Green Gnocchi

We love eating Gnocchi, preferably as a starter with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Tasty and rich. Perhaps sometimes a bit too rich and too filling, especially the ones you can buy at your local shop or supermarket. Therefore it’s best is to make your own gnocchi, which is not too difficult, just time consuming.

We were pleasantly surprised when we found Green Gnocchi in Nice (France), made with Swiss Chard. The chopped leaves help improve the structure of the Gnocchi and add complexity and freshness to the dish. Yummy!

So all is good? Well, the name is a bit odd, to say the least. This Niçoise speciality is called Merda de Can, which translates into something from a dog – not very pleasant and certainly not something you want to eat. Very odd.

The name shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it. Merda de Can with Sage Butter is truly delicious.

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our Merda de Can with a glass of Saint Roman Sable de Camargue Rosé. In general you’re looking for a well-balanced, fresh wine. Given the butter and sage sauce you could serve a Chardonnay or perhaps an Italian white wine such as Gavi di Gavi or Soave

What You Need for 8 starters

  • For the Merda de Can 
    • 600 Grams of Starchy Potatoes
    • 300 Grams of Swiss Chard, Spinach or Water Spinach (cleaned and ready to use)
    • Olive Oil
    • Nutmeg
    • 1 Egg
    • All Purpose Flour
  • For the Sauce
    • Butter
    • Sage
  • Parmesan Cheese or (preferred) Vacherin de Fribourgeois)

What You Do

Best is to follow the instructions by a Niçoise chef. 
Or prepare gnocchi as you would normally. Quickly fry the leaves in olive oil, remove from the pan, chop finely and drain. Add to the potato mixture, add the beaten egg, add freshly grated nutmeg and combine. Now start adding flour until you have the right consistency. You’re looking for a flexible, non-sticky dough. Flour your hands and start making short, small, thin, sausage like pasta. (Perhaps this is the moment to think about a small dog. Or perhaps not.) Don’t worry about the shape, it’s okay if they are not very similar. Devein the sage leaves. Warm butter in a pan and add the sage. In parallel heat a generous amount of water. Add the pasta to the boiling water and wait until the pasta surfaces. Remove from the water, add the pasta to the pan with sage butter, coat the pasta and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

PS

The Merda de Can we enjoyed was bought at a local Niçoise shop and had a more elegant shape.

Green Gnocchi (Merda de Can) ©cadwu
Green Gnocchi (Merda de Can) ©cadwu

Spanish Tortilla

We have fond memories of the Mercat Central in Valencia, one of the largest markets in Europe. Its architecture is amazing, but even more stunning are the products on sale: fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, chicken, fresh meat, sausages, hams, herbs, spices, fish, bread, wine, pickles, snails, weeds, offal, rice, nuts: anything and everything you can dream of.
And of course various bars with the tastiest tapas ever. We would go shopping early in the morning, buy what we needed that day (perhaps a bit more than just that) and buy two bocadillos de tortilla: a small crunchy roll with tortilla made with egg, onions and potato. We would run back to our apartment, make coffee, sit down and enjoy the rich, velvety, long taste of bread and tortilla.
Fond memories indeed.

Making Spanish tortilla is a matter of combining the best ingredients and being patient.

What You Need

  • 200 grams of Potato (waxy ones, we used Roseval)
  • 1 large Spanish (White) Onion
  • ½ Grilled Red Bell Pepper
  • 4 Eggs
  • Black Pepper
  • Olive Oil

What You Do

Heat a pan and gently fry the thinly sliced potatoes, slowly, in plenty of oil. You don’t want crunchy, golden potatoes, they should be nearly done, that’s all. In a separate pan glaze the quartered and sliced onion, also for let’s say 15 minutes. Let both cool. Dry the sliced grilled red bell pepper with kitchen paper. Beat the eggs and add potatoes and onions. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. For some reason this is a crucial step, one that should not be skipped. Add sliced red bell pepper and fresh black pepper. Warm a medium sized non-stick pan (22 cm or 9 inch), add oil and fry the tortilla until the top is slightly set. It could take 20 minutes so please don’t be tempted to increase the heat. Transfer to a plate, put the pan on top of the tortilla and flip. Fry a few minutes.
Serve lukewarm, perhaps with some chopped parsley and a crunchy roll.

PS

You could peel a fresh red bell pepper, but better is to clean it, slice in 4 to 6 chunks, flatten these and grill for 10 minutes. This should char the pepper significantly. Transfer to a plastic container and close. Leave for a few hours. Now you can easily remove the skin. This way a bell pepper has a richer, more complex taste and is easier to digest, but it is of course not as crunchy as a fresh bell pepper. 

Fennel

The bulb, the seeds, the leaves: fennel is such a generous plant! The bulb (the swollen base of the stem) can be cooked, grilled, stewed, used in salads or steamed. The leaves are great for decoration or in a salad and the crushed seeds can be used on their own or in a combination like five-spice powder. Overall fennel has an anise-flavoured, warm, sweet taste. 

We slow cook the bulb, capturing all the lovely flavours and creating a soft, fibrous texture. You could add star anise or some orange peel to the stew. We prefer adding a splash of pastis, because it adds depth to the fennel. We recommend pastis as produced by Henri Bardouin, because of its excellent, delicate taste.

We prepare the fennel using a cartouche. This way you get the tastiest moist fennel ever.

What You Need

  • Fennel Bulb
  • Pastis
  • Butter

What You Do

Use baking paper to make a cartouche. Remove the outer leave(s) of the fennel if so required. Slice the fennel in 4, from top to bottom. Slice every quarter in 3 to 6 segments, from top to bottom. The idea is that every segment looks a bit like a fan. Trim of parts that don’t look nice, but don’t remove the bottom. If you do remove it, the fan will fall apart.

Warm a heavy pan, add a very generous amount of butter, a splash of pastis and the sliced fennel. Cover tightly with the cartouche and leave on low heat for an hour or so, perhaps longer. Feel free to stir gently every 15 minutes. The fennel should be soft, sweet, anise-flavoured and rich. When serving, poor the remaining liquid over the fennel.
We served our fennel with Confit de Canard and enjoyed it with a glass of Bardolino.

Mushroom Cream Sauce from 1790

This recipe for a rich and tasty sauce is included in Het Receptenboek van mevrouw Marselis (the recipe book of Mrs. Marselis), published in the Netherlands in 1790. The combination of mushrooms, cream and nutmeg works remarkably well. One to prepare more often!

Mrs. Marselis doesn’t mention what the sauce is supposed to accompany. In this case we decided to combine it with pasta, making it a nice vegetarian dish, but we could also imagine combining it with veal or chicken. 

Wine Pairing

We suggest drinking an excellent rosé with the sauce, one with flavour, fruit, depth and refreshing acidity. For instance Monte del Frà Bardolino Chiaretto. This is a very affordable, tasty rosé with just the right balance between serious flavours, freshness and fruitiness.

What You Need

  • Mushrooms
  • Nutmeg
  • Flour
  • Chicken Stock
  • Cream
  • One egg
  • Butter
  • Lemon
  • Spaghetti

What You Do

We used yellow chanterelles, but you could also use Champignons de Paris. Clean and chop the mushrooms (we didn’t peel them, sorry Mrs. Marselis) and glaze them in butter. When glazed, sprinkle some flour over the mushrooms and stir. After a few minutes, slowly start adding chicken stock to make the beginning of a sauce. Add cream to the pan and some freshly grated nutmeg. Leave on low heat for at least 10 minutes. Beat one egg yolk. Slowly add the mixture from the pan to the egg yolk (marrying the sauce). Then add the egg yolk and cream mixture back to the pan. Warm carefully, otherwise it will split, or you just cooked an omelette. Taste and add a drop of lemon to make the sauce a touch fresher and lighter. No need for pepper or parsley.

We served the sauce with spaghetti and used the cooking liquid to give the sauce the right consistency.

Cooking Soup

We simply love soup! A traditional soup like Londonderry or Queen’s Soup, a rich Tomato Soup, Clam Chowder, perhaps a more challenging soup like Lettuce Soup or a refreshing Ajo Blanco.
If you would look at our shelfs with cookbooks you would expect books like The Ultimate SoupbookThe Essential Soupbook or Soup of the Day. No doubt these are excellent books with great recipes, but we have only one book specific on soup: Cooking Soups for Dummies by Jenna Holst.

Why? Well, to be honest, it is one of these few cookbooks that is truly about ingredients, methods and recipes, with the aim to cook a tasty soup.
Most cookbooks are a collection of recipes. Not this one. The first chapter of the book is about tools and utensils, basically explaining what equipment you need to make a soup. The second chapter is about the ingredients (spices, herbs, basic items) you need and where and how you should store them. Fun to read, good to know, especially because it’s very well written, comprehensive and clear. The third and fourth chapter are about basic techniques, and the fifth chapter explains how to make a broth (chicken, beef, vegetarian, fish, clam). Chapter six is about storing soup (again well written and very helpful) and then we move towards making fresh soup from the garden (Tomato Soup, Sweet Potato Bisque etcetera).

You could skip the background information and only look at the index of recipes. You’ll find lots of interesting recipes, ranging from Mulligatawny Soup to Cantaloupe-Orange Soup, but also less exotic ones like Creamy Potato Leek Soup and Split Pea Soup.

We bought the book many years ago and have always found it helpful and inspiring. What better way to start dinner, or lunch, than with soup? Let’s buy some fresh beets and cook Herbed Beet Soup. Yummy!

Cooking Soups for Dummies is available via your local bookstore or via the well-known channels for approximately US$ 30,00 or € 20,00. You’ll find specific recipes on Dummies.

Fish Cakes

They are so tempting! The crunchy crust, the flaky texture and the flavour, especially when combined with mayonnaise and lemon. When we see them at the supermarket or at the fishmonger, we can’t always resist buying them. But we should resist the temptation because most fish cakes should be called salty potato cakes. Hardly any fish, limited herbs, the structure of mashed potato and lots of salt to disguise the lack of real flavour.

It’s not a lot of work to prepare your own fish cakes, so be brave and ignore the factory-made ones. The recipe is very flexible, you could make a Thai version (Tod Mun Pla) with lemon grass, red curry, onions and garlic, a traditional version with stockfish, or cakes with salmon, with shrimps etcetera. To be served with Tartar sauce, sweet chili sauce, dill sauce or perhaps hoisin. We prefer Jean Beddington‘s fish cakes (served with a beetroot chutney) or a more traditional version that focuses on the fish, with herbs and black pepper in a supporting role, breaded with our home-made breadcrumbs.

Wine Pairing

Let’s be flexible, a nice glass of beer or a not too complex white wine, it’s all fine. The salad, its dressing and the lemon will be rather present. Perhaps a Verdejo, Pinot Blanc or a Picpoul de Pinet?

What You Need

  • For the Cakes
    • 225 grams of Haddock
    • 100 grams of Potato
    • 1 egg yolk
    • Parsley
    • Chives
    • Black Pepper
    • Butter
  • 1 Egg
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Olive Oil and Butter
  • Salad with a dressing made of Olive Oil and White Wine Vinegar
  • Mayonnaise
  • Lemon

What You Do

It’s best to make the mixture one day ahead. This allows for the flavours to integrate.
Gently fry the haddock in butter. You’re looking for a light golden color, just to give it some extra flavour. When nearly done, transfer to a plate and let cool. Cook the potato until soft. Let cool. Use a fish knive to make fish flakes. Use a fork to mash the potato. Chop lots of parsley and chives. Combine fish (and its juices), potato, egg yolk, herbs and a generous amount of black pepper. Let cool and store in the refrigerator until the next day.
Beat the egg, add a few drops of lemon to the mayonnaise and heat a heavy iron skillet or a non-stick pan. Make 4 fish cakes. Coat them with egg, then cover with breadcrumbs and fry in butter and/or olive oil on all sides. In total 6-10 minutes. Serve with a salad, mayonnaise and a wedge of lemon.

PS

Making your own breadcrumbs is simple and worthwhile. The breadcrumbs at the supermarket are made of cardboard; yet another product you shouldn’t buy. Toast slices of old bread and let cool. Cut in smaller bits and then use a cutter or blender to make the crumbs. Done. They keep very well in the freezer.

Artichoke à la Barigoule

It’s the time of year to enjoy artichokes: steamed, as a salad, in a pie or perhaps à la Barigoule. This is a rather intriguing recipe from the French Provence region. There are lots of variations, so we looked in books like La Cuisinière Provençale and La Cuisine Niçoise d’Hélène Barale to find the ‘original’ recipe.

Obviously you want to know what ‘barigoule’ means. According to Hélène Barale ‘barigoule’ means thyme, which is odd because she doesn’t add thyme to her Artichoke à la Barigoule. Is it perhaps derived from the Latin word mauruculai (meaning morel according to some and saffron milk cap to others) as the Larousse suggests? But what is the link between artichokes and mushrooms?

Three Versions

We found three different ways of preparing Artichoke à la Barigoule: cooked with onions, white wine and carrot, stuffed and preserved with lots of citrus. The stuffed one is probably the original version because the artichoke is stuffed with a mixture of mushrooms, thyme and garlic. Which makes the Larousse explanation more likely.

Preparing Artichokes a la Barigoule is quite a bit of work and the result, we must admit, looks like an old fashioned underbaked meatball. We could imagine you serve the artichoke halfway the recipe. If you do, best is to use smaller artichokes.

Wine Pairing

It’s not straightforward to pair artichokes with wine. According to various researchers this is due to cynarin, a chemical especially found in the leaves of the artichoke. When the wine and the cynarin meet in your mouth, the natural sweetness of the wine is enhanced, making it taste too sweet. So you have to pair artichokes with a bone-dry, crisp, unoaked white wine with clear, present acidity. For instance Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner or Albariño. 

What You Need

  • Artichokes
  • Cooking liquid
    • Shallot
    • Carrot
    • Olive oil
    • White wine
    • Water
    • Thyme
  • Filling
    • Mushrooms
    • Egg yolk
    • Garlic
    • Shallot
    • 2 Strips of Bacon
    • Thyme
    • Black Pepper
  • Excellent Olive Oil

What You do

Remove outer leaves and stem of the artichokes. Add oil to a large pan, gently fry the chopped shallot and the chopped carrot. After 10 minutes or so add white wine, thyme and some water. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Add the artichokes to the liquid, close the pan and allow to cook and steam on low heat for 45-60 minutes or until nearly done. You could decide to stop here and serve the artichoke with the (reduced) sauce.
Let the artichokes cool, remove the leaves and the centre choke (the hairy part).  Use a spoon to remove the ‘meat’ from the leaves (bracts) of the artichokes. Set aside. In a small skillet heat some oil, add chopped shallot, glaze, add sliced bacon, mushrooms, garlic and thyme. Leave for 10 minutes until done. Add the artichoke meat from the leaves, stir, add the egg yolk and mix. Add freshly grounded black pepper. Use a food processor to make the mixture smoother, but not too smooth. Fill the artichokes with the mixture. It should look like an oversized golf ball on top of the bottom of the artichoke. You will probably have too much filling, which is fine. Gently transfer the artichokes to the pan with cooking liquid and allow to steam and warm for 30 minutes. Now transfer the artichokes to a warm oven (60 ˚C or 140 ˚F).  Add the reaming mixture to the liquid, use a powerful blender to create a sauce. Pass through a sieve and blender some more. Set the blender to low speed and add excellent olive oil. Taste and adjust. Serve the filled artichokes on a small plate with the sauce.

Pasta with Mushrooms and Bell Pepper

Udon is such a wonderful noodle. What better comfort food than a warm soup made with dashi, vegetables, tofu, udon and thinly sliced spring onions? Perhaps some tempura on top of the soup? Or would you prefer a very simple dish, called Mori Udon? The cold udon is served with a sauce of mirin, dashi and soy sauce on the side.
Udon is also a great alternative to Italian pasta, for instance with Caesar’s Mushrooms.

In this recipe we combine udon with roasted bell pepper and Trompettes de la Mort. We’re not sure why, but this combination works really well. Is it because of the smokey aroma of the roasted bell pepper mixed with the aromas of the mushroom? The crispy pancetta in combination with the soft textures of the other ingredients, including the udon? The overall richness and umami thanks to the Trompettes de la Mort?

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our pasta with a glass of Bianco di Custoza, made by Monte del Frà from Italy. It is a well-balanced, dry white wine, with a fruity nose. Its colour is straw yellow, with pale green highlights. A glass of Soave, made from the Garganega grape, will also be an excellent choice. In general you’re looking for a fresh, aromatic dry white wine. 

What You Need

  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • 1 Bunch of Udon
  • 100 grams of Trompettes de la Mort
  • 1 Glove of cooked Garlic
  • 4 slices of Pancetta
  • Black pepper
  • Olive Oil

What You Do

Clean the bell pepper and cut in 4. Transfer to the oven and grill or roast for 10 minutes or until well charred. When still hot, put the bell pepper in a plastic container and close it. After one hour it’s easy to remove the skin of the bell pepper. Slice lengthwise to make nice strips. Set aside.
Slice the mushrooms in two and clean them with a soft brush. Check carefully for grit and other things you don’t like to eat.
Fill a large pan with water (no salt!) and bring to a boil. Add the udon and cook it according to the instruction. When nearly done, add some cooking liquid to a cup and set aside. Drain the udon.
In parallel heat a large heavy iron skillet, add olive oil and fry the mushrooms. Once they become a bit dryer, add the sliced bell pepper. Add the cooked garlic, crush it with a fork and mix. Now add the udon and continue mixing. Add cooking liquid until the pasta is sufficiently moist.
Also in parallel: grill the strips of pancetta (perhaps 5 minutes).
Add some black pepper to the pasta and serve with the grilled pancetta.

Pasta with Mushrooms and Bell Pepper ©cadwu
Pasta with Mushrooms and Bell Pepper ©cadwu

Classic White Asparagus

One of the classic ways of serving white asparagus is with melted butter, boiled eggs, ham and parsley. Preparing the asparagus this way, will allow you to taste the slight bitterness and sweetness of the asparagus. The butter and egg bring a velvety feeling to your palate, and the parsley and white pepper give a touch of sharpness to the dish. A great way to celebrate spring!

We use our Russel and Hobbs food steamer to prepare this classic dish. An essential kitchen aid for only 50 euro or US dollar. In this case the steamer cooks the asparagus, boils the eggs and heats the butter. Amazing!

A few years ago we enjoyed white asparagus with béarnaise and a small veal schnitzel accompanied by a glass of Silvaner at Café Heider in Potsdam, Germany. When we ordered we were asked how we would like our asparagus. Al dente, of course! If you like them more cooked, then steam them for an extra 5 minutes. 

Wine Pairing

Preferably serve the white asparagus with a dry Muscat from the Elzas. The delicate, slightly sweet but dry taste, the hint of bitterness and the rich aromas work very well with the asparagus. Muscat to us means the smell of fresh fruit. When drinking it is if you’re tasting the original grape. Wonderful wine and wonderful combination.
Or a glass of Silvaner of course. Just make sure the white wine has a touch of sweetness and is aromatic.

What You Need

  • 3 or 5 white asparagus per person
  • 2 Eggs
  • 100 grams Organic Cooked Ham
  • Parsley
  • Butter
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Clean and peel the asparagus. Steam them for 10+5+5 minutes. After 10 minutes add the eggs to the steamer basket. After 5 minutes, turn the eggs upside down and add a cup with cold butter. Another 5 minutes later everything is ready. The eggs will be medium: the yolk is not set but also not running. Peel the egg and cut in four. Chop the parsley. Serve the asparagus and eggs on a plate. Pour the warm butter over the asparagus. Dress the plate with ham (please make sure it has a bit of fat), perhaps some extra butter and sprinkle the parsley over the plate. Add some white pepper. 

Classic white Asparagus ©cadwu
Classic white Asparagus ©cadwu

Oden

A traditional Japanese dish, often enjoyed in winter. It is tasty, light and full of surprises. Oden is a meal that requires a bit more work (and of course time) then you would expect. It also requires some shopping, given some of the ingredients are not easy to find. We enjoyed our first Oden at the Taishunken restaurant in the famous Sankeien Garden in Yokohama. Loved it!
We are not from Japan so we humbly present our version of this classic. We hope it inspires you to cook Oden and enjoy it as much as we did.

Pairing

A cup of Japanese green tea is the obvious choice.
You could also combine your oden with a glass of Chardonnay (with a touch of oak perhaps), for instance if you serve it for dinner. Oden is rich in flavours, umami of course, but not spicy, so we would not suggest a Gewürztraminer or a Sauvignon Blanc.
A glass of cold, dry sake will also be great.

What You Need

  • For the Dashi
    • 1 litre of Water
    • 20 grams of Dashi Kombu (Rishiri Kombu)
    • 20 grams of Katsuobushi (Bonito Flakes)
  • For the Stew
    • One Daikon
    • One Pack of Konnyaku
    • 1 sheet of Hayani Kombu
    • Chikuwa Fish Cakes
    • One Pack of Gobo Maki Burdockroot Fish Cakes
    • 2 boiled eggs
    • Abura Age Fried Tofu
    • Mochi (Sticky Rice Cake)
    • Soy Sauce (preferably one with less salt)
    • Mirin
  • Karashi
  • Rice with ginger

What You Do

First step is to peel the daikon and slice it (2 centimeters is best). Now use a sharp knife to plane of the edge of the daikon. This improves the presentation, and it is supposed to stop the daikon from falling apart. Cook the daikon for one hour in water. Drain and set aside.
In parallel: cut the konnyaku in triangles and cook these in water for 15 minutes. Konnyaku is made from the konjac plant and is specific for the Japanese cuisine.
Also in parallel: cook the sheet of Hayani Kombu for 5 minutes. This is young kombu and edible, different for the one you use when preparing dashi. Let cool a bit, slice and knot ribbons. Not sure why but is looks great when you serve it. (Yes, well spotted, it’s not in the picture; unfortunately, we couldn’t find Hayani when we prepared our oden.)
Make 1 litre of dashi. This seems simple but requires precision. Clean the kombu with a wet cloth and put into one litre of cold water. Gently raise the temperature to 80 °C or 175 °F. Remove and discard the kombu. Bring the liquid to a boil, add the katsuobushi, bring to a boil and immediately set heat to zero. Wait 5 minutes or so. The katsuobushi will sink to the bottom of the pan. Now very gently pass the liquid through a wet towel or a sieve. Do not squeeze, just give it time. The result will be a great, clean dashi.

Now it’s time to add the dashi to the pan (should be a clay pot, but we stick to our Le Creuset), add one tablespoon of mirin, one (or two, depending on your taste) of light soy sauce, add the daikon, the konnyaku, the chikuwa fish cakes and the gobo maki burdockroot fish cakes.
Allow to simmer for at least 2 hours. 30 minutes before serving add boiled eggs, two Hayani ribbons, fried tofu and mochi. The last two ingredients must be combined by putting the mochi into the tofu.
Serve with karashi (Japanese mustard, which is different from wasabi by the way) on the side.

  • Oden ©cadwu
  • Oden with names of Ingredients ©cadwu