Posts Tagged ‘homemade’

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.

Fig leaf wine apéritif

1 September 2018

Some people will consider this the first weekend of autumn, but, succomb as I may to those plums and first apples, I am holding on firmly to summer for a few more weeks until the equinox.

I prepared this fig leaf apéritif about a week ago, and as it only takes three to five days to infuse, now is still the right time to make a bottle for those last late summer evenings. There won’t be much of a thematic clash, September is fig season after all.

This recipe is particularly exciting for those of us who live in the North, as it just uses fig leaves. So for all optimistic boreal gardeners and green city dwellers (most neighborhoods have a garden with a fig tree stretching its branches above the fence within reach of the sidewalk…), who monitor those fig trees with anxiety and trepidation, monitoring the evolution of each fruit, this is the solution. Even if the figs never ripen there is a path straight to Provence with this apéritif.

The recipe comes from Thom Eagle via Diana Henry about two years ago. It bears repeating every year.

Fig leaf wine

10 fig leaves
One bottle (75 cl) dry white wine
160 g sugar
One giant glug of vodka

Crumple the fig leaves and place them in a clean jar with the white wine, sugar, and vodka. Stir or shake well, and leave to infuse for 3 to 5 days.

Strain out the leaves and pour into a bottle with a tight lid.

Serve over ice.

Surprisingly manageable duck confit

28 April 2017

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‘Why on earth make duck confit in the first place?’ Fair question. ‘Why on earth make duck confit again?’ Even more to the point. And again?! Because there is a happy ending.

Many moons and about a decade ago I made duck confit. Why? Well, I was in New York, where confit duck is not, as in France, available on every supermarket shelf. I must have been in an experimental mood. And I certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into. As I remember the experience — faintly (the worst ones fade) — I see endless vats of rendering, handling, splashing, filtering duck fat (it was actually probably goose fat). It took hours, days, perhaps weeks? In the end the thighs were much too salty.

And yet, I did it again. — Why?

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Perhaps because so much time had gone by that I had glossed over the experience? Because I was again/still in a country where duck confit is somewhat elusive? Because I don’t like to leave things on a frustrating experience?

Because in April Bloomfield’s book A Girl and Her Pig there is a duck confit recipe that fits on one page.

It works. It’s not that hard. It’s worth the adventure.

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Duck confit recipe from A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield adapted for 6 duck legs. The process takes 2 days and is best made some time in advance.

36 peppercorns
36 juniper berries
8 dried pequin chilies or pinches of red pepper flakes
1/2 small cinnamon stick
Small handfull fresh thyme
10 medium garlic cloves
1/3 cup coarse sea salt
6 duck legs
About 1.4 kg duck (or goose) fat

In a mortar, crush together the peppercorns, juniper, chilies, and cinnamon. There should be fine and coarse bits. Add the thyme leaves picked from the stems and the garlic and crush some more to obtain a coarse paste. In a small bowl, mix the spice mixture with the salt.

Place the duck legs in a shallow dish and rub the salt/spice mixture all over the legs. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, very slowly heat the fat in a small pot that will perfectly fit the duck legs (I used a 10″/25cm pot). Rinse the duck legs and pat them dry with a paper towel, then carefully put the legs in the fat. The legs must be completely submerged — if they are not, use  a smaller pot or add a bit more fat. Cook on extremely low heat for about 2 1/2 hours. There should be barely a simmer. Adjust the heat as necessary.

Remove the pot from the heat and leave the duck legs in the fat to cool completely before placing in the refrigerator, covered with a lid. The legs submerged in fat will keep for a few weeks.

When ready to eat, remove the legs from the congealed fat, and carefully scrape off as much of the fat as possible. Thoroughly heat a heavy skillet/frying pan, add a few generous spoonfuls of the duck fat, and fry the legs over high heat, skin side down, until deliciously crispy. Turn around and fry the other side of the legs too. Serve immediately.

Crispy duck confit is best served with roasted potatoes and a salad of bitter greens (traditionally frisée, but also escarole, radicchio, arugula, etc…).

Quinces poached with honey and bay

20 October 2016

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For someone who has named their blog after the fruit, I have far too few quince recipes on this site! So if you have made too much quince jelly, if you have no time for quince paste, if you are still waiting for the lamb and quince tagine promised some six years ago (blame this, like so much else, on Thomas), here, finally, is a recipe for poached quinces.

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Poached quinces recipe
Recipe inspired by Alice Waters’ poached quinces in Chez Panisse Fruit and Skye Gyngell’s baked quinces from A year in my kitchen

2 cups golden/caster sugar
4 medium quinces (about 2 lbs)
3 Tbsps flavorful honey
1/2 vanilla bean
One bay leaf (I used a fresh one)
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 untreated lemon

Make a syrup with the sugar and 6 cups (1.5 liters) of water. Bring to a boil and simmer briefly until the sugar has dissolved.

Meanwhile, wash, peel, core, and slice the quinces lengthwise into quarters then eighths (this must be done at the last minute as quinces tend to turn brown very quickly).

Slice one half of the lemon very thinly, and juice the other half.

Add to the simmering syrup the honey, the vanilla bean after scraping out the seeds into the syrup, the bay leaf, the cinnamon stick, the lemon slices, the lemon juice, and finally, the quince slices. Cover the liquid with a round of parchment paper and place a weight on top if possible to ensure that the pieces of quince are submerged in the liquid as they cook. Let the quince simmer for approximately 45 minutes until they are tender.

Once cooked, carefully strain out the pieces of quince and place them in a bowl or canning jars. Return the syrup without the quinces to the heat and simmer down for a good 20 to 30 minutes to concentrate the liquid (there must be enough left to cover the fruit!).

If preserving, sterilize the canning jars in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes and close the jars immediately after pouring the reduced hot liquid on top of the fruit.

If using immediately, pour the hot liquid over the fruit and let cool to room temperature.

In both cases serve with thick Greek-style yogurt.

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After-school lemonade

26 June 2015

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One day I will write extensively about London weather, or rather the interesting relationship the English have to English weather. Today I am just enjoying another one of those glorious summer days we’ve had this year, hot afternoons that simply scream of cooling lemonades. I usually just wing it, here I paid attention as the proportions seemed just right.

4 lemons

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

Large sprig of fresh mint

Ice cubes

Sparkling water

Juice the lemons. Pour the juice into a large jug over a few handfuls of ice cubes. Add the sugar and stir until it’s completely dissolved. Add the mint and give it a swirl.

Pour the juice into each individual glass to about a third full and top up with sparkling water.


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