Sunday, May 25, 2008

98, 99... and a new address for my blog

I didn't really plan it this way, but just in time for my 100th post I'm relaunching my blog with a new look and a new address.
I've always been proud of the way my Edible Paris and Les Petits Farcis web sites look, and am thrilled that my new blog now has the same friendly, colorful feel. I owe all the credit to the fabulous Josh, creator of the Big Medium software which I now use for all three websites. He doesn't normally design websites, but his software can be used to make any website easy to update. Many thanks also to my artist friend Sonya, whose banner looks beautiful at the top of the page.
It would have been too time-consuming to transfer my first 99 posts onto the new site - and time is particularly short these days - so my original blog will serve as the archives for my first year of blogging.
I look forward to seeing you on my new blog, and would be grateful if anyone who currently links to my blog could change the address to Merci!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ravioli with avocado sauce vierge

When I first came across this dish at the Château de la Chèvre d'Or, I thought it was sheer madness. Then I tasted it and decided otherwise.
A few weeks later, I can no longer buy sheets of Niçois ravioli stuffed with beef and Swiss chard or spinach without also picking up a ripe avocado and a punnet of cherry tomatoes. It helps that the first time I served this combination at home, Sam - who had never previously gone wild for avocadoes - declared it the best thing he had ever eaten as he lapped up the last drops of sauce.
Of course, I appreciate how lucky I am to have the fresh pasta shop Barale at the end of my street. Founded in 1892 and still run by the Barale family, it's the place I turn to whenever I feel like eating something delicious without going to any effort (which turns out to be quite often). I buy the pâtes vertes (thick-cut spinach tagliatelle) for pâtes au pistou, panisses (a kind of chickpea polenta) to cut into strips and fry as an apéritif or side dish, and ravioli à la ricotta to serve with a simple tomato sauce.
Until recently, it had never occurred to me to serve ravioli niçois, otherwise known as ravioli à la daube, with anything other than daube sauce, or perhaps tomato sauce (with or without meat). These ravioli were originally designed to use up leftover beef stew, known as daube in these parts, and the extra sauce from the stew would be spooned over the ravioli. Pasta shops in Nice almost inevitably sell this rich, winey stew, more for serving with pasta than eating on its own.
Avocado, lemon and tomato make a brighter, more summery accompaniment, one that works surprisingly well with these earthy-tasting ravioli. A generous quantity of freshly grated parmesan brings it all together, balancing the acidity of the lemon. If you don't have access to Niçois ravioli - I'll post the recipe one of these days - it would be worth experimenting with other types of meat or ricotta ravioli or even plain pasta.

* I'm thrilled to report that Les Petits Farcis was featured alongside other small and informal cooking schools in this month's issue of Gourmet magazine. If you happen to have a copy, turn to page 88 for the article and page 199 for my recipe for Lemon curd tart with olive oil.

Niçois ravioli with avocado sauce vierge
Serves 3

8 dozen Niçois ravioli, or about 450 g (1 lb) other ravioli
1 small avocado or 1/2 large avocado
150 g cherry tomatoes (6 oz)
Juice and zest of one organic lemon
Good-quality olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Plenty of fresh parmesan cheese
A few fresh basil leaves

Heat a large pot of water for the ravioli. Cut the avocado and tomato into small dice and toss together with the lemon zest. Squeeze the lemon, measure the juice and add it along with the same amount of olive oil to the avocado and tomato. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the ravioli just until tender and drain carefully (they are fragile). Top with the avocado-tomato mixture and its juice, a generous amount of freshly grated parmesan and the torn basil leaves.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Strawberry tiramisù

This might surprise some of you, but shopping and cooking are not the only things that eat up all my time. I also read - and not just cookbooks. When lovely, poetic Lucy invited readers to turn to page 123 of our current reading, count five sentences and post the following three, I came up with this:
"Look at the sky," she said quickly. The sky had grown darker. "I think it will thunder again."
It seems fitting that the haunting novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters explores the theme of greed, as today's recipe is for greedy people only (which means anyone who might be reading this blog, I hope). I first spotted this summery variation on classic tiramisù at the bakery Bread & Roses in Paris, and had been wanting to recreate their recipe for months.
A little research led me to a recipe by Alsatian Christophe Felder, former pastry chef at the Hôtel Crillon in Paris and a prolific author of pastry books. Felder uses ladyfingers, but I followed the advice of the pastry chef at Bread & Roses and replaced these with pavesini biscuits. He showed me the little packets of thin, airy biscuits and said, "This is the true tiramisù biscuit." Authentic or not - there seems to be some debate on the subject - the pavesini turned out to be just the right size for my tapas glasses, also known as verrines.
Another change I made was to add a splash of Baume de Framboise, a raspberry liqueur from Burgundy which I keep on hand for making kirs with white wine. I might have used more, but I knew that Sam would be testing this dessert. Finally, I replaced Felder's red-tinted sugar with crumbled amaretto biscuits, which added a touch of almond that complements the fruit.
By the way, if you think it sounds a bit technical to pipe the mascarpone cream with a pastry bag, consider that Sam was bouncing around at my side throughout the making of this dessert, and yet it still turned out fairly presentable. A spoon would do fine, too.
I don't think I need to tell you that you'll want soft, sweet strawberries for this - nothing that would bounce if you dropped it on the floor. Lately I've been flirting with bankruptcy by indulging in daily baskets of ciflorettes and gariguettes, early strawberry varieties for the impatient (and greedy).

Strawberry tiramisù
Serves 6-7

1 lb 2 oz strawberries (500 g)
1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar)
2 tbsp cold water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp strawberry or raspberry liqueur or syrup (optional)
3 eggs
4 oz sugar (100 g)
14 oz mascarpone (375 g)
7 ladyfinger biscuits or 14 pavesini biscuits (small Italian biscuits)
A few amaretto biscuits, for the garnish

Take 200 g (7 1/2 oz) of the strawberries, choosing the least pretty ones. Place these in a blender or food processor with the confectioner’s sugar, cold water, lemon juice and raspberry liqueur or syrup, if using. Blend until smooth and strain into a shallow bowl. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites. In a mixer, beat the egg yolks and half the sugar (50 g/2 oz) until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the mascarpone and whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, starting off on low speed and gradually increasing the speed. As they increase in volume, slowly pour in the remaining sugar (50 g/2 oz). Beat until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, starting off with 1/3 of the whites to lighten the mixture.

Soak the biscuits in the strawberry juice as you assemble the ingredients for the tiramisu. Cut the tops off the strawberries, then cut them in half lengthwise and place them upside-down around the bottom of the glasses. Using a pastry bag or a small spoon, place a dollop of mascarpone cream in the bottom of the glass. Top with a soaked biscuit (or 1/2 a ladyfinger). Cover with more cream, then place a biscuit on top of this and cover with a spoonful of the strawberry purée. Cover with cream to the top of the glass, then smooth off the surface with a palette knife.

Repeat this procedure for each of the individual desserts and chill for at least 2 hours. Just before serving, sprinkle the top with crumbled amaretto biscuits.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fava bean gnocchi

There hasn't been much time for experiments in my kitchen lately. That doesn't mean that I haven't been cooking, just that for the past couple of weeks most meals have consisted of leftovers from my cooking classes or the handful of dishes that I can make again and again without anyone in the house tiring of them.
This week, leftover monkfish from bourride - fish stew with aïoli - and its accompanying new potatoes came back as Thai yellow curry thanks to a tub of spice paste at the back of the refrigerator and a can of coconut milk. For lunch every day I ate a big plate of mesclun with buttery local avocados and the juiciest lemons from the organic shop across the street. With Georges' goat's cheese grilled on pain tonique - sourdough bread with sultanas, pistachios and hazelnuts - from the Moulin du Païou bakery, the meal was complete. Last night I fell back on spicy herbed meatballs served with instant couscous, cinnamon and raisins, my favorite use for the steak haché that is ground in front of me at my local butcher's. It's even better if you replace the couscous with cooked bulgur and whip up some hummus to serve with it.
Today being a holiday in France, I was in the mood to try something new and went looking for inspiration on the astounding blog B comme Bon (never mind if you can't read French, just admire the pictures). Her idea of making gnocchi with leftover fava bean purée appealed to me, even if I can't imagine ever shelling enough fava beans to have leftover purée. The instructions were charmingly vague, which made me a bit nervous as I've had some disasters in the past with non-potato gnocchi. Still, the knowledge that gnocchi and fèves are Sam's two favorite foods in the world - after chocolate, of course - gave me the incentive to try my luck.
For this recipe I looked for fully grown fèves rather than the smaller févettes, which are delicious raw but too tiny to consider using for purée. I came back with what looked like a big bag of the long, knobbly pods, but experience has taught me that no matter how many fava beans you shell, there are never enough. I ended up with about 2 cups of beans, which thanks to Sam's expert help became 1 cup of peeled beans and (sigh) about 1/2 cup of emerald green purée.

To this I added a beaten egg and a pinch of salt, as instructed by B comme Bon, then just enough flour to form the dough into long sausages. I kept in on the very soft side, for fear of producing tough little dumplings. At this stage, Sam got involved again in rolling and shaping the gnocchi. I resisted the urge to demand that they all be the same size and shape, concentrating instead on sautéeing thin strips of smoked duck breast to use as a garnish. I also mixed some chopped chives with crème fraîche, which I dolloped on top of the cooked gnocchi.
The verdict? "Génial," said Sam, who didn't mind that they were firm compared to the fluffy potato gnocchi we usually buy. I enjoyed them too, but wasn't sure that they made of the most of market-fresh broad beans. So please don't feel in the least bit guilty if you are tempted to use the frozen kind - I won't tell.

Fava bean gnocchi
Serves 2 as a main course, 3 as a starter

2 cups shelled fava beans (broad beans), unpeeled (I started with 1.2 kg of beans in their shells)
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp water
1 egg
A pinch of salt
About 1 1/4 cups flour (I used Italian 00 flour but all-purpose will do)
Good-quality olive oil

Crème fraîche or fromage blanc mixed with chives
Smoked duck breast or bacon, cut into matchsticks and fried until golden

Blanch the shelled broad beans in boiling water for 1 min, then drain and rinse with cold water. Pop each broad bean out of its skin, making a small slit in the opposite side from the pointy tip. You should have about 1 cup of peeled beans.

In a small pan, cook the beans with the olive oil and water until very soft, then purée in a food processor or put through a food mill. (I cooked them in the Thermomix for 5 mins at 100 C and puréed them on Turbo for 30 secs).

Transfer the beans to a bowl and add the egg, salt and 1 cup of flour. Mix well to form a dough using a rounded pastry scraper or wooden spoon, then add a little more flour bit by bit until the dough is sticky but workable.

Divide it into three and roll it as best you can on a heavily floured board into long sausages. Cut into short lengths and place on a floured plate. (My gnocchi could have been smaller, as they swelled up in the water.)

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of boiling water. Add 1 tbsp of coarse salt, gently add the gnocchi and cook for about 2 mins, until the gnocchi have been floating at the surface for about 30 secs.

Drain, toss with a little olive oil and top with the garnishes.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Three nights in Rosà... and four hours in Venice

We had been driving for eight hours in pounding rain and fog only slightly less puddinglike than riz au lait. Finally, after many wrong turns and some predictable griping about Italian road signs, we arrived in the little-known town of Rosà (nice, name, don't you think?). Our great friends from Canada were staying in Cittadella, just a few kilometers away, but suddenly the distance seemed insurmountable. "We'll just eat at the agriturismo tonight," we told our friends.
I should have known that there is no such thing as "just eating" at an agriturismo, a farmhouse that doubles as a restaurant and often as a bed and breakfast. La Dolfinella's owners cheerfully told us to come to the dining room no later than 8.30pm - what they didn't say is that we would be polishing off the crumbs of our ricotta torte three hours later. Before that torte (which would make a second appearance at breakfast) came a meal that could be described with many adjectives, none of them a synonym of "balanced."
There was polenta topped with chunks of meat, grilled white asparagus and a lot of melted butter. There was crespelle, a kind of crepe, with a mascarpone, ricotta and herb filling. There was the creamiest risotto made with more white asparagus, which was at its peak when we visited. I was starting to think that I might have eaten enough when the main course came: thin slices of roast pork from the farm with sautéed potatoes and salad. Oh, and with each course there were earnest offers of seconds.
When I complimented the signora the next day on the quality of her husband's cooking, she shrugged matter-of-factly. "It's Italian cuisine," she said.
I hardly need to explain why I had soon forgotten our ordeals on the road. As for Rosà, it's one of the few places in Italy that I would not describe as pretty. The Veneto has a lot going for it - the Dolomites, half of Lake Garda, cities like Verona and Venice - but the downside of its wealth is the thousands of trucks and hundreds of warehouse-style outlets that we passed on the way to our destination. That said, the medieval towns of Cittadella and Castelfranco are beautiful, friendly and a lot easier on the nerves than nearby Venice.
Once in the area it seemed silly not to see Venice, and the rain politely stopped for the duration of our whirlwind visit. I can't pretend to have formed any original thoughts about the city in four hours, but I did see enough to convince me that there is much to discover beyond its sometimes gaudy surface. I even spotted a restaurant where I would have liked to eat, though we contented ourselves with inoffensive panini this time (not a tragedy considering what we had consumed the night before, and what we would eat the next day).

We strolled through the Rialto market at closing time, and I marvelled at the sight of trimmed raw artichoke hearts floating in lemon water. What a brilliant idea! Why has nobody thought of this in France?

In Castelfranco we hooked up with our old friend Fabio, who specializes in sniffing out extraordinary restaurants in unlikely locations. He took us to the out-of-the-way organic osteria Pironetomosca (Via Priuli, 17/C, Castelfranco), with quite a stylish decor compared to the farm kitsch at La Dolfinella. This didn't prevent the kitchen from turning out country-style food such as my white asparagus flan with creamy leek sauce, thick spaghetti (I've forgotten the exact name) laced with chunks of duck, and enormous slab of beef roasted all night long at a low temperature. This might sound like rather a lot, but I'm not joking when I say that it seemed relatively light compared to what we had eaten two nights before. We even headed straight for the gelateria in Castelfranco after this meal.
Probably my greatest discovery of this brief trip was the white asparagus from Bassano, just up the road from Rosà. Though we didn't make it to Bassano, along the strip-mall-like road between Cittadella and Rosà were stands selling its DOP asparagus, tied into fat bundles. In France I had already learned to appreciate the delicately bitter taste of white asparagus; these sweet ivory stalks that barely needed peeling were something else altogether. They were delicious boiled standing up or steamed with a lemon and hazelnut vinaigrette, but braising turned out to be the best method of all - thanks, Susan, for sending out this recipe at just the right moment.

* I know I've been promising to tell you about Liguria, but my Easter weekend in Finale Ligure has lost its immediacy. This is a place I plan to go back to again and again, so with luck you won't have to wait long to hear about the best places to eat spaghetti allo scoglio, pasta with pesto, and focaccia dressed with nothing more than olive oil and coarse salt.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Château de la Chèvre d'Or

Spring has been in a playful mood this year, getting our hopes up only to dash them like the wave that swept through our beach picnic yesterday, soaking us from head to toe. Yet the season started promisingly with a brilliant if chilly day in Eze Village, a little town 20 minutes from Nice that clings to the top of a craggy rock overlooking the sea.
Philippe and I came here on the first day of spring (ages ago, I know) to have lunch at the Château de la Chèvre d'Or, named after an animal that frequently pops up in Provençal lore. Various tales explain how this old stone house came to be called La Chèvre d'Or, but what is certain is that the golden goat has prospered since Robert Wolf opened the restaurant in 1953. Now part of the Relais & Château chain, the Chèvre d'Or has transformed half the town into luxury accommodation, attracting wealthy Parisians in need of sun and tourists from all over the world. The hotel employs more than 100 staff to take care of its four restaurants and 34 rooms, which are scattered throughout the village.

I had heard nothing but good things about the food at La Chèvre d'Or before coming here, but with the restaurant freshly re-opened after its winter break who knew whether an unexpected wave might come crashing through this meal? Chef Philippe Labbé put any fears to rest with cooking that walked a fine line between traditional and daring, never slipping too far one way or the other. I also couldn't help but notice that he shares my love of citrus, which endeared him to me throughout the meal. Oh, and that champagne did put us in a good mood from the very beginning, as did a series of well-chosen glasses of wine from the sommelier.

Crisp parmesan cones perched in shot glasses set the tone, alongside a paper-thin parmesan tuile sprinkled with paprika.

Beautiful as they looked on their silver spoons, these salmon sushi couldn't help but seem out of place here - a small blip in the Provençal spirit of this meal.

I would normally be alarmed at the idea of Niçois ravioli (filled with beef and chard) with an avocado sauce vierge, but the chef pulled it off here with a good shot of acidity from lemon zest and juice. Surprising and delicious.

The meal's first course after the amuses-bouches involved different takes on sea urchin and caviar, as in this iced cocktail of fennel and spider crab jelly topped with sea urchin "tongues".

Most intriguing of the three small dishes was a translucent sea water "raviole" with an intense sea urchin filling. I had visions - most likely inaccurate - of the chef hiking down the steep trail known as the Nietzsche path from the top of the village to the sea to collect water in a bucket.

I loved everything about la barbue sauvage, wild brill with spiky artichokes and a separate small dish of gamberoni with artichoke. Labbé deserves credit for showcasing an often underrated fish, rather than choosing the more obvious turbot or sole.

You might have heard of Bresse chicken, but did you know that the Bresse region also produces rabbits worthy of star chefs? The doll-sized rack of ribs alongside the stuffed saddle and confit shoulder was not for those who squirm at the thought of eating bunnies.

A thin slice of mango filled with iced vanilla cream was fabulous and we could have happily stopped here, but along came trio of desserts...

This photo aims to disguise the fact that I had taken a few bites before I remembered my duty. Alongside it was a praline cream with a crumbly apricot topping and a chilled coupe of coffee, lemon, chocolate and nougatine - all as rich and over-the-top as it sounds.

As you might expect the Château de la Chèvre d'Or is not a cheap place, but with set menus at €65 or €95 at lunch (€180 at dinner) and spectacular plunging views of the sea, it's definitely worth a splurge. In summer the best seats are on the terrace, which gets a cool breeze even on the hottest days.

* Carol Van Rooy is the winner of my book giveaway - thanks to all you borage lovers out there! I've sent you an e-mail, Carol, and will put the books in the post as soon as I hear from you.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Book giveaway

My blog's first birthday is coming up and I'm feeling generous. Or maybe I'm just stalling for time, as I'm off to Italy today and won't be able to post for about a week. Whatever the reason, there are two fabulous paperback books up for grabs: Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food and Lindsay Bareham's A Celebration of Soup.
Though I wouldn't dream of being without either of these books, I happen to find myself with extra copies and want to be sure they fall into the right hands. All you have to do is send a comment correctly identifying the edible (now there's a clue) flower shown in this picture, and you will have a chance to win both of these books. I'll send them anywhere in the world, so whether you're in Hong Kong or Honolulu, you can play. Friends are eligible too, since I will draw a name randomly from the correct answers.
I'll be back to tell you all about the Veneto (and Liguria, and my early spring meal at the Château de la Chèvre d'Or). Ciao!