We had such a fun-filled week entertaining guests (à bientôt Jodie, Sophie & co.!). We were at least twelve at the table for dinner, so I proposed crowd pleasing succulent dishes to satisfy everybody’s appetite. Parmesan soup (those croutons were a hit), duck confit parmentier (duck cottage pie), an enormous chocolate tart with mascarpone and vanilla bean whipped cream. My husband took over the kitchen from time to time and fixed a smashing ratatouille, sausages and eggs lunch the next day. Just what everybody wanted in our rustic home. We also had the chance to sample some bright spring and summer weather, what a treat that was.
After our guests departed, I was left with a lot of extra ingredients in my pantry, especially Serrano ham, tomatoes, mascarpone and fromage blanc. It got me inspired to create a little family lunch yesterday. What was I in a the mood for? Fish, strawberries and something with a Basque touch. Basque cuisine is so tasty, highly influenced by seafood, cured hams, tomatoes, paprikas, peppers. It’s my kind of rustic cuisine. I bought a few slices of dos de cabillaud (codfish) and strawberries at the market then rushed home to start cooking. On my way home, I got tempted and decided to pop by the local brocante store (small antique and curiosity store), as if I knew something was waiting for me. I found a few delightful plates to add to our collection. It’s really one of my favourite hobbies, browsing through all the dishes, forks, glasses, paintings, furniture. There’s a suspense-like atmosphere in the air, as if I am looking for that one discovery that will scream ‘buy me’. There are sometimes such beautiful pieces, inspiring me to believe it comes from one of the local chateaux in ruins. There are certainly a lot of gems to be found around Médoc.
Back in the kitchen, I started chopping the tomatoes, onion, garlic and piquillo peppers to make the sauce. I prepared a celeriac and potato mash for the side dish, then wrapped the Serrano ham around the fish. For dessert, I completely improvised last-minute. With all the ingredients I had, I just closed my eyes and imagined what I would like to have. I painted in my mind a strawberry tartlet with whipped mascarpone, fromage blanc and vanilla bean. All shaped like a small dome. I ususally have all sorts of dough I prepare in advance in the freezer, so I picked the pâte sablée (shortcrust pastry), lined the smallest tartlets pans and blind-baked them approximately for 10 minutes.
We had such a lovely lunch, the kids finished everything on their plate, and loved the combination of the fish with the Serrano ham. It perfumes the fish in all the right way, and when you add a bite of the ‘very-red’ ratatouille (that’s what the kids call it), well it’s simply delicious. The strawberry dome tartlets were scrumptuous, we got all so excited that one fell on the floor (I won’t mention any names!).
Ingredients: (serves 6 – to be exact 2 adults, 3 kids and one toddler!)
Cod wrapped in Serrano ham on a bed of Basque sauce
For the Basque sauce:
225 g/ 1/2 pound piquillo peppers (if you can’t find fresh peppers you can use canned ones)
2 onions (sliced)
3 garlic cloves (sliced)
1 tbsp tomato concentrate paste
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp piment d’espelette/ mild chilli powder (or a bit more if you like it more spicy)
Salt & pepper for seasoning
Place the tomatoes in a pan of salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove and peel tomatoes. Chop tomatoes coarsely. Set aside. Slice onions and garlic, coarsely chop piquillo peppers. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat olive oil (on a medium heat), add the onions and garlic – fry for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, fry for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sprig of thyme , tomato concentrate, piment d’espelette and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes.
For the fish:
6 small filets of fresh cod (900 g/ up to 2 pounds. You can use any of your favourite fish – filets are easier to roll – they should fit on the slices of ham)
6 medium slices Serrano ham
A large handful of finely chopped chives to garnish dish
Salt & pepper
Roll out a piece of parchment paper on your table. Place the Serrano ham on the paper, place one filet per piece of ham and roll. When the potato/ celeriac mash and basque sauce are ready, heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the rolled fish/ham 3-4 minutes on each side. Salt lightly as the ham is quite salty and season with pepper. Place Basque sauce on a serving plate, place fish on top, garnish with finely chopped chives and serve with mashed potatoes/celeriac on the side.
For the mash:
6 medium-sized potatoes (peeled and cubed)
1 small celeriac (peeled and cubed)
A pinch of nutmeg
25 g/ 1-2 tbsp butter
60 ml/ 1/4 cup milk
A few tbsp of crème fraîche or heavy cream (to your liking)
Place potatoes and celeriac (chopped/cubed) in a big pot of boiling salted water for approx 30-35 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Drain and mash with a potato masher. Add milk, butter, a pinch of nutmeg and crème fraîche. Heat the mash on a medium heat for a couple of minutes before serving (stirring constantly).
For the strawberries dome tartlets:
150 ml/ 2/3 cup mascarpone
100 ml/ 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp fromage blanc
60 ml/ 1/4 cup whipping cream (heavy cream)
1 vanilla pod (cut a slit on the entire length and scrape off the beans with the tip of your knife)
5 tbsp icing confectioner’s sugar – sifted (you can add more or less according to your taste)
When the pastry is cool, place mascarpone, heavy cream, fromage blanc, vanilla beans and sifted icing sugar in a large bowl. Whisk for 4-5 minutes (I use electric whisks) until stiff. Place cream mixture in a piping bag and pipe a smooth ‘dome-shaped’ meringue on the tartlets. Slice strawberries (see photos) and decorate tartlets.
Note: I used small individual tartlet pans to blind bake the pastry.
For the shortcrust pastry:
125 g/ 1 cup plain flour
75 g/ 1/3 cup butter (softened at room temperature)
15 g/ 1 tbsp sugar
30 g icing/ 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar (sifted)
40 g/ 1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 pinch of salt
1) In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together until the mixture forms a homogenous dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
2) On a floured parchment covered surface, roll out the dough to fit your small
tart pan. Line your tart pans. Gently press the edges of pastry against the interior of the tart pan rings and prick the base with a fork. Use a piece of leftover dough to press down the edges (this trick will prevent any over-stretching or finger marks).
3) Cover with cling film and place in the freezer for a least 30 minutes (the longer the better). This is a good trick to prevent shrinking.
4) Cut out a piece of parchment paper and line the bottom of the tarts. Place beans/marbles/any oven proof weight and blind bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350°F for 6-7 minutes. Remove weight and parchment paper and bake for a further 2 minutes, or until slightly golden. Set aside and leave to cool before unmoulding.