Brandade de Morue (Salt Cod Purée)

This specialty of Nimes was a common lunch item when we were growing up near Avignon. My mother would prepare it the night before, place it in the oven in the morning prior to leaving for school/work, and program the oven so that it would be ready to be served when we got back home for lunch. Back then every business closed religiously for lunch, and schools were on the same schedule. My parents picked us up from school at noon, we drove home to share lunch, my brothers and I would breathe the fresh air and play in the garden while my parent enjoyed their after lunch expresso, then they would drive us back in time to start at 2pm for the afternoon. Our school days typically ended at 4:30-5pm when we would come back home for ‘le gouter’.
As children, we LOVED coming home to this dish, even though it might contain a bit of garlic for the unaccustomed palate, this was the diet we grew up on: garlic and olive oil.
20131027-142830.jpg This dish can be served either as an appetizer, along with some grilled sliced baguette, or as an entrée, accompanied by other seasonal vegetables. Here I simply cut up some crudités to be used more as a ‘dip’, however, if you want a more authentic version and original flavors, I suggest you served this dish with toasted baguette the first time you make it.
20131027-142916.jpgIngredients for 4 servings:
1 lb salt cod, skinless and boned
1 lb potatoes
1 1/4 cups almond milk
3/4 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves
a few springs of fresh parsley
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
2 oz parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F
Rinse and soak salt cod a full 24 hours before starting the preparation of this recipe, changing the water at least 4 times.
20131027-142955.jpgAfter soaking the salt cod (see instructions above), drain and rinse.
20131027-143051.jpgPeel, wash and cut the potatoes in large chunks.
20131027-143232.jpgPlunge the potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water, return to a boil and keep cooking about 10-15 minutes at a rolling boil until the potatoes are tender. Drain, set aside.
20131027-143400.jpgPeel and cut the cloves of garlic in half. Remove the center part. Set aside.
20131027-143437.jpgZest and juice the lemon.  Set aside.

20131027-143519.jpgChop parsley finely.  Set aside.

20131027-143802.jpgPlace the salt cod in a large pot of cold water, bring to a simmer (do not boil), and drain and reserve.

20131027-143844.jpgHeat the almond milk and garlic in a separate pot.

20131027-143926.jpgAdd the salt cod, bring to a simmer, and continue simmering for about 10 minutes.

20131027-144008.jpgPlace the cod, garlic, half the almond milk, potatoes, lemon juice, lemon zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process till smooth, periodically adding more liquid from the almond milk.

20131027-144150.jpgHeat the olive oil and pour in the mixture through the feeder.  Keep processing until completely blended.

20131027-144230.jpgWhen all the ingredients are fully blended, (there should be no lumps from the potatoes), transfer to a large bowl.

20131027-144316.jpgAdd the parsley and black pepper and mix well with a wooden spoon.

20131027-144412.jpgBrush oil on the bottom and sides of 4 individual ramequins or cocottes (showing more on this photo because I doubled the recipe).

20131027-144521.jpgFill the cocottes almost to the top.  This preparation does not rise, so be sure to fill them as much as possible.

The recipe can be prepared ahead up to this point.  If this is so, cover the cocottes and refrigerate, up to one day, until ready to bake.

20131027-144710.jpgFreshly grate the parmesan finely.

20131027-144952.jpgSpread evenly over the top of each cocotte.

20131027-145201.jpgPlace in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, till the tops are golden.

If you had refrigerated the cocotte, you’ll need to bake them a bit longer, maybe another 10 minutes until they turn golden.

20131027-145308.jpg Enjoy!


Leeks Vinaigrette with Walnuts

This simple and traditional dish is as delicious as a more sophisticated hors d’oeuvre.  This dish is a common find in Bistro cuisine, as by definition Bistro cooking must be easy, simple, fast and be able to be prepared in advance so it can be served quickly.  My cooking instructor from the Ritz once said that the French inherited the term Bistro in the time of Russian occupation of Paris, where ‘bistro’ means ‘quickly’, when Russians wanted to have a meal under two hours. At home, “Poireaux Vinaigrette” was a classic in my mom’s cooking repertoire.  Served as a common started for a lunch or a perfect opener for entertaining, it is also a great time saver as it can be prepared ahead of time.

20131020-091839.jpgCombining the leeks with walnuts and shallots adds texture and complimentary tastes. Look for young tender leeks as they’ll have a more delicate flavor. If you don’t find young leeks and the dark green parts are too tough, you can simply cut them off and use only the white/light green parts of the leeks for this recipe.  Then you can always use the dark trimmings sautéed or added to vegetable stock.

20131020-091926.jpgIngredients for 4 servings:
2 leeks
1/2 shallot
1/2 cup whole walnuts
2 tsp grainy mustard from Dijon ‘moutarde à l’ancienne’
2 tsp white wine vinegar
5 Tbsp olive oil (or more as needed)
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
A few parsley springs

20131020-092532.jpgCut the leeks in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly to remove any dirt or sand that might be stuck between the leaves or on the bottom roots, where the leaves are attached. Trim the bottom roots slightly making sure the leaves remain attached.  You can further trim the roots after the leeks are cooked.

20131020-092608.jpgTrim the dark green tips as much as needed to keep only the more tender parts.

20131020-092653.jpgBring a large pot of salted water to a boil and plunge the leeks, bottom of the leeks in first.

20131020-092759.jpgAs soon as the leeks become soft enough to be more malleable (within the first minute), submerge the entire leaves and cook until tender, about 8-10 minutes.

20131020-092846.jpgRemove the leeks from the pot with tongs and set in a colander to drain.  Save the broth for soups or cooking lentils, quinoa, etc.

20131020-092948.jpgOnce the leeks have drained completely, set them on paper towels and pat them dry to absorb any excess water.

20131020-093056.jpgPeel and chop the shallot finely.

20131020-093247.jpgPlace the mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix thoroughly to blend all ingredients.

20131020-093328.jpgWhisk in the olive oil and add in the chopped shallots.

20131020-093503.jpgFinish trimming the root ends of the leeks.

20131020-093551.jpgArrange a leek onto each plate.

20131020-093708.jpgChop the parsley and walnuts.

20131020-093753.jpgPout the vinaigrette generously onto each leek.  Liberally sprinkle with walnuts and parsley. Enjoy!

Acorn Squash and Chestnut Soup

Autumn is here and we received our first squash in our weekly share from the farm. This time of year reminds me of when we used to harvest chestnuts in Ardeche, known in France as “chestnut country”.  They were so common to us that we would use them in every dish, from soup, to main course accompaniment to desserts. So I decided to pair the acorn squash with chestnut into a soup today.

Typically, when using for soup, we would boil the chestnuts as opposed to roasting them so they would be more tender, moist and reveal a more subtle flavor.

20131012-131617.jpgIngredients for about 6-8 servings:

About 30 chestnuts
1 acorn squash
1/2 onion
2 garlic cloves
A few springs of thyme and/or marjoram
2 to 3 cups water
Olive oil, freshly ground salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

20131012-133150.jpgFirst, wash and cut the acorn squash in half.

20131012-133231.jpgWith a large spoon, scoop out the seeds and slightly scrape the hollowed space to remove the fibrous pieces.


Brush the cut sides with olive oil and place them down into a baking dish. Bake for about 50-60 minutes, until the outer shell of the squash is tender to the touch.20131012-133510.jpgPelling the chestnuts is time consuming.  This is not a task that one would typically do by themselves.  Enrolling the help of others is more fun and efficient.  Peel the outer skin of the chestnut with a strong serrated paring knife, starting at the tip on the flat side.

20131012-133554.jpgContinue peeling off the outer skin this way, leaving the inner skin attached to the chestnut, all the way around to the wider end.

20131012-133652.jpgFinally, remove the cap at the wider end.

20131012-133811.jpgWhen all the chestnuts are peeled, set aside.

20131012-133914.jpgWhen the acorn squash is cooked, remove from the oven, turn the halves over and set aside until cool enough to handle.

20131012-134029.jpgChop half an onion and two cloves of garlic.

20131012-134152.jpgPlace about a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a medium size pot and heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and reduce the heat to soften and slightly brown.

20131012-134249.jpgMeanwhile, scoop out the flesh of the acorn squash with a large spoon.

20131012-134356.jpgGrossly chop the cooked squash country style.

20131012-134510.jpgAdd the squash, garlic, and either 2 or 3 cups of water depending on whether you want more of a stewed/pureed texture or more liquid consistency.  Add salt and pepper at this time.

20131012-134620.jpgRemove the leaves of thyme and marjoram from the stems.

20131012-134803.jpgAdd to the soup and simmer about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

20131012-135305.jpgBring a large pot of salted water to a boil and plunge the chestnuts.  Return to a boil and cook at a medium roll for about 30 minutes.  The chestnuts should become very tender and the inner skin should detach easily.

20131012-135401.jpgOnce the chestnuts are cooked, drain them (the water will have turned reddish brown) and peel the second skin immediately while they are hot.  If the chestnuts cool, they’ll become hard to peel as the inner skin will adhere back to the chestnut.  If this happens, plunge them back into boiling water for a few minutes.

20131012-135642.jpgChop the chestnuts into large pieces, reserving the nicer looking ones for decoration.

20131012-135734.jpgAdd the chopped chestnuts to the soup.

20131012-135842.jpgHeat again for about 5 minutes.

20131012-135929.jpgServe in bowls along with a spring of thyme and a whole chestnut for decoration. Enjoy a hearty dish!

One last Chef of Provence

Wrapping up our visit, in the Papal city of Avignon, adjacent to the Palace, the restaurant of Master Chef Christian Etienne is a must if you are in the area. Please enjoy below a tomato menu…

20131005-121131.jpg Tomato juice as a palate opener.

20131005-121321.jpgTomato on a bed of tomato goat cheese.

20131005-125055.jpgGaspacho of green and yellow tomatoes.

20131005-121418.jpgTomato mousse in a rail of tomato cracker with tempura snail on tomato coulis.

20131005-125406.jpgMediterranean fish with tomato confit and eggplant caviar.

20131005-125528.jpgMediterranean fish with tomato risotto.

20131005-125630.jpgConversations with wine pairing from the sommelier.

20131005-125749.jpgChocolate cake, mousse, fondant.
20131005-132413.jpgRaspberry cake with fig.

20131005-130139.jpgTomato sherbet.

20131005-130240.jpg After dessert “Mignardises”: Macaroons, Caneles, Pates de Fruits.

Hoping you enjoyed this Provence Chefs series.  Next week we start autumn vegetables back in Chicago 🙂