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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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Julia & Julia - two guest recipes, twice the magic! Inside Out Rocky Road AND Parkin

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Simple ingredients ...

What are the chances of meeting two fabulous foodies both named Julia within a couple of weeks of each other, with almost 7 decades between them?

The first Julia – junior photographer at my cousin’s baby shower - swapped me a slice of her fantastic Inside Out Rocky Road for one of my cupcakes. At four, she shows all the signs of having a discerning palate, dismissing two other varieties of cupcakes and proceeding to scoff, in total, 4 of mine (3½ really, as one fell on the floor and failed the 3 second rule).

Julia, with sous chef Amy (photo by Janet Gillanders)

This gorgeous little pixie managed to put away her own weight in cake before alerting mum, award-winning photographer Janet Gillanders, of the need to sleep off an imminent sugar coma. In turn, I paid the miniature cook the compliment of putting away a reciprocal 4 slices of her Inside Out Rocky Road. I too had to retire to snooze away a similar sugar overload.

The second Julia has more sense than to max out on cupcakes or Inside Out Rocky Road. Julia Yates lives in Dordogne and is famous for her Parkin. At some point when I was around Julia junior’s age, someone fed me something they called Parkin and – to me – it tasted like I imagine soap tastes.

After a bracing walk in the French countryside, we popped in to make good an invitation to visit Julia Yates. The Parkin was cut into dark cubes and piled generously onto a crystal platter. I sat furthest from the pile calculating that I could get away with nibbling on just one small piece. I hadn’t reckoned on Julia’s magic. It tasted nothing like soap and I am embarrassed to say I was clocked scoffing my 4th piece. It was rich, it was dark, it was definitely WTC!*
Both lovely Julias have kindly agreed to share their recipes.
Julia Gillanders’ Inside Out Rocky Road

Optional extras...

For 12 servings you will need…
75g butter
200g marshmallows
220g Rice Krispies or similar crisp rice cereal

Optional extras
75g white chocolate, roughly chopped
15g sugar strands
a handful of dolly mixtures

1          Line a 23cm round cake tin with cling film. This makes it easy to remove the finished treat.
2          Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Then add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the Rice Krispies. Now stir in any or all of the optional extras.

Julia's Inside Out Rocky Road
3          Transfer the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the surface. Leave until cool, then cut into wedges. This keep for up to two days in an airtight container.

You could throw the diet out the window and top with some melted white chocolate. Julia doesn’t bother with the chocolate topping, preferring to draw a smiley face with squeezy jam.

Julia Yates’ Parkin
For 24 servings you will need…
350g plain flour
350g medium oatmeal or rolled oats
275g soft dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
15g baking powder
10g bicarbonate of soda
5g table salt

150g golden syrup
150g dark treacle (or molasses)
275g butter

2 large eggs

Optional extras
I added a lump of stem ginger, finely chopped, with about a tablespoon of its syrup to add to the gingeriness.

1          Lightly butter and base line a 30cm X 23cm baking tin and pre-heat the oven to 150°C.
2          Mix together the first 7 (dry) ingredients in a large bowl.


3          In a medium saucepan, over a low heat melt together the golden syrup, treacle and butter.
4          Add the 2 eggs to the dry ingredients and mix well. Then add in the contents of the saucepan and mix until combined. Transfer to the prepared baking tin and level the surface. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes. The cake is ready when a cocktail stick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Don't worry if it doesn't rise very much. It is meant to be sticky and brownie-like in texture.
5          Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares and store in an airtight container. Now the difficult bit -  ignore for 3 days if possible. During this time a wonderful alchemy takes place and the flavours become richer and deeper, though I understand perfectly if you can’t resist!

Julia's Parkin -  *worth the calories!

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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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