It’s been quiet in the countryside of late. The little girl inside me (the actual little baby girl inside me) is starting to take her toll on my back so I find myself increasingly sitting down as I continue with the cooking. My father-in-law says I shouldn’t make such a fuss about every meal (although he enjoys them as much as anyone) but there is just nowhere I’d rather be, sitting in my chair shelling fava beans, like an old lady from Sicily. The weather has been fickle but charming, warm winds, rain and sun. My oven broke down, which for me is a disaster, I am still waiting to have it back, the repair got delayed because of the “Bridges of May” – in France one holiday on Thursday calls for Friday off too. In the meantime I have put my frying pans to good use and I can always count on my cocottes (dutch ovens), they never let me down. This calm won’t last though, the little girl has some exit plans and then we collectively have an exit plan of our own as I mentioned in my last post. It was overwhelming how many of you reached out, commented and sent me emails. I promise we’ll be up and running as soon as we possibly can and I can’t wait to meet you all. Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement – they truly mean a lot to me. Merci, merci et merci!
In the midst of all this calm something strange but wonderful happened. I was lying in bed one morning trying to figure out a whether my back would prefer to stay in bed or do some gardening. There was a light, polite knock on my door. The kids were at school so I thought it must be Gaïa, or even a dog with manners (not that we have many of those). I was wrong. When I opened the door I was greeted by the curious trio of a Sorrel, a Squid and a stalk of Rhubarb. They seemed to have something important to say.
“Mimi, we need to talk”, said the Sorrel. “We feel we’ve been in the chorus long enough, now it’s time you give us some starring roles”.
“Yeah”, said the Squid.
The rhubarb just looked down. “Guys I’m not sure about this” he mumbled.
I spoke directly to the Sorrel “but I use you all the time, in sauces, with other vegetables, non?”
The Sorrel spoke confidently back to me, “Nobody notices me in those dishes, they rave on about the lobster, they praise the sauce but no one ever says – wow that Sorrel tastes amazing, they probably think I’m estragon.”
“But that’s your job” I said, “you’re a character actor, not a star, there aren’t that many starring roles for Sorrel” (this is when his cousin the Rhubarb just quietly disappeared).
“That’s your problem, not mine” the Sorrel said, “I want a portrait, not a group shot with tons of other vegetables, I want top billing, I want to be the hero for once – A Sorrel monologue – just me!” “Otherwise I quit and you just have to find yourself some other herb to flavour your sauces.”
I thought about it for a while then said cautiously, “Well I have to pair you with something, potatoes maybe.”
He thought about it for a while, then nodded approvingly. “Potatoes are fine.”
“Yeah”, said the Squid.
The following day I presented them with my suggestions. A soup dominated by the slightly acidic and punchy taste of Sorrel, a warm Squid salad with colorful peppers and fennel. The Rhubarb was there but still looking down.
“I like it” said the Sorrel, “don’t forget the solo portrait – and we have a deal”.
“Yeah” said the Squid.
“What about you” I asked the Rhubarb.
“I’m not comfortable talking in front of the others” he said.
As the Sorrel and Squid were leaving the former suddenly turned and said “It’s Sorrel soup and Squid salad – no funny business like Sorrel AND potato soup, right?” Then they left.
The Rhubarb edged closer and said, half whispering “Look, I know I’m not star material, I’m no George Clooney. I’ll never be a peach or a cherry, and I know some people find me sour. But please find something for me to do, I’m dying here.”
“Why don’t I introduce you to some strawberries and we’ll make a nice compote for a panna cotta”. “I would love to roast you but I have no oven and the strawberries will give you a nice red color”, I said.
“I love panna cotta” the Rhubarb said and he was flushed with pride, even his green side turned red.
“So panna cotta it is, and don’t worry, we’ll have more photos of you than any of the others” I said encouragingly.
And so it was that we, during our quiet days in the country, had three wonderful little dishes, where these auxiliary players of my food universe stepped up to stardom … and might I add, got rave reviews.
Apart from a short trip to Paris this week, having this quiet time has been wonderful and prepares us all for what lies ahead, it’s the calm before the storm. Although I am hoping that we’ll just breeze through it all, that there won’t really be a storm.
Let’s just call it a summer wind.
110 g/ 4 ounces (a small bunch) sorrel leaves, stemmed and chopped
450 g/ 1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced coarsely
45 g/3 tablespoons butter
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Crème fraîche, approx 1 tablespoon per serving
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot, melt the butter on a medium heat and add the sorrel leaves. Stir for a few minutes, until the leaves have melted, then add the diced potatoes. Continue to cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add the nutmeg. Pour 1.2 liters/ 5 cups of water into the pot and bring to a soft boil. Turn the heat to low and leave to cook for 30 minutes. Blend soup with a stick blender, season if necessary and serve into individual bowl, with a spoon of crème fraîche if desired. Serve with grilled parmesan tartines, with a drizzle of olive oil.
Venus Clams sautéed en persillade
These clams are particularly fleshy, excellent in every ways. I love roasting them with a garlic & parsley butter stuffing (just like snails à la Bourguignonne), but I also enjoy cooking them simply, sautéed in a persillade, with a dash of wine.
1 kg/ 2-2.5 pounds Venus clams/ in French they are called praires
A bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced finely
3 tbsp olive oil
1 glass of dry white wine
Sea-salt and black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
A dash of piment d’espelette
Rinse clams in cold water several times and drain.
Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a medium-sized pot or large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, stir for 1-2 minutes. Add clams and white wine, season with salt and pepper. Cover, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until clams open. Add a handful of chopped parsley and sprinkle with piment d’espelette. Grate the zest of 1/2 lemon just before serving. Serve immediately.
Squid and fennel salad
1 kg fresh squid, cleaned (you can ask your fishmonger to prepare them)
1 large fennel (reserve the feathery leaves), thinly sliced
2/3 small red peppers
3 /4 garlic cloves
1 bunch of parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
Zest of one lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
6 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
A dash of piment d’espelette or chili flakes
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the squid under cold running water and pat dry. Halve the tentacles lengthwise and cut bodies crosswise. Cut 5 cm /2 inches slices. Season with salt & pepper.
Using a sharp knife, lightly score to mark parallel lines 1/2 cm wide on the cuttlefish flaps. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. When the pan is sizzling hot, cook the squid on both sides, just about 30 seconds or less on each side. Set aside.
Add a bit more olive oil to the pan and sauté the diced red peppers for 4 to 5 minutes. Return the squid to the pan, sprinkle a dash of chilli flakes, add the garlic and cook for 3 mores minutes. Turn off the heat, add the finely chopped parsley, the fennel and set the pan aside. Drizzle the lemon vinaigrette and toss everything together. Just before serving, grate the zest of one lemon all over, and sprinkle the feathery leaves of the fennel.
Rhubarb & strawberry panna cotta
This delightful dessert is so incredibly easy to make! I always keep pretty yogurt pots, either in terracotta or glass – they come in very handy for this treat. Make sure to prepare these well in advance, as they do need time to set, at least 1/2 day or overnight in the refrigerator. The gelatin I use comes by pack of 9 sheets weighing 17 g – so 5 sheets is approximately 10 g. The rhubarb & strawberries compote is a perfect match – I usually make a double dose of compote, as I love having some for breakfast or mixed in my porridge bowl. Enjoy!
For the panna cotta
(makes about 8 small jars)
750 ml full-cream/whole milk
250 ml heavy cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
150 g/ 2/3 cup granulated sugar
5 gelatin sheets – (10 g)
Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water.
In a saucepan, heat the milk, cream, vanilla beans and sugar on a medium heat. Bring to a soft simmer, take off the heat and add the gelatin sheets (squeeze off excess water). Stir with a whisk until completely dissolved. Set aside.
Fill the ramekins 3/4 full. Leave to cool at room temperature, then refrigerate until set (at least half a day).
For the rhubarb and strawberries compote
250 g/ ½ pound rhubarb, chopped
150 g/ 1/3 pound strawberries, halved
65 g/ 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
Rinse rhubarb and strawberries. Cut the rough ends of the rhubarb and slice into small chunks. Halve the strawberries.
Place fruits in a saucepan, add the sugar, lemon juice and water. Turn the heat on medium and cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 to 12 minutes.
Leave to cool, store in a glass jar with a lid, and store in the refrigerator.
To serve: When the panna cottas are set, fill the panna cotta jars with the rhubarb & strawberries compote.