Fleurs de Courgettes Farcie

Such a pleasure to see courgette flowers in your garden or at the greengrocers. The young courgette is firm and tasty; the flowers a beautiful yellow. Simply stuff the flowers, fry in a pan or cook in the oven and you have a great side dish or starter. And then you start wondering: ‘Stuff with what? Cheese? Salmon? Mushrooms? Tomatoes? Ricotta? Vegetable Mousse?’
Earlier we described a simple, tasty vegetarian version. This recipe requires a bit more work, but the result is delicious and beautiful. Crab and courgette go together very well; it’s a well balanced combination with surprisingly delicate flavors.

Wine Pairing

Obviously a nice glass of Côtes de Provence Rosé is an excellent choice. But you could also go for a white wine, for instance a Macon-Villages as produced by Bouchard Père & Fils. In general a subtle wine that goes well with the gentle flavors of both the crab and the courgette.

What You Need

  • One Courgette (small and firm)
  • One Garlic Clove
  • Olive Oil
  • Six Small Courgettes with their flower
  • Crab
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Wash the courgette, dry and grate coarsely. Warm a small cooking pan, add olive oil and the grated courgette. Fineley grate the garlic and mix with the courgette. Leave for 20 minutes minimum on low heat. When ready, set aside and let cool.
Best is to use a leg of a fresh (littoral) crab, but you could also buy a can of most excellent crab. If using fresh crab, heat a pan with water, bay leaf and crushed black pepper corns; cook the crab for 10 minutes, remove from the water, set aside until cooler and then remove the meat from the shell. Be sure to remove all shards of shell. Set aside and let cool.
Remove the stamens from the flowers. Remove the end of the small courgette. Use a very sharp knife to slice the courgettes lengthwise in 3, making it look like a fan. Heat water in a pan and poach the small courgettes (not the flowers!) for 60-90 seconds depending on the size. Add some crab meat to the courgette mixture and taste. Keep adding crab until you’ve reached the perfect combination (or the end of the crab). Add some black pepper. Stuff the flowers, close them by slightly twisting the leaves of the flower, sprinkle with olive oil, making sure they are completely coated with oil. Heat your oven to 200° C or 390° F. Using the grill is a good idea. Transfer to the oven and cook for 10 minutes. The flowers should be crisp and perhaps a touch golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

  • Fleurs de Courgettes Farcie ©cadwu
  • Macon Villages and Cotes de Provence ©cadwu

Cold Soup: Ajo Blanco

It’s September, time fo buy fresh almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts; time to make Spanish Almond Soup. It’s made of white almonds, water, old bread, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and perhaps a pinch of salt. And trust us, there is no need to add anything else. No cucumber, green apples, jalapeño, chicken stock, pepper, flowers, white grapes, milk, aioli, Balsamic vinegar, raisins, cream, yoghurt, pine nuts or melon. We love creativity, but the ingredients people suggest to brighten up Ajo Blanco, it’s amazing. Especially because there is no need to add anything to the original.

Mention Ajo Blanco and someone will say ‘white gazpacho’. Because both are cold soups, because both are from Spain? We can’t think of any other reason, so please, please don’t even think about gazpacho when you serve Ajo Blanco.

What You Need

  • 70 gram White Almonds
  • 200 ml ice-cold Water
  • 30 gram old stale White Artisanal Bread without the crust
  • 1 medium Garlic Clove
  • 1 tablespoon Jerez Vinegar
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 70 ml Olive Oil
  • 10 gram of Roasted Almonds

What You Do

Buy excellent almonds, so not the soft, bland ones from the supermarket. Start by very, very lightly roasting the white almonds in a dry non-stick pan. Let cool. Soak the bread for 10 minutes. Roughly chop the garlic. Using a heavy blender or food processor whizz the almonds, the garlic and some of the water until nearly smooth. Squeeze out the bread. Add bread and remaining water to the mixture. Continue blending. Add vinegar and salt. Check the mixture for taste and smoothness. It should be very smooth, cream like; this may take 1 minute on turbo! When happy with both smoothness and taste, slowly add olive oil with the blender running on low speed. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator for at least two hours. Also cool the bowls you want to use.
Just before serving crush some roasted almonds and sprinkle these on the soup.

Ratatouille

Think summer vegetables, think Ratatouille! Which is also the title of a film released in 2007 about a rat called Remy with a passion for cooking. If you want to see how he prepares ratatouille then simply go to YouTube (or buy the DVD if you’re old fashioned like us).
Ratatouille brings back memories of summer, of the South of France, of the Mediterranean. It combines very well with a simple sausage, with lamb, with grilled chicken.
However you prepare your ratatouille, be sure to prepare it a day ahead. The taste becomes much more integrated after a day (or two) in the refrigerator. Unfortunately it doesn’t freeze well due to the eggplant.

Our recipe is very much the recipe of a dear friend. She taught us how to make ratatouille in her summer kitchen, overlooking the pool and the garden with herbs and vegetables. Indeed, fond memories.
To our surprise she added cilantro (you would expect thyme or basil) and many years later we are still grateful for this twist. The cilantro enhances the feeling of summer and it supports the various vegetables in a beautiful way.

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our ratatouille with a glass of simple, red wine with lots of red and black fruits. Spicy with subtle tannins. A wine that brings summer to your glass.

What You Need (4 people)

  • 1 Eggplant or Aubergine
  • 1 Courgette or Zucchini
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • 1 Chili Pepper
  • 4 Excellent Tomatoes
  • Cilantro
  • Olive oil

What You Do

Start by cutting the aubergine in small but not too small chunks. Drizzle with salt and mix. Let the mixture rest for a few hours, allowing for the aubergine to loose water and become firm. Best way to do this is by putting the aubergine in a sieve and let it rest above a bowl.
The tomatoes require some attention as well. You could peel them, but that’s optional. What is not optional is to separate the tomato meat and juices from the pits. First step is to remove the internal hard bits and the pits and put these aside. You now have the outer part of the tomato, which you can slice. Cut the remainder of the tomatoes roughly, add to a sieve and by using the back of a spoon make sure you capture the juices. Be surprised about the volume of tomato juice and the small amount of tomato bits and pits that remain in your sieve.

Cut the bell pepper into long slices and fry these in the pan with olive oil. Peel the courgette, slice in the way you sliced the aubergine and add to the pan. Continue frying. Add the finely chopped chilli pepper (not the seeds of course). Add the firm aubergine after having removed the remaining salt with water. After a few moments add the tomato chunks, fry a bit more, add the tomato juice and leave on low to medium heat for 60 minutes. Try not to stir too much; otherwise you risk creating mashed vegetables. Cool, set aside and store in the refrigerator.
The next day: if you have excess liquid, remove the vegetables from the liquid, reduce it until thickened and transfer the vegetables back into the pan. Otherwise gently warm the ratatouille, add some chopped cilantro, mix gently and add more cilantro just before serving.

Ratatouille ©cadwu
Ratatouille ©cadwu

Daube Provençale

On a warm summer’s evening, sitting on your terrace, relaxing and sipping rosé, you wonder what to eat. Perhaps something that will make you think of the beautiful Cote d’Azur, with the chirping of cicadas and aromas of pine trees? A Salade Niçoise or something more substantial?
That’s the moment to dive into your freezer and look for that last portion of Daube Provençale. Excellent beef, stewed in red wine and packed with flavours, olives and mushrooms.

Fortunately preparing Daube Provençale is not too much work (and it keeps well in the freezer). You can also be fairly flexible with the recipe. Well known chef Hélène Barale (La Cuisine Niçoise, Mes 106 Recettes) uses beef, veal and pork with tomatoes and dried mushrooms, Hilaire Walden (French Provincial Cooking) suggests marinating the beef in red wine and also adds orange peel and olives whereas the classic La Cuisinière Provençale published in 1897 and written by Jean-Baptiste Reboul suggests adding vinegar to the marinade but doesn’t use tomatoes, mushrooms or olives.

Wine Pairing

We prepared our daube with red wine from France, made from Cabernet Franc grapes and produced by La Tour Beaumont. In general you need a full bodied, fruity red wine, with a good structure. You could of course enjoy the daube with the same red wine, but the daube is flexible. Just remember that the flavours and aromas are intense. 

What You Need (2 portions for 2)

  • 750 grams of Excellent Marbled Beef (Blade Steak for instance)
  • ½ Carrot
  • Shallot
  • 3 Garlic Gloves
  • 250 grams of Mushrooms
  • 50 grams of Black Olives (Kalamata or Taggiasca)
  • Olive Oil
  • Bouquet Garni (Bay Leaf, Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary, Parsley, Chives and/or Sage)
  • 500 ml Red Wine

What You Do

Start by slicing the meat into nice, big cubes. Heat a heavy large pot through and through, add olive oil and fry the meat until brown. Probably you need to do this in two batches. Set the meat aside and fry the chopped shallot, the carrot and the garlic until smooth. Transfer the meat to the pot, stir well, add the red wine, the (halved) olives and the bouquet garni. Keep on low heat for 2 hours. Clean the mushrooms and add these to the pan. Keep on low heat for another two hours. Check if the meat is soft and tender. Quickly cool the pot and transfer the content to the refrigerator.

The next day label off some of the fat (we prefer not to do this, but feel free to do so). Divide the daube in two portions. One for the freezer, the other one to enjoy today. Warm the (halved) daube and remove some of the bigger mushrooms and four tablespoons of cooking liquid. Blender the liquid and mushrooms very fine and transfer back to the pan. This mixture will thicken the cooking liquid. Leave the daube to gently simmer for an hour. If the sauce has not yet reached the right consistency, then transfer cooking liquid to a separate pan and reduce on medium to high heat. Transfer back to the main pan and combine.

Serve with red bell pepper salad, pasta, polenta or boiled potatoes.

  • Daube Provençale ©cadwu
  • Ingredients of Daube Provençale ©cadwu
  • Daube Provençale ready to be stewed ©cadwu

Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese

We enjoyed this dish as a starter when in Milan, on a beautiful evening, eating al fresco and enjoying the wonderful combination of the sweetness and bitterness of the asparagus, the slightly caramelised sugars as a result of grilling the asparagus and the salty and sweet cheese. A glass of Pinot Grigio was all we wanted.
In Milan we enjoyed grilled green asparagus, but it works equally well with white asparagus.
This is typically a dish to prepare when the asparagus season is at its high and outside temperatures feel like summer.

Wine Pairing

Serve with a glass of Pinot Grigio, a Muscat or Pinot Gris from the Alsace region or a rosé with character. The wine needs to combine with a range of very diverse flavors so it should be a bit complex.

What You Need

  • 3 Asparagus per person
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Peel the asparagus and cook or steam until slightly tender. Depending on the size we would say 10-15 minutes in the Russel Hobss steamer. Leave and let cool. Take a plate, add some oil to the plate and use it to coat the asparagus with oil. Heat the pan and grill the asparagus for 4*1 minute, making sure you have a lovely brown (not too dark) pattern. Or use a contact grill for 2*2 minutes. Serve on a plate, add some grated Parmesan cheese and pepper. Add a generous drizzle of very excellent olive oil.

White Asparagus with Chervil

A salad can be an excellent starter of your lunch or dinner, provided it’s one with lots of flavour and gentle acidity. For instance a Salade Ni­çoi­se, a Salade Caprese or a salad of White Asparagus and Chervil.

Chervil is a very delicate herb. It tastes like anise, but it is much more refined. Chervil looses its taste almost immediately when heated. The salad needs to be prepared well in advance, allowing for the flavours to be well integrated.

Honey can easily ruin a salad (and sugar will always ruin a salad). In this case we use only a touch of honey to create an environment for the sweetness of the white asparagus. The honey should act as a trigger.

The salad is a great example of the complexity of white asparagus: you will taste the sweetness and the freshness of the asparagus. The mouth feel of the salad is very nice, because the asparagus will be both juicy and crispy, with the chervil, honey and vinegar in a supporting role.

After having mixed the salad you will notice that the asparagus and chervil absorb the dressing. During the time in the refrigerator the asparagus will loose some juices, which is actually the beginning of a great dressing.

Wine Pairing

Combining salad and wine is not straightforward. Especially the acidity of the dressing creates a challenge. One solution is to use verjuice and not vinegar. Verjuice is made by pressing unripe grapes. The idea is that verjuice links to wine, whereas classic vinegar or lemon juice would compete with wine. In this case we choose a wine that reflects the flavours of the salad: a hint of anise, a touch of sweetness and florality. Typical notes you will find in a wine from the Alsace region, for instance a Pinot Blanc or a Pinot Gris.

What You Need

  • 2 White Asparagus per person
  • Excellent Olive Oil
  • White Wine Vinegar or Verjuice
  • Lots of Chervil
  • Touch of Honey
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Steam the asparagus for 10 minutes. Let cool. Dry with kitchen paper if needed. Prepare a dressing with the olive oil and vinegar. Chop the chervil and add to the dressing. Add a touch of honey and stir well. Add some white pepper. Taste the dressing: it should be a balance, meaning that none of the ingredients is overly present. Now slice the asparagus in nice chunks, let’s say 3 centimetres long. Mix, cover and transfer to the refrigerator for 6 hours. Mix the salad every two hours. Check the taste after 4 hours, you may want to adjust. Mix the dressing just before serving.

Artichoke Salad

Love Your Artichoke

A beautiful flower and an intriguing ingredient. A large artichoke with some mayonnaise, mustard and vinegar makes for a wonderful, relaxing starter. The smaller ones are great when turned into a salad or when served with tagliatelle as a starter.
Steaming is the ideal way to prepare artichokes. The flavour remains intact and the leaves will become soft yet firm.
Don’t be tempted to buy preserved artichokes hearts. In most cases these are only about marinade, vinegar, sugar and unidentified spices. Whereas artichokes should be about taste and especially texture. It’s a thistle you’re eating and not something white and fluffy from a jar.
Key to this salad is the combination of artichokes and thyme. Lots of thyme! Enjoy the light, earthy and slightly bitter flavour of the artichokes in combination with the aromatic thyme.

Wine Pairing

You can serve this salad to accompany an aperitif, or with some bread as a starter.

What You Need

  • 6 small Artichokes
  • Olive Oil
  • (White Wine) Vinegar
  • Mustard
  • Thyme
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Remove the stem of the artichokes and steam the artichokes for 30 – 45 minutes, depending on the size. Remove and let cool. Peel of the first layers of the outer leaves. Make the dressing by combining the oil and vinegar and then adding the mustard. Cut the artichokes in 6 or 8 parts. Add the dressing to the artichokes, mix well, making sure all artichokes are coated. Sprinkle lots of thyme and carefully mix again. Put in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Mix again, taste, add black pepper and perhaps some more thyme and serve!

Ajo Blanco

Tasty, Simple and Rich

The talent of keeping things simple: that’s very true for Spanish Almond Soup. It should consist of white almonds, water, old bread, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and perhaps a pinch of salt. And trust us, there is no need to add anything else. No cucumber, green apples, jalapeño, chicken stock, pepper, flowers, white grapes, milk, aioli, Balsamic vinegar, raisins, cream, yoghurt, pine nuts or melon. We love creativity, but the ingredients people suggest to brighten up Ajo Blanco, it’s amazing. Especially because there is no need to add anything to the original.

Blanc Manger

The use of almonds and almond milk to thicken liquid was well known in medieval times. In the classic Van Soeter Cokene (1971), professor Johanna Maria Van Winter describes four recipes for Blanc Manger, the oldest one (Blamensier) from Germany (14th century).  It contained white almonds, goat milk, chicken, lard, sugar and violets (for colouring). A similar dish was enjoyed by Royalty in England in the 15th century. Also from that century is Brouès d’Allemagne. It contained almond milk, ginger, cinnamon, onions, lard and many other ingredients making for a hearty dish. Blancmanger was also known in 15th century France, as a dish for the sick with almonds and sugar.

Ajo Blanco seems to have its origin in Roman time, others mention Moorish roots. The soup is linked to Málaga and Granada. Ajo Blanco survived and Blamensier became extinct. Perhaps because Ajo Blanco is tasty, simple and rich whereas Blamensier is rather tasteless with the consistency of porridge?

Gazpacho

Mention Ajo Blanco and someone will say ‘white gazpacho’. Because both are cold soups, because both are from Spain? We can’t think of any other reason, so please, please don’t even think about gazpacho when you serve Ajo Blanco.

What You Need

  • 70 gram White Almonds
  • 200 ml ice-cold Water
  • 30 gram old stale White Artisanal Bread without the crust
  • 1 medium Garlic Clove
  • 1 tablespoon Jerez Vinegar
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 70 ml Olive Oil
  • 10 gram of Roasted Almonds

What You Do

Buy excellent almonds, so not the soft, bland ones from the supermarket. Start by very, very lightly roasting the white almonds in a dry non-stick pan. Let cool. Soak the bread for 10 minutes. Roughly chop the garlic. Using a heavy blender or food processor whizz the almonds, the garlic and some of the water until nearly smooth. Squeeze out the bread. Add bread and remaining water to the mixture. Continue blending. Add vinegar and salt. Check the mixture for taste and smoothness. It should be very smooth, cream like; this may take 1 minute on turbo! When happy with both smoothness and taste, slowly add olive oil with the blender running on low speed. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator for at least two hours. Also cool the bowls you want to use.
Just before serving crush some roasted almonds and sprinkle these on the soup.

Ajo Blanco © cadwu
Ajo Blanco © cadwu

Clafoutis

Cherries, cherries, cherries!

We love them! The rich, sweet taste in combination with the right texture! They just want to be eaten, one after the other. So what better summer dessert than Clafoutis?
Fresh, small, black or dark red cherries are the best for Clafoutis. Don’t use anything canned or jarred.
Clafoutis is made with milk and eggs, so in a way familiar to Crè­me Brûlée and Far Breton. But in case of Clafoutis you only need to whisk and wait for it to bake in the oven. That’s all.
There are many recipes for Clafoutis, some with cold milk, some with hot. Some use milk and cream, others just milk. We use warm milk because you get a better feel for the consistency, but cold milk will also do the job.
Some add Kirsch and others add Vanilla. We can’t see the benefit of adding Kirsch when using tasty cherries. Vanilla is distracting, so not recommended.

Another decision to make: use whole cherries or pitted ones? Not removing the pits is less work (obviously) and it reduces the risk of a soggy Clafoutis. The pits contain amygdalin, a toxic compound that can also be found in almonds, apple seeds and apricot stones. Amygdalin tastes like almonds. In this recipe we pit the cherries and compensate for the lack of almond flavour by adding almond flour.
If you decide to pit the cherries, make sure you remove all of them!

Finally, yes, you can replace the cherries with fresh apricots, berries, peaches or prunes. Then it’s called a Flaugnarde. But nothing as tasty as Clafoutis made with fresh cherries!

What You Need

  • 2,5 dl of regular Milk
  • 2 Eggs
  • 30 grams of plain Flour
  • 10 grams of Almond Flour
  • 20 grams of Sugar
  • 500 grams of Cherries, pitted
  • 10 grams of Butter

What You Do

Pre heat the oven to 180° Celsius or 350° Fahrenheit. Whisk together the eggs, plain flour, almond flour and sugar. Bring the milk almost to a boil. Stir the milk into the mixture. Butter a large, shallow baking dish, add cherries to the dish and make sure the bottom is nicely covered with cherries. No need to have two layers of cherries. Pour the mixture over the cherries. Bake (lower third of the oven) for 20 minutes, add a few dots of butter, continue baking for another 20 minutes or until the clafoutis is golden. Leave to cool for 60 minutes or so, this will enhance the taste. clafoutis should be served luke-warm. You could decorate the clafoutis with icing sugar, but it’s not essential.

Avocado and Cucumber Soup

Something Extra

Preparing a chilled soup is more than simply combining and blending a few ingredients; it needs something extra, something that will give the soup a push, simply because it’s chilled and the aromas are not as present as when a soup is warm. For instance Gazpacho is not just a mixture of tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and red onion; it absolutely needs Jerez vinegar.
Cold soups also benefit from adding excellent olive oil just before serving. The olive oil will give that velvety, rich feel in your mouth.
Chilled avocado and cucumber soup also needs something extra. We add soft blue cheese (for instance Gorgonzola Dolce) and Dill. Lemon will bring the required acidity and Greek Yoghurt will enhance the texture.

What You Need

  • One Ripe Avocado
  • One Small Cucumber
  • Stock (Chicken, Veal or Vegetable)
  • Soft Blue Cheese
  • Fresh Dill
  • Lemon
  • Black Pepper
  • Greek Yoghurt
  • Olive Oil

What You Do

Peel the cucumber and remove the seeds. Add the cucumber, avocado, stock, cheese and dill to your blender and mix. Now it’s a matter of tasting. Add a bit of lemon and black pepper. You may want to add more dill because it’s a fairly delicate herb. Once you’re happy with the taste, add some yoghurt and mix with a spoon. Transfer to the refrigerator and let cool and integrate for at least 4 hours. In this case ‘integrate’ also means making sure the cucumber is not too present. Just before serving taste again and add some olive oil. Stir with a spoon. Serve in a cold soup plate and decorate with a sprig of dill.