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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Quince, Honey and Thyme Tart

Quince is a very hard and tart fruit in its raw state, which softens and becomes a delicious treat when cooked and sweetened.  When growing up in the French countryside, we commonly used to make quince jelly and quince paste with this fruit high in pectin. After cooking for a long time, the flesh of the fruit turns a beautiful deep pink color, which is most appealing and appetizing. 

 ​The honey caramilizes the quinces, and the thyme imparts a savory taste balancing the flavors. The longer the baking process, the more beautiful golden vermillion they turn. 

  Ingredients

  • 800 g/1 lb 12 oz quince
  • 60 g/ 2 oz French butter
  • 90 g/ 3 oz raw honey (Mild flavor like acacia)
  • 1 cinnamon stick 
  • 4 cloves
  • A few sprigs thyme

For the crust:

  • 150 g/ 5 1/4 oz all purpose organic in bleached flour
  • 70 g/ 2.5 oz French butter
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1-2 Tbsp cold water

Preheat oven to 375F. 

  Start by making the crust. Place the flour, salt and cold butter, cut in small pieces, in a bowl. 
  Using one hand only, gently and briskly mix the butter and flour to coat each piece. Then, press the flour-coated pieces of butter between your fingertips to ‘crumble’ the mixture.   Continue until the mixture resembles a sandy texture.  Then add just enough cold water to form a non sticky ball. 
  Place the dough on wax paper, wrap it and refrigerate it.  Meanwhile, cut the quinces in half, then quarters. Do not peel the quinces at this time as it would be a very difficult task. It is easier to peel them after cooking them.   Cut each quarter in halves to makes eighths. Quince oxidize extremely quickly by contact with air.Place them in a wide-bottom pot, barely cover with cold water, and add the cinnamon stick and cloves.     Bring to a boils and simmer about 30 minutes, until the quinces are tender. Meanwhile, place generous pieces of butter  on the bottom of a 9-inch pie dish as well as around the sides.   Pour the honey over the butter to cover the bottom of the pie dish.   Spread the thyme leaves over the butter and honey. Reserve a couple sprigs of thyme for presentation.   Take the quince out of the boiling liquid into a colander using a skimmer/slotted spoon. Reserve the liquid for another use, such as quince jelly.   Cut out the seedy core.   Peel the quince pieces. By now the skin should come off relatively easily.   Arrange the quince slices in a circle following the shape of the dish.   Take the dought out of the refrigerator and place it on a floured surface.  Using a French rod-style rolling pin, roll out the dough into a circle barely larger than the tart dish.   Roll the crust onto the rolling pin to easily transfer it from the surface to the tart dish. 

  Roll out the crust onto the quinces.   Tuck the edges between the quince slices and the buttered edges of the tart dish. 
  Bake for about 40 minutes. Then turn off the oven and let the tart sit on the rack in the oven for another 15 minutes with the oven door slightly open.   The crust should be lightely golden and crisp to the touch.   Run the blade of a knife around the edges to unstick the caramelized tart from the baking dish. Turn the tart over onto a serving platter.  You might have to carefully rearrange or straighten some of the quince slices. Finish by adding a few leaves of fresh thyme. Serve and enjoy!

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!

Green Cabbage and White Bean Soup with Thyme Celery Pesto

A hearty winter soup to enjoy during our freezing temperatures in Chicago.  This is a satisfying dish to savor either as an appetizer or a main dish served with a salad for supper.  White beans and green cabbage are classic winter ingredients and pair deliciously.  Health-wise, white beans are high in fiber and a good source of vitamin B1 and minerals.  Green cabbage has long been established for its digestive tract support as well as an excellent source of vitamin K.

20140207-190459.jpgThe celery pesto is made of ingredients from the soup itself, with the addition of garlic and parmesan cheese.  If you wish to make a dairy-free/vegan version, simply omit the parmesan cheese in the pesto and season it with a bit of salt, pepper, some lemon juice and a little extra olive oil. This soup is most delicious the day after preparing it.

Be sure to soak the beans the day before.  It is simpler, requires less time and effort than having to do a ‘quick boil’ just prior to cooking them.  The best is to simply soak the beans overnight the day you come back from the market.  They can then be refrigerated a few days till you are ready to cook the soup.

20140207-190627.jpgIngredients:
1/2 green cabbage
2 cups dry white beans
3 small-medium size carrots
2 celery stalks with their leaves
1/2 medium-large onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 oz Parmesan cheese
A few springs of fresh thyme
A few springs of fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
3 cloves
5-6 Tbsps Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the beans the day before.

20140207-190719.jpgUse 1/4 of the onion as the base to hold the cloves.  Make three small incisions in the onion, deep enough to hold the stem of the cloves.  Insert the cloves.  Alternatively, you can place the cloves and bay leaves in a small linen bag.  Either way, you will discard them after cooking.

20140207-190756.jpgPlace the beans in a large pot of salted water with the onion, cloves and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil and lower to simmer for about 40-45 minutes until the beans are tender.

20140207-190844.jpgPeel the carrots.  Wash the celery branches and reserve the leaves.  Chop the carrots, the other 1/4 of the onion and celery finely.

20140207-190921.jpgHeat about 2 Tbsps of olive oil in a large French oven (cast iron pot).  Add the chopped vegetables, season with salt and simmer for a few minutes until they soften.

20140207-191005.jpgSlice and cut the cabbage in medium pieces.

20140207-191053.jpgAdd the cabbage to the vegetables and toss to coat evenly.  Continue cooking on low heat with the cover on for about 30-40 minutes until the cabbage is cooked, but not over-cooked.

20140207-191203.jpgMeanwhile, remove about 1/2 cup of beans from the pot and place them in a food processor fitted with a steel blade along with the celery leaves, the two garlic cloves (cut in half and center removed), a spoonful of rosemary and thyme.  Process till grossly mixed.

20140207-191356.jpgAdd the Parmesan cheese and about 1 1/2 Tbsps of olive oil and process again until you obtain a smooth paste.

20140207-191504.jpgPlace the thyme-celery pesto in a small bowl.  You may drizzle a bit of olive foil or lemon juice on top, or cover with a plastic film to preserve freshness.  Reserve.

20140207-191614.jpgDrain the beans and reserve the cooking broth.

20140207-191710.jpgHeat about 2 Tbsps of olive oil along with about half the pesto in a large pot.

20140207-191803.jpgAdd the white beans and mix thoroughly to coat them with the pesto.

20140207-191844.jpgAdd the cabbage-vegetable mixture and mix well.

20140207-191940.jpgAdd about 4-6 cups of the bean broth.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Add about 2 Tbsps of thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer a few minutes till serving.

This soup can be prepared a day ahead, refrigerated, and brought back to a simmer to serve.

20140207-192026.jpgServe with a bit of extra pesto on top to taste.  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.

20131012-131524.jpg
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.

20131012-133403.jpg

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!

Spicy Chickpea Herb Salad

The simplest and fastest to way to make a last minute picnic to go, quick meal for impromptu lunch guests, or side dish/salad to accompany a main dish.

20130705-212427.jpg This recipe includes a variety of herbs as we would use in the south of France for a flavorful meal and also some jalapeño in addition to the garlic for an additional kick the American way.

20130705-212511.jpgingredients:
2lbs cooked chickpeas (if dried, soak them the day before and cook them in salted boiling water)
1 orange pepper (I typically like using red but the red peppers at the market were not organic so I picked an organic one over the color)
1/4 jalapeño pepper
2 garlic cloves
A handful of each herbs: parsley, basil, chives, thyme
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp grape seed oil
Freshly ground salt and pepper, about 1/4 tsp each
4-5 oz arugula

20130705-213407.jpgStart by mixing the salt, pepper and mustard.

20130705-215259.jpgAdd vinegar and mix well to dissolve mustard.

20130705-215341.jpgPrepare two garlic cloves and 1/4 jjalapeño pepper.

20130705-215428.jpgRemove the white lining and seeds from the jalapeño.

20130706-065736.jpgPeel garlic, slice in half and remove the inner part.

20130707-151744.jpgCrush the garlic and cut the jalapeño in thin stripes.

20130707-151835.jpgChop both finely.

20130707-151937.jpgAdd to the mustard and vinegar.

20130707-152034.jpgMix well and seaside.

20130707-152111.jpgGently remove the thyme leaves from the stems. set aside.

20130707-152153.jpgPrepare parsley leaves and basil leaves by removing the stems and clustering them together, stacking the basil leaves on top of one another.

20130707-152239.jpgChop all the herbs finely, including the chives, parsley and julienne the basil leaves. Set aside

20130707-152320.jpgPrepare the orange pepper by cutting it in half, remove the stem, further cut into quarters and remove the inner white skin and seeds.

20130707-152541.jpgSlice each quarter into strips and dice.

20130707-152647.jpgAdd the grape seed oil to the vinaigrette.

20130707-152741.jpgMix in the orange pepper and let marinate a few minutes.

20130707-152823.jpgAdd the chickpeas and herbs.

20130707-152907.jpgMix thoroughly. The salad can be prepared ahead at this time and refrigerated.

20130707-153007.jpgBefore serving, add arugula. If taking on a picnic pack arugula separately and add at last minute.

20130707-153156.jpgMix the arugula with the other ingredients to ensure it is well coated with the vinaigrette.

20130707-153245.jpgTo serve as a lunch meal, you might add some avocado

20130707-153345.jpgor heirloom tomatoes. Enjoy!