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: Quiche Lorraine

msliving_quichelorraine_vertThe Dish

I don’t really have that many stories from college; never was great at the whole social thing and getting into adventures (but I won’t bore you with details of my depressing alone-ness); but one of the few amusing moments I had in culinary classes involved the ‘baked Quiche.’  Can’t remember too many details nowadays, whether I or my partner had put the quiche together, popped it in the oven, or whether my frantic  sprint to check on it was due to accidentally leaving it in for who knows how many hours, realizing it was in at a temperature WAY too high, or a combination of them both.

Nevertheless, the first thing I see after opening the gateway of hell is what looked to be a landscape of black, punctuated only by the yellow of the eggy center, which pushed itself about two inches upwards and above the crust. It’s reminiscence to a certain other dish was simply too amusing for me at the moment, as I called out to the rest of the class: “We’ve got a soufflé over here!!!”

Ohhhh, ‘dem schooling days, filled with us feisty rapscallions (please don’t comment on my sad college high notes, it’s all I have!!); thankfully it was one of the many lessons learned early, but my experience with the French custard afterwards was painfully minimal, besides some breakfasts at home using those extremely shallow pre-bought frozen pie crusts (actually inspired by watching an episode of Good Eats). Then I was able to delight in one of the dish’s best qualities: flexibility. For, as I’ve come to learn, one could say that there really are two kinds of quiche. First, there is the delicately measured, finely seasoned and tender custard that’s filled carefully with select ingredients and featured in history and restaurants, something one can properly term “Quiche.” And then there’s “Refrigerator Pie,” as I (and I think Alton too) like to call it; that’s basically when one just puts in whatever they have on hand, mix the eggs with enough of whichever dairy they prefer to what looks good, and pops in the oven. It’s always how I’ve enjoyed practicing at home or in the kitchen, but today’s foray into this egg-centric recipe is truly that of the former as we study proper Quiche Lorraine.

Quiche itself really did originate in Lorraine… only at the time it was called Lothringen, when it was under Medieval German rule, who also provided the origins of its current name, “Kuchen/Kueche,” meaning ‘cake.’ Which certainly isn’t too accurate even by their standards, as the base used to be made from bread dough, then baked with the savory egg and cream filling.

As the bread evolved to a flaky, tender short pastry crust, so has those ingredients that we put in it. Quiches elsewhere have of course changed and fluctuated the traditional veggie, meat, and cheese additions throughout the centuries (there are some interesting classic recipes, like one using rillettes and another based on pumpkin), but the base of Lorraine has and always will be Bacon. 20140916_165853Only this was sometimes just lain in long strips on the bottom before custardizing; even my Larousse Gastronomique features this old habit. Cheese wasn’t added until much later, perhaps when they started to actually chop the meat, officially turning it into quiche vosgienne if using gruyere (cooks have often also used Swiss or Emmental). When onions become involved, fulfilling the classic trio with cream and cured pork, it then becomes the quiche alsacienne version of Lorraine, which I really believe to be most indicative of how we view and treat it today. Many may debate its trueness to lie back in the extreme simplicity it was before, while others then take this and add more things such as herbs, but a dish’s evolution and changes through time help culminate its identity to what we know today. As such, the Alsatian version, bereft of any other additions, will be what I base my meal on today.

A Word On…

Crust: Tart dough experimentations continue, though there do seem to be a few styles particularly intuitive with quiche. In fact, I ended up following a specific recipe that came along with the Larousse Gastronomique’s section on Quiche Lorraine, which is basically what I based most of my prep and recipe specifications around (it seemed very classic, old-school, and proper). This iteration’s baking formulation is that of a classic French Shortcrust, in particular one very much like Pate Sable but without sugar, in which one folds in SOFT butter instead of cold (oh the horror, how does such a tart dough exist!?), along with egg.

It was also one of my first attempts in a long while in mixing all the ingredients together on the counter instead of a bowl! Attempts at pasta making sorta ruined the practice for me, but I think I’ve found some fun and purpose in it again.

Also important to note that all quiche crust should be pre-baked before adding the fillings; if one tries baking both together, the bottom simply won’t cook (learned that watching Cutthroat Kitchen!). Oh, and I might suggest really curling the dough around the edge of your desired baking pan (again, springform is best and practically required) to prevent it from shrinking a large amount; either that or have a LOT of baking beans to fill the ENTIRE pan. Pricking the dough will only do so much.

Bacon: I’ll admit, I didn’t go the full mile in finding super-quality bacon, I was a bit more concerned with crust and custard on this experiment. Not to mention I was trying a new technique, also mentioned in Larousse, where one blanches their bacon in boiling water before frying in butter. Offers a great way to crisp and golden it up quickly without shriveling, losing too much fat, and keeping that nice meaty texture. I will say I think it worked out quite well, so feel free to get yourself a big chunk of uncut cured pork belly, make some thick slices, and then dice up some sizeable cubes after blanching for that REAL Bacon Experience.

20140916_163134Oh, and instead of transferring the cooked bacon to paper towels, why not put it in your pre-cooked tart shell!? Get eeeevvvveerrryyyyyyy bit of bacon fat and flavor soaked into the dish.

Onion: Generally speaking, recipes call for using Raw onions; sliced or diced simply dependant on preference. Though I do want to stay true, at the same time I just never like using so much raw onion in something; it’s not gonna cook and get soft inside, you know that. But a little bit of raw crunch and delicate flavor is nice when handled delicately; thus, I sautéed half of my available onion (in the leftover bacon fat of course) and left the other half raw for the best combo of flavor with just enough texture.

Custard: I’ve seen, and applied, many quiche recipes that use milk and half-n-half mixed in with their eggs. If I was discussing any general quiche home cooking, actually, ANY source of dairy would do; I’ve seen mini-quiches made with just the eggs and blue cheese. Hell, I’ve made salmon quiches while mostly using sour cream. However, as we’re considering a very traditional, very French Lorraine where the goal is to get that perfectly set custard, there’s really only one option: Cream (some hardcore French fanatics go a step further and use stiff crème fraiche). And lots of it, with a relatively high ratio of the fatty dairy to the eggs (see following recipe).

Quiche Lorraine
½ lb Bacon, in strips
Tb Butter
½ of an Onion, minced
2-3 oz Gruyere
4 Eggs
1 ¼ cup Cream
1 tsp or so each Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg
Pre-baked Tart Shell (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F20140916_154223
  2. Blanch Bacon in simmering water for about 5 minutes, remove and let cool.20140916_160640
  3. Chop into large, square pieces.20140916_160940
  4. Heat pan to medium-high heat and toss in Butter and Bacon, cooking until lightly and evenly browned.20140916_161221
  5. Remove, placing directly into the empty Tart Shell, and re-fill pan with half of the Minced Onion.20140916_161818
  6. Sweat in the butter-fat mixture until soft and transfer into tart shell with bacon and Raw Onion.20140916_172045
  7. When onion and bacon are cooled enough, grate the Gruyere on top until the tart is almost fully filled with ingredients, mixing them together to evenly distribute.20140916_173800
  8. In separate bowl, whisk Eggs, Cream, Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg until fully combined.20140916_174621
  9. Slowly pour into shell until mixture just reaches under the top of the crust (make sure to give it time to let settle into air spaces before adding more).20140916_183455
  10. Move into oven, on a baking sheet, and cook for at least 30 minutes, until the middle is set but still shakes and jiggles when moved.20140916_184134
  11. Remove, transfer to cutting board (or cooling rack), leaving a minute or so until cool enough to handle.20140916_184443
  12. Carefully undo springform pan sides (if using), and/or start slicing servings.
  13. Serve with side of light salad and enjoy.20140916_184428

Savory Pate Sable
250g Flour
Pinch Salt
125g Butter, softened
1 Egg
3 Tb Ice-Cold Water

Directions

  1. Sift Flour and Salt onto clean counter20140915_160127
  2. Quickly and gently, mix the Butter into flour until mixture is almost sandy, well combined.
  3. Pile this into a mound and make a deep well in the center, to which it will be filled with the Egg and Water.20140915_160451
  4. Carefully swirl liquids, mixing into the flour until fully incorporated, kneading briefly with fingers and palms until a smooth dough forms (may need more flour on the board)20140915_161009
  5. Flatten to a disk, wrap in plastic and let chill in the fridge for about an hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 400F and flour your countertop in preparation.20140915_170826
  7. Once chilled enough, roll out dough to 1/8” thickness, ish, and as large and round of a shape as you can get.20140915_170856
  8. Fold in quarters and move into a Springform or other Tart/baking pan, buttering and flouring the surface if non-stick.20140915_171014
  9. Unfold, lift-and-tucking the corners, press into the sides, and cut off dough at the top or whichever height is desired, noting it will shrink after cooking.20140915_171617
  10. Prick bottoms and sides with fork and cover with parchment paper laden from beans or other pie dough weights.20140915_192751
  11. Move to oven and cook 20 minutes, checking often near the end, or until dough is lightly browned and cooked on bottom.20140915_192909
  12. Remove and reserve until needed.

The Verdict

20140916_184456Truth be told I was much worried about the crust; having made it ahead of time, leaving it sit for a day, and also worried there was too much water as well as some kneading, it felt potentially bready and chewy. Once finished with the filling, though, I found it indeed had a nice crunch and thick flakiness to it; to my surprise, it actually reminded me of the crusts used in those frozen mini-quiches, in a good way!

And the filling… I’ve come to accept that I have a deep addiction to custards, especially those of the cheese variety. This really was just the perfect example; smooth, tender, creamy, that richness from the egg carrying through without that eggy, thick flavor and texture that just makes you think of fritattas. Almost felt like it was one step away from flan consistency, and I loved it. Then we add in bacon, onion, and that cooked tart dough and we see why quiche Lorraine has become the staple example of its group.

20140916_183932Primary Pairing – Chablis or Alsace Gewurztraminer

So, to explain why I didn’t focus my primary down to a single selection, I actually wanted to pair this particular meal with a Gewurztraminer I had picked up. Then I went looking on the morning of and, egads, couldn’t find the thing! At one point I decided that, in fact, I never bought the bottle in question and just thought I had, so my plans had to quickly change to a bottle I had planned for something else (and of course, one day later, I spot the bottle located on a shelf across the room from the others, in an area it WAN’T SUPPOSED TO BE IN. Thanks for moving yet another thing without telling me person-who-knows-who-they-are). It would have been so nice, having that interplay of the thickly oiled texture of the famed Alsatian wine with the mouth-filling fattiness of the custard, the spicy grape adding another dimension of flavor to quiche’s blank canvas while also complimenting the meat and onions.

But, Chablis and other Chardonnays (that are GOOD and FRESH and not overoaked or super-cheap-crap… seriously) work too. The nice acid structure holds up through the richness, flavors are often gentle and should mingle with the subtle depth which egg and dairy can so create. And it is close by, many a simpler/non-pungent Alsatian dish can be paired with Chablis, that chardonnay-centric region in the north of Burgundy that creates such minerally, refreshing versions of the grape. One doesn’t have to get the really expense bottles from the Petites and Grand Crus, there are some well-priced options that work just fine when eating with classic fare, when one just needs those certain additions of flavors and taste bud-interactions to complete a dinner.

20140916_183742My Bottle: – 2011 William Fevre Chablis AOC

Point in question, Fevre made a really decent, balanced product that provided a well-structured compliment to the simple meal for a great price compared to others. If you’re one of those who enjoys a decent non-oaky or buttery chardonnay, without exploring too high in the price listings, the style is a good option to try when you have the chance.

Secondary Pairing – Cider

I use it as a pairing for a lot of Northern French dishes, but it works; not too heavy, freshness and acidity cuts through, with light flavors to let the not-so-strong flavors in Quiche and other dishes shine through. If one wants a little changeup, they could always try a nice, pub-reminiscent English Cider; notably fuller and more fulfilling to match the custard.

p1: Buckwheat Crepes

So, a few years back I got this amazing awesome electric ‘Crepe Griddle’ machine thingy as a Christmas present, and have been needing to use it bad. With this little goal of going through all these French dishes, however, I’ve finally found myself an excuse to have a ‘crepe night’ event with family and cover two of my recipe requirements in one go: both the savory Buckwheat Crepes, as follows, and the dessert of Suzette, of which I should be writing up a report soon.

The Dish

My experience with crepes isn’t exactly few; in fact, I’ve discussed their preparation and use as street food in my other blog Here, and will soon have yet another post on Dessert Crepes for my Suzette. In my original, however, I lament on my depressing inability to truly replicate that which I have discovered on the streets of Paris and other French cities (was lucky enough to travel there for high school once). One of the things I have yet to try, though, is the use of Buckwheat flour; and seeing as it’s a common ingredient in certain European ‘pancakes,’ and a common style seen in this particular country, it might just be what I need.

enhanced-buzz-5708-1385794294-3Crepes themselves supposedly popped up in the NW corner of France, Brittany, originally being called ‘galettes’ (flat cake), the name crepe being developed later after the food spread throughout France as a derivation of ‘crispus,’ Latin for ‘curled,’ alluding to the tendency for their edges to bend up in the pan to signal its readiness to flip. Whether its origins are truly pure French can be debated though, as there are records of various nation’s pancakes being developed after a Dutch ‘tour’ that started them in Austria (and what a long and fluffy pancake history they’ve had), around Germany and into France and back to Austria again (or however it went, I can’t recall exactly but I do know they supposedly stopped in France and influenced their galettes while there). But it was in Brittany that the tools and techniques for French-style crepes were officially refined and mastered before popularity spread to Paris and beyond.

However, it was in the 1100’s that buckwheat was introduced to the Brittany region via Middle Eastern traders, thus the very first crepes made were in fact purely 100%, the use of White Wheat Flour not coming into play until the 1900’s when it became affordable. Combined with milk, butter, and eggs, the flour-based crepes became softer, developing them into that classic texture we now know and love from the folded wonder.

A Word On…

20140826_135054Buckwheat Flour: luckily this isn’t too difficult to find in stores, but you still have to go to a Whole Foods, Co-op, or similar store to get it. As for proportions of use, I have yet to do much in-depth recipe testing with this, or even try any buckwheat batters out besides this one, so I say just pick this or another recipe that looks good and have fun with it. The great thing about crepes is that, spread so thin and browned a bit crispy, they all come out delicious.

As for why it’s used, one of the most important aspects to Crepe Batter Making is that you want little to no actual gluten development. That’s why most recipes just combine everything together at the same time, with the massive amounts of liquid, often in a blender. Also partly why we let it rest for an hour or so, thus any stray carbohydrate strands that were formed may relax in their suspension. But, unlike regular flour, buckwheat is completely gluten-free, thus the risk of any development is lessened even further, giving us a fully soft batter to crisp up on our own. (and, you know, traditional ingredient used in galettes and whatnot, that probably influences it too)

Cooking Equipment: Now here’s where things get interesting; for when it comes down to it, Crepe batter is an extremely easy and simple recipe to put together, with very low margins of error. It’s COOKING the crepes where the issues come into play for people. Ideally what we need is to turn this batter into a very wide, thinly spread pool of batter in as perfectly circular shape as possible. Oh, and did I mention over a really hot surface? So it has to be made into this form very fast; easy access and the right tools are ideal.

Traditionally, this is accomplished on very big, thick heated stone rounds with no edges, the batter ladled and then spread with circular strokes using what seems to be the ‘bladed’ end of a squeegee/window wiper. Most of us don’t have access to this though, and even if we did probably not the years of practice and casual skill to sweep it into perfect circles every time, so we have to find other means. There are specially made ‘classic’ French Crepe Pans (supposedly what they’d use at home), really wide and flat circles with sharply upturned, short rims to allow for making a bigger crepe with easy access to grip the edge. They can be pricey though, and mayhaps have very little use outside of similar items.

I myself actually have this amazing plug in ‘griddle’ purely for crepe and other pancake-like-thing makings (it was a present, so I should be forgiven…). I got the spreader and the elongated spatula for flipping/folding and everything! It even has this cool device, for people who are too crappy at using the spreader (raises hand), where you set it into the rim, pour the batter in and move it around like a clockhand, quickly, and wind up making an absolutely perfect and super-thin crepe. If you’re reading this, and are actually attempting to make crepes, I’m guessing at least half of you probably want to beat me with a rolling pin for my boasts right now, I’m sorry! I will say though that if you CAN get something like this, apparently it was manufactured in Europe, it’s easily the best option for making the best crepes somewhat classically (or by cheating, either way). Plus one can still use it as an awesome flat-top griddle for other stuff (cooked an egg on it just this morning).20140824_170043

BUT, for all other intents and purposes that one might not be able to use something like this, we ultimately have to stick with a basic Saute pan. I’m sure you’ve probably heard or seen the ‘technique’ at least a dozen times by now, but it’s always good to re-study. The main annoyance with these is that, despite how big many look, the curved sides end up taking a lot of potential cooking area from the flat bottom, thus making us unable to make the good, really big crepes. Plus it can make it a bit annoying trying to reach in from there to lift and turn it; I mean it’s almost impossible to get a spatula in, except the rubber ones. BUT when you do get used to the technique of pouring, lifting and twirling the pan to let the batter fall and fill the area out, one ends up with an almost perfect circle every single time, WITHOUT needing any special spreader equipment. Just gotta get it around in time before your amount of ‘free batter’ not coating the bottom sets to much from the heat (and no you don’t want to start it out lower, coat, and then heat up; it needs to be hot the whole time to get it browned and crisp properly).

For those intrigued, there is one other option I’ve seen, involving turning your sauté pan upside down to give yourself a completely flat surface to work on, similar to the stones and griddle. There are some issues, namely that 1: it can only be done over gas burners, and 2: it can be tricky having a pan that will sit right, without rocking, completely flat with no slant, etc. Might be best to avoid unless really confident or desperate.

20140824_174858Fillings: Whatever the heck you want! The particular project I’m following requires nothing other than the crepe being buckwheat based; if one wanted something sort of traditional off the streets, they can stick with Ham and Gruyere, Lemon, Fruit Jams, and other things. For my little party, I decided on ham+brie and slow roasted tomatoes+ricotta, along with the dessert crepe of course.

Buckwheat Crepes
1 cup Buckwheat Flour
1 ¼ cups AP Flour
1tsp Salt
1 Tb Sugar
1 Egg
1 cup Water
1 1/3 cups low fat Milk

Directions

  1. Sift Flours and combine in bowl with other Dry ingredients, welling the center.20140824_123359
  2. Whisk Egg and Wet ingredients in separate container, adding half to the well in the dry.20140824_125354
  3. Whisk until smooth and slowly incorporate the rest of the wet ingredients until a smooth, thin-ish batter is formed.20140824_125516
  4. Let rest for at least an hour and prepare your crepe-cooking-setup.20140824_125912
  5. Briefly brush surface of your griddle or sauté pan with oiled paper towel to ‘season’ and turn to a medium-high heat.
  6. If, ideally, you have some form of flat top griddle, cooking stone, or electric machine equivalent (thank you foreign engineers!), pour a small ladle of batter somewhere between the center and edge of the cooking area.20140824_180217
  7. Take a classic crepe-spreader, what looks like a wooden window wiper, or anything equivalent (spatulas may work well) and sweep through batter with swift, smooth clockwise motions, spreading it in a circular(ish) shape. Make sure to keep the edge of the device hovering just above the griddle.20140824_170129
  8. If using a sauté pan, ladle your batter in the outside circle. As fast as one can, lift, tilt, and swirl to coat as much of the bottom of the pan in a thin batter as possible. If one ends up missing a spot, in either cooking scenario, no worries; simply add a bit more batter to fill in the area.20140824_150130
  9. Once the edges start to curl, or peel up easily with a spatula lift, and the bottom is a nicely even golden brown, carefully lift and flip over to the other side.20140824_150157
  10. Pile your desired filling into either the center or spread over half.20140824_170614
  11. Once heated through and the bottom is browned, which will not be long so move fast, fold as desired. Often this is done either by folding the edges in to make a square or hexagonal package, or folding it in half and once again for a triangular wedge (though thinner fillinged crepes can have this done 3 or more times, and one can always have fun experimenting with rolling).20140824_170842
  12. Transfer to plate or parchment paper, garnish with any desired sauces, extra filling, or other toppings, and serve.

20140824_174935The Verdict

I was a bit surprised by the color of the batter, even with the browning, not that I mind! The pictures certainly didn’t show it off like that though. Sort of makes me want to try out different buckwheat crepe ratios/recipes even more, especially since I still have yet to achieve what I believe to be that ‘perfect texture’ found in the many street side stalls in France. Though to be fair I’m coming to think that part of that is less the batter recipe and more the creperie workers’ ability to evenly spread it out to a slightly thicker layer. Either way, I can’t quite tell that much of a flavor difference between these and other crepes unless tasted side-by-side with minimal filling and a thicker consistency.

And now I feel silly, as I write this, my very last sentence which I’m putting down after all my other text, and after researching some history on crepes, I find that buckwheat-based ones, unlike my assumptions to their softening properties, are actually seen as resulting in CRISPIER versions than all-flour-based crepes. Ooops. Lesson learned for future purposes. And yes, I am too lazy to go back and rewrite some of my other typings on the concept, haha.

That said, god these made some good savory crepes. Especially when warm, melty cheese was involved. Think I can officially say they made a family ‘crepe night’ definitely worth it.

Primary Pairing – French Cider, sparkling (which is common)

20140824_174949Originally I was thinking of using a nicely light, blond ale or lager for this, which would have worked great for certain reasons (which will follow). However, I’ve used light beers relatively frequently in my malt-based primary pairings, so I thought I’d switch to another option that me and Buzzfeed both agree on: Cider.

When considering a dish that has a wide, WIDE range of different fillings, flavors, and elements that one could experience, such as adventures in crepe-making, versatility becomes a very important thing in one’s pairing. Luckily, crepe fillings rarely if ever exceed a certain body or chew to them, so we can keep our options in a somewhat restrained ‘light bodied/textured’ range.

The great thing about French Cider is they often have ‘just a little bit’ of each of their palate aspects: a little bit of bubbly (which can be used a bit like light red wine tannins), a little bit of apple skin tannins, a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of body… you get the idea. And what they don’t have just a little of, namely their rich apple flavor and crisp acidity, are great aspects for standing up and cutting through the bigger flavors one can run across, while being able to not overwhelm lighter dishes. And that’s really the strongest point of both Ciders and Pale Beers: good ones can stand up to the whole range of crepes, while not overpowering the more delicate ones.

20140824_174518My Bottle: Héritage 1900 Cuvée Tradition Dégorgée á la Valee, Cidre bouché au Pays d’Othe

When I saw this guy on a random wine store visit, I just knew I HAD to get it for one of my dishes, and I’m glad it fit so perfectly into our ‘crepe night.’ It was sparkly and bubbly and celebratory, with a very light sweetness to be able to drink with the various light dishes we made that night. It went particularly delicious with our Ham and Brie, especially considering the very light notes of hay and yeast, giving it a light funkiness that tied it into cheese flavors quite well. And the apple flavor was pure and refreshing; it even had that very slight bit of apple skin ‘tannin’ I’ve found present in many good ciders; a key element allowing it to be drunk with any crepe with a bit of chew(like the ham), but doesn’t affect the fully soft options either.

Perfectly balanced for this night’s needs, and with a delicious freshness and just deep enough flavor to be special while connecting to the simple flavors of this French food, my bottle of Héritage Cuvée was a proper highlight of the evening.

images2Secondary Pairing Cremant de Loire

There are some very nice white wines and super-light reds throughout Loire that can be used in a similar way to ciders and pale beers, but the Sparkling wines are just so special in their ability to eat with a wide range of food. Not to mention there seems to be a whole ‘bubbly’ line of thought with my pairing drinks anyway, so why not let it run?

p2: French Strawberry Pie

Well it’s the end of strawberry season here, so I had to do this guy while I still had the chance.

The Sweet

855824Strawberry Pie isn’t exactly one of the desserts one might consider or recognize in French cuisine; for good reason, as the strawberry doesn’t seem to have much role or presence in the culinary history. Though they may have used it as trade routes and transportation abilities grew more and more, but never has it boosted itself to the oft-reached for French loved ingredients like apples and figs.

So then what’s it doing in this selection?

Truthfully, I don’t know ALL the details. People just don’t want to think too much about this dessert it seems, which I guess fits into one of the recent origins in a unique way. For in most of my delving into recipe and history, a commonality I keep seeing is this dessert being referred to as “1970’s French Strawberry Pie.” Interesting, as I don’t remember French cuisine making any decade declarations with its food, especially the more recent ones, followed by one of the strangest things I’d never thought I’d come across in this adventure: Cream Cheese. Yes, as I was to discover, this “classic” dessert is mainly known for covering the bottom with a thick layer of sugar and mass-packaged soft curd. I must of skipped over that page when we covered French Cuisine and History in class.

Or, more likely, this leads back to the American 70’s, and earlier periods, in the time of Jello molds and TV Dinners, when cream cheese was mixed with all manner of things to create “amazing” desserts and centerpieces for the very popular dinner parties. From my recollection, it was also a habit at the time to add various descriptors, often of ‘origin,’ to impress those consuming these… ‘foods.’ (Should look some of it up, it’s amazing the things they made… not always in a good way) Thus is was likely someone attached the name “French” in a recipe book, likely mass-produced, and the dessert spread through various US households at the time.

So then, is it really a French dessert? In this version, no. But that’s not to say it wasn’t at one point inspired by traditional French tarts. Only they’ve swapped the Pastry Cream for cream cheese, the delicate glaze on top with a thick pile of jelly (practically turns it into a filling), and used a fruit more popular in the US. Oh, and likely used a different pie dough. So I think it’s only right, as a couple other online enthusiasts have done, to honor the basis of this recipe with some of the original French flairs, but shaped into the standard American shell with generous servings (seriously, I may have loaded up on a bit too much pastry cream… not that there really is a thing like that). Viva la France.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Just to get it off the bat, dough-of-choice for this round of dessert I’ve decided is Pate Brisee. Its intrigue popped up in a search for a proper “French” pie dough, being somewhat similar except for the use of Milk. That and other slight differences results in a great pre-baked crust that many equate to as “sorta like a cookie.” Sounds yummy to me.

20140716_143325To fill this cookie, considering how absolutely simple and berry-forward this dish is (no fruit cooking required), one can really only use the BEST strawberries ever. That means either getting your hands on the highly rare and seasonal Wild strawberry pickers or, almost as good, getting the good stuff from local farmer’s market in Mid-Summer. They’ve always been the highlight of the year when our market comes out, I couldn’t think of a better time to use this product and make this pie.

Pastry Cream Schematics are interestingly complex, highly debatable, and just plain a chore for those trying to find the “perfect” recipe. As such, like my little endeavors in using different crusts, I like trying out different recipes every now and then just for the heck of it. For this one I played with the idea of flour vs starch, the concept that each has a positive and negative aspect and that an “ideal” result comes in using a combination of both. One recipe had a 2:1 ratio of starch to flour, which I applied to a tasty, creamy looking crème patissiere I found. If you have your own favorite pastry cream recipe, or just wanna try the first one that looks tasty, go ahead with that one.

20140718_095540As for the Vanilla, this is one of those cases where the dish is beautifully simple but delicious enough that I find using an actual vanilla bean, if you have some and are looking for GOOD dishes to use in (without being overshadowed), worth it. The ones I have, though, are either somewhat old or are just naturally quite firm and leathery; if you have similar, I find cutting it down the middle and leaving soak with your dairy overnight softens it up to make MUCH easier handling and scraping.

20140718_214127Finally, to end this long-winded rant, we need to talk a bit about Glazing. As with practically any proper French Tart or similar dessert, to make it look pretty and taste not a bit sweeter, we usually have to brush on a thin coating of some sorta glaze over the fruit before serving. There are a couple kinds of glazes we can use, and I’ve found no real restriction on them for this dish, especially considering its high US twisting. Often it’ll be something where one cooks strawberries and sugar (maybe some liquid), mashes, strains them, and then thickens the resulting mix with cornstarch. But one could easily use syrups, other starch-thickened juice, or heat up your favorite jelly (which seems a very classically rustic method, even in France I believe).

20140718_115920For MY glaze, I decided to do something special and use one of my favorite techniques. Cut some strawberries in half, piling them in a heat-safe bowl (having a thicker, layered pile of them really helps) and let them sit on a very low-heated double-boiler for at least an hour. After some time, the berries will soften and gray but will release the most pure, simple, and fruity strawberry juice you’ll ever see. Strain this off, then reheat over the boiler with some sugar to turn into a syrup (it’s not that sweet as-is), and we’re ready to sauce, glaze, you name it. So nummy.

French Strawberry Pie20140719_120656
1 pint, or more, Awesome Strawberries
1 prepared Pate Brisee crust (recipe follows)
1-2 cups Pastry Cream (recipe follows)
Apricot/Fruit Jelly or Jam (optional)

Directions

  1. Cut steams from Strawberries and reserve some on the side, if desired, to make your preferred glaze.
  2. When ready, move to assemble pie. Cover bottom of the pre-baked Pate Brisee with Pastry Cream, about an inch thick or however much desired.
  3. Arrange whole berries, end up, on top, covering as much of the custard from sight as possible (best done with a second berry layer).
  4. Heat up glaze as needed and carefully brush over tops of the fruit. Move to fridge for everything to fully set, at least fifteen minutes.
  5. Remove, garnish with any desired meringue or whipped cream (great for filling in gaps), slice and serve.20140719_132442

Pastry Cream
1 Vanilla Bean
1 cup Cream
1 ½ cup Milk
1/3 cup Sugar
6 Egg Yolks
4 Tb Corn Starch
2 Tb Flour
Pinch Salt
2 oz/ ½ stick Cold Butter, chopped

Directions

  1. Slice Vanilla bean down the middle and scrape completely with back of knife to get as many seeds out as possible.20140718_095805
  2. Combine seeds, pod, Cream, and Milk in large sauce pan on stove, heating on Medium until Scalded, or about simmering (or hot to touch but not yet boiled).20140718_100250
  3. In bowl on side, thoroughly mix together the Yolks, Sugar, Corn Starch, Flour, and Salt, beating until pale yellow, smooth, and ribbony.20140718_100456
  4. Once hot, remove cream from stove, slowly pouring into the yolk mixture while whisking constantly to Temper. Remove leftover bean pods that have stayed on bottom of pan.20140718_101007
  5. Scrape custard back into pan and move to hot stove.20140718_102747
  6. Whisking constantly (or else it WILL burn and curdle), increasing speed the more it heats and thickens up, cook the custard until it has turned to a consistency somewhat softer than what you’re looking for.20140718_102815
  7. Take off heat, toss in Butter and continue whisking until melted.20140718_102852
  8. Quickly scrape custard into long and wide pan (loaf, brownie, etc). Cover with parchment paper and transfer to fridge to cool.20140718_103119
  9. Reserve for later use or spoon on top of fruit with whipped cream for simple and delicious instant dessert.

Pate Brisee
1 ¾ cup Flour
2/3 cup/5.3 oz/a bit over 1 1/8 stick Diced, Chilled Butter
Tsp Salt
2 tsp Sugar
1 Egg
1 Tb Cold Milk

Directions

  1. Combine Flour, Butter, Salt, Sugar, and Egg in bowl (or on countertop, however)
  2. Work butter into ingredients thoroughly with fingertips, pastry cutter, or done in a food processor, until ‘sandy’ in texture.20140718_215001
  3. Add Milk, mixing until everything comes together, adding more milk a tsp at a time if needed.
  4. Knead about 4-5 times, in hands or on surface. Flatten, wrap in plastic and chill in fridge until required.20140718_215501
  5. Turn oven to 400F.
  6. Cover counter and dough in flour, carefully rolling into a circle to fit the desired pie pan.20140718_223132
  7. Fold, transfer and tuck in. Cover with parchment and weigh down with beans or other pie weights.20140718_223919
  8. Move to oven and bake about 20 minutes, until edges are lightly golden (as they will likely cook and color faster than bottom, I suggest leaving the dough there thicker).20140718_230723
  9. Remove, let cool, and reserve for filling.

20140719_133244My Thoughts

Oh wow, the Pate Brisee actually does taste like a cookie! Sorta sugar-cookie-ish, with a nice butter richness. I’m so keeping the recipe for future pre-baked dough requirements (it doesn’t work so well when baking with fillings, apparently, unless it’s able to go for a long time without too much liquid insides).

I think the pastry cream recipe I had used a LOT more starch than was really needed, also I probably should have reduced the amount of flour in the conversion, if not nixed it altogether, since it tasted a touch starchy for my liking (still omnomnom pastry cream, as it always is, but school made me finicky about it, damn them!). All together though, it tasted absolutely delicious, with rich custard and crunchy crust supporting our favorite farmer’s market product. The only way it could have been more perfect is if I could have piled even more berries on top for generous servings.

fraise_bottlePossible Pairings

I might normally start off with Strawberry Wines and Liqueurs, but those are generally just so rich, dense, syrupy, fruit-forward, or otherwise overpowering for a dish which is actually very mellow, though fresh and bright, in flavors. If one had a strawberry Eau-de-Vie (distilled strawberries), on the other hand, that could work well; or any berry-based brandy. Then again, a young Apple Brandy (not Calvados, too barrel-y) could also serve quite well. Who doesn’t love apples and strawberries?

When I think berries nowadays, I think Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and I think we can find some super fun drinkables there for something like this. For wine there are Mosel Rieslings, super sharp but still sweet Spatlese and Auslese where the Botrytis hasn’t shown yet (have to pick carefully though). A super-chilled glass of crystalline Aquavit with its refreshing caraway aromas. Then again, following the apple logic as before, a good, bubbly glass of Cider could do wonders when enjoying on the deck.7817054786_d7273d24cd

p1: Piperade

enhanced-buzz-29342-1385771009-2A Valentine’s Weekend Brunch concept lead me to search out a dish that was rich in holiday spirit (or, you know, close-ish) and breakfast-reminiscent. What better dish to pick than the Hot, teasingly Spicy, Red stew of Peppers known as Piperade, cooked with Eggs and eaten on Crusty Bread.

The Dish

The Pinnacle of Basque Cuisine, the recipe known as Piperade is shared in the small region crossing both French and Spanish borders. Its beginnings, however, trace towards the French side in the far south-western region of Bearn (also known for béarnaise sauce… huh, that’s two relatively well known mother sauce adaptations they’ve invented), where the end of summer heralded and abundance of ripe, concentrated Tomatoes and Peppers, brought over from the New World and now used to make a sauce.

Which is what it started as and is still often used today, a sweet and rich sauce to go with various meals, sometimes cooked with beaten eggs a-la omelet. But it didn’t stay that way, the newly popular flavor combination moving across the border where they shared use of the same ingredients. Its influence grew, acquiring ingredients in its slow spread and popularity. Onions and Garlic from the Midetteranean, Ham and a Hot Ground Pepper from the Border, and it wasn’t long before the simple sauce turned into a cavalcade of sensational activity. Not only that, the stew’s mixed colors of Red (tomatoes), White (onion+garlic), and Green (peppers) stood representation of the Basque Flag, much like the Margherita Pizza does for Italy.

A simple dish packed full of flavor, Piperade truly stands tall as one of the typical foods of Southern France.

A Word On…

Peppers: Overall, the recipe is pretty easy. It’s just onions, garlic, tomatoes and peppers cooked together; and the traditional ingredients reflect that. Bell Peppers, that’s it; usually Green to reflect the “Basque Flag Color,” though there are many recipes that discuss adding a variety of bells for a beautiful color mix. Just stick with this and you already have the classic. No need to do the whole “roasting the skin and peeling off” thing, just keep it fresh before cooking.SAMSUNG

There is one fun option we have though; the main Buzzfeed recipe link uses these little gems, and I just love adding them to dishes whenever I can. Preserved, Roasted Red Sweet Peppers. If you’ve had these in restaurants, maybe on an antipasti plate, you know why I adore these things. They’re soft and rich, smokey and sweet, and just concentrated with that essence of cooked peppers. You can find a can or jar of these, the already emptied casings sitting in an acidic mixture of vinegar and verjus, in any decent supermarket (co-ops, whole foods, etc). Just slice them up and toss in a little later than the other veggies; and I do still use it alongside bell peppers, so I can keep the classic feel and flavors of the dish.SAMSUNG

HOT Peppers: With the sweet peppers we need the Heat. This comes from a little guy called the Espelette pepper, a Southern French product with its own AOC. Finding this in our market, though, is a damn difficult task.

We have options though, just have to find a fresh or SAMSUNGchili pepper with similar Scoville units. And at only 4,000 (which is pretty darn low), we have a couple options. Guajillo Chilies are probably the easiest to get your hands on, and very close at 5,000 scoville; it’s what I got. Other decent options, if you can find them, are Mirasols and Fresno Peppers.

These aren’t added in as-is, which brings our second SAMSUNGconsideration. Normally, the espelette is ground into a French Paprika/Pimento. To make your own with whatever chili you get (if you get a “fresh” pepper, though, just slice it up and add in as-is), start simply by toasting the dried peppers (deseed first). This is simple, really; just heat up a pan, put in the whole peppers and press down with a spatula for about a SAMSUNGminute each side, until those essential oils start to bloom and you can smell it. The skin should start to darken to around the edges.

Move it to your handy-dandy spice grinder (basically, a coffee grinder, cleaned) or food processor. It’ll be soft while warm, so let cool a bit to crisp up, and grind untilSAMSUNG beautifully powdered. This can be used as is, for this or whatever, but I like to still add some decent Spanish/Smoked Paprika to edge the final spice flavors a little closer to the original.

Tomatoes: I’ve talked about quality tomatoes a bit in one of my other Posts, and when it comes to getting the BEST ones for such a tomato-focused cooked dish, then stay away from “fresh.” Unless you can really get those rich, concentrated, deep red organic/home grown fruit right from your own garden (or a quality farmer’s market), then stick with canned. It sounds counter-intuitive, but think of it this way; organically canned tomatoes are picked and preserved at their PEAK of flavor and sugars, keeping them at their best flavor.SAMSUNG

You have to know which ones to buy though. I love the Italian San Marzano tomatoes (well, everybody does, haha), and there are also some really great local, Whole Roasted Organic options. Whole Foods has a great stock on these options.

Cured Pig (and Focal Points): Traditionally, one cooks this dish wish an Air-cured meat called “Jamon de Bayonne” (from the Bayonne region of course). Finding this in the non-Chicago Midwest, much like the Espelette, is next to impossible. The main substitutes to it, for our concern, would be Italian Prosciutto and Spanish Serrano Ham. Which iteration one pics of these, then, is dependant with how it’ll be used.

SAMSUNGI like to think that there’s a bit of a tug-of-war battle between the Egg and the Ham, each vying to see which one will act as the main showcase with the different recipes. Do you tone down the amount of eggs and top it with big chunks of fresh sliced or sautéed Ham; or do you keep the meat in with the veggies as it stews, the flavors mingling and overriding any subtle and delicate flavors it might have had.

Focusing on the Brunch aspect, I chose a cheaper prosciutto, which holds a very rough and simple personality but has a stronger flavor to stand up with the stew. This I had Sliced Thick, sautéed and mixed back in right before baking (I still want to ensure one can taste it). If one were to HIGHLIGHT the ham, then I think Serrano is the better choice: lighter and finer flavors, a little more of that cured pork fat still attached, and much closer in personality to the Bayonne. What I’d actually do is make a nice, refined veggie “sauce,” poach the egg on the side, and stack on the plate with a couple fresh, delicately thin slices of the Serrano.

Two extremes with many a variation in between if one explored them. The choice is up to you.

Eggs: Nowadays baked along with the stew, the original French dish was more closely tied to an omelette, or “frittata” style, with the tomato-pepper sauce cooked in. However, changes in preferences and styles have introduced baking of the eggs as a viable and now classic substitution, and the one which I chose to follow at the time.

Piperade
4oz Prosciutto, Serrano, or similar meat, Thick Sliced
1/3-½  cup Olive Oil
1 Onion
½ Head of Garlic (5-7 medium cloves)
1 Large or 1 ½ Small Bell Pepper/s (any color)
2 Tb Guajillo (or similar) Chile Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp crushed Thyme (fresh or dry)
Salt n Pepper
1 cup Roasted Sweet Peppers
1 pint Can Whole San Marzano Tomatoes
2 Tb Fresh Parsley, chopped
5-8 Eggs

Some good, Crusty Bread, sliced and Grilled

DirectionsSAMSUNGSAMSUNG

  1. Turn oven to 350F.
  2. Cut your dry-cured meat into even-sized cubes (or julienne sticks, depending), turning the cooking pan to Medium heat.SAMSUNG
  3. Once hot, add Olive Oil; it should start Shimmering quickly. Toss in cubed meat, sautéing until colored and lightly crispy around the edges.
  4. While this is going, slice your Onion, Garlic, and Bell Pepper into thin strips.
  5. Transfer cooked prosciutto to paper towels for draining, SAMSUNGreplacing them in the warm pan with your sliced veggies.
  6. Gently cook on Medium/Med-Low until they start to get soft, making sure they don’t get any color. Toss in the Guajillo, Paprika, Sugar, Thyme and Seasonings, continuing so they “bloom” in the warm oil.SAMSUNG
  7. Slice Roasted Sweet Peppers, adding in as the veggies get closer to full softness.
  8. Remove whole Tomatoes from the can, chopping them into thin pieces. Add, along with the can sauce/juices, simmering for 5 or so minutes until SAMSUNGlightly reduced and “incorporated.”
  9. Stir in the chopped Parsley and Cooked Prosciutto.
  10. Ready your Eggs, carefully cracking into small bowls/ramekins for easy transferring.
  11. Carefully make a few “wells” into the cooked veggies and peppers with the back of a spoon or spatula, gently easing the whole eggs into each of their new resting places.SAMSUNG
  12. Transfer to the hot oven, letting the Eggs and Stew bake until the white is set, 6-8 minutes.
  13. Remove, scoop onto a plate, and serve alongside drinks and some good Toasty Bread (and maybe a sausage if it’s breakfast, num).SAMSUNGSAMSUNG

The Verdict

I really love how this recipe turns out. Really tart, tomatoey-pepper rich stew, firm chunks of salty pork, and a fatty egg yolk to round it all out. The heat is low and gentle, the paprika-chili pepper flavors notably present but only offering the barest hints of capsaicin. Enough to arouse the palette without being too needy. Everything had its own strong, distinctive notes that just make you crave it throughout the day. It was all the beauty of a typical Chinese meal, designed to hit all 5 points of flavor (and the soul and SAMSUNGelements and whatnot): Sweetness from the Peppers, Acidity from the Tomato, Umami from the Egg and Garlic, Saltiness from the Prosciutto, and Bitterness from the Charred Bread.

Ultimately it was a fun brunch, and a delicious thing to put on top and soak into that crunchy garlic bread.

Primary Pairing – Sagardoa (Basque Cider)

Again, a Cabernet Sauvignon with this dish? I think Buzzfeed must have been in a red wine coma when they put this particular article up. Not only is there no real texture to require the deep red’s tannins (crunchy bread doesn’t count), but much like the cheese we have another culinary pitfall for wine: Eggs. To be specific, egg Yolks, the fatty substance which is noted for having the tendency to coat and impede the palette, obstructing and inhibiting flavors from wine and drink. That and some compounds that can change flavors into the negative, tannic and more complex wines like Cab are immediately a no-go with any dish that highlights this ingredient.

So what kind of drink do we pair with this odd ingredient? Why, we just have to look at the rest of the dish; tart, strong, with little “weight” but still having singular flavor identity to it that, though not really complex, isn’t boring either. There are many White Wines that fit this diagram quite well (Rias Baixes, Vinho Verde, Txakolina, Sancerre/Pouilly Fume, Mosel Riesling, etc), but there’s only one thing that stands out at the top around the Basque Region. And that’s their Cider.SAMSUNG

Cider’s a beautiful thing. Low alcohol, deliciously tart and acidic, with an intensely unique, piercing flavor. It can cut right through the coating fat of the egg yolk, its personality simple and strong enough to not be displaced and confused by the twisting placebo compounds. And just a refreshing glass to have for brunch; who needs a Mimosa? (please oh please god do not tell my Mother I said that)

My Bottle: 2011 Isastegi Sagardo NaturalaSAMSUNG

Was so happy to find this unique little item in a local store. The acidity matches perfectly with the tomato-pepper stew while still pushing through the difficulty of the egg, with a bare off-dry sweetness to counter the light salt of prosciutto. Then it gives a fun little muskiness, as should any good cider, to keep you excited and wanting more. I think the best way to describe its qualifications is that it has the same amount of “satisfaction” in it as the comfortingly poignant piperade.

Secondary PairingGaillac or other SW France Rose

This was actually going to be my primary choice, I mean it was Valentine’s weekend; but then I found I could actually get a Spanish Cider (and cheaper), so I just had to go with my other option.SAMSUNG

It’s a bit surprising, I know, since apparently us “wine snobs who roll their eyes at the mention of rose” must HATE the idea of using this very versatile and food friendly style when it comes to pairing. But I guess sometimes even we deem to lower ourselves to -gasp- “enjoy” a wine that tastes delicious and refreshing. Just a bit of those red-reminiscent fruit flavors and aromas to be mentally appealing next to the distinctive tomato-pepper stew, while holding the piercing tartness and personality of a white to stand next to the dish’s difficulties.

They’ll have some more body than the cider, probably along with a bit of “heat” and musk/earthiness that reminds one of Mediterranean Basque. A great regional pairing fully incorporated with the French side of things.

If you can’t find any rose from the SW of France, there are some great offerings from Provence and Southern Rhone at decent prices, just ask an employee about their suggestions to lead you to the right bottles.

p2: Creme Brulee

Image                I do seem to enjoy starting each of my projects with a dish that’s just classically cliché (such as the Coq au Vin), so of course Crème Brulee should be my first adventure here. Not to mention it was a fun V-day Brunch Dessert with strawberries.

The Sweet

THE classic dessert, served in a variety of French cafes and restaurants, fine dining US spots, even brunch buffets. Who knew as simple Custard with Burned Sugar on top would have become so popular?

Maybe most of Western Europe, considering how much they’ve contested ownership rights. It is an interesting bit of history, since no one is TRULY clear as to where the dish properly originated. The earliest Recording seems to have been in the mid-1600’s, in England of all places. Trinity College, Cambridge, the cooks made a simple sugar-topped Custard dish where they burned the College Crest on with a branding iron, and thus their claim to the recipe is born. Which I wouldn’t be too surprised if it turned out true, considering the widespread use and popularity of Custards and other Egg-binded “Puddings” in English dessert cuisine. Then it was known simply as Burnt Cream, or Trinity Cream to honor the college origins.

It’s first appearance in a cookbook came in 1691, in France, the Cuisinier roial et bourgeois, called Crème Brulee; though interesting he changed the name to Crème Anglaise (English Cream) in a later book. Also taking into account that early French versions simply made a disk of caramel on the side beforehand to place on top for service, the argument for French dominance seems a bit weaker and weaker.

The Final, and least likely, originator comes in Catalan (Spain), with crema catalana/cremada(burnt). Same kind of recipe, but with cinnamon and citrus zest added, its first recorded appearance seems to have come sometime in the 17th century.

Though the dates on all these seem to go back and forth; one place said that Cambridge started burning in 1879, another that the French didn’t first list until 1731, it’s all a bit confusing and unclear. And not to mention this is all just based off of records, there’s still no evidence or word of mouth who actually made the first version. But either way, we have this delicious dish of contrasting textures and rich toffee-cream. Who cares when it’s all about indulging?

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

SAMSUNGVanilla beans are a pretty pricey thing these days, so I only like using the ones I have when it fulfills two criteria. 1: it’s a special dish/occasion, and 2: the vanilla is able to SHINE, i.e. it’s usually a very, very simply flavored dish with no notably competing/contrasting element, usually custard. Crème brulee is a good dish for this.

But because I so rarely use them, MY vanilla beans seem to have “dried up” ever more than usual; they’ll actually snap if I bend them far SAMSUNGenough. It makes splitting them open not so easy, and a pain in the ass trying to get all the seeds out. Turns out it’s an easy fix when using them to infuse though; just let it soak in the Cream (or other liquid you’re cooking) overnight beforehand. It softens up so nicely, just look!

Seeds are easy to scrape out again, and if anything you just got some extra infusion time for a more in depth flavor.SAMSUNG

As for the custard, my recipe searches have found that nearly all recipes use ONLY Heavy Cream as their dairy of choice; which is usually odd with custard recipes. The main differences come simply in how many yolks are used (my favorite being Alton Brown’s, who uses the minimum 6 for a quart of cream; it keeps it to a really tender and soft pudding) and whether it uses cornstarch or some other binder. Ignore the starch additions, you don’t need them at all, and they only serve to mess up the flavor.

Finally, when it comes to Torching your sugar, I do always suggest using a blowtorch if you have one (the little handheld guy is so fun and a great tool to have); but not everybody does. Fear not, a simple solution presents itself; just turn your Broiler on High and stick it in (after the broiler’s warmed up of course). There are a couple adjustments to how the dish should be treated as you go, and I’ve made a couple notes in the recipe where suited.SAMSUNG

Crème Brulee
1 Vanilla Bean
1 Quart Heavy Cream
Tsp Salt
6 Egg Yolks
½ cup Sugar + Extra for dusting

DirectionsSAMSUNG

  1. Split vanilla bean, thoroughly scraping its insides of the fine seeds with a paring knife.
  2. Transfer both seeds and leftover bean pod to a pot with the Heavy Cream and Salt; warm on Medium heat untilSAMSUNG thoroughly Scalded (skin starts forming on top and the edges are barely simmering).
  3. While warming, whip Yolks thoroughly with a whisk, slowly incorporating the ½ cup of Sugar, until it turns very pale yellow and fluffy.
  4. Slowly pour in a bit of the warmed SAMSUNGcream at a time, “tempering” the delicate yolks to the heat. After about 1/3 of cream is incorporate, simply dump the rest in, whisking to fully mix.
  5. Let cool on counter, cover in plastic wrap (pressing to the top to prevent skin formation), and transfer to fridge for a minimum 2 hours or Overnight.
  6. Strain out vanilla bean and ladle your custard into whatever ramekin or other ramekin-like container you have.
  7. Turn oven to 325F and start boiling a large SAMSUNGsaucepan (2 quarts) of Water.
  8. Transfer ramekins to roasting or other baking pan, carefully filling with the hot water  until it’s just a bit below where the custard level is.
  9. Bake until mostly set and the center still jiggles when you shake, about 40-45 SAMSUNGminutes.                Note: if using a larger baking dish, or Broiling later, then feel free to take out earlier than it may seem. The residual heat, greater than in the small pan, should follow it through further, plus the Broiling heats the custard up a lot.
  10. Move to fridge for overnight, or until chilled completely.SAMSUNG
  11. Remove 1/2 hour before ready to serve. When close to ready, sprinkle on an even, only slightly heavy layer (don’t want it super fine or thin, just a bit more sugar than that) over top, shaking and rotating ramekin to get an even coating.              SAMSUNGNote: if Broiling, I actually DO prefer a finer layer, as it takes longer for the sugar to start cooking, and can get much more spotty than with a torch.
  12. Brulee sugar however desired, whether with blowtorch, broiler, or the classic branding iron.
  13. Let sit 5 minutes after caramelizing and serve, on its own or with fruit.

My Thoughts

SAMSUNGI really like this custard recipe; very nice and creamy, not that rich/heavy with the yolky custardy flavor, simple but developed. The vanilla bean is able to shine through along with the sugar flavor very well. As for the dish, always a classic; crispy, crunchy sugar caramel with a smooth milkfatty pudding. French comfort dessert at its finest.

Possible Pairings

layon-vv-18One of the many French desserts that have lost a sense of belonging to a particular region, being seen all over. Often with those kinds of desserts, they’re usually attributed a bit more towards the Parisian area, so Loire pairings it is.

I think one of the lightly sweet Coteaux du Layon dessert wines made with Chenin Blanc would be delicious, or a Methode Ancien sparkling Loire (also made with Chenin), especially if one could find a Demi-Sec version (half dry, or really half-sweet).

Vouvray_Sparkling_Chenin_blanc_wineCan’t leave out the other countries vying for credit on the burnt cream’s creation. And England has been creating some wonderful Sparkling Wines as of late; with their continental temps, they might even have Ice Wine. Either of those would be a fantastic, simple drink next to this I believe.

As for Catalan in Spain, hmmmm….. I SAMSUNGknow! They make a great lightly sparkling, off-dry Cider in the Basque. It’s sort of musky, but pure and simple, and just a nice little gulp. Would go great with the cinnamon-citrus zest version, and I happen to have a bottle that I used to pair with an upcoming Savory French 44 dish.

IMG_4499And to end on hard alcohol, a glass of Calvados (an apple brandy made in Northern France); it’s on the border of France and England, shares similar flavor profiles with cognac to make it match the burnt sugar of the dessert, not as overpowering when young. But gentle and deep when old, a good drink with complexity to go with the very simple but delightful custard.

And that ends the first of hopefully many “sweet” posts on the subject. Hope those reading enjoyed it, and are able to take some fun things into consideration with their next baking session. I’ll see you all on the next go-round!