Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

Notes from the kitchen | Monday chicken legs with spring onions and ginger

15 November 2018

Monday night. Eternal, tedious, domestic conundrum — what to make for dinner? Feeding six requires labour, always. The simplest thing — grating cheese for all the pasta — takes a while.

Forever torn between fantasies of heady stews and lack of time, I go into the butcher’s dreaming of oxtail and grab chicken legs instead. It’s the quickest path to a braised (style) dish. It requires little foresight or planning, barely a thought. There will at the very least be garlic and lemon in the house.

As it happens, today we also have spring onions and celery, ginger and tamari. What began as a resignation, an easy way to finish odds and ends at the bottom of the fridge, has become a legitimate meal, an instant favourite. And with Balthasar’s retro / disco playlist in the background, there may even have been some dancing around the kitchen table.

Chicken legs with spring onions and ginger
Serves 6

6 chicken legs (whole or separated into thighs and drumsticks)
A large chunk of ginger
One bunch — 6 or 7 — spring onions (scallions)
4 or 5 celery stalks
1 small lemon or lime
1 whole head of garlic
Neutral flavored oil
Toasted sesame seed oil
Light soy sauce (or salt)
Tamari soy sauce
Rice vinegar

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator so it has time to come to room temperature.

Prepare the ‘vegetables’:
Peel the ginger and slice it into matchsticks.

For the spring onions, cut off the ends, remove one outer layer, wash, and cut into three.

Top and tail the celery stalks, wash, and cut into pieces of similar length to the spring onions.

Wash, halve lengthwise, and thinly slice the lemon (or lime) into half moons.

Smash the head of garlic with your palm to open it up. Crush each clove with the side of a large knife and remove the skin, which will come off easily.

Roasting:
Pour some oil at the bottom of an oven dish large enough to fit all the pieces of chicken with space to spare. *The pieces should not be too crowded or the skin wil not become crispy.* Scatter all the vegetables at the bottom of the pan, toss with a little oil, and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Coat the chicken legs with sesame sauce.

Once the vegetables have been roasting for about 15 minutes, add the chicken legs to the pan and season everything with a few hits each of light soy sauce, tamari, and rice vinegar.

Roast the chicken for 40 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the juice, until brown and crispy on the outside and fully cooked (i.e. juices run clear) inside.

If possible, let the chicken sit for a few minutes. Serve with rice.

Nettle soup aka ‘Stone Soup’

14 September 2018

I think of it as stone soup.

During our summer holidays in Brittany, nettle soup is always top of the list of meals we look forward to making. Still, the intent usually lies dormant until a fateful evening when we are caught off-guard with no dinner plan. There are always nettles about: in the bits of garden that haven’t been mowed, in the field at the bottom of the drive where a solitary horse used to live. The horse is long gone, the field remains ‘le champ du cheval.’ Armed with wellies, gloves, scissors, and a basket, it won’t take longer than ten minutes to gather dinner.

According to the folk tale Stone Soup, with just a soup kettle, water, a stone as decoy, and some craft, a clever traveller fools one mean farmer (or, depending on the version of the story, the inhabitants of a whole village) into relinquishing vegetables, one at a time, little by little, in order to make that initial ‘stone soup’ — a stone in a pot of water — taste better and better.

In my fairy-tale summer, the nettles are the stone, the nothing. Like that stone, they’ll need a bit of a boost in terms of depth and unctuousness. An allium of some sort, a couple of potatoes, a zucchini — all of which weren’t donated by villagers but are the neglected, long-term squatters of the vegetable crates in the cellar.

And in reality, nettle soup is the very opposite of stone soup. It has, it is true, sprung from nothing. But unlike the stone — ultimately discarded — the nettles are the very essence and raison d’être of the meal.

Nettle soup
Since the main idea of the soup is its fortuity, the ingredients and quantities are just indications. But the nettles must remain the focus, they should not be overpowered by the other vegetables.

A big bag of young nettle leaves
Butter
1 or 2 small onions or shallots, finely chopped
A few garlic cloves
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Some chicken stock if available
Depending on season and availability, a few of the following:
Leeks, zucchini (courgettes), carrots, fennel, etc (all of which need to be washed well or peeled and cut into slices)
Crème fraîche to serve

With a pair of gloves to avoid getting stung, pick fresh young nettle stems (in season in spring and summer) especially the most tender part close to the tip.

(Still protected by gloves) pick the leaves off the stems and wash thoroughly in a large bowl of cold water. Drain and set aside.

In a large soup pot, melt a few tablespoons of butter. Add the chopped onions (or shallots). Sweat for a few minutes until translucent but not yet turning in color. Add a couple of garlic cloves and cook for a minute longer.

If using leeks, add to the onions and garlic now. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and any other vegetables and immediately cover well with water or/and chicken stock (there should be enough liquid to account for the nettle leaves later). Bring to a slow simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Add the nettle leaves and cook for just a few minutes, until they are wilted and soft but still bright green! (Add a little boiling water or stock to cover the leaves if necessary.)

Remove from the heat and purée the soup until unctuous using a hand mixer or, in batches, in a food processor.

Finally, a game-changing tip from my peripatetic sister — inspired by the Egyptian soup molokhia: Just before serving, smash or finely chop a couple cloves of garlic and cook in a puddle of butter in a corner of a skillet. Remove just as it turns golden and stir into the soup immediately before serving.

Garnish with crème fraîche if desired.

Asparagus soup

11 May 2017

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It all starts with the memory of a chilled asparagus soup served with black salt. It was at a friend’s house and I was smitten with the combination. I immediately proceeded to buy black salt — i.e.  Hawaiian lava salt — which added nicely to my slightly frivolous collection (never fewer than five or six salts in the house at any time). And the black salt became the wallflower of my pantry cupboard. Always there, rarely noticed. But every time I did, I thought of asparagus soup.

Quite a few years later, here, then, is the ideal — though entirely optional — use for black salt.

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Asparagus soup recipe inspired from Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories

The soup requires only four ingredients and is very simple if the use of a food processor and then a food mill doesn’t seem like too much trouble.

4 small leeks
1 medium potato
600 g (1 1/2 lbs) green asparagus
120 g (1/2 cup) butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Black Hawaiian lava salt to serve (optional)

Prepare the leeks by removing all the green leaves, slicing thinly, and washing thoroughly to remove any grit. Peel the potato and cut into small chunks.

Wash and trim the asparagus stalks to remove the tough ends. Reserve some asparagus tips to garnish the soup: about 8 to 10 tips if the asparagus is quite thin, or 4 to 5 tips to be each cut in half (lengthwise) if the asparagus is thicker. Roughly chop the rest of the stalks.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stew the leeks over low heat until soft (about 5 to 10 minutes), taking care that the leeks don’t color.

Once the leeks have softened, add 750 ml (3 cups) water and the potato. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the potato pieces have cooked through.

Add the chopped asparagus stalks (not the reserved tips) to the soup at a lively simmer for another 5 minutes until the asparagus is cooked. *Take care not to overcook at this point, it will damage the delicate taste of the asparagus.*

Transfer the soup to a food processor and blend thoroughly until the soup is as smooth as possible. There will always remain strands from the asparagus, however, which is why the soup then needs to be passed through a food mill (or a fine mesh sieve, but I’ve always found that to be much too fussy).

The soup can be served hot or chilled. Before serving, quickly sautée the asparagus tips in a little olive oil in a small frying pan. *If reheating, use very low heat and take care not to let the soup boil as it will distort the flavor.*

The soup should be garnished with black salt or regular flakey sea salt and pepper, and/or a spoonful of crème fraîche.

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Related recipes

Asparagus salad ** Cauliflower soup ** Roasted leeks

Baked apples

26 January 2017

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January is the time to huddle close, meet friends, have a pint, a meal, a whiskey nightcap. But after months of cooking and feasting, dim winter days call for easy comforts. Delicious meals that require barely any effort. Hardly a thought. Simple dishes that can be effortlessly adapted with whatever languishes in a pantry in the aftermath of holiday baking marathons.

Baked apples for instance. The basics are simple, the variations many: wash an apple, core it, stuff it, bake it, eat it warm with a dollop of cream.

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Any apple will do. Some hold their figure while others erupt into shapeless volcanoes; anything is fine by me. For the stuffing the elements might be dried fruits — for example raisins, chopped dates, cranberries; chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds; some sweetness and spice — brown sugar, dark sugar, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, lemon zest, ginger, allspice, cardamom. A splash of fortified wine. For serving, a generous spoonful of cream.

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Baked apples recipe

One whole apple per person
Currants (or raisins, cranberries, chopped dates or apricots)
Pecans (or walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds)
Dark muscovado sugar (or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup)
Ginger and cardamom (or cinnamon, allspice, lemon zest)
Sherry (or Marsala, Madeira)
Clotted cream (or crème fraîche, ice cream, yogurt) for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C)

Wash and core the apples (leaving them whole)

Toss the nuts, dried fruits, sugar, and spices together. Stuff each apple with the mixture. Sprinkle with a dash of wine if using. Send into the oven for 25 to 40 minutes, until the apples are soft through.

Let cool just a little and serve warm with a spoonful of cream.

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Gooseberry elderflower jam

25 June 2015

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For years there was an acidulated gap in my life.

While I grew up on the sour tinge of gooseberries (as well as raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants…) just-picked from the fairy-tale garden of my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland, for all the intermittent years since, gooseberries virtually disappeared from my life. They are not all that popular in France, and were not common at the Turkish market in Berlin where I did most of my shopping; markets have since proliferated there, I am sure gooseberries now feature prominently. The berries magically reentered my world In New York at Union Square market, and they are impossible to overlook in London. I have moved to gooseberry heaven.

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Gooseberries grow wild in Northern Europe, they thrive in cool, moist climates, which explains their prevalence here, and a notable claim of northern superiority: Scottish gooseberries were historically considered superior to those of England (conversely, English gooseberries were thought better than those of the Continent). Wild bushes were apparently the only native fruit-bearing plants of the Shetland and Orkney islands.

Notwithstanding my enduring passion for the prickly little things, they are not the most beloved of berries. Perhaps because they tend to be impossibly tart. Or because they sport the most peculiar names. Gooseberries in England and groseilles à maquereau (mackerel redcurrants) in France. Those epithets probably linked to the rich dishes they initially accompanied. (There is another theory for the English name, which could be derived either from Scottish or Dutch origin.) In German they are guardedly called ‘Stachelbeeren’ — ‘prickleberries’ — an apt description, and not the most inviting one.

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I can well imagine that gooseberry compote tastes great with a savory dish, a little like cranberry sauce, but when one compulsively buys over a kilo of berries as soon as they appear in spring, the best solution is jam. They pair remarkably well with elderflowers, which are in season coincidentally. And so I’ve adapted Christine Ferber’s simple gooseberry jam. The result is very delicate. And deliciously tart.

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Gooseberry and elderflower jam
Adapted from Christine Ferber’s two-step technique

1.1 kg gooseberries

800g white or caster sugar

2 small lemons, juiced

One small lemon, finely sliced, each slice cut into quarters

2 heads elderflowers, just-picked

Rinse the gooseberries in cold water, strain, then dry in a clean tea towel (dish cloth). Rub the berries with the cloth very gently to remove the fuzz. Trim the stems and what is left of the flower. In a heavy, cast-iron or marmalade pot, mix the gooseberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon slices. Bring to a simmer and immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl.

Inspect the elderflowers and carefully remove any bugs. Submerge the elderflower heads into the fruit/sugar mixture. Give a gentle stir to mix the aroma, then cover the fruit (and flowers) with a sheet of parchment paper and  place in the refrigerator overnight (up to 24h hours).

The next day, remove the elderflowers. Transfer the fruit back to the cooking pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the jam sets*. Stir frequently and don’t leave the room, this jam burns very quickly! Skim off the excess scum as it boils.

*To test whether the jam has set, place a spoonful of jam in a small dish in the refrigerator, it will cool quickly and reveal its consistency.

Boil about 12 small or 8 large jam pots in water for 5 minutes to sterilize.

Once the jam has reached the jelling point, remove from the heat, spoon into jam pots, and close immediately. Try to keep the jam for a few weeks before opening, it gets better with time!


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