Oh So Quiet in Saint Yzans
Theory of relativity
To most people, describing my kitchen as a quiet place would seem a stretch. If you’d walk through the door on any given day of the year you would most likely find me hovering over my pots and pans, often in an excited manner. You’d probaly notice some dogs on the floor or, in Jeanie’s case, on a chair. There would be a number of children plying their trade and by plying their trade I mean causing some trouble, to each other, to me, to themselves. There would be music, most likely some jazz, a crooner or if it was Friday and I had control of the “Bose” some decadent 80’s music. That’s when my husband would walk in and lower the volume slightly then complain why everything wasn’t as perfect looking as it is in his photos. He would scan the room for plastic objects (plastic is his enemy) and without being told, the (sensible) children would make them disappear. At some point I might get defensive about my messiness and point to the dog hair on the floor. Then he would get defensive and without really saying it he would make it clear that the dogs, well are the dogs and are immune to prosecution. I am in a constant state of bemusement at how a man so affected by the visuals around him is so tolerant of creatures so utterly incapable of sustaining those visuals. My only answer: we are all a muddle of contradictions and my husband is no exception. At some point someone would cry and someone would quickly say “it’s not my fault”. There might be an unexpected visitor popping through the back door, Sasha our Russian builder giving us an update or Monsieur Teyssier bringing flowers. All in all not quiet at all. But that’s where relativity comes into the picture. Not quiet but quiet COMPARED to the last few weeks of back to back workshops. Quiet compared to the night we had five extraordinary Mexican ladies enjoying a civilized scallops and cauliflower mash dinner in the green room while in the kitchen a band of brothers, Matt & Oskar (see the meatball challenge), Dewey Nicks, his assistant Henry, Oskar’s assistant Wilfried, Oddur and Tim our musician/gardener grilled every meat known to man and later, I am told, burst into song. And that‘s not to mention the children or my wonderful mother-in-law Johanna ghosting around, picking the best of everything. After nights like that. After weeks like that. Going back to just being a big family with lots of dogs feels oh so quiet and oh so good.
Of aging fruits and vegetables
And what have I done with this quiet time. Lots of walks and drives around our new neighborhood. A time to test our new car monster (confession here – I don’t drive… umm, I don’t know how to drive, it’s a long story), a Land Rover Defender posturing as a Hummer with a dubious past in the desserts of Africa. The vineyards are all springing to life, the roses are coming out. Tim is advancing in the garden and we’re having spinach and kale every day. But a side-effect of having a kitchen go “quiet” is all the food that’s left and needs cooking … urgently! The stacks of asparagus and artichokes, apples and fava beans and chard. We always have generous piles of food but lately they’ve grown into mountains. A whole gang of senior citizens reminding me every day of their worth. “We’re not going gently”, “we’re not going gently into that good night” they’ve been buzzing in my ear. And I listened and I cooked them all. The aging apples ended up in a sauce paired with pork chops, the asparagus was served as soup. Many artichokes took to the stage disguised as a risotto. And the chard, this time the chard was the hero, the leading man. Last week-end I made some potato and chard galettes, we’ve used it for my next ELLE recipes (I contribute every month for French ELLE, it’s called ‘Fiches Cuisine‘) but since Easter (and yes I know I am late sharing this recipe) I’ve made this Italian Easter tart from a recipe by the ever-inspiring Angela Frenda (she’s the superb food editor-in-chief for the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera) at least twice a week. We’ve done if for the workshops, I’ve done it in my spare time, along with an Artichoke soufflé I can’t think of a more perfect spring lunch. Talking of spring, it always warms my heart to go to a market and see fresh strawberries at this time of the year. At first they come from foreign lands but then the day arrives where the sign next to them says FRANCE and a few days or weeks later I don’t even need a sign because the lady selling them is my neighbor and I know she has the finest strawberries I’ve ever tasted. Of course fresh strawberries taste best just like that, how they were born, maybe with a little cream. But after a little while one gets more creative and voilà, an ice cream is born.
You can’t win’em all.
Today is a special day, my husband’s birthday. We’ve had 4 children together in 10 years and altogether we have 7 between us. I think that’s a decent crop, I’m happy with it and I’m done. I’m sooo done! But yesterday my mother-in-law dug an old photograph out of her suitcase, it’s her grandparents, Ingveldur and Olafur, and their 10 children. Some people say that my husband, Oddur, inherited a few of his great-grandfather’s looks and character. I can see that, up to a point. The cheekbones, the encyclopedic memory, the fondness for making children. The hairstyle, not so much!
My darling I just want to say this. Happy birthday, I love you. Some records are not meant to be broken.
Chard & egg pie/ Torta Pasqualina
This delicious pie is adapted from Angela Frenda, the food editor-in-chief at Corriere della Sera. It’s a typical Italian Easter pie, some call it the Easter cake. There are many variations of this recipe, but I fell in love with Angela’s version. Here’s a plus, you can even see her make it here. Isn’t she lovely?
350 g/ 12 ounces Swiss chard/blette
150 g/ 1/3 pound Ricotta cheese
50 g/ 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
20 g/ 1/4 cup Pecorino cheese
2 puff pastry sheets, 230 g/ 8 ounces each
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the chard and cook in a pot of salted boiling water for about 8 minutes. Drain and squeeze out all the water, as much as possible (this is very important or the pie will be soggy). Chop into strips.
In a bowl, combine the ricotta, one egg, Parmesan and Pecorino cheese. Add the chard and mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper.
Line a rectangular baking/cake pan with the pastry sheet. Prick the base a few times with a fork and fill with the chard mixture .
With the help of a spoon, lightly dig 3 small holes so you can crack an egg in each one. Cover the pie with the second pastry sheet and seal the edges with the eggwash. The eggs will cook in the oven and set beautifully.
Brush the surface with the egg wash. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F for about 40 to 50 minutes.
Even though I have an ice-cream maker, I love the simplicity of making a quick and easy ice-cream, no churning needed – all you need is a bit of time in the freezer. I have recently started to experiment lots of different recipes (getting ready for summer), and the results have been marvellous. Ice-cream forever! ps: you can leave little chunks of strawberries if you wish, but I prefer without, it gives a creamier ice-cream)
350 ml/ 1 & 1/2 sweetened condensed milk/lait concentré sucré
240 ml/ 1 cup heavy cream/ crème entière
400 g/ 2 cups strawberries, hulled
50 g/ 1/2 cup confectionner’s sugar, sifted
Place the strawberries in the food processor and blend till smooth.
Whisk the cream until light and fluffy. Pour the condensed milk and strawberries. Add the confectionner’s sugar and mix well.
Pour the mixture into a glass container, cover with a lid and place in the freezer for at least 6 to 8 hours.