What better way to start the mushroom season than serving Classic Cèpes? The recipe is very simple and the result is about cèpes and cèpes alone. The stems a bit firm, the caps moist, the flavours intense and the taste rich and earthy, with a touch of freshness from the parsley. It’s a classic in Germany (Steinpilze auf klassische Art), France (similar to Cèpes a la Bordelaise), Italy and many other countries.
If you want to enjoy the cèpes with a glass of white wine, then we suggest drinking one that is fresh, fruity, round and balanced, for instance of a glass of Bodegas Mocén Selección Especial made from verdejo grapes. A glass of rosé with similar flavours is also a good idea. The idea is to support the cèpes by adding fruitiness and freshness to the dish.
When you decide to drink a glass of red wine, then we suggest a full-bodied red wine with gently fruit and present tannins.
What You Need
200 gram Cèpes
One small Shallot
What You Do
Clean the mushrooms and slice lengthwise. Finely chop the shallot and the parsley. Add butter to a relatively hot heavy iron skillet. Reduce the heat and fry the cèpes for a few minutes. Add the shallot. Cook on medium heat for 2 minutes. Add chopped parsley, add more butter, black pepper and stir. Serve on a warm plate.
It’s also known as Vacherin Fribourgeois and it originates from the region around the Swiss city Fribourg. It’s a semi-hard, creamy cheese made with raw cow milk. It matures for at least 6 weeks in a damp cellar. Its taste is aromatic, floral, full-bodied and lasting, with a touch of sweetness, bitterness and umami. It is used in a fondue called moitié-moitié (50% Gruyère and 50% Fribourg). It’s also possible to make a fondue with Fribourgeois only, using three ingredients: water, cheese and garlic.
Obviously we wanted to taste this cheese and we assumed that in the home town of Hélène Barale we would be able to buy it. We found a great cheese shop and bought a nice slice of this complex cheese. At home we decided to make an omelet with spinach, following a recipe from Hélène Barale for Omelette aux Blettes.
For this omelet you need spinach, shallot, garlic, bay leaf, egg and freshly grated Vacherin Fribourgeois. No thyme, black pepper or salt. We were much surprised by the perfectly balanced flavours of spinach, cheese and eggs. Wonderful omelet. You’ll find all the details you need in La cuisine niçoise d’Hélène Barale: Mes 106 recettes.
We enjoyed our omelet with a nice glass of Côtes de Provence Rosé. You could also enjoy it with an unoaked Chardonnay. If you decide to eat the cheese as dessert, then we suggest a glass of full bodied red wine (Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône etcetera).
From a culinary point of view we think we understand why Madame Barale favored Fromage de Fribourg. If it’s her personal choice, something typical for the Niçoise cuisine, a culinary trend or perhaps because she was fond of Fribourg, that remains a mystery to us.
For some reason we had booked a hotel in Coutras, some 65 kilometres from Bordeaux. A nice enough city, on the borders of the river Dronne, but not as interesting as nearby city Libourne with its castles, parcs and rivers (the Dordogne and the Isle). In all fairness, we could easily have forgotten our stay at Coutras, if it wasn’t for the dinner at La Table Du Buffet. It was a warm welcome, a nice plat du jour made with lots of local products and served with very nice local wine, obviously. One of the dishes was Escargots à la Bordelaise, made with small snails. The taste was great although we think the snails could have been cleaner, but that’s a minor detail. The dish was a revelation: not the standard combination of snails, butter, garlic and parsley, but a rich tomato and wine sauce that supported the snails perfectly. Delicious with some crusted bread. We decided to prepare the dish as soon as we were back home.
Buying the right snails is not simple at all. The snail used for the classic Escargots de Bourgogne is called Helix Pomatia. Excellent taste, expensive and hard to find. There are three alternatives: Helix Aspera (either the small one called Petit Gris or the large one called Gros Gris) and Helix Lucorum. The last one is considered to be less tasty than the other three, but when prepared well, it’s a very nice, affordable alternative.
Sometimes it simply says ‘Escargots’ and ‘Gros’ on the tin. Sounds good, doesn’t it? In most cases these ‘escargots’ are cooked and chopped large (sea) snails. The term ‘Gros’ is supposed to make you think of the Gros Gris. Don’t be fooled: these ‘escargots’ are rubbery, tasteless and a waste of money (and snail).
And now for the sad part: as you know snails are slow. Very slow. And during winter they are even slower. They simply sleep 3 or 4 or 5 months before becoming active again. Some (most?) farmers are not that patient, so they turn up the light and the heat, pushing the snails towards a faster life, forcing them to skip hibernation and become fast snails. Even the poor snails are turned into manageable products. Let’s focus on the honest exception: some farms allow the snails to be slow, to sleep through winter, to be their natural self. Hurray!
Given the name of the dish (and the flavours of course) we suggest a red Bordeaux wine. Not too complex, not too expensive. We enjoyed a Côtes de Bordeaux produced by Château Cap Saint Martin in Blaye. In general you’re looking for a red wine with grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Rich in fruit, limited in tannins and acidity.
Chop the shallot, the garlic and the parsley. Slice the pancetta. Warm a heavy iron skillet. Gently fry the shallot. After a few minutes add the garlic. Add the pancetta and fry for a few minutes. Add the tomato sauce, some red wine, the chopped parsley and allow to reduce, thicken and integrate, let’s say 15 minutes. Longer is fine; the consistency of the sauce is important. Add snails and cook for 10 minutes on a very low heat. Serve immediately with crusted bread.
Think France, think a small restaurant in a small street, nice and simple, no Michelin star in sight. It’s 12.30, time for a quick lunch. You enter the restaurant, take a seat and order today’s dish, the plat du jour. It turns out to be a generous helping of lentils with confit de cuisse de canard and parsley. After having enjoyed your lunch, you think about the joy of good food and the beauty of lentils. Lentille Verte du Puy, such a treat! The combination of the confit, the lentils and the parsley with the sweetness of the shallot and the garlic is elegant, moist and full of flavours.
Feel free to buy ready-made confit. You could of course make it yourself but it is fairly time consuming and not something you would do for two confits only. In our experience most of the confits you can buy (tinned or vacuumed) will be fine. If you’re lucky your local butcher will make his or her own confits. We have included an alternative recipe below.
We suggest a glass of not too complex red wine; a well-balanced wine with notes of red fruit, gentle tannins and not too oaky. We enjoyed a glass of Bordeaux-Supérieur, Château Picon.
What You Need
1 Garlic Glove
Lentils (Lentille Verte du Puy O.P & A.O.C. from Sabarot)
Finely chop one shallot and glaze gently in olive oil. In the mean time check the lentils for small pebbles; wash them. Once the shallot is glazed add the crushed coriander seed and the lentils. Heat and stir for one minutes, as you would do with risotto rice. Add some chicken stock and water (the stock is only intended to give the lentils a small push) and leave to simmer on low heat. When the lentils are nearly done, finely chop the other two shallots and glaze gently in olive oil and in the fat that comes with the confit. In parallel warm the two confits. After a few minutes add the finely chopped garlic to the shallot. Chop the parsley. When the garlic and shallot are nicely soft and sweet, add the parsley, some black pepper and then mix with the lentils. Remove the skin from the confit and serve the duck on top of the lentils. Perhaps serve with a simple green salad.
Alternative Way of Making Confit of Duck
Start by crushing a nice amount of juniper berries. Take a sheet of strong aluminium foil, add some crushed berries, a bay leaf and put one duck leg (skin side up) on top. Drizzle with plenty of olive oil. Add the remainder of the berries and a second bay leaf. Wrap the meat in foil, making sure it is tightly closed and the foil intact. If not sure wrap with a second piece of foil. Transfer to a warm oven (90° Celsius or 200° Fahrenheit) for at least 8 hours.
This is a true classic, so many will claim to have the one and only original recipe. This dish is all about beef, onions and brown Belgian beer. Herbs like parsley and bay leaf, spices like nutmeg plus mustard and cider vinegar. Definitely not bacon, stock, prunes and garlic. Maybe some brown sugar if you prefer a sweet touch to the dish. Given it’s a true classic many traditional restaurants in Belgium (or better said Flanders) will have this on the menu. Try it with some bread and a glass of brown Beer, preferably draught. We serve the stew with two vegetables: celeriac and green beans. You could also go for mashed potatoes or fries, but balancing the rich stew with vegetables and bread is (we think) a much healthier idea. And typical for a good stew: make it a day in advance. Don’t worry if you made too much, the stew will keep for months in the freezer.
If you go for a glass of red wine, make sure it is full-bodied and rich, because the stew is really hearty. Bordeaux is a good choice. We drank a glass of Chateau Beaulieu, Cotes de Bourg, 2012. It is a wine with lots of dark fruit and a touch of oak. The wine is a blend of the traditional Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc plus 10% Malbec.
What You Need (for 4 persons)
1 kilo of excellent, fat, marbled Beef
4-6 large White Onions
1 tablespoon of all purpose Flour
2 bottles (33 cl) of Belgian Brown Beer (we prefer Westmalle)
Bouquet garni, consisting of Thyme, Bay Leaf and Parsley
Slice of Bread
What To Do
Start by slicing the meat. Don’t make the cubes too small; they will shrink during the cooking process. Heat butter and olive oil in a large pan and start frying the meat. You probably will have to do this in 2 or 3 batches. Make sure the meat is nicely colored. Add some more olive oil and caramelize the sliced onions. Again, not too thin, they should be visible in the stew. Now add the flour and coat the onions and the beef. Add nutmeg, the beer, the cider vinegar and the bouquet. Close the pan and keep on a low heat for 2 to 3 hours. Check the meat and add one slice of bread (not the crust). Add a nice spoon of French mustard. Leave to simmer for another hour. By now the bread will be dissolved. Stir and check the meat. If okay, then remove the meat from the pan and reduce the sauce. Discard the bouquet. Transfer the meat back into the pan, reheat, then cool and transfer to the refrigerator until the next day. Reheat slowly and serve with Celeriac and Beans.
PS How to Prepare Celeriac?
Good question! Clean the celeriac and cut in cubes. Transfer to a pan with some water and one or two generous slices of lemon. One or two you ask? Well, the answer depends on the size of your celeriac and the acidity of the lemon. If in doubt, then go for one slice. Cook the celeriac until nearly done. Remove the water and the lemon. Now add (single) cream to the pan. Keep on a low heat for 10 minutes. The celeriac will absorb some of the cream. Transfer the mixture to the blender and create a smooth puree. Serve with nutmeg.
PS How to Cook Green Beans?
Short is the only answer. Serve with excellent olive oil. Normally we would add some nutmeg, but given it’s already on the celeriac and in the stew you may want to skip it. Olive oil is essential to coat the beans and make them nuttier. Butter will also coat them, but it is much more mouth filming and the butter will not emphasize the nuttiness of the beans.
Duck is often combined with a sweet ingredient. Think fruit (orange, clementine, apple and even peach), with honey, Port Wine or Marsala. All these combinations make sense because the idea is to relate to the taste of the duck. In this case we ignore the obvious and combine it with a green pepper corn sauce. The thyme is the bridge between the duck and the sauce. The garlic brings a touch of sweetness to the sauce. The combination works beautifully! Green pepper corn is available dried and in brine. We prefer the brine version because it integrates better with the other ingredients of the sauce. The dried corns work well after leaving them in a nice vinegar for 24 – 48 hours.
A simple Bordeaux wine will work very well. But Syrah, with its hint of spiciness, will be the perfect wine with this dish. If available go for an Australian Syrah because of the full-bodied character.
Check the breast of duck for remainders of feathers. Remove the vein on the meat side of the breast (and the odd membrane you don’t like). Cut the skin (not the meat!) in a crosshatch pattern, let’s say 1-2 centimeter apart. Doing this helps the fat render and it will give a crispy result. Put thyme in the pattern. Put on a dish, cover and transfer to the fridge. Leave in the fridge for a few hours, making sure it’s nice, firm and cold. Fry the duck in a hot, non-sticky skillet for 10-12 minutes on the skin side. Reduce the heat after a few minutes. You don’t need oil or butter, the duck fat will do the trick. Now fry for 2-3 minute on the meat side and remove. Cover with aluminum foil is such a way that the crispy skin is not covered. The foil should only cover meat. Remove most of the fat from the pan, but not all. Add chicken stock, garlic and thyme. Stir and add the crunched green pepper. We like their taste so we tend to add quite a few. Now start building the sauce by adding juices from the duck. Maybe you want to add a bit of mustard. This will not only add complexity to the sauce, it will also make it thicker. Add the cream but please remember that cream needs a few minutes to integrate in the sauce. If you add cream last-minute, you will, indeed, taste cream. After 10 – 15 minutes it’s time to carve the duck. Make sure to add all the juices to the sauce. Cut the duck in slices (we like fairly big slices, you may prefer thinner ones) and place these on top of the sauce when serving. If you have a bit of extra time, pass the sauce through a sieve, removing the thyme and other bits, before adding the green pepper.