Piperade

One summer, our parents took us to Les Landes for a month, in the southwestern part of France, by the Atlantic Ocean. It was a summer of smelling the tall and dense pine forests, admiring the grounds covered with ferns, climbing the huge dunes of fine white sand and playing with the forceful rolling waves, most famous for surfing. All unfamiliar topography and vegetation compared to our Provençal surroundings. Our eyes were wide-open with curiosity and our taste buds were delighting in exciting new dishes.  In the evening we would wander by the colorful and fragrant freshly picked peppers and tomatoes at the outdoor markets and prepare the local specialty of Piperade. It was such a delicious combination of flavors as the vegetables were in their prime, we wanted to savor it every night!

 Yesterday morning, as I discovered what our weekly CSA delivery held from Tomato Mountain, these memories instantly permeated at the sight of onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes. I couldn’t wait to recreate those scents and tastes reminiscent of a joyful childhood discovery. 

  The variety of vegetables grown in the Midwest is different from my original introduction to Piperade in Les Landes, nevertheless just as delectable. So feel free to adjust ingredients based on what’s available from your local market.

Ingredients:

  • 3 yellow Aura peppers 
  • 2 Carmen sweet peppers 
  • 5 Capperino mildly hot peppers 
  • 5 medium size tomatoes
  • 1 extra large white onion (about 500 g/ 1 lb)
  • 1 extra large garlic clove
  • 5 Tbps extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh thyme and bay leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  Wash the yellow Aura peppers, cut in half, remove the core, seeds and white flesh, and thinly slice each half. Reserve. 
  Wash the Carmen sweet peppers, cut in half, remove the core, seeds and white flesh, and thinly slice each half. Reserve.   Wash the Capperino peppers, cut in half, remove the core, seeds and white flesh, and thinly slice each half. Reserve. 
  Wash the herbs and garlic clove without peeling it.   Peel the large white onion and cut in half. Thinly slice each half by hold down the root end. Discard the roots. 
  Heat the olive oil in a cast iron French oven. Add the onions and reduce the heat.   Place the herbs and garlic on top. 
  Arrange the sliced peppers as the top layer and cover with a lid. Cook on low heat for about 10-15 minutes.   Meanwhile wash and cut the tomatoes in quarters. Remove the hard green part attached to the stem and discard. Slice each quarter into smaller pieces. 
  After the onion and peppers have cooked for about 15 minutes, add the tomatoes as the last layer. Seasson with salt and pepper and cover with a lid. Cook over low heat for another 20-25 minutes.   Then remove the lid, and the vegetables will have shrunk. 
  Take the herbs and garlic out with a fork. Discard the herbs. You may keep the garlic for spreading on bread or crackers with a little butter as it will have become creamy inside.   Mix the vegetables with a wooden spoon to combine the flavors. 
  Serve hot or cold, either immediately or let sit to further infuse the flavors. Delicious on its own or with some eggs scrambled with red pepper flakes. 

Enjoy!

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Rhubarb and Asparagus Tart

This country style tart was inspired by seeing the display of freshly picked rhubarb and purple asparagus next to each other at the farmer’s stall of the Green City Market.  

 The combination of rhubarb and asparagus is enhanced by the refreshing and fragrant tastes of lemon, thyme and cardamom with a bit of honey to sweeten the tartness of the rhubarb.

The olive oil crust, gluten free, includes lemon zest to echoe the fresh balance of flavors of the filling.  

Ingredients for the crust:

  • 2 cups gluten free flour
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp hot water
  • 2 pinch sea salt
  • Zest of 1 organic lemon

For the filling:

  • 250 g/9 oz fresh rhubarb
  • 250 g/9 oz purple asparagus
  • 1 lemon zest and juice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp honey
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp gluten free flour
  • 5 g/ 1/4 oz thyme
  • 1 pinch salt

  Preheat oven 375F 

  Start by washing the asparagus and cut the tips at an angle.  If some of the tips are larger than others, cut them in half, lengthwise. Reserve.   Cut the remaining stalks of the asparagus in small pieces.   Wash the rhubarb and cut thick slices similar in size to the asparagus. There is no need to peel the rhubarb. Be sure to discard the green leafy parts as it is toxic.   Place rhubarb and asparagus in a bowl.   Remove the thyme leaves from the stems. Discard the stems. Reserve the leaves.   When making a gluten free crust, personally I like to use Bob’s Red Mill gluten free all purpose baking flour. Here I’ll use it for the filling as well.   Add the thyme leaves, honey, salt, ground cardamom, GF flour and olive oil to the bowl.  Zest the organic lemon with a micro plane and add to the mixture.   Add the lemon juice and toss. Set aside for the flavors to infuse.   Prepare a well with the gluten free flour and add salt and lemon zest.   Then add the olive oil and hot water.   Using one hand, slowly incorporate the flour and liquid mixture.   The final crust will be crumbly.   Form it into a flattened ball.   Using s pastry rolling pin, start to roll out the dough, rolling back and forth to elongate the crust.   Using a pastry scraper, lift the crust from the surface and turn it 1/4 turn.   Continue to roll out the dough, turning it 1/4 turn as soon as it is elongated into an oval, until you have a round shape that is large enough to fit the tart dish Bottom and sides.   Line the tart dish with the crust. The nature of the gluten free crust is to break into pieces. Simply patch it back together as it is very forgiving.   Place the rhubarb-asparagus mixture on the crust.   Arange the asparagus tips on top. And place in the oven, lowering the temperature to 350F. Bake for 45 minutes.   When the tart is baked, drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle some fleur de sel. Wait a few minutes before cutting.  Enjoy!

Parsley Root and Sweet Potato Chips

When I found parsley root at the Chicago Green City market I was very excited. It is rather uncommon and yet so simple to prepare and very delicious.

20140511-183236.jpgOne easy way to prepare and enjoy them is making root vegetable chips. Here, mixed with sweet potatoes. Each crispy, light, and tasty.

20140511-183632.jpgIngredients:
2 medium parsley roots
1 large sweet potato
Fresh dill (or other fresh herb such as parsley, chives…)
Olive oil to drizzle
Freshly ground sea salt
Preheat oven to 400F.

20140518-160335.jpg Peel each vegetable and clean thoroughly.

20140518-160420.jpgUsing a mandolin, a vegetable slicer, or a sharp chef knife, slice the parsley root evenly and paper thin.

20140518-160914.jpgIn the same way, slice the sweet potato.

20140518-160949.jpgPlace the parsley root slices in a bowl and drizzle a little olive oil. Toss thoroughly.

20140518-161023.jpgArrange on a cookie sheet in a single layer.

20140518-161056.jpgIn the same way, drizzle a little olive oil on the sweet potato slices.

20140518-161146.jpgArrange on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes on ‘convection bake’ setting depending on your oven.

20140518-161256.jpgRemove from the oven, sprinkle with freshly ground sea salt and freshly chopped herbs. Serve and enjoy!

Four Cheese Soufflé

Secret tips to achieve high success making your cheese soufflé.

20140413-053537.jpgSuch a classic French recipe. In my family, this is the type of dish we prepared anytime we needed a simple, quick dinner. The basic ingredients, cheese, milk, eggs were always on hand. Here I’m using four cheeses but you can you just one or two. Be sure to respect the quantities.

20140413-054609.jpg
Ingredients:
For the Béchamel sauce
1 cup/250 ml milk
1 1/2 Tbsp/25 g butter
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 Tbsp potato starch
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Soufflé
4 egg yolks
6 egg whites
20-25 g each of Conté, Emmenthaler, Parmesan and Pyrenees Sheep (or gruyère)
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400F.

20140413-055724.jpgseparate egg whites from egg yolks. Ideally, if you can separate them several days in advance and keep them in an air tight container, the egg whites will develop higher volume when whisking them.
Grate the cheeses and keep the Parmesan separate so you can use some for coating the soufflé dish and some to sprinkle on too of the soufflé before baking.

20140413-071145.jpgbutter the soufflé with a pastry brush and soft butter (not melted, just softened at air temperature) thoroughly. Add 2 Tbsp of flour and 1 Tbsp of grated Parmesan and shake them around the dish until completely coated.

20140413-071442.jpgonce all the sides are coated, shake off the excess.

20140413-071559.jpgprepare the ingredients for the Béchamel sauce.

20140413-071655.jpgMelt the butter.

20140413-071801.jpgonce the butter is completely melted, add the flour and potato starch. Using potato starch will help the soufflé stand up a little longer after taking it out of the oven.

20140413-072059.jpgCook the mixture until it bubbles look like a ‘bees nest’.

20140413-072247.jpgMeanwhile, scald the milk.

20140413-072332.jpgRemove the pot from the stove. Add the hot milk to the butter-flour mixture at once, mixing constantly. The sauce should immediately thicken. You may use a whisk instead of a wooden spoon at this point to ensure no lumps appear.

20140413-072541.jpgPlace back on the stove, medium heat, and continue cooking another few minutes to thicken the sauce further. Mix constantly either with a wooden spoon or whisk.

20140413-072843.jpgSeason with salt and pepper and grate some nutmeg.

20140413-072945.jpgAdd the egg yolks one by one, mixing vigorously after each one. This will render the sauce a bit more liquid.

20140413-073115.jpgContinue to cook a few minutes longer, whisking constantly, to thicken the sauce again and the color changes to a paler yellow.

20140413-073253.jpgtransfer to a large bowl.

20140413-073345.jpgPlace the egg white in a metal mixing bowl, add a pinch of salt, and start whiling on low speed.

20140413-073510.jpgWhisk until medium firm. The egg whites should not be too firm so they keep rising in the oven.

20140413-073642.jpgPlace about 1/3 if the egg whites into the bowl with the soufflé mixture.

20140413-073932.jpgMix thoroughly with a spatula. No need to be careful at this point as we just want to lighten the consistency of the soufflé mixture so it can easily be incorporated into the rest of the egg whites.

20140413-074056.jpgAdd the remainder of the egg whites, either at once or in two parts.

20140413-074227.jpgnow fold the egg whites delicately into the mixture. If you are adding them in two parts, repeat.

20140413-074635.jpg Add the cheeses by folding them in. Reserve a little Parmesan to top the soufflé.

20140413-074828.jpgCarefully pour the mixture into the prepared soufflé dish, making sure non gets on the rim/sides.

20140413-075020.jpgSprinkle with the reserved grated Parmesan and place in the preheated oven.

20140413-075128.jpgBake for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown. If you are using individual soufflé fidhes, decrease baking time to 17-20 minutes.

20140413-075307.jpgEnjoy! Can be served with a green salad as an accompaniment for a meal.

Butternut Squash, Hazelnut and Sage Mousse

A savory dessert or appetizer.

After a series of acorn squashes, we started receiving butternut squashes from our CSA. Having a great deal of fresh sage on hand and some hazelnuts, I decided to make a butternut squash mousse combining these ingredients.  The result turned out to be delicious and complimentary flavors and just as perfect for a savory dessert or an appetizer.

For those of you who are not keen on sweet desserts, try making this in small molds, even muffin molds, and serve warm at the end of a meal.

20131201-093852.jpgAs a mousse, and not a soufflé, this dish does not rise much.  So it is easy to unmold and serve on a platter or individual plates for smaller versions.

20131201-093959.jpgIngredients:
1 butternut squash (about 2.2 oz)
1 large shallot (about 3 oz)
3 oz hazelnuts
1/4 oz fresh sage
3 organic brown eggs
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter to brush the baking mold(s)
Freshly ground sea salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Bake butternut squash in the same way as for the acorn squash in the Acorn Squash and Kale salad recipe, for about 45 minutes. Once soft to the touch, take out the squash of the oven, and set aside until cool enough to handle. Then, turn the oven temperature down to 350 F.

Set the butter out at room temperature so that it softens.

20131201-094429.jpgChop the shallot finely by slicing it horizontally, then vertically in perpendicular directions, while holding on to the roots.

20131201-094519.jpgHeat the olive oil in a skillet on medium high, add the shallots once the oil is hot and immediately turn down the heat to low. Let cook slowly till translucent.

20131201-094903.jpgMeanwhile, prepare the sage.  Remove the leafs from the stems.

20131201-095011.jpgChop the leaves finely and reserve a few whole leaves for decoration.

20131201-095217.jpgPlace the hazelnuts in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process by pulsing.

20131201-095312.jpgKeep pulsing until roughly ground.

20131201-095621.jpgOnce the butter is softened, brush it on the bottom and sides of the baking dish.  It is important to use softened butter and not hasten the process by melting it because it will not adhere as well to the sides of the dish.

20131201-095724.jpgPlace about 2 Tbsps. of ground hazelnuts on the bottom of the dish and swirl it around so that the hazelnuts coat up to one third of the dish.

20131201-095822.jpgReserve another tablespoon of ground hazelnuts for decoration.

20131201-100045.jpgPour the remaining hazelnuts from the food processor bowl into the skillet where the shallots have become translucent. Mix well.

20131201-100136.jpgKeep cooking on low heat, turning occasionally, until the hazelnuts brown slightly to develop their nutty flavor. Season with salt and pepper.

20131201-100322.jpgMeanwhile, the butternut squash should be cool enough to handle.

20131201-100445.jpgPress it through a ricer into a bowl, or you might also purée it in a food processor if you prefer.

20131201-100555.jpgYou should obtain a smooth purée, with no lump.

20131201-100708.jpgAdd the sage and hazelnut/shallot mixture. Mix well.

20131201-101013.jpgSeparate the egg whites from the yolks.  Place the egg whites in a large bowl to whisk them.

20131201-101109.jpgIncorporate the egg yolks, one at a time, by mixing rapidly into the squash mixture (make sure it is cool so as to not cook the eggs).  Season with salt and pepper.

20131201-101331.jpgWhisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until firm.

20131201-101426.jpgAdd one third of the egg whites to the squash mixture and mix thoroughly.  Then add the remaining egg whites and fold them in.

20131201-101532.jpgKeep folding the egg whites until you obtain a uniform airy mixture.

20131201-101652.jpgPour into the baking dish (or separate smaller dishes) and bake in the 350 F. oven for about 30-40 minutes depending on the size of the dishes you are using.

20131201-101741.jpgWhen the sides of the mousse come away from the dish, the mousse is ready.

20131201-101845.jpgUnmold it, decorate with ground hazelnuts and sage and enjoy immediately!

Roasted Root Vegetables with Caramelized Onions

The fall season brings so many root vegetables from the farm to our table, that I relish in selecting which ones to combine and simply roasting them.  Their flesh becomes tender and they exude a very sweet, subtle, roasted scent.  Oh! The house smells so good while they cook!  A delicious welcome when guests arrive. Here, I prepared them with caramelized onions and my inherited Provençal tradition of enhancing dishes with garlic and oil cured black olives.

20131108-214726.jpgVery simple to prepare and easy to present with a bit of chopped fresh parsley.  In this preparation, the most essential ingredient is: TIME! You just can’t skip a step or hasten the process. You need time to slowly let the onions cook down and caramelize, and time to soften the root vegetables without burning them.

20131108-214824.jpgIngredients for 4 servings:
For the root vegetables
3 large carrots (or 6-8 smaller ones)
2-3 large parsnips
1 large rutabaga
1 large yam
4 dozens oil cured black olives
6 garlic cloves
2-3 Tbsps. olive oil
A few springs of parsley, chopped
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

For the caramelized onions
2-3 red onions
2 Tbps. olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground salt

Preheat oven to 375F.

20131108-214906.jpgStart with the caramelized onions. Cut the onions in half. Trim the tips (not the roots) and peel them. Slice them thinly from the tip to the root. Discard the root.

20131108-214953.jpgHeat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and stir to coat them with the olive oil. Reduce the heat to low-simmer and cook for about one hour until the onions caramelized, checking periodically (see below check points).

20131108-215141.jpg20 minute check. The onions have softened.

20131108-215301.jpg40 minute check. The onions started to shrink and scarcely caramelize.

20131108-215356.jpg60 minute check. The onions have shrunken further and caramelized more.

20131108-215450.jpgWhen the onions are caramelized, pour the balsamic vinegar at once to deglaze the pan. Season with a bit of sea salt. Set aside.

20131108-215557.jpgMeanwhile, peel and cut the carrots and parsnips evenly.

20131108-215646.jpgToss in a bowl with1 Tbsp. of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread in a baking dish and place in the oven for about 20 minutes.

20131108-215740.jpgPeel and cut the rutabaga and yam evenly. Place in a bowl. Peel and cut the garlic in half. Remove the center of the garlic. Add to the bowl with the yam and rutabaga.  Add the black olives and toss with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, sea salt and pepper.

20131108-215905.jpgAdd to the other root vegetables in the oven and continue baking for about 30-35 minutes. Check and toss the vegetables, then keep baking for another 15 minutes.

20131108-221220.jpgWhen the root vegetables are finished cooking, transfer the caramelized onions into the baking dish and toss to mix.

20131108-220120.jpgServe immediately, topped with some chopped parsley. Enjoy!

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 🙂