Thursday, January 27, 2011

Galette de sarrasin – have it your way!

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Many years ago, a family friend moved from County Cavan to be with Monsieur Le Chef, her new French husband. While she appreciated all the flavours and foods of her new life in France, she was occasionally seized by bouts of homesickness. In these moments she would yearn for a product not yet available in her adopted country. Taking a perfectly good homemade mayonnaise, she would mess with it, adding sugar, salt, and vinegar in an effort to recreate a commercially-produced “Heinz Salad Cream” taste of home.
I did it my way!  
There are many processed products that are neither better nor worse than homemade, just different - Heinz salad cream... Tayto crisps... Hellmann’s mayo... tinned tomatoes... dried pasta... The French are genius at pre-prepared foods. You could spend your whole life in France, eating an array of wonderful gourmet foods without doing much more than reheating by way of ‘cooking’.
One such product that I cannot yet source here in Ireland is the famous Galette Sarrisan – the wonderful buckwheat pancake from Brittany. To conjure up this distinctive taste of "abroad" I will have to make my own. Like many traditional recipes, (this one evolving over about 8 centuries) there are many variations. Do you make it with butter, or without; with milk, with water, with both? The late Keith Floyd used cider in his version (Quelle surprise!) - and the traditional accompaniment is a boule – or mug - of cider. Allow 2 – 3 galettes per person.
I find it easier to cook the galettes in advance and then fix the fillings. Well wrapped, galettes keep for up to three days in the fridge and up to three months in the freezer. The recipe below is for the pancakes only. The fillings are up to you, though I’ve given a few suggestions.
For 10-12 galettes you will need...
200g buckwheat flour
50g plain flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 large eggs
50g melted butter
250mls fresh milk
250mls cold water
2 tablespoons sunflower or groundnut oil for frying

1          Mix the buckwheat, plain flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs and mix into the flour with a whisk. Then, whisk in the melted butter. Next, slowly add the milk and water, whisking all the time until you have a smooth liquid batter. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Needs a bit more whisking ...  

2          When you are ready to cook the pancakes, heat a large crêpe pan (or frying pan) over a medium heat. Carefully rub the hot pan with a wad of kitchen paper dipped in the oil. Keep the wad of oily paper – you’ll need it again.
3          Stir the batter well as some of the flour will have settled to the bottom of the bowl. Take a ladleful of the mixture and pour it into the pan, using the back of the ladle to spread the mixture in a thin layer. The first pancake is a test run – be prepared to throw it away if necessary. You may have to adjust the temperature up or down based on how this first one turns out. Turn the pancake when the surface of the batter is no longer liquid. Give the second side about 20-30 seconds then transfer it to a plate. Wipe the pan with the oily paper and repeat the process until you have used all the batter and you have a stack of galettes.


Galette de sarrasin - The B side...  
When ready to fill the galettes, brush the crêpe pan or frying pan with melted butter (not oil) and reheat one pancake at a time over a gentle heat, with the paler side down.
Some of my favourite combinations are:
·        Lardons, and fried egg sunny side up, over wilted spinach
·        Smoked salmon and crème fraiche
·        Mushrooms, garlic, parsley, ham, cheese and tomato
·        Goats cheese and jambon cru or prosciutto
·        Fried potato, garlic butter, ham and egg
If you go to a Crêperie, the fillings will generally be piled into the centre of the galette and cooked on top of the pancake as it reheats. Just before serving, the edges of the pancake are folded over the filling.
I like to cook any raw ingredients in a separate pan and add to the pancake when cooked. It’s not authentic – it’s just the way I like it.

Fried egg and lardons with wilted spinach - I can vouch for this one! 
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Aubergine Involtini – from aloof to alive and about to burst into song!

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I have mixed feelings about aubergine (eggplant). All flawless purple skin and gloss and youthful glow, it is the supermodel of the vegetable patch. I arrange it in the vegetable basket, surrounded by other shining beauties – ripe red tomatoes, peppers, and perhaps a lemon or two just because they are opposites on the colour wheel and provide a pleasing colour contrast.

Aubergines - about to burst into song! 

One by one the contents of that basket are plucked and used: the tomato sliced and sprinkled with salt, eaten just as it is; the pepper might be cut into strips as a crisp sweet snack; the lemons will probably end up juiced into hot water as an alternative to tea.
Too late I’ll remember the aubergine because it does not grab attention in the same way as its companions. It is downright boring on its own and needs the right sort company to bring it to life. Too often I forget to introduce it to complementary flavours and end up having to consign its shrivelled remains to the compost heap.
Introduce aubergine to a lemon and watch the sparks fly...
Niki Segnit of The Flavour Thesaurus has similar feelings about this vegetable describing it as “unpredictable, often bitter, and needing a lot of attention (or an unhealthy amount of lubrication) to cajole it into a companionable mood.” - you know the type!
If you were to seat Aubergine at a dinner party, you’d make sure it was next to Garlic, Parsley, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil. Such great company transforms it from aloof to alive. Next thing you know, it’ll be singing!

As a starter (or light lunch) for 2 you will need...
1 aubergine
100g cottage cheese*
100g feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch of whole chives

1          Remove both ends of the aubergine and slice lengthways into ½ cm slices – a mandolin is best for this job but mind your fingers (I speak from very recent experience - ouch!). Arrange the slices in one layer in a shallow dish or tray and sprinkle with salt. Leave for 20 minutes before draining off the resulting liquid and patting the slices dry. (This removes any bitterness and prevents the aubergine from sucking up too much oil during cooking).
2          Heat a ridged grill pan (skillet) over a medium heat. Brush the slices with olive oil and cook in a single layer, for approximately 2 minutes each side. You’ll probably have to do this in a couple of batches. Carefully remove the cooked slices from the grill pan and leave to cool completely.

Aubergine gets a grilling

3          Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, mash the cottage cheese together with the feta cheese, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper. No need to use salt as the feta will be salty and there are plenty of strong flavours in the mix.

Seat aubergine next to garlic, parsley, and lemon juice to transform it from aloof to alive!

4          Select the best 6 slices of aubergine (any reject slices can be used on crostini) and lay them out on a flat surface. Place 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture at the fatter end of each slice, about 2cm from the short edge. Lay a few whole chives across this and starting at the fat end, roll the aubergine slice so that it encloses the filling, with a plume of chives emerging from one end. Leave the finished roll on its side and repeat the process with the remaining 5 slices. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
5         To serve, arrange upright (see photo) - 3 per portion. Diced cherry tomatoes make a colourful addition and if serving for lunch, a green salad completes the picture.
*I’ve used cottage cheese to bind the mixture because, post Christmas, the bathroom scales has taken to saying “Gerroff will ya!”.  Ricotta or Philadelphia would be suitable full fat alternatives for this dish.
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