark, malty, and heavy would do the trick, but I feel anything porter/stout-related might be a bit too much. Which is when I happily ran across a beer in a specialty shop known as ‘Koggen.’ One of the few true German-only styles, it’s a wheat-based style which, if I’m correct, can be seen in the lighter hefeweizen or heavier dark versions. The idea of having something simple and German with this very rich, heavy, and gamy meal felt just perfect, hopefully combining in the same way it did so in my Cassoulette adventure.

My Bottle: Apostelbrau Naturally Cloudy Koggen

To continue, upon pouring of the beer I was able to discover the delightfully malt-heavy flavor profile it displayed. Though I didn’t expect it to be REALLY hoppy, the aromatic greens were barely seen at all except for the subtle support structure you knew it had. The drink itself turned out almost dense, concentrated with that sweet, almost caramelly-savory profile which helps cut through and pair with the perfectly golden-roasted game meat. Part of the flavor make me wonder if I remembered it wrong and that the beer was mostly RYE focused vs wheat, but either way it was good, simple, letting the subtle notes of garlic and rosemary shine from the lamb while matching it’s heaviness. Just rustic perfection.

Bordeaux_1680129cSecondary Pairing – Right Bank-based Red Bordeaux

To be more specific, Bordeaux wine from one of the renowned riverside ‘Haut Medoc’ communes. Those are the ones that actually ARE mostly Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated, creating that image of the big, heavy, tannic reds for which the French region is so well known for. These are also the ones that are so famously known as the drink of choice for one of the region’s most famous dishes… which also just happens to be a giant, heavy roasted leg of lamb. Truly it’s evolved as one of the most delightfully perfect dinner pairings in the world. The bodies match, the heavy tannins work with the chewy game meat in encouraging our own salivation to its limit, and the strong acid backbone cuts through the still-present fat character. Not to mention the very spicy, herbaceous, wild eucalyptus and ‘garrigue’ flavors which were made to compliment the meat just like, and next to, the garlic and rosemary we love so much here. For those interested, and able, look for Boreaux wines with the names St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien, or Margaux on the label. Those are your best bet, though aren’t always perfect. Otherwise, as money for these bottles isn’t always on the easy end, Haut-Medoc or Pessac-Leognan labels will work too.

p1: Baked Camembert

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-18653-1387650694-0When it comes to the dishes in this French list, my decision for when and why I make particular ones are usually just happenstance with how they fit that week/situation. But a few of them actually have plans built around them, fun ideas I got excited about soon after I began studying this collection of classic recipes. Some of it’s based on occasion/time of year, while others are purely on how I’d make it, or something else.

In particular I’ve been looking forward to a good period to go through with an idea I had for the highly simplistic, royally rustic meal that was ‘Baked Camembert.’ Grab a really good wheel that I’ve wanted to have for a while, put together a baking dish of it, then bring it to a wineI know which would bake it for me and enjoy with family, the people at the bar, all accompanied by their personal garnishments and some wine we’d order. So I finally found a good time to do that this weekend… and of course the place was unexpectedly closed with no warning or reason given. Well that’s my luck. But I still had the cheese, so might as well just put it together at home!

The cheese itself is a Normandy or Pays d’Auge creation, supposedly developed by farmer Marie Harel in the town of Camembert during 1791 after following advice from a priest from Brie who she had given refuge, it being the French Revolution and all. Though most of its origins, at least towards what we know of it today, came through the industrialization process of the 1800’s, like the creation of the signature round wooden box in 1890, the container ‘sponsored’ by Napolean III, used to help it ship and travel to different countries and continents like America, where popularity boomed. Though it really centered itself into French culture during WW1, when issued to troops as part of daily rations.

Proper camembert, traditionally and legally speaking, is always made with UNpasteurized milk, which is remarkedly seen to always taste better than the convenient and ‘safer’ (damn US laws, literally making it illegal to obtain any proper, delicious form of fresh milk unless you’re squeezing the cow yourself) pasteurized versions.

Ok, done with the textbook description, let’s get to baking the stuff!

A W20151004_160142ord On…

The Cheese: Well, I’ve already talked about the cheese itself, and finding it shouldn’t be too difficult for any proper artisan cheese section/shop; I’m sure you have a favorite to get the good stuff from. I’ve actually been dreaming about doing this dish for a while though, because there’s a local farm that makes a camembert-style cheese that I’ve had on my mind ever since I saw this on my list of must-makes. So I had to finally get a whole wheel to bake into melted hot cheesy goodness.

Accompaniments: baked rind cheeses are always good with some garlic and onions, that’s how we do our brie, but I want to stick to something more countryside, so garlic and rosemary on top like one of the recipes I glanced at. As for what to eat it WITH, besides bread of course, I’m not sure what all is traditional, if anything. Usually freshly minced shallots, some capers, cornichon pickles, and other similar items are seen on the side for a variety of simple French dishes like tartar, fondue, and that dish of Raclette I made a while ago. I personally had this ripe tomato from my own pot that begged to be used soon, so I just had to use it, cut through the funky-creamy fat of the cheese with some natural umami-assisted acidity. Plus it’s classic; melted cheese, crunchy bread, and tomatoes, sound familiar? But you can always use whatever you fancy and have lying around, if not just eat it plain with bread! That IS the wonder of meals like this.

Recipe
1 Wheel Camembert
1 Garlic Clove, thinly sliced
1-2 tsp Fresh Rosemary, very briefly chopped
1-2 Tb Olive Oil
Tsp Sea Salt
French Bread, for service
Ripe Tomato, for service (optional)

Directions

  1. Turn oven to 375F
  2. Lightly score top of the Camembert and place in ovenproof ramekin/casserole/bowl20151004_160916
  3. Cover with Garlic and Rosemary, lightly rubbing in20151004_163134
  4. Pour over Olive Oil, making sure to evenly spread along the top and sides, followed by sprinkles of Sea Salt
  5. Place in oven, cooking until top is crusty and inside is warmed through, 15-25 minutes at most20151005_135730
  6. Move loaf of French bread in oven about 5-8 minutes before service to toast and crisp up20151005_141241
  7. Remove from oven, let cool on counter about 5 minutes while you slice bread and any other additional accompaniments20151005_141357
  8. Place in center of table, and enjoy! Best eaten spooned over warm, crusty bread

20151005_141200The Verdict

Okay, so I just looked at the Buzzfeed recipe to double-check procedures, I’m quite used to simply baking brie ya know so there’s nothing in-depth I should need, and that’s when I saw the directions for scoring the cheese. They also have you remove the top lid for service. Well you know what? That recipe creator can go screw himself, cuz you can see the result. And yes I probably overdid it a little bit, but that was well after it turned into a cheese pool; if my guess is correct and their ‘ideal’ is to bake until just warmed throughout, then that’s just plain stupid. If you’re going to bake cheese, then you need to BAKE it; that means a hot, gooey center, rind that has gotten that crispy golden look to it, something really sinful, and that needs time. It should thus be scored very LIGHTLY on top, probably just in the center (did some research, apparently it is important so as to let the air/steam out while cooking), but that should be it.

20151005_141543Now I simply know that I need to leave the cheese completely untouched so as to ensure it stays in one piece during this process. Not that it really changed the experience in the slightest. Because it was just soooo good… like brie but with more of that fatty cream flavor, and surprisingly enough a little more subtle on the funk and knutty-herb-farmhouse flavors, a ‘fresher’ cheese flavor that had yet to get to that really ‘aged’ feel. It took me and my mom quite some effort to make sure we left even a bit for dad, because once that cheese got on bread, especially with a piece of just-ripened tomato from my pot, that just ended up an almost perfect afternoon treat. Everything I love about baked brie dinners but a little more concentrated.

Primary Pairing – Mead

Camembert and honey are certainly a match made in heaven, though so is honey and most cheeses if you get down to it. The distinctively cloying fat and somewhat salty properties of cheese get balanced beautifully with anything sweet, thus its often inclusion in or close to the last course of a proper French meal. So why not take advantage of this affinity to highlight a nice bottle of classic Honey Wine, letting its usually rather simple flavor, aroma, and body contrast the camembert’s properties while letting its own complexities shine through. But one needs to ensure they get one of the lighter, slightly sweet and refreshing meads; avoid ones 20151005_140917like that which I used for Raclette, which was rather thick and heavy and would be too heavy for any but the rich and more pungent cheese.

My Bottle: Winehaven Stinger Honey Wine

So far, probably my favorite Minnesota winery, Winehaven celebrates the colder Northern US history of fruit wine, made long before we found ways to grow decent wine grapes or developed hybrids for the right areas, with a small selection of bottles like raspberry, rhubarb, and of course Honey Wine. They’ve got a lot of reds and whites made from California and Minnesota-exclusive varietals too, and not done too badly either, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I got this bottle as a Christmas gift from the Sis, not too exciting as I’ve had it before, but have been saving it for the right occasion nonetheless. And here I was, being forced to bake the camembert at home instead of these other plans I had, with no bottle pre-picked out at my disposal… and yet one of the almost perfect combos are right at my feet! Chilled, it was a little lighter, still sort of medium-bodied with the thickness, which was just within the edge of acceptable when eaten alongside a big, hot glob of cheese on bread. And I love the expression it has with that musky, spicy-floral side of honey that comes through, a sign of decent honey and clean, quality attention to the winemaking. Was it the greatest thing ever? No, probably not, but for Mead it was rather good and refreshing, and didn’t clash with the cheese when the two combined on the palate.

Secondary Pairing – Bordeaux Blancbb

What I was HOPING to have this evening by sharing the dish with family at a friend’s restaurant, but alas had to rely on what was in house! But something young, clean, without any particularly ‘distinguishing’ features like chardonnay and Riesling can carry, a pure white wine with enough body to match the cheese and a refreshing nature to cleanse the palate. For me I think a decent Bordeaux Blanc would fill those qualities, along with some little green, white fruit notes from the sauvignon used that would cut nicely through the subtle funk of the rinded cheese to compliment its grassy qualities, without being too strong and overpowering. It may not be a proper regional pairing, but right now it peaks my cravings; though on that note, a nice snifter of Normandy Calvados wouldn’t be too bad either…

p1: Pistou (Soupe au Pistou)

T20150906_110606he Dish

I was going to save this week for one of my months that I planned to go vegetarian just for fun and exploration purposes, but that’s going to be a whiles away and we seriously have a buttload of basil leaves in our herb pot that just keep growing and needs use! Seriously, by this time I’ve scraped most of them off for this recipe or to dehydrate and the bastard is still going… it’s an herby monster… the mint isn’t much different.

Today we’re talking about Pistou, a name which we often use to signify two things: a pounded paste of basil, garlic, and olive oil (and sometimes other things); and the white bean-vegetable soup that is then flavored with this paste at the very end. And yes, as one can probably figure out even by now, there is much relation between pistou and pesto; the name itself comes from the Provencal dialect meaning ‘pounded,’ much like how pesto got its own name in Italy. The history of pistou can also be found in its Italian origins, the first mentioning of the condiment supposedly being by a Roman Poet named Virgil describing the pounding of certain ingredients into a green paste. In the 1800’s, the Provence people started making it themselves, and that’s about as much history as I was able to find online with a casual search.

The soup itself has been likened to the French version of Minestrone, its two staples being the ever-constant white beans and then a collection of vegetables; whatever kind one wants, though there are some classics which I’ll be looking to focus on. And of course there is also the tradition of including pasta, because why let beans and potatoes (did I mention there’s usually potaoes or some other root veg?) be the only starch? Well I guess that’s what all that garlicy-herb pungency is for, cutting through all that one-note goodness.

A Word On…

41d1a5306a33568b6b5f0d44216931a0Beans: actually, my very classic recipe from Larousse Gastronomique used a combination of white and kidney beans, but really one should never imagine making this soup with anything other than white beans, preferably dry that you’ve soaked overnight. I know canned beans are good, sometimes supposedly even better, but I just can’t shake the preference for doing it all myself; plus it’s probably cheaper anyways.

My last adventure with beans found me using Flageleot, which weren’t the CLASSIC white beans used in Cassoulet but they’re tender and delicious. Here, I actually found a link that did specifically mention them for this soup, which makes sense as it’s a lighter, vegetable-based thing where one would want a more delicate bean that won’t be covered up by tons of heavy meat and fatty flavors.

trofiePasta: probably the biggest reason to compare with minestrone, despite all those beans and starchy turnips or potatoes, most pistou soups still add pasta in there. There doesn’t seem to be a TRADITIONAL style, in effect many recipes state the option to use any small dried pasta good for soups (then again some even say to use basic noodles), heck the Buzzfeed linked one calls for those little ‘stars.’ That said, I think I’ve found the most perfectly classic style for this dish: it’s called ‘trofie,’ a hand-rolled pasta typically made in Liguria and shaped into small, elongated corkscrews. The region itself is in the Northwest region of Italy, hugging Piedmont and as such very close to the area of France known for pistou; the small shape itself makes it great for soup, much like shells and elbow macaroni. But even more convincing is what dish it’s typically used for: Pesto Pasta of course! And tossed with green beans and potatoes along with it, now where does that sound familiar?

T20150904_124947hough, as things are, trofie is practically impossible to find in any typical store; most likely if one wants it they either need to have an Italian friend or make it by hand themselves, and I’m not yet ready to re-visit my painfully horrible pasta-making skills. Fusilli would make a good substitute, though I might break each one in half or something. I myself decided to go with the next-most-suitable pasta for soups, Orzo; I have enough going on as is with the beans, pistou, and vegetables, I would actually like my pasta element to not stand out as well, and the small ‘grains’ that make up orzo pasta are perfect for this.

Pistou: so, what’s the difference between ‘pistou’ and ‘pesto?’ Often some tv shows and other recipes feature the French recipe that seems rather indistinguishable, but there are various versions that show stark personality traits. Firstly, this can be said for all things, there are never any Pine Nuts ground into pistou. Following that, the cheese itself CAN also be Parmesan, but different regions will switch this out for Pecorino or, most notably, a French Gruyere (Nice in particular); for the sake of fun, I’ll be trying out the latter. It is important when doing so, however, one REALLY try to find a good Comte Gruyere or something similar, as hard and dry as possible, close in texture to parmesan so it will hopefully melt and distribute into the paste ‘properly.’ Finally, the French pistou often will grind Tomatoes in as well; it’s not universal, but it seems to be utilized quite frequently, so of course I’m doing that too, just to see the results.

20150906_113601Now, we need to discuss the MAKING of the paste; classically, this is done with a typical Mortar and Pestle, pounded down into a paste like an old medieval alchemist or doctor making their spice mixes. I’ve used these for making curry, and there certainly is an aspect to using these that brings the ingredients together in a wondrous way; but the fact is not everyone has one, or the time/patience to utilize it, so many recipes just throw all the ingredients into a food processor. I myself have both… and they both sort of suck balls. My MnP, a gift, is of a style that… makes no sense, ingredients just fly off the edge so it’s such a bitch trying to pound anything into a paste or powder. And my tiny food processor is great for certain things, but one thing it can’t do is get herbs or garlic or anything down to anything besides a rough mince; after that things just spin around. I tried a couple things to fix this, but nonetheless my following pics of pistou will not look that impressive… it tasted great mind you, just not so perfect.

Oh, forgot to even get to the point I wanted to make. I actually ended up starting with all the ingredients, minus oil, and trying to pound/blend them together; I would actually suggest, like good curry, one attacks this in stages. First, grind the basil and garlic, which are still gonna have that thicker paste result; THEN add the difficult moist and sticky tomato+cheese, which will paste up easily on their own but I think acted as a hindering lubricant to my herb and garlic. Don’t repeat my mistakes.

20150906_104721Vegetables: I’d like to TRY and keep the vegetable additions rather held back, so I’m only using the ones that seem to be rather vital or otherwise almost constantly used and distinct. Initially this means Green Beans and Zucchini, seems to be harder to find a recipe without them! Now, my first time seeing Leeks in a recipe, I figured it was a simple random regional preference, since it wasn’t in my Larousse book. But after seeing at least 75-80% of recipes using them, I figured I should get one to use as the base sauté instead of onions. The final requirement is an actual starch: many recipes use potatoes in here, sometimes with or without the pasta addition, though a scant couple I noticed include Turnip, including the Larousse. After much debating, my goal turned to actually utilize the turnip; with my recent experience seeing it used in the SE dish of Navarin d’Agneau, it’s likely the one that would be most classically used in France. Besides, with the pasta and beans, I’d rather go for the less starchy option, and turnip has that unique texture of veg+toober crossed, figured it’d offer a nice element.

And of course what’s my luck, they were all out of turnips when I went to the store to buy them! Oh well. In that case, I did a combo of a carrot and potato in hopes of getting a similar effect; and they’re both also commonly used in this veggie stuffed soup.

20150905_215922Soupe au Pistou
¾ cup Flageleot or other tender White Bean, Dried
1 Tb Olive Oil
1 Leek
5-6 cups Veggie Stock or Water
4oz Green Beans/Haricots Vert, de-stemmed
1 Carrot
1 Zucchini
1 White or Golden Potato
Tomato Leftovers from Pistou
3oz Orzo Pasta
Salt and Pepper
Pistou for service (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Soak Beans in at least 3X the amount of water for at least 6 hours or overnight20150906_103612
  2. Clean and slice white and light green parts of Leek, tossing it in dutch oven or other soup pot with oil on medium heat, sautéing until softer20150906_103800
  3. Drain beans and add to pot along with Stock/Water, bring to a boil and leave for 5 minutes20150906_104041
  4. Turn heat down to simmer and let cook at least an hour
  5. Cut Green Beans in small chunks and dice remaining vegetables into consistent size20150906_123011
  6. After an hour, add green beans and Carrot, leave to simmer 10-15 minutes20150906_124714
  7. Toss in Zucchini, Potato, and Tomato dice, simmer for another 15 minutes20150906_130023
  8. Finally mix in Orzo, season with Salt and Pepper, and continue simmering for a final 10 minutes
  9. Ladle soup into bowls and dollop in 1-3 spoonfuls of Pistou, as desired, for service while still piping hot20150906_131731
  10. Stir, let briefly cool, and enjoy

Pistou
20150906_1124353-4 Tb sliced Basil
5 Cloves Garlic
¾ cups (about 2oz) Aged Gruyere
1 Roma Tomato, de-seeded and diced
4 Tb Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Place Basil and Garlic in Mortar and Pestle or Food Processer, pound/grind/process until they turn into a paste
  2. Add Gruyere and about half of the Tomato, continuing until it comes together in a wet paste
  3. Slowly add in Olive Oil, mixing between tablespoons, until fully incorporated. Reserve and use as needed/desired20150906_114455

The Verdict

If considering this in the idea of it being the ‘French version of Minestrone,’ then this particular rendition of Pistou is spot on perfect. All the vegetables and beans were tender, soft, the orzo had this delightfully slippery effect, and the combo of beans and gruyere-mixed-pistou created this interesting addition of rich and creamy that I adored, especially with the tomato influence. And of course there’s that noted garlic-basil flavor that just permeates everything and stays subtly clinging to the roof of one’s mouth for a while even after eating. So in that sense, it was great.

B20150906_131815ut it wasn’t the version I myself wanted. I was hoping the pistou would end up a lot more like a classic, green-basil-heavy pesto but with a twist (see pistou picture at top of post), however the amount of cheese and tomatoes in this recipe were really significant. And the soup I was hoping would be lighter and simpler, creating a version that would highlight mainly the beans and pistou, ended up a full bowl of what I previously described. If I made this again, I know what I’m changing to get my preferred stylistic results: first, less tomato and cheese in the pistou, to which I’ll probably also use parmesan instead. Second, less beans and more liquid; I clearly needed much more water to actually thin this out from a chunky stew into an ingredient-filled broth, and have adjusted my recipe above as such. Speaking of which, I’ll also just use WATER instead of veggie stock, so the individual flavors/elements stand out even more (it’s actually a trick I learned when making curry). Out of personal interest, I think my next version will ditch the green beans and, hopefully, I’ll be able to use turnip this time instead of carrot+potato. With luck I’ll have derived a simple soup of beans, zucchini, and pasta, overflowing with the pungently herbal flavors of pestou that we love so much. Maybe I’ll try out some fussili or other pasta too.

20150904_113432Primary Pairing – English Cider

Okay, I’ll admit this one isn’t really a regional pairing, apples don’t even GROW that far south in France. Though one could make the argument that they have Cider in the Basque region of Spain, far north and close to SW France, but that’s still a completely different area than here, and I don’t think it justifies. At the end of the day though, it’s been quite a while since I’ve opened a bottle of cider for one of these pairings, and I just ended up craving one here. A good, chilled glass of only lightly effervescent, medium bodied fermented stone fruit, with a bit of that musky edge as it swishes around the mouth. It certainly capitalizes on the rustic nature of this dish without offering any stand-out disjunction aspects. No overpowering acidity, if there’s any sweetness it’s just slight and might help to offset any saltiness from the cheese, and they’re never too heavy for a dish like this. Since we’re not bound by region, I enjoy the idea of doing an English style cider of some sort, which always has that great focus on rich texture with less carbonation/effervescence, my preferred traits at the moment.

20150906_131627My Bottle: Aspall Imperial Cider

I had some debate over whether I should get this version or the Dry, the latter being about 2% lower in alcohol content, and worried if my choice might have too much body to it for a cider. I can say with certainty now that I didn’t need to worry, its 8.5% alcohol being perfectly medium in alcoholic body, higher for a cider but with a result even alongside typical whites and light red wines, and luckily without any of the added thick body that certain typically viscous English draft ciders can have via accompanying sugar content.

Speaking of which, very glad that it didn’t have any sweetness to it either, as expected of a fully-fermented Imperial beer/cider, as no noted salt character from the cheese made itself presence as I personally wondered if it would. What it did bring was this delightfully farmhouse, light earthy, almost bitter herby aroma (hard to tell what it was exactly, a bit unique but subtle and not in-your-face) quality that ended up mixing brilliantly with the light but lasting flavors of garlic and basil. Overall, delightful, simple/light-ish yet rich and fulfilling in spirit, much like the pistou itself.

Secondary Pairing – Corsican Rose

gazpacho-017With the breadth of pistou being produced between various regions in SE France, far Northern Italy, and some Islands between them, it feels fun to go to one of the areas that connect these two countries: Corsica. Located right off the Mediterranean coast, this French Island has some deeply Italian culinary roots, and is known for really one particular style of wine: Rose. Now, I have no damn clue what Buzzfeed was thinking with their ‘Rose or Red’ suggestion for this; there is absolutely NO reason to drink a red with this, even if one did maybe mix in some prosciutto or something. There’s no meat and nothing else that creates a chew to justify the needed tannins in the accompanying wine; heck, even a rose is pushing it, but the heartiness in various regional dishes here bring it into acceptable play. White or Rose would be the better suggestion, and this warm island should provide some nicely savory, herby pink-tinged glasses that would support this soup greatly with their structure.

p1: Navarin d’Agneau

Tffa22dd9403391d6b99e3d6445b1a0b4he Dish

I was going to do some more in depth research on this week’s recipe, but I’ve written SO much in my ‘A Word On…’ section that I think I’ll just cut this short, for both of our sakes. This week I’m doing Navarin d’Agneau, or Navarin of Lamb, normally a Springtime-ish dish of, of course, Lamb(or Mutton too, but I keep seeing lamb in recipes so there), stewed slowly and accompanied by fresh, sweet spring vegetables. It’s been compared to the south’s version of Bouef Bourgignon, but made with lamb, white wine, and more green veggies.

It’s often popular around Easter time (damn my timing and hunger for a lamb dish this weekend), a time when it developed; likely as a followed enthusiasm for the popular, rich and heavy mutton stews enjoyed in the winter. Once spring comes around, the only meat available is new, young lamb and the lighter, sweeter spring vegetables. These then coalesced into a stew deserving its own name; of which, many have at one point acclaimed to honor the Battle of Navarino in 1827, but more likely an evolution of ‘Navet,’ or ‘Turnip,’ which is and should be used boldly in this deliciously svelt stew.

A Word On…

Lamb: it seems most recipes are rather in agreement that lamb Shoulder cut is the way to go, either as the sole cut or always included in a mix of them. I also found one very traditional-looking recipe that used lamb ‘neck,’ saying that you could cut it into good sized whole slices (not something I’ve seen any neck, unless it was something as big as a cow, able to do, but hey who knows what part of the neck it was from). I of course stuck with shoulder, but as with any stew, any really flavorful and tough section of the lamb would work wonders; parts of the leg like the shank could be as potentially tasty (and even cheaper), one may just need to ensure it gets enough braising time. Speaking of which, I don’t like the idea of using a heavy beef stock with what is a lighter lamb, especially if it’s supposed to be a more spring-time stew. So instead I use chicken and will sear and stew the lamb bones from the shoulder, or whatever cut used, in with the meat.

Vegetables: Despite the humongous potential in people utilizing an insanely large variety of different vegetation in all these different recipes, I actually found most kept to similar lines and made it easy to narrow down exactly which ones I wanted to use as the ‘minimum base’ for a very traditional navarin d’agneau.

First up, obviously, is the Turnip; gotta have this (though some evil recipes tried substituting it out with potatoes, the bastards), followed by the Carrot. We then see two very green elements, Green Beans and Peas. I ended up getting some Haricots Verts, based on an older French strain of the bean, at the store, along with a package of fresh English peas, which wasn’t my initial plan. I was originally going to go for Frozen peas, which are actually one of the best versions one can get in the store due to peas tendencies to have a VERY short life while not frozen. But this seemed a fine opportunity to keep that spring freshness in tender little bites; plus it was fun to utilize (got a lot left over I’ve been putting in lunches and stuff!).

Finally, the Onion, which deserves some extra consideration. I would say, if we’re talking pure and perfect ideal, we’d want to go for “Spring Onion,” which looks like a green onion but with big, bulbous white end (like a bigger pearl onion, but fresh and with the green shoots). I wanted to do this, but of course none in store. If you’d like to keep that flavor and feeling without going to my following alternatives, I’d say try using Leeks. But with that eliminated, favorite course is usually to turn, much like many stews, towards Pearl Onions. Which I was ALSO gonna do, but then I found a bag of Ciopollini, which are very much like the pearls, but like flat saucers, and usually sweeter and more flavored. It might not be classic, but I sort of couldn’t help myself in playing with these guys for that extra special addition! Just note for preparation that you indeed need to let them boil in water for 1-2 minutes, makes them much easier to peel off nicely.

20150706_152609Tomatoes: Most recipes use an addition of tomatoes and garlic to the stew, either in sautéing beforehand or adding raw to the pot just before leaving to boil (I’m choosing the latter, since I feel I wanna keep the ‘fresh’ and seasonal flavor of all the vegetables here). ‘Crushed’ tomatoes are often the case, and whereas one can just as well and easily use some canned tomato sauce, paste, or crushed versions (nothing wrong with that, especially depending on the quality of tomatoes one can find), I can’t help but want to stick to going for fresh. This requires one to then skin and de-seed them, which is often done through a particular staple technique called ‘Concasse,’ my second reason for pursuing the fresh route; I haven’t done tomatoes concasse in quite a while, thought it’d be nice to do it for once.

20150706_144839This involves a few steps. First, the tomato has an X scored into one end, while the core is cut out of the other; this technique focuses purely on taking out any undesirable element of the tomato and only leaving the tender flesh to work with. So the core must go, and scoring will help promote the skin removal.

To do which, we basically just blanch it like the vegetables; pop in boiling water, but really for only 10-15 seconds at the MOST. At one point the skin will start to split from the cut, and this is when it is to be removed and quickly chilled in ice water (though I once saw a French chef who completely abhors the ice water bath, saying it only removes a little bit more of the flavors). From here, one will easily be able to peel these skins off.

20150706_151311

Following up, we have to deseed; which one could cut the tomato in half or quarters to accomplish, but it’s much easier to ‘peel’ the outer section of flesh off with a nice, almost like you’re trying to cut the thick peel off a grapefruit. As you can see, this easily reveals the big clusters of seeds in the core, to which we can easily just scrape off with our thumbs, and any seeds sticking to the very smooth outer ‘peel’ inside curves. Then we can do whatever we want with them. In order to ‘crush’ them, I basically diced my tomatoes as small as possible, from which I used the flat of my blade to push and scrape across the cutting board, repeating the actions of dicing/slicing and then scraping until it turned into sort of a big wet paste. Basically the same procedure to making minced garlic paste, for those familiar, just much bigger.

Wine: White, always white; I don’t think it strictly has to be white or fantastic, but this feels like a dish where using something super-cheap vs with a nice drinkable can make a noticeable difference. So I myself grabbed a decent and fun, not too distinctively flavored (like sauvignon blanc) dry white with some body that I had in my rack for a while and happily drank the rest with family.

Caramelization: We know how to sear by now, but I found a couple recipes, both from my Larousse and others, use an interesting technique that I’ve never heard before. After the lamb chunks are seared nice and golden, one sprinkles some sugar on them, starts stirring, and cooks on high to get an even FURTHER level of browning and caramelization. Basically it’s combining both sugar caramelizationa and maillard reaction (though I bet when they did this decades back they had no idea it was a separate thing). I’ve got to try this now, right?

20150706_155534They also had us dusting flour in too, very standard when making a stew so the stock can turn into a thick gravy when it reduces. Found another recipe thought I’d try that says, after sprinkling in, moving the pot to a 450F oven helps to promote really good browning of the flour evenly without burning (a technique proven well for making really dark rouxs for things like Gumbo, as seen on Good Eats via Alton Brown).

Stewing Strategy: This is where I had the most doubts and annoyances, figuring out what I wanted to do. I mean, obviously stewing the lamb is straightforward; sear it, add the wine and stock, cook on low heat for a few hours. The main issue came in two forms. First, do I simmer the stew mostly on the stovetop or in the oven? I don’t think there’s any classical reason against either method, so I went for the latter; it just seemed appealing to me, and I do like the idea of it harking back to times when one would start a dish like this in the morning, put the pot in an oven/fire all day, and find it ready and waiting come dinner time.

The second and bigger issue came with the Vegetables. There are SO many different little versions of how these are treated (except for the peas and green beans, those are always just blanched and stirred in the last five minutes to heat and finish the light cooking they need); blanched and sautéed golden and added closer to the end, onions and stuff sautéed WITH the lamb in the beginning, added raw halfway through, trying the ‘glazing’ technique on carrots/etc, blanched and non, etc. It got quite confusing. But there are a few factors that helped me narrow down to what seemed most pure for me. Firstly, this is a dish that, to me, really celebrates the feeling of Spring, the natural freshness to ingredients, everything is young and green and bright, so I think I can cut out anything that requires the vegetables to caramelize.

Secondly, in an effort to make sure the colors and flavors are kept to that attractive freshness, I’ll be blanching every single vegetable (again, boiling water for a bit, then shocking in ice water like w/ tomatoes); not sure if it’s really necessary to do this, besides for the beans and peas, but I wanna try it here. This will invariably reduce how much time they can spend in the stew, so adding in only the last half hour or so. And I WILL be letting the stew do all the cooking; I could try ‘glazed’ vegetables, which would be yummy and pretty, but doing so would mean only adding them in at the end, making them Garniture. Which, in itself, is a classic way to treat vegetables in stews like Boef Bourgignon, but I really want some of that flavor mingling happening, and I’ve found a recipe that relies on the complete vegetable cookery with the lamb (sort of an in between stage between garniture and start-to-finish, soft vegetable+meat stews), and they still get that nice, whole, glazed look to them.

Potatoes/Can-I-Get-a-Side Here?: Stews like this can be served with any number of starch; rice, a side of baguette, pasta (like in Coq au Vin), however I’ve been seeing a lot of mashed potatoes under this one. And when I don’t, often there are potatoes being cooked along with or in place of (tut tut, the one recipe buzzfeed has doesn’t even use these? For shame) the turnips. So to keep that traditional, southern French, sort of rustic feel (and cuz I love stew and mashed taters), that’s what I’ll be doing, and what I suggest anyone ELSE does.

20150706_160202Navarin d’Agneau
2lbs Lamb Shoulder, bones included
2 Tb Oil
1 Tb Sugar
3 Tb Flour
1 cup decent White Wine
2 cups, give or take, Chicken or Beef Stock
2 Tomatoes, prepared Concasse
2-3 Garlic Cloves
2 Bay Leaves
1 Sprig Rosemary
½ bunch of Parsley
1 small bunch Garden Carrots
3 small Turnips
8oz Pearl or Cipollini Onions
1 handful Haricots Verts or other nice Green Beans
¾ – 1 cup Green Peas, frozen or really fresh

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set Dutch Oven, Cast Iron, or other suitably heavy duty large pot on medium-high heat20150706_154319
  2. As this heats up, debone and portion Lamb (helps to have a nice boning knife for this) into even, good-size chunks, about 1-2” size
  3. Coat bottom of hot pan in oil and, in two batches, add your lamb pieces and bones, letting sit in smoking hot oil for about 1-2 minutes until deep brown, flipping over and repeating until at least two sides are evenly golden20150706_154538
  4. Remove all lamb to separate bowl (the first half should be here already after finished browning) and pour off some of the fat in the pan so only a couple tablespoons remain20150706_155125
  5. Sprinkle lamb (and bones) with Sugar and transfer back to hot pan, stirring very often, but not constantly, 2-4 minutes, until a deeper caramelization has occurred and coated more of the meat20150706_155244
  6. Quickly dust with flour, stirring to evenly coat, and move to hot oven. Let sit 3-5 minutes to darken further20150706_155349
  7. Transfer back to hot stove, turning oven down to 350F, add in Wine and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze all the tasty bits and fond, letting the wine cook briefly20150706_155730
  8. Add in enough Stock to just cover, and while it comes to a boil, finely chop and crush both Tomatoes and Garlic into a paste of sorts (sprinkling kosher salt on board helps), toss this into the pot along with a Bouqet Garni of Bay Leaves, Rosemary, and some Parsley Stems (just tie them together with string)20150706_160221
  9. Stir this in and move to the now-reduced oven, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours20150706_145127
  10. While this is going, prepare the vegetables; peel Carrots and Turnips, cutting the latter into 6-8 pieces and carrots as desired, and snip the ends off of the Green Beans. Working one vegetable at a time, blanch each of these, and the Peas, in rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (green veggies should develop a nicer, deeper color, carrots should turn a bit brighter, and turnips are a guess) before dunking in an ice water bath20150706_150606
  11. For the Onions, let sit in boiling water 1-2 minutes, let cool slowly and carefully peel off the outer husk so the whole, tender onion is now revealed. Hold this on the side along with all your other blanched vegetables20150706_153057
  12. Remove stew from oven and strain the liquids into a bowl, using the chance to remove all the bones, bouquet garni, and as much chunks of garlic and tomato from the meat as possible. Return sauce and bare lamb to the pot20150706_170047
  13. Nestle and stir in the carrots, turnips, and onions into the stew so they’re all glazed in some sauce. At this point one may need to add just a bit extra stock if it’s already rather reduced and gravy-like20150706_174125
  14. Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes before removing and setting on stove as you wait for service (at this point, the stew can be refrigerated for 1-2 days before the meal)20150706_181133
  15. When getting close to service, cut green beans in half and heat stew up to a boil. Mix in the beans and peas and let cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes
  16. Chop remaining Parsley leaves as fine as desired, add to stew, and serve20150706_183721
  17. Spoon over mashed potatoes, rice, or serve with crusty baguette, and Enjoy

The Verdict

20150706_183829It’s been a while since I’ve felt REALLY satisfied with the results of a stew without having to take extra cooking time and other further manipulations to get it looking decent. Lamb came out tender, the stock reduced into a beautiful gravy, got a nice sear on the meat beforehand (actually loved that trick of adding the sugar, you could really see this deep, even burnish of caramelization spread out through the lamb), vegetables were all tender and still had the bite where appropriate, lending their sweetness while at it quite nicely. And of course the flavor was rather delicious, it all came out quite cohesive, that sort of medium-rich body and flavor depth I was looking for; not excessively deep and heavy like super-beefy, usually red wine-based stews can get to (like the Coq au Vin). The only thing I’d say is that I didn’t get any of the flavor from the haricots verts I wanted; texture yes, but either I didn’t get the best quality to begin with (they looked good though… and came from Trader Joes…), I perhaps did some little screwup on the blanching, or I just expected more than what was realistic; they are green beans after all. Either way, the pot I made didn’t last the night; even if it was bigger, I don’t think it’d last the night. And I’m using my leftover blanched veggies tomorrow in some oatmeal lunchie. God I’m really happy about this after waiting a while since my last French 44 recipe.

Primary Pairing – Beaujolais

I’ll give Buzzfeed props for hitting their wine suggestion in the ballpark for this one; a Pinot Noir (though they really do need to specify further than just varietal, pinot noirs come out insanely differently depending on who’s making it and where). Since this dish is cooked in white wine, and the lamb can come out VERY tender when done well, one can easily argue a case for being able to pair with either white or red wines; but if doing the latter, it should be a rather lighter style, with only a small to medium amount of ‘tannins’ since the lamb has barely any chew to it now. Pinot noir fits well, and is often seen as a nice red with very vegetable-heavy dishes.

20150706_183125But I want to find something better still, which is why I looked to the nearby regions. Did you know that the wine we know as Beaujolais is actually a part of the Burgundy region? Yet it’s so far south, and the soils have changed so much, that it’s almost like an extension of the Northern Rhone? The area and wine almost fits more into the character of this South-Eastern region of France, like this dish, than the NE ‘Burgundy-Alsace-Alps’ mentality (it’s on much flatter, hillier ground). And it fits perfectly with a dish like this.

For due to the result of an often-practiced technique called ‘Carbonic Maceration,’ which I won’t get into detail about, the main grape of the region (Gamay) turns an extremely, almost confected fruity nose, and a palette that is really, REALLY low in body and tannin, the perfect kind of level to go with a stew. It also comes out very distinctly lilac-purply in color, unique! Despite the very expressive nose, the palate rarely has  the flavor to back it up, like many a French wine. Instead it holds structure, for us to better enjoy and quaff down alongside our food. And this almost sweet-smelling, plain savory-bodied, low-tannin, decent-acid wine offers up a great opportunity to consume alongside potentially funky, tender lamb and a butt load of sweet vegetables.

But we ideally need something with just a BIT more character than the mass-market Beaujolais and ‘Noveau’ (-shudders-) that we’re used to, which is why I got…

20150706_182829My Bottle: Chateau Thivin, 2011 Côte de Brouilly

There are three classes of Beaujolais. “Noveau,” the cheapest and lowest quality, made super-fast and as early as possible for the masses of people who got dragged into the hype that THIS is the wine that needs to be consumed at holidays; “Villages,” a little better, standard wine from the region, still focusing almost purely on carbonic maceration and its distinct effects; and “Cru Beaujolais.” These last are wines that come from 10 select villages on the top of the single hill that occupies the entire region, and though they all still use carbonic maceration as is tradition, one sees a lot more further fermentation in barrels, long oak aging, and other more traditional and quality-focused practiced. These result in wines that have similar balance and those unique noses of Beaujolais, but with more depth towards ACTUAL wine aromas and flavors, almost as if they were crossed with a nice Burgundy.

And the best part? For French wine, often really GOOD quality French wine, the prices on these Cru are amazing. I got mine for, what, $16-18, the REALLY good regions can reach up to around $30, and it’s worth every penny. All the money is really from the work and quality that’s going into the wine, and not just the added prestige of what supposedly well-renowned subregion from a French wine region can get you. (why I normally hate navigating Bordeaux and Burgundy; so hard to find something that’s WORTH the price unless you know beforehand).

And this one did not disappoint. A little bit more in terms of savory and deeper fruity, slightly toasty flavors helped to mingle with the meaty lamb while we savored the nose in between bites. The distinctly fake-fruity notes aren’t too forward, so I could enjoy them mingling in with the vegetables as a poignant accent. But I’ll very much be looking forward to enjoying the rest of the bottle on its own for the next couple of days, navarin leftovers or not.

LYONESS 2015-05-19 14_04_33Secondary Pairing – English Cider

This IS a dish cooked in white wine, and really tender when done well, so having a white wine as a pairing is not just not out of the question, but it could be argued as the most desired if you can find the right one. But, since I’ve already used my one ‘wine slot’ for the Beaujolais, time for a substitute. Cider is a substitute. Cider tastes good, and has very similar balances to white wine; not to mention lamb is also quite popular in the UK, so going for English Cider with a dish like this is almost regional. They usually come with a little bigger bodies than some of our really light and crisp ciders we’re used to, letting it stand up to the richer lamb, an acidity to cut through this medium richness, and the fresh apple flavor help evoke the feeling of spring even further. And what’s more, the hint of sweetness carries through with the naturally sweet vegetables. And now I’m wishing I had cider instead of wine… talking about it always gets my cravings going…

p1: Soup a L’Oignon (French Onion Soup)

enhanced-buzz-29096-1385768472-0The Dish

For such a relatively simple and rustic-style dish, the obsession over French Onion Soup is quite palpable; in mentioning it to just a few people, the enthusiasm over me doing THIS recipe was notably high. Truly it proves that this must be one of France’s categorical foodson line with Poutine, Apple Pie, and other soul foods. I mean, it IS just a pile of cooked onion, bread, and broth covered in thick cheese.

For such an all-encompassing, highly simple-minded dish (I mean it’s basically onion broth and cheese, how does one record the official ‘creation’ of this?), I didn’t really expect to read any proper origin story. But to my little surprise I actually found a couple interesting things. First up being a ‘story’ of King Louis the XV (sooooooo probably fake, but amusing) and his hunting party looking for food in their cabin, only to find onions, butter, and champagne. Then in the 19th century people started actually seasoning with salt n pepper, using flour to thicken slightly, and topping with cheese (and also likely when the bread, normally served on the side, was moved under the cheese).

Apparently the real origin likely lies in the Lyonregion, this dish’s proper name being Soup A L’Oignan A La Lyonnaise. There’s a good chance this originated with the ‘canuts,’ the backbone workers of Lyon’s silk industry, working 18 hrs a day weaving and screening. Forced to make dishes that will sustain them for the long day, but with very little actual resources to work with, they had to be creative. At this time, and really every one thereafter, onions were a very cheap and readily-acquired, easy-to-grow food source. Combine that with the ease and soul-restoring properties of making soup, and it’s no difficult feat to see these workers taking mounds of these guys, cooking it hard for extra flavor, and stewing it over long hours before consuming in big bowls.

However it started, and evolved from the humble onion-soup origins centuries past, having since elevated to one of the cultural favorites featured in high-class, traditional French restaurants alongside the rustic taverns and cafes. I can’t wait to get into crafting this caramelly-sweet masterpiece.

A Word On…

Caramelizing Onions: I do love caramelized onions, though truth be told I don’t think I’ve ever made some that I’ve been fully satisfying with. I mean how often have I seen them make it on tv, doing practically nothing (once saw Paula Dean just slice them thick and put them in a covered pot for most of an hour) and come out perfect deep golden throughout? So for this one I decided to officially research for some more tips, and here’s some nice things to know, for this dish or any.

Don’t cut TOO thin, having a bit of width helps to stick and sear/caramelize on the bottom of the pan.

Go for general Nonstick pans or Cast Iron to help the most with controlling and moving the onions about as they caramelize well, creating SOME pan fond but not too much.

Speaking of too much fond (crusty stuff on the pan), I’ve always run into the issue, as you go later on, of the pan bottom getting dangerously crusty. I always worry about it actually burning. Then I ran across this tip to add a few tablespoons of water at that point. It doesn’t sound proper, but hey it actually works; the bottom clears out, the water evaporates and you can go back to cooking, and best of all (two things actually) the fond gets distributed among the onions, making them more caramelly, and it allows us to cook them at higher temperatures. A very risky thing to do without burning, but the water helps to relegate this, so you can caramelize it more and cook it faster.

If you don’t know by now, you need a LOT of onions for this. They do shrink down quite a bit after cooking, and I plan on making a big pot. Soooo, the question then becomes… is there an official volume and weight for ‘shitload’ of onions like this?

20150503_135000Finally, as for the soup, what onions to use? Do you do one for capitalize on a single trait, or a blend of different for rounding purposes? I say first stick with one, since that’s generally how it’s done… and I doubt the original laborers had the luxury of choice. Then, do you choose the typically assumed Sweet Onion varieties (like Vidalia) or Yellow? One would think the first, but apparently there are people online saying otherwise… mainly based on flavor. The sweet onions ARE sweeter, but though the yellow are more pungent (at first), after cooking apparently they develop more of these deeper flavors to enjoy. I myself am still going for the Sweet, because I want to ensure those sugars and caramelly qualities this time, but I would certainly try the yellow at some point in the future.

20150430_225717Broth: it is certainly true one can use chicken broth or –shudders- ‘water’ to make this, but beef broth has been the readily accepted stock for decades, so that’s what I’ll use. Though I’ve read plenty of complaints about the store-bought beef broths, so why not just make my own? So I just grab some beef neck bones (and a cow foot… yes a cow foot. I wanted to see what it tasted like afterwards okay?), roasted them with big chunks of onion, carrot, and celery, and into the pot it went.

Let simmer all day and all night, and that’s a lovely pot of beef-flavored water. Oh you should see it after it’s strained, skimmed (this puppy generates a LOT of fat on top that needs removal), and put in the fridge; it turns into JELLY. Now that’s the sign of a good stock.

20150501_214540

Booze: It’s not an onion soup without at least a little bit of alcohol. The first requirement is the hard stuff; if there’s anything that seems to make its way into almost every recipe, it’s some kind of Brandy. Cognac is one of the ideals, but being well-focused along the Parisian, Loire, and Normandy area, where apples grow abundant in the cool climate, Apple Brandy has been used just as traditionally. And it’s delicious. Regular brandy works too, but if you really want the experience it’s always fun to go to a proper Cognac (still stick with the cheaper stuff, you are cooking afterall) or Calvados. Being unable to choose myself, I used a combination of some rather high quality Cognac and aged Calvados… don’t ask me how I got it, I can’t answer that question publicly.

Wine becomes debatable, though when used it’s in notably higher quantities than the spirit. Also one can use Red or White, I think the latter may be more traditional (having now looked up the King Louis story with champagne), but the ultimate decision is likely depended upon whether one is going for a deeper, darker onion soup or something lighter (not so intensely caramelized and with chicken stock).

C20150503_140954heese: Gruyere, pure and simple. Now how it goes on may have debate… there are those that like having the bread and cheese basically plugging the top, even just using a thick slice of the fromage over the bowl so that it forms a fully melted seal, goes messily over the side and all that. Then there are those that stick with shredding and using a small bread piece so that more of the cheese melts INTO the soup while broiling. I’ve even seen a recipe that puts a layer of bread and cheese in the middle before ladling more soup and then a final cover on top to fully integrate it. I wanna try shredding, but seeing if I can get a decent amount on top for a full seal (can’t say I’ll be successful in my ideals), as I still want the soup mostly separated from it initially.

Cooking Vessel: I’m sure many of us are familiar with the classic ‘French onion soup bowl,’ we’ve seen this brown and white oven proof miniature chamber pot on plenty of tv shows, in recipes/pictures, and possibly in person. Whether or not we have bowls that are of this same design is dependent upon what’s shoved in the back of our pantry, but I don’t imagine most people do. Though I will say I actually happen to have a similar dish that used to belong to my grandmother (only it’s very notably bright teal color… you’ll see). But no worries, any oven-proof ceramic-type bowl or large ramekin will work. If all else fails, one could even broil off the soup en-masse in a casserole dish, top covered in bread and slices of cheese. That’s what I did (well I only had the ONE bowl, and the others were quite ornery about wanting food…), spooned them each some of the topping and soup beneath, and it worked out rather well.

Soupe a L’Oignon (a la Lyonnaise… sorta)
2 Tb Butter
2½ – 3lbs Sweet Onions
2-3 Bay Leaves
2 Tb Flour
¾ cup Red (or white if preferred) Wine
3/8 cup quality Brandy of choice (Cognac, Calvados, and/or other)
6-8 cups Beef Broth
6 Thyme Sprigs
Salt and Pepper
Baguette
½ lb Gruyere, shredded

Directions

  1. Halve, peel, and slice Onions about 1/8” thick on the vertical20150503_140624
  2. Heat up a wide, large, ideally cast-iron pot on just over medium heat20150503_140701
  3. Throw in Butter and onions, stirring to coat20150503_142331
  4. Cook, stirring occasionally, as the onions slowly caramelize. As they sweat and reduce in size, stir more often, scraping them up and around as the bottom of the pile browns over and over again.20150503_143314
  5. Add bay leaves when it’s mostly golden, now most likely stirring constantly. If and whenever the pan bottom gets really crusty from the fond, add 3-4 Tb of Water to pan, deglazing and stirring the brown bits evenly among the onions. Repeat whenever it gets crusty.20150503_144122
  6. After about 45 minutes of total cook time, onions should be an even caramelly dark brown. Stir in Flour, keep stirring for about a minute (should smell very lightly nutty)20150503_144727
  7. Add in Wine and half of the Brandy, briefly deglazing and letting bubble.20150503_144818
  8. Pour in Beef Stock and Thyme, bringing to a boil and cooking about 15 minutes for flavors to come together.20150503_145058
  9. Add remaining Brandy, season Salt and Pepper, and turn down heat to low, keeping warm for service.20150503_150300
  10. Turn oven to 400F or Toasting setting and prepare Baguette. Slice into thick segments, butter if desired, and bake in the oven until top is brown and crusty.20150503_174049
  11. Adjusting oven to Broil setting and start transferring soup (bay leaves and thyme removed) to deep oven-proof bowls or casserole pots, stopping 1 inch under the lip.20150503_174355
  12. Top with baguette slices to take up most of the space and generously pile with Gruyere to make a thick, even layer.20150503_174516
  13. Broil for a few minutes, until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and potentially lightly golden.20150503_175045
  14. Carefully remove, transfer to plate, and dig in.

The Verdict

I swear, visually at least (didn’t taste them at the time), this is the best batch of caramelized onions I’ve done so far. I really think the combo of their size, cast iron pot, and the water trick really did the trick. So for that at least I am VERY glad and grateful that I went through this recipe. Oh, and for the chance to make my own beef stock (haven’t done that since college).

20150503_175338Overall, the final result was most deeply satisfying, especially to my dinner guests. Rather deep, tender caramelly onions, and with that awesome gooey swiss cheese aspect. Bread was a bit annoying to spoon through, I either should have cut them thinner or had a not so tight/dense product. Some sort of country loaf maybe? In regards of the flavor, though, I did find there to be this notable bitter aspect that I couldn’t shake… at least in the soup on its own, eaten with everything else it actually wasn’t so bad, and almost worked alright. Though I don’t blame that on the recipe, probably something to do with my treatement of the onions, the brandy, or maybe an effect of our pot (it IS old and I know for a fact that it wasn’t seasoned properly once or twice, did NOT smell so good… but we fixed that a while back).

If I ever do this again, I really wanna try using a whole slice of cheese over the soup instead of grated, go for that thick, draping-layer cheese effect. Maybe see what happens with that lighter caramelized onions (see pic with the bay leaves) with white wine for a different style. I’d also like to try the basic yellow onion base instead, see if they actually create more, and a better, flavor. But that’s for the future.

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Primary Pairing – Dark Belgian Beer

20150503_174713First off let me say; not a Stout, or Porter, or similar black styles. I’m thinking more of those nice dark brown, rich, almost tavern beers, but better. As much as this recipe can be made as a finessed, high-end dish, I still feel it really connects more with a rustic bowl of comforting soul food. Definitely the kind that at times makes me want a nice satisfying pint of beer to chug down alongside it. Especially something with similar dark, malty flavors to compliment the caramelly onions and broth and a rich body.

With a quality Belgian, we shouldn’t have to worry about large levels of hops to interfere with things, not to mention we can bring in special flavors and complexity to the overall experience. A dear lesson I learned when dealing with ‘special food and wine’ pairings; where it’s clear to see that the better quality food one has, one should try to match with a similar quality drink. But the COMPLEXITY depends on the dish, and not in the way one might think; put simply, if the food is simple but nice, say a really good filet mignon with potatoes, one can have a deeply complex wine to enjoy, and vice versa. Simple and simple works well too, but complex food and complex wine is a definite NO, as the flavors can so easily get all mixed up and muddled; it’s possible to find ones that pair perfectly, but insanely difficult. Better to let one of them shine in its developed and special flavors while the other acts as a supporting base, allowing you to fully enjoy each part. And with a very simple, rustic, but really good quality French onion soup, a beer with extra aspects is definitely acceptable; and I like the idea of Belgians.

Oh, and I also didn’t have any wine prepared to go with this, so I just used a beer I had in the basement instead, so yeah.

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My Bottle: St Stefanus Biere d’Abbaye Belge Grand Cru Dubel (or Tripel? Can’t remember)

Certainly a classic Belgian multi-grain abbey ale, St Stefanus delivers a smooth, delectable and refreshing malty craft beer. A golden draft of medium-bodied, frothy creation leads to light notes of fruit, barrel, and some other yummy things. Truly an enjoyable, quality beverage that I would love to sit back and enjoy on a sunny deck day afternoon.

But, here’s the thing: it didn’t go well with the soup. I admit it, I made a mistake and didn’t create a proper pairing between these two. I did end up creating this awesome feeling of being in an old, run down pub/tavern, hot and bready onion-cheese soup and what tasted like rough, malty beer next to it that was reminiscent of something drunk out of a wooden tankard. But the soup completely overshadowed all those delicious delicate flavors and aspects I just mentioned, the beer wasn’t as heavy, dark, and deep as it should have been to stand a chance. It’s an unacceptable result in my book, and I hope it doesn’t repeat anytime soon.

Secondary Pairing – Loire/Coteaux du Layon Blanc (White Table Wine level)

Two_Chenin_Blanc_wines_in_glassThere’s no actual meat or anything with proper chew or texture here, all soft, so there is no need or desire (in fact, you’ll ideally want to avoid) for any red wine. If absolutely desiring, maybe something from Beaujolais, a super light red of Cab Franc and/or Gamay in the Loire, or a Rose. But whites are desired here, especially to help cut through the fatty cheese. Loire whites being often Chenin Blanc based, which brings a solid acidity for this, a richer medium-ish body and thicker mouthfeel to match the soup’s own, and often even a bit of sweetness which could go nicely with that of the onions (and help with the cheese). Sometimes they’ll even have a bit of toasty barrel, or something reminiscent of malo-lactic buttery effects, all things which could make a tasty pair alongside our soup.

p1: Tartiflette

The Dish

tartSpring is back upon us, but with a couple snowfalls in March, and my days off set back to culinary-based explorations in local food and home experiments, a need and craving for something more winter-ish came to craving. I still have quite a lot of dishes to work on in my list (I know I know, I had a rough period, I’m getting back into the foodie stuff again now!), including a notable amount of the heavy, soul-satisfying stuff, but it didn’t take too long to narrow my options down to Tartiflette for this occasion. I only had a day to plan this time, so something simple like this Provencial Potato Gratin fit the bill quite perfectly, not to mention I’ve been wanting to do something ooey and cheesy from this list for a good while now.

Originally based on the old potato dish ‘Pela,’ its adjustment into the now-famously-named version of Tartiflette was, if all stories are to be believed, actually a much more recent one. Though as the orginal dish Pela, a simple potato casserole with onions and bacon cooked in a long-handled pan called a ‘pelagic’ (meaning ‘shovel’), the recent twist into tartiflette didn’t occur until the 1980’s! The Union Interprofessional Reblochon, at that time, decided to develop a recipe using their famous cheese so as to promote the product, which they named after the Savoyard/Franco-Provencal word for potato, ‘tartifles/a,’ and apparently it worked. After only thirty years people seemed to have completely forgotten the original dish in favor of this adjusted, cheesy variety; only proof that history and food culture is still being made every day.

Though I wonder if there’s not some twist to the real story in this. Firstly, there’s supposedly an account of the term tartiflette being mentioned in a 1705 book called Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois. Secondly, I find it interesting that every recipe for regular Pela I looked up actually does include the use of reblochon… so either the ‘inclusion’ wasn’t as novel as the Union thought it was, or was SO strong that it’s affect all recent online-added recipes.

Oh, I haven’t gone into the full composition yet. Potatoes, cut thick, with the traditional bacon-onion duo of the French alpine regions (this IS a mountainy-Savoy dish afterall), wine for cooking, cheese, baked until crispy-gooey and served with some sort of pickles on the side. Now, onto the long, intense breakdown I’m sure most of you will skip over (I don’t blame you).

A Word On… 20150323_160832

Potatoes: recipes HAVE varied, from red to brown to mix, sliced thin or kept chunky. I’ve already tried the mix thing with my Gratin Dauphinoise, so thought I’d go for the full potato on this occasion. And as I’ve mentioned (I think) in past scenarios, or at least seen, the red potato seems to be more indicative to French preferences. So I found a bag of nice organic ones at my local co-op (cuz it was on my way home and I was too lazy to go somewhere else for them, yay me?).

Plus I just kept getting a craving on thinking about the recipes that cut it chunky, roasted fully… instead of the super-soft russets. Speaking of chunky, yes that is indeed where I’m going with it; what’s the point of slicing it thin like any other random gratin? We’re making TARTIFLETTE here people, this is MOUNTAIN food, the kind you eat in a cabin during a deep snow. It’s big, chunky, sits in the stomach like a gooey potato brick. And it has BACON. My reasoning is sound this time.

Skins: Now, do we leave the skins on or not? Is it actually an issue? Apparently, I’ve read many recipes, for this and other French potato dishes, that stress using peeled potatoes for service, while many blogger make the noted statement of leaving them on with purpose for the flavor. Which, if I were making any random potato dish (besides super smooth mashers or the crispiest, crunchiest roasts), I fully agree. I love the flavor of the skins.

That said, the true experience with many of these gratins is skin-off before going into the oven. Reasons? Probably to keep the potatoes soft, not having pieces of skin break off and float around (finesse aspect)/visual appeal, refined flavors, better chance of getting that golden crust on top, who knows. Either way, this is where I went.

But that’s not important, as is most of the things I say. What IS important is to make sure to leave the skins on while boiling (and yes, you’ll want to stick with boiling as the main cooking method before the overall bake), peel after. This actually helps the potatoes to retain moisture and other things so they don’t ‘dry out’ after cooking (believe me, I’ve done peeled potatoes before, served simply cut afterwards, they can get all tacky and odd if not done absolutely perfect).

20150323_145253Cheese: Reblochon is of course still the most desired, and apparently easy enough for OTHER bloggers to get their hands on, but one may need to find substitutes… like me.

Those needing this substitute need ask their local cheese shop purveyor about their Washed Rind selection, particularly the soft, runnier varieties with a bit of that pungent nose, similar to Taleggio (though I would NOT go for that cheese. I love it, but not here). They should have at least one or two options from the Alps (ask for cheese from Jura or Savoie) or Burgundy, such as Epoisses, Le Delice de Jura, or St. Soleil. Though I don’t know what reblochon tastes like exactly, I suggest going for a cheese with a lighter pungency, with more of that creamy fresh dairy flavors (I was tempted by that Delice, fit great, but it also has these odd extra grassy and other flavors to it that felt like it wouldn’t mesh how I wanted); but don’t go for a brie, please, that’s more moldy than funk, it’s just not right. Whatever you do though, try to get a whole wheel, the more attractive top the better; you’ll see why in a bit. 20150323_145319

Another note on the cheese focused on how it’s based; there’s a reason to use a whole (small) wheel of it for the dish. Whereas the middle layer of this stacked potato, bacon, and cheese casserole can be sliced or scooped on however, the TOP layer is very often applied in one particular fashion (except by those deviating from the norm, bastards!). Sliced horizontally in half, the whole top of the cheese circle is placed right in the middle of the potatoes, skin up, left to seep down below, the skin getting crusty as the exposed potatoes around it also brown; which is why I got one with such a pretty cross-hatch pattern!

Oh, yeah, one LAST thing; chill the cheese before slicing. My god this thing got so much softer and runnier than I ever imagined it would, looked like an idiot trying to slice it! Ended up having to spoon half of it into the middle layer (since the top is in the very middle, I kept THAT cheese on the outer edges, keeping it even).

Bacon: During some of my brief readings this time, I came to find a post that made mention that proper French ‘lardon’ bacon is actually only cured, not smoked. Whether this is true or not I can’t ascertain 100% at this time (too lazy for extra research), but I couldn’t find any proper substitute in stores, besides maybe trying prosciutto, speck, or other similarly cured pork product (try to find ones based off the SIDE of the pig, not the ham/leg like Serrano). But even those aren’t perfect, since they’re also air-dried. So I just stuck with bacon, the good home-made kind from my local deli. They keep it in slabs so I was able to get a single thick-ass piece! Now I can finally cut them into actual big chunks to get some proper fried pieces like we keep seeing in restaurants… so num. 20150323_164854

Wine: since we’re cooking with it, most white wine will do, however I decided to actually use the same wine I was drinking with the meal that night to keep the flavors clean. 20150324_121156

Garniture: Traditionally, this sort of dish IS served with tart sides, like cornichon and other pickled, maybe some fresh onions or who knows what. Of course, I had some ready, and forgot to serve them once out of the oven…. Durnit. Well I tried some with leftovers the next day, was tasty.

Tartiflette
2 ½ lb Potatoes of Choice
½ lb Slab Bacon
1 medium-sized Onion
1 Tb Butter
½ cup White Wine, French
1 clove Garlic
8oz/1 small wheel Reblochon Cheese or Substitute, chilled
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Separate potatoes into those of similar size, only cutting in half those that one absolutely needs to
  2. Place in pot with generous helping of salt, covering with 1” cold water
  3. Move to stove and heat, covered, until it reaches boil. Turn heat down to low, letting simmer 20-30 minutes or until MOSTLY cooked (a toothpick will go in easily but meet resistance mostly through)20150323_185017
  4. Drain and peel by hand before cutting into large chunks20150323_165341
  5. On the side, dice Bacon and Onion into big cubes20150323_182836
  6. Heat pan to Medi-Hi, add Butter and bacon, sautéing until golden and crispy all over20150323_183348
  7. Transfer bacon, pouring out (and reserving) all but 1-2 Tb of rendered fat. Toss in onions, stirring often while they cook20150323_183558
  8. When soft and golden-brown colored, add Wine, letting simmer 1 minute before taking off heat, stir in bacon20150323_184309
  9. Turn oven to 400F
  10. Crush garlic clove, rubbing it around a casserole dish20150323_185500
  11. Pile half of the potatoes inside, topping with half the bacon-onion-wine mix20150323_185219
  12. Slice cheese horizontally, so one still has two discs, arranging slices or sections of one half as evenly over the first layer as possible. Sprinkle with pepper20150323_190238
  13. Top with the latter half of potatoes, bacon, and onions. Carefully place the whole other circle of cheese directly in the center20150323_191239
  14. Brush the cheese and potatoes with reserved bacon and move into oven
  15. Bake 20-30 minutes, until cheese is melted, the sides bubble, and the potatoes and reblochon ‘skin’ is turning golden20150323_195640
  16. Remove, let sit at least 5-10 minutes
  17. Scoop into big bowl, serve with homemade pickles and other garniture as desired20150323_200139

The Verdict 20150323_200258

So, I’ve been trying to eat better nowadays, mostly based off of portion control and all that (obviously I still eat ‘splurge foods’, like hell I’m keeping myself away from the food I want to eat, just not often), that night in particular I knew I needed to hold back… and I went back to the dish. I mean, for the love of god, it’s baked potatoes, with cheese, and bacon and other goodness, and I’m from MINNESOTA. This is the good stuff, and it’s no wonder it has become so loved as mountain food. And it was really fun having a cliché potato-bacon-cheese dish using something besides cheddar or gruyere; the funkiness and quality of this cheese is what really made it different and stand out in the aching bites. Not to mention the thrill of sneaking myself as much of that crusty skin whenever I got the chance…

That said, there are some notable things that stood out on the not-so-amazing side. First off, as much as I do love red potatoes, and big chunks of starchy deliciousness, I DO wish I had chosen russets instead, or at least done a mix of the two. Waxy is certainly great for good roasts and mashers, but in this use their notable firmness (even when fully cooked) was not what I desired most; maybe if cut smaller, but again I don’t want small pieces in this particular gratin. Secondly, I did love the bacon, finally I got the kind of big caramelized chunks I desire, but I feel the particular strength of the funky cheese I grabbed ended up JUST covering up their flavor; so note, really keep to reblochon or substitutes that are LIGHTLY pungent. Oh, and unlike my recipe suggest, I did NOT wait five minutes after taking from the oven, haha; oh well, a shame for me, not being able to see that stringy cheese, instead getting more of the saucy element. Still nummy though.

Primary Pairing – Southern French/Provence White

The dish may hail from Savoie, and they have some AMAZINGLY fun and refreshing options to go with it, but I only have one bottle of them on my shelf and I’m saving it for Fondue. So then, looking a little further abroad, it’s nice to explore the hotter regions of the south of France. And, if you can find one crafted well enough (stay away from the cheap-cheap ‘bargain wines’), this originally mass-producing region of the country has started putting out some nicely balanced wines that can easily be appreciated in their own ways. 20150323_195844In terms of going with cheesy potato casserole, they’re almost perfect. The warmer climate makes for whites with MUCH bigger bodies than normally found in some of the finer areas, which is a necessity for such a big-bodied, chunky potato dish such as this. Though bacon and cheese are noted elements, their overall effect here isn’t TOO imposing, so finding any white with at least an average quality acidity can work to balance that out. And finally, there’s little need to drink something super deep and complex; it should be tasty, maybe a little fleshy, have some character in the mouth-feel and some strong aspects to stick through the pungent flavors in the food, but this is not a dish to REALLY sit down and think about every little flavor molecule. Drink the wine, eat the food, be happy and nommy as you ignore the snow outside, and you’re good; and that’s what a lot of whites from this region can happily fulfill (like a nice Vinho Verde, only bigger and bolder instead of tart and refreshing).

Some Mulled White Wine might not be out of the question either…

20150323_183645My Bottle: Chateau Miraval 2009 Clara Lua, Coteaux Varois en Provence

Okay, I’ll admit, the empty bottle has already been tossed and I forgot what actual grapes went into this blend! I think Grenache Blanc was one of them, maybe rolle or something else with an r… who knows. What I do know is that I’m glad I grabbed this guy from the shelf as my last-minute go-to. The alcohol content got to 14.5%, high for a white and perfectly balancing the heavy potatoes. It was floral, pear-y, with an almost nutty/yeasty uniqueness in flavor that went absolutely awesome with this hot cheesy, onion-y mess. Sipping found a few nice delights while gulping refreshed and washed down the rich food beautifully, making what to me at least was a great complementary experience. Of course they tasted well in mouth together.

Secondary Pairing – Bourbon

Beer feels too easy (and I already did it with the other Gratin), sake and cider don’t really pull at me in this situation, though of course one could easily find some amazing options to accompany this food in each category. But right now, thinking about eating this guy in deep snow, maybe in a log cabin or something, I simply feel like I want a nice glass of delicious, soul-firing spirit. Something to help digest and break down all that heavy food sitting in the gut, not to mention an intense flavor and alcohol content to cut through the rich, fatty bacon and cheese. So a lot of them will do, now we just pick the kind of booze, and bourbon seems to taunt my palate ever more right now. Just thinking of the intense smoky, toasty barrel and sweet corn flavors matched with the bacon and pungent cheese… and those sorta caramel-oxidative notes from a GOOD aged Bourbon along with the crusty potatoes… I’m not the only one salivating here right? tart1

On second thought, a Marc (French Grappa) from Burgundy could be a really tasty regional match too…