Thursday, 30 April 2009

DUTCH BABY, but please, no Heineken

Last summer I had a free day in Munich. Saw some sights, walked miles through cold, wet, rainy streets in a tee-shirt and flipflops, and around dinnertime I pulled into a bratwurst Kneipe (public house)—I think it was actually called "Das Bratwurstkneipe"—for …

… surprise! Not bratwurst! I was after Kaiserschmarrn, a kind of heavy, fruity, caramel-y pancake recommended to me by a friend. This kneipe was right off the Viktuellenmarkt (food-focused marketplace) and though it was only late afternoon, the place was packed with locals eating and drinking. I found a spot at a communal table across from a "more mature gentleman," and it's not that I'm concerned about the fellow's age so much as the fact that I needed to rely on my rather rusty German to communicate with him. Pretty much any German under 40 will speak at least a little English these days, but this guy was well outside that demographic.

I thought my early-dinner request for a sweet dish might seem a little weird, but the waitress didn't flinch. It was an interesting meal with labored, cross-cultural, cross-generational conversation, lots of beer, and one gigantic plate of raisin-y, crusty and maybe a bit overly-sweet pancake that comes with its own side of prunes—to help clear the path for the next meal, no doubt. These Bavarians like to eat.

So my companion finishes before me, and as he's about ready to leave he confides that he was highly disturbed by the fact that I drank beer with my supper—one should always drink red wine with Kaiserschmarrn. What!? Germans drink beer all day long and with every meal besides breakfast, but have a brewski with your Kaiserschmarrn and the locals get offended!

But here's the thing. I didn't like the Kaiserschmarrn nearly as much as similar things I'd had before—and the obvious candidate for a lighter, less-sweet alternative is the Dutch Baby. Quick and easy to make, it's also another great opportunity for me to use my big cast-iron skillet.

Okay, so I start by pre-heating the oven and the skillet to 425°F. Four eggs, ¾ cup of whole milk, ¾ cup of all-purpose flour, half a teaspoon of salt, a dash of vanilla (and maybe some nutmeg if you're into that kind of thing), get beaten to a frothy milkshake—what I'm trying to say is, "Don't worry about overmixing."

Oh yeah, these quantities work for me when I'm using a Number 12 skillet, which is kind of a king-sized model—if you're using a smaller (or bigger) unit you'll need to adjust quantities accordingly. Just remember that the volume needed is proportional to the square of the diameter of a round pan. Heh heh.

Anyways, half a stick of butter (cut into small pieces) hits the hot skillet and melts in a flash and start to brown as I swirl it to coat the bottom and part way up the sides of the pan. The batter goes into the skillet, which then goes back into the oven.

The topping for a Dutch Baby is just sugar and lemon. I take about three tablespoons of superfine sugar and mix in the zest that I have microplaned from a small lemon. Some of that lemon's juice will be squeezed on as well.

Inside the oven there's some kind of Gauss-Markov process that directs a completely unpredictable pattern of puffing and browning, and it's done when it looks like the pan is occupied by a hideously deformed, roasted, northern European baby.

Within seconds of its "birth" the baby deflates substantially, at which time I sprinkle on the lemon sugar and squeeze on about half a lemon's worth of juice. Is it breakfast? Is it dessert? These are questions I can't answer. One should be advised, however, that if there's a German anywhere nearby (maybe a Dutch, too), hide the beer.

Saturday, 25 April 2009


Nettles (NOT to be confused with poison ivy!) are usually associated with nasty itching, but not only are they commestible, they have medicinal properties as well (cf. It so happens I treat my annual hay fever with nettle tea, which means during the month of April tons of nettles get boiled up. Pity to waste a tasty green, therefore I've dusted off some old fashioned recipes and adapted others to use the nettles. Since nettles grow all over the place, next time you see some just pick a generous handful (preferably with a plastic bag or gloves, or else grasp bottom, avoiding leaves).
All of the recipes below are made with pre-boiled nettles. If using fresh ones, clean & cook them like spinach (for those who don't make fresh spinach, this means remove stems & dunk in boiling water for 2 min). Actually, nettles may be substituted for spinach in many recipes! In Italy pasta fillings calling for spinach are made also with nettles (ex: cannelloni, tortellini, ravioli....)
Nearly all the recipes call for them to be sauted in garlic & olive oil or butter. Or just add them to soup!

Nettle cream sauce
Great on pasta! Sauté nettles with garlic & a few chili peppers. Add heavy cream. Serve on pasta of any kind (very nice on ham tortellini) with parmesan cheese.

Frittata di ortiche (Nettle omelet)
Sauté with onions or garlic. Whisk 5 eggs with some milk & parmesan cheese. Pour over nettles, wait until mixture firms a bit then turn down heat and cover. Cook until center is firm & edges golden. Place a plate over pan, flip omlet onto plate, then slide back into pan to cook other side. Serve hot or cold.

Risotto di ortiche (Nettle risotto)
Boil down nettles, remove from water, set aside to cool. Either melt a boullion cube in the left over water or add stock.
Sauté onions in oil or butter. Add nettles when onions turn transparent. Stir well.
Add arborio rice, stirring until transparent.
Add a glass of white wine, lower heat.
As wine evaporates, slowly add stock 6 nettle water mixture, stirring constantly until rice is al dente.
Serve hot with parmesan.

Artichokes-Steamed Italian style

Another recipe from my grandmother. In Italy artichokes are smaller & more tender than here in France, so they can be sauted in garlic & olive oil with little preperation. Choose artichokes whose leaves are closed.

TIP: As you clean the artichokes, place the prepared ones in a bowl of cold water & lemon juice to prevent them from blackening.

CLEANING: Remove stalk & outer leaves. Slice into slivers.

6 artichokes
3 large cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Peel garlic & slice into slivers. Sauté in olive oil in a large heavy saucepan. Add artichoke slices & oregano, turn to flavor.
Cover with water, cover, simmer on low heat until tender. Season to taste, serve hot.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

FARINATA, with a "flip"

As a home cook, I have found that unconventional methods are sometimes needed to get a result to compare favorably with the original product. Take farinata, for instance. This is a large crepe made from chickpea flour, water, oil and salt, baked in a "real" oven, i.e, fired with wood or coal. Eaten just after it's made it's sublime. Allowed to sit for more than a few minutes it turns into a greasy doormat. Basically, this is classic street food that must be consumed within seconds of emerging from the oven. In Liguria, farinata is available during the afternoon hours only—perfect for snacking on your walk out to the beach for that p.m. session of sun and sand. In Nice they call it socca and sell it from round pans sitting atop barrels that are warmed from a coal fire inside.

If I could somehow re-create this food in my kitchen, it would be a crowning Proustian achievement—my madeleine of involuntary memory for family and friends who have walked with us through those little streets of Liguria. Or at least this is what I was shooting for when I began the farinata experiments.

Chickpea flour is the obvious starting point. On the plus side, this is an ingredient that is relatively easy to find in Middle Eastern markets, though I get mine from Italy. Now I'm pretty sure that in Liguria, the chickpea batter is just poured into the pan and baked until it's done, but no matter what I tried, the top crust was just not right. You see, the goal is a crepe that is pliable and rather soft in the middle yet crusty and crunchy on the outside—both top and bottom. In my home oven the bottom would crust up and brown well enough, but without that spectacular blast of radiant heat raining down from the dome of a real oven, the top would just never develop more than a brown bubble or two.

My "unconventional" solution involves two parts. The first is the use of a well-seasoned cast iron pan. Unlike thinner cookware, even a large cast iron pan (my largest, above, is an antique number 12 Griswold, a gift from some very dear friends) won't warp or tweak which results in a farinata of uneven thickness. Cast iron is also magic for browning and crusting anything that needs color or crunch, and farinata is definitely in this category. Focaccia and pizza are, too.

Okay so first some olive oil and then the batter (chickpea flour, water and salt) is poured into a pre-heated cast iron skillet, and then this all goes into a pre-heated 425°F oven. There should be plenty of olive oil floating to the top of the batter and if this isn't happening, add more oil.

The second trick feels almost like heresy, but I figure that if you want crust on both sides, why not flip the thing to give both faces a good period of contact with the cast iron? Well it works. After the bottom of the farinata is somewhat browned, it should be relatively easy to flip the thing, and then it goes back in the oven to let the other side crisp.

The last thing to note is that in making farinata, it's a bad thing to skimp on the olive oil, salt, and water. I nearly always make a mistake on my first batch after having not made it in a while. The water content is where I typically fall short. The farinata below, for instance, may look okay, but it's way too stiff, and though the flavor was right, it was too dry. The batter I had used here was like a rather thin pancake batter (which is way too thick for farinata—I keep forgetting!).

Notice in the image above that only a little oil seeped into the wood even where the knife pressed the farinata while it was being cut—this isn't nearly enough. The problem might seem like "not enough oil" but in reality it's "not enough water." Adding more water keeps the oil on the outside where it helps to crisp and brown the farinata. Time to try again (only with lots more water). This time the batter is really liquid (like the thickness of whole milk) and the result is…

…much better! Pliable, oily, succulent—could even be softer, but this one was really excellent.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


The concept of "favorite pasta" has a way of changing over the years or maybe even month to month as kids grow, seasons change, or we fall out of the habit of this or another kind of pasta or sauce. With us there was for a while a madness was about pesto, and I grew large amounts of basil—the right kind of basil (grande genovese) from seed imported from Liguria. Then there were the "tomato sauce years," when I grew San Marzanos in the yard and bought boxes of farmers market tomatoes to make basic sauces containing only tomatoes and salt. Those were ambitious times.

It's been over a year since the last time I rolled out fresh pasta or made gnocchi from scratch, but now that I'm posting to Frangykitchen, I might have to dust off some of those skills for fresh blog-able content. Right now, I'm thinking about how we (and maybe most other households) have a small set of "go to" dishes made from dried pasta that just work perfectly in different situations and carry all the advantages of noodles and sauce, which is to say, they can be prepared quickly and are delicious.

There's spaghetti, which for us usually means either aglio e olio or carbonara. Penne rigate is the other big favorite for us, and this usually means arrabbiata or pesto. For more "special" dinners we often tap into our stock of exotic ingredients, and here is where we come to the topic of bottarga.

Bottarga is fish roe, or ripe ovaries extracted whole from the body cavity of just-caught fish, salted and air dried and pressed through some mysterious process that is thought to originate either in Liguria or in Sardinia. Traditionally, two types of fish roe are used: tuna for "bottarga di tonno" and mullet for "bottarga di muggine." The nearly exclusive use of these two fish species to make such a toney item (yes, the price you see in the image really is 18.47 euro) has always struck me as completely bizarre. Tuna I understand—kings of the sea, they are the true nobility among fishkind. Mullet, however, are at the opposite end of the spectrum of piscatorial social rank. Italians often refer to muggine (mullet) by other colorful names such as "pescediesel" (diesel fish, because they smell like the bilge-y water in the port of Genoa) and "mangiacacca" (which I'm not going to translate for you). Please note that I'm restraining myself from mentioning the other kind of "mullet."

Anyways, up until around ten years ago, very few people outside certain provinces of Italy knew about bottarga, and in those areas its use was fairly limited to local "high-class" dishes—usually a very thin slice of bottarga on canapés, often paired with other exotic slices from the sea such as mosciame, which is basically a prosciutto made from the meat of tuna or—under the cloak of secrecy since this is totally illegal—dolphin.

I don't see a surge of popularity for eating Flipper anytime soon, but bottarga has definitely hit the big time. World-famous chef David Pasternack of Esca restaurant in New York has been making bottarga from the ovaries of different species of fish, and basically has found what seemed to me to be the intuitive truth—that with the exception of some fish whose eggs are poisonous (like the Great Barracuda), any fish can be used to make excellent bottarga, and this is the intuitive truth because we all know that fish eggs are just generally very tasty!

These days it's possible to find bottarga made in Italy from a variety of fish (I got a nice bonito bottarga last year), but what you'll find more than anything else is still mostly tuna and mullet. Of the two, tuna bottarga has a bold flavor and drier consistency, while mullet bottarga is mild and rather oily. My preference has always been tuna. You also have a choice between pre-grated in a jar and solid blocks of bottarga vacuum sealed and kept under refrigeration. The stuff in a jar is just not very good, in my opinion. The solid blocks can be kept in the fridge and grated with a microplane grater or slightly frozen and sliced with a mandoline (or truffle slicer), and the rest can go in a ziploc and then back into the fridge. Stuff with that much salt keeps for months.

So we're in the mood for something we won't find just anywhere, but we're also not in the mood to do anything elaborate. One very viable solution: pasta con la bottarga. Here's what I do.

Water for a pound of pasta is put on to boil. In a large sauté pan, I gently cook some finely minced garlic in a small amount of olive oil. Before the garlic is fully cooked in goes a glass of white wine—something like a sauvignon blanc will do—and this is allowed to reduce a bit. Around the time the penne go into the boiling water, I can add a nice dose of heavy cream to the wine and garlic, and let this reduce some more while the penne cook.

In the meantime, I grate out a nice pile of bottarga with a microplane grater, and I chop finely a medium handful of either chives or dill. If I've timed things right the pasta approaches perfect done-ness at the same time that the cream/wine has reduced by the right amount. This is the point where I call the spouse to the table.

Final step. The penne are strained and given a nice shake. The herbs go into the cream and given a stir with a dash of sea salt. Yes, even with the bottarga, additional salt is needed. Pasta added and mixed with the sauce and then put into a big "spaghettata"—a large shallow serving bowl for pasta. At last the fine flakes of bottarga are sprinkled over the pasta. Adri is arriving at the table right about now. And yes, this is enough for four as a primo piatto, but we polish it all off no prob just the two of us. We know to have some bread handy to wipe up the bottarga and herb-y cream after the pasta is gone.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

PÃO DE QUEIJO = Brazilian cheese bready-balls

If someone else were to put up a recipe for this dish—which is my screen name—, well, that would be embarrassing. Adri, the boyz and I discovered these little cheese balls in Brazil, where they are sort of a national food, and they fascinated us—really quite different in texture from anything I'd had before. Back home I started experimenting with method, and I ran variations of several different recipes before I settled on this. Again, my MO is not a traditional recipe. A new food is not the product of a sequence of steps but rather the outcome of some new combination of familiar and novel ingredients and (hopefully practiced) techniques. This is a great example.

The basic idea here is a pâte à choux, a.k.a. cream puff dough, except for the use of a mixture of manioc starches in place of wheat flour. Karen is a big proponent of the choux pastry, so I know she'll approve of this recipe. If you're not familiar with the technique, it's one of the most forgiving doughs on the planet, mostly because you actually want your starches to unwind with heat and become fully incorporated with the fats and other liquids. Almost impossible to screw up, you can reliably churn out impressive profiteroles without having to stress out about the dough. It's versatile, too--basically the same dough mixed with pureed raw pike is poached to make quenelles—a delicate French fish dumpling so light (when they're done right) you'd think they came from some gravity-free zone in outer space.

What makes the pão de queijo dough different is the kind of starch used. If you can't find these ingredients, forget this dish altogether (but go ahead and make profiteroles!) Use regular wheat flour for pão de queijo and the result is awful—sort of a cheese-tainted profiterole. Yuck. Here are the two critical pieces to the puzzle.

Polvilho azedo (almidón agrio in Spanish) is "soured" manioc starch. Basically the starch that is extracted from the sometimes deadly cyanogenic manioc (mandioca) root is allowed to go sour before it is dried and made into starch. This stuff has visible crystals of organic acids and smells faintly barfy. The sourness of this starch accounts for more than half of the "cheesiness" in the pão de queijo. Polvilho doce (almidón dulce) is regular manioc starch and is equivalent to tapioca starch. It's not really sweet—-the "doce" just distinguishes it from "azedo" or sour. This unsoured starch is needed to soften the acidity brought in by the polvilho azedo. I use about a 40/60 mixture of sour to regular.

Both of these starches are available through Internet sites (I rely heavily on, but there may be a store selling Brazilian products store locally to where you live, and they would almost certainly have polvilho azedo and polvilho doce. Regular tapioca starch is also easily found at most Asian markets.

It's out of character for me, I know, but this time I can give approximate proportions of the dry and wet ingredients. [There are some things for which measurement saves a lot of time.] Into a saucepan goes 1 1/2 cup of "liquid," which should include about 1/3 cup of butter and the rest milk. This comes up to almost a boil and then a spot of salt and two cups of the 40/60 starch mixture goes into the pan. Yeah, the starch is a very fine powder, and you'll have a cloud of starch from this step that will settle out onto your fancy cooktop and you'll be cursing me but don't say I didn't warn you. Turning the heat down and mixing it all up vigorously the dough will soon start pulling cleanly away from the sides (if you added enough butter). Now off the fire and maybe in a mixing bowl, eggs can be added, one at a time, letting the dough get nice and smooth after each of three eggs. This part is a bigger pain in the ass than what it sounds like, unless you have one of those countertop mixers (which I don't).

Almost done now. Just have to add the cheese—finely grated pecorino romano is what I use, though traditionally you'd need a hard cheese from central Brazil. IMO, it's just got to have a sharp, cheesy flavor to complement the sour starch, and not having the Brazilian cheese (nothing special to begin with) doesn't really alter the flavor or authenticity. I throw in a nice big handful and finish the mixing with my bare hands.

At this point the dough can be piped from a pastry bag (or a heavy plastic bag with the corner cut off) or spooned or pinched by hand into domes a little flatter than half-ping-pong balls and spaced evenly on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Then baked at 325-350°F they'll eventually (it will take more than 20 minutes) puff some and then start to brown on the bottom and maybe even have some color on top. They should be firm on the outside and they should not taste raw in the middle. If undercooked they collapse into dense blobs of undercooked dough.

This is a great afternoon snack with a cold tereré (or with hot mate, as shown in pic). If you use the plastic bag trick, you can pipe and cook one batch on day one and store the rest of the dough in the fridge for a repeat performance on day two.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Foie gras

Every December I prepare foie gras for the holidays. One batch is made the traditional way, nature or unspiced, another is flavored with spices or liquor. Flavourings vary from year to year, as there is a lively exchange of recipes & cooking methods among those of us passionate about homemade foie gras. Here in France we debate every stage, beginning on the choice of the foie gras but this isn't the place to go into the details (there's probably a blog dedicated to the subject). Just a few salient points:
-I prefer goose, but the recipes apply also to duck
-No frozen foie gras, buy fresh
-Pre-cleaned products are available, I've tested them, they're ok but deveining is simple
-Although it is essentiel to the taste to get rid of the veins, it is also important that the lobes remain as intact as possible (follow the directions below)
-When making a flavored foie gras, marinate it AFTER cleaning, not before

Cleaning the foie gras:
Choose a thin bladed, very sharp knife.
Take the foie gras to be cleaned out of the fridge, leave the rest, as it's less likely to fall apart while cleaning if it is chilled.
Gently pry apart the main lobes to localize the major vessels. DO NOT SEVER THEM, but follow them to the end with the knife blade.
Continue until all the vessels have been located. Use your fingers as much as the knife: sometimes a little tug is more effective than a slice.
Put aside any pieces that may detach themselves, you can still press them into the dish.

There are two methods, both work well. Traditional oven at bain mairie or microwave. The first requires a terrine, which should be ceramic or pyrex. The latter comes out best in a covered pyrex but you can use Tupperware (without the lid). In either case, the dish should be at least the length of the lobes and deep.

To make it simple for 1st timers, the recipe that follows gives the microwave instructions for cooking.
If doing bain-maire, preheat oven to hot, then turn down to medium when putting in FG. Use the same material dish for the water (i.e. pyrex for the water dish, pyrex for the FG). The bainmaire container should be able to hold enough water to come up to over 1/2 the depth of the FG dish. Fill with warm water, place the FG dish inside, place in oven. Cooking time will be 2-3 hours.

TIP: For best results, make FG 8 days prior to eating. Must remain at least 3 days in fridge.
Can be frozen.
DO NOT throw away the fat! IT's wonderful for sauted potatoes, mushrooms, scrambled eggs.....

1lb of FG (lobes are usually between 500-600g)
2 tsps salt (preferably sel de Geurande or Fleur de sel)
1 tsp pepper (any kind, even peppers mixed with spices)

Season the cleaned FG. Press into dish.
Microwave on high for 3 minutes.
Let cool, then place in fridge.

Follow above directions.
Add several tbps of cognac, port, sauterne.....
Marinate at least 12 hours or overnight in fridge.
Drain liquid before cooking.

Follow above directions.
The classic recipe is 5 épices, but I've added some ground coriandre or a pinch of nutmeg

PIZZA avec les cœurn-dogues

Okay, Frangy foodies. For this very special post on Karen’s blog, I’m going all out—haute cuisine americaine (that’s “hottie American cousin” for those of you who don’t speak frog). This recipe was conceived in 2001 to commemorate the inauguration of the “asterisk” president, with ingredients of quality equal to his substance and a level of difficulty worthy of his intelligence.

One large frozen pizza avec fromage
One box (six pieces) frozen cœurn dogues
Yellow (NOT Dijon) mustard

Preheat oven to 375°F for fifteen minutes.

Place frozen pizza on a pizza pan or cookie sheet.

Arrange cœurn dogues on pizza in the pattern of an asterisk. If your cœurn dogues come individually wrapped, be sure to remove the wrappers—this is very important!

Bake for 16-20 minutes or until the cœurn dogues are heated through and the cheese is nice and bubbly and starting to brown. Remove from oven, slice into wedges (each with a cœurn dogue) and serve with a squirt bottle of yellow mustard. Yes, that's right, the one you have in your fridge “just in case.”

If desired, you may opt to remove the sticks from the cœurn dogues before baking. I think that this is a good idea, as your guests from MENSA will be less likely to attempt holding the cœurn dogue by its stick with the wedge of pizza still attached. This is a very unstable arrangement.

If you are wondering about the discrepancy between the number of cœurn dogues in the pic vs. that in the recipe, we in our test kitchens made the mistake of allowing the president-honoree himself to count out the arms of the asterisk!