(Photo Z Worthington)
Theoretically Spring is around the corner, but Winter is still with us, at least until next week’s Equinox, with more snow and freezing temperatures on the way this weekend, now called the “Helsinki-Paris”… So before I say goodbye to the cold, here are two recipes I discovered this year and want to celebrate because they really brightened our spirits and table.
Why do I think about cooking and restaurants so much? Because I really believe that preparing and serving good food consciously is a form of social and ecological activism that fosters genetic diversity and sustainable, human-scale farming! It’s also a way to honor cultural traditions and life in general. When I attended “Les secrets du chef” (Chef’s Secrets) evenings at the Cordon Bleu school, I learned that every dish is a hologram of history, geography, evolution, language, and sensuality. We know how the taste for spices resulted in trade routes across the globe, but did you know that following schools of cod led the Vikings to the New World? The ways this fish was caught and preserved, with smoke, salt, and air drying, provided livelihoods, terms, and tools for many people over centuries…No wonder the Cordon Bleu chefs speak so passionately about their ingredients…
So, recipe number one: Pumpkin and Cheese Fondue, but not just any old pumpkin, please. It has to be potimarron, much sweeter than other varieties. The English call it Red Kuri Squash, other names incude: “Japanese squash”, “orange Hokkaido squash”, and “baby red hubbard squash.” Personally I had never seen or tasted it before coming to France. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_kuri_squash
And not just any old cheese, please. Reblochon is my pick (although some people swear by camembert). In Sainsbury’s Book of Food, Frances Bissell describes Reblochon as “One of France’s great mountain cheeses… made in Haute-Savoie, semisoft, with a yellowish brown rind and a gentle fruity flavor… sold in flat rounds set on thin wooden slices.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reblochon
Here’s one of my favorites, made with raw milk, vive la France:Ingredients:
1 medium potimarron
2 small (or 1 large) raw milk reblochon cheeses, depending on availability
Pecans or walnuts, sprigs of fresh thyme, salt, freshly ground pepper, honey
Cut a hole in the top of the potimarron, large enough to insert the cheeses, scoop out the seeds and some of the pulp (to be saved for soup). Cut off the pointed tip under the potimarron so it sits firmly on a baking sheet or in a glass pie dish. Salt and pepper the inside.
Slice excess rind off cheeses and insert each in the potimarron, making small cuts in each top for pecan or walnut halves. Sprinkle with fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. Drizzle with honey. Replace the potimarron “hat.”
Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 45 minutes then turn oven up to 410°F (210°C) for 10 minutes, or until the potimarron is tender when tested with a fork and the cheese has melted and blended together.
Remove from oven, take off “hat,” dip fresh baguette chunks (or other delicious bread) in cheese mixture, then use forks to carve out pieces of potimarron drenched in cheese 🙂
Enjoy! PS when I made this the first time, the small reblochons fit inside easily, the times and temperatures were perfect and the cheese was bubbly without further baking. The second time I used one larger reblochon cut into pieces to fit. I followed the instructions to the letter, but had to add cooking time. Third try, I used small cheeses again but had to add cooking time. In an emergency, you can use a microwave for the finishing touch. In other words, improvisation may be required… Leftover potimarron is fabulous mashed and reheated later as a side-dish. 🙂
Recipe 2: Mini Mushroom Crissants, made with Sylvia’s Wild Mushroom-Chestnut Fricassee (courtesy of Sylvia Sabes, my favorite travel and lifestyle guru)
Sylvia’s Mushroom Chestnut Fricassee (great vegan dish to include in holiday menus!)
Go to Picard (France’s gourmet frozen food chain) and buy morilles (morels), baby cèpes (ceps, porcinis), girolles (not the same as chanterelles, but I guess you can substitute these in a pinch) and pre-cooked chestnuts. The quantity depends on how many people you have to feed. Sylvia uses 3 packages of each mushroom for one of chestnuts.
Sauté the mushrooms (in olive oil if going for vegan, otherwise in butter), one kind at a time, being careful to drain off the liquid as you go (and freeze it for soups). Morels 10 minutes, then cèpes for 3 minutes, add chestnuts and girolles and sauté for another 7 minutes (refer to package instructions).
I had this at Sylvia’s for Thanksgiving and it was amazing. All the mushrooms were nicely browned with the chestnuts, tender and chewy. When I made it, I must not have drained off the liquid the right way because it got a little soupy and I had to thicken it for a while, which changed the texture. I added garlic, Adobo (salty lemon and herb mixture), sweet paprika, and lots of pepper. Then I shaped it into a round “patties” with a metal circle form and plated it with arugula dressed with virgin olive oil, balsamic, and fresh parsley. Huge success! I had a lot left over, and a party coming up, which gave me the idea for the mini croissants (pictured above). The day of the party, I bought puff pastry, cut it into triangles, stuffed it with the mushroom filling, and baked in a medium oven until brown. Next time, I’ll baste with egg yolk to get the perfect golden finish. No one noticed I hadn’t done that, big success, and leftovers can be reheated… For more brilliant inspiration from Sylvia Sabes: http://www.facebook.com/LoveOnlyNParis/
To be continued xxxxx Aliss