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L’Apéro

19 June 2017

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Summer is around the corner and the weather isn’t lying. One gloriously sunny day succeeds the next; pale limbs are bared, the parks have erupted in green, speckled with readers and sunbathers, the odd spot of color. There is no place like London at this time of year — the air is impossibly mild, fragrant. ‘Tis the season for ‘apéros,’ or better still, ‘apéros longs.’

The apéro — short for apéritif — is the cultural habit any visitor to France will learn. It is the first insight young French children have into the mysterious interactions of the adult world; that fleeting moment, saying hello to the guests before being sent off to bed. — For a French child, staying up through an apéro marks the stages of growing as assuredly as notches on the kitchen door.

‘C’est l’heure de l’apéro’! A tray is pulled, the bright clinking of glasses, a bottle or two, a bowl of ice, some olives, nuts, saucisson — the basics.

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The hallowed French tradition of apéros is ubiquitous; a pastis in the South, a beer in Paris; after work during the week, on holiday after an afternoon at the beach. It is the unwinding at the end of the day, the coming together before dinner. The apéro might include a bowl of peas to shell, some vegetables to chop. The evening could continue together, or everyone is free to go on to other occupations.

And in the middle, there are ‘apéros longs.‘ Here, the casual early evening drink morphs more or less intentionally into an informal dinner, a leisurely succession of bite-sized food and drink, that evolves organically into elastic evenings.

I’m a huge fan, especially when time becomes constricted by the other stuff of life.

Dinners are time-consuming and can be constraining, even for someone who loves to cook. ‘Apéros longs‘ are less pressure. The food must be forthcoming, and I like to bring different elements out in stages, rather than everything at once, to create a rhythm, give the evening some punctuation. But it can all be extremely simple. Starting with those olives, nuts, saucisson; continuing into a platter of prosciutto, mozarella, and basil; always some vegetables — tomatoes, fennel, radishes; cheeses. All of this only requires assembling, no cooking involved.

But of course, one could cook. Lightly charred padrón peppers, chicken liver terrine or pork rillettes, potted crab, quiches, asparagus with burrata! Things to make ahead or last minute improvisations. And, always, something sweet at the end, even if it is just a bowl of cherries or a few squares of chocolate.

Listen to the call. Apéros longs are the siren songs of elongated summer evenings.

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Asparagus with burrata

18 May 2017

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Even better than a softly oozing egg with asparagus is asparagus with creamy burrata. I don’t take credit for the pairing, a friend made this appetizer for us the other day. It is, as you can see, radically simple, and swoonfully delicious. There isn’t much more to add.

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Asparagus with burrata

Green asparagus
Burrata
Good olive oil
Flakey sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh herbs optional (basil, marjoram, mint)

Trim, wash, and peel the asparagus. **Peeling here is important for the asparagus to yield seamlessly into the burrata.**

In a pan large enough to hold the asparagus stalks, bring about 2 cm (1 inch) salted water to a boil. Cook the asparagus for 3 to 4 minutes — no more!

Strain out the asparagus and arrange onto a plate with the burrata. Drizzle some olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with herbs if using.

Basta!

Related posts
Green asparagus salad  **  Asparagus soup **

A soup in shades of green

17 January 2017

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Sometimes color is the guiding principle when I cook. Or let me correct that. Color is always a guiding principle when I cook, but sometimes it is the main thread that weaves the inspiration of a dish. As in this soup. It comes together through the shades of each one of its elements. From a palette of wintry and tender greens to the pale yellow potatoes and onions.

The result is an effortless, delicate, everyday soup.

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A soup in shades of green recipe

2 medium onions
3 celery sticks
3 leeks
2 small celeriacs (celery root)
1 fennel
Bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Peel and dice the onion. Wash and slice the celery sticks finely. Remove the leeks’ outer leaves, wash the stalks well to remove all grit, then slice the stems finely. Remove the outer leaf of the fennel, cut in half lengthwise, then slice very finely (or with a mandoline). Peel the celeriac, cut in half, then each half into 2 cm wedges, and slice each wedges as finely as possible to get —approximately— thin two-cm pieces. Peel the potatoes and cut them into pieces of the same size as the celeriac.

Heat some olive oil at the bottom of a heavy saucepan. Let the diced onion and sliced celery sweat on medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes (they shouldn’t get brown). Add the rest of the vegetables, give it all a good swirl with a wooden spoon, add the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper, cover completely with cold water, bring to a simmer and cook for approximately 30 to 40 minutes (the vegetables should be soft but not mushy).

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Christmas baking

8 December 2016

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There is nothing terribly new or ground-breaking about our Christmas baking. These are tradition, which is as it should be.

I say ‘our’ and ‘we,’ because my mom is the standard-bearer, she is present in each one of those painfully pressed out and carefully cut out stars. I find cookies a bit tedious, and many Christmas cookies are especially fiddly with an unnervingly sticky dough and precise shaping requirements. But they are custom, and the most exacting ones are also the very best (the cinnamon stars — but, hush, don’t tell the others).

Luckily my mom gets on with it, and before I’ve had the chance to write out the list of ingredients for the Stollen, the almonds are already ground, and the scent of cinnamon awaft.

Marcelle’s cinnamon stars

But lest anyone catches on to the fact that I am a lazy cook, here is my valiant  contribution to the Christmas spread: Stollen. I’ve rarely broken the promise, I’ve baked Stollen in Berlin, I’ve baked it in New York, I’ve flown it home across the Atlantic, I’ve made it through the night watching films while waiting for the dough to rise, and I’ve made it in London with yeast a few days too old, watching anxiously as the dough barely became plump. It’s a whole day’s (or night) work and worth every minute.

My grandmother’s Stollen

But for the indolent cook, here are little shortbread cookies that are a cinch to make and endlessly adaptable. I’ve known them all my life simply as ‘almond and currant cookies,’ but I’ve also used pistachios and saffron, and, here, pecans, cranberries, and orange blossom water.

Classic Christmas almond and currant shortbread cookies

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Finally, I have in the archives the recipe for another Swiss confection, small footed aniseed Chräbeli.

Swiss aniseed Chäbeli

Happy baking!

Simple things | Radishes with butter and salt

24 April 2015

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Pleasures of spring. The weather entices away from kitchen and stoves. Eating becomes simpler. Food speaks for itself, cooking takes a sidestep.

This could be breakfast; an afternoon snack; apéro bites; the start of dinner. With a slice of good bread.

It’s just a reminder.

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