Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Gentse Waterzooi & Geraardsbergse Mattentaart for Belgian National Holiday

Today, June 21st, marks the Belgian National Holiday, or the „Nationale feestdag van België“, also called the „Fête nationale belge“ in French or „Belgischer Nationalfeiertag“ in German as the Kingdom of Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. On this day, Belgians celebrate the separation of Belgium from the Netherlands in 1831, as well as the formal establishment of the Kingdom. Belgium had been part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands since 1815, but the majority of the population were Roman Catholic and increasingly felt the rule of King William I favored the Northern protestants. The discontentment was heightened by high levels of unemployment in the South. In August 1830, riots led to a wider uprising and calls for Belgium to succeed from the Netherlands. A London Conference of major European powers then recognized Belgian independence.

After Belgium asserted its independence from the Netherlands on 4th October 1830, the Belgian National Congress asked Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg to become king of the newly formed country. Leopold accepted and was proclaimed "King of the Belgians" on 26th June 1831. He swore allegiance to the new Belgian constitution in the Royal Palace in Brussels on 21st July 1831, thus becoming the first King of the Belgians. The king's vow marked the start of the independent state of Belgium under a constitutional monarchy and parliament.

As my devoted readers know, we have been to Belgium many times and it is one of our favorite countries to visit. I have written about the amazing city of Antwerp here, here and here. And about the incredible city of Brugge here and here. I have walked the cookie trail in a search for the best Speculoos cookies and the best Antwerp Hand Cookies (Antwerpse Handjes).

So what better occasion than today to celebrate a bit of that amazing Belgian cuisine. There is so much more to Belgian cuisine than the beloved chocolate, waffles and cookies and the incredibly good mussels and fries (moules frites). But, unfortunately, Belgian cuisine is not really that widely known. But there are a few dishes that you should definitely prepare. Among them is Gentse waterzooi, named after the pituresque city of Ghent, the historic capital of Flanders in northern Belgium. Gentse waterzooi or Waterzooi gantois (among the Francophones), is a classic stew of Flanders. Its name is Dutch, "zooien" meaning "to boil". It is a rich chicken stew made with vegetables and eggs and cooked in a rich chicken stock. Waterzooi can be made with chicken, rabbit, or fish. The original form is made of fish, either freshwater or sea, (preferably perch) though today Chicken waterzooi is more common. The most accepted theory is that rivers of Ghent became too polluted and the fish there disappeared. Waterzooi is very nice served with boiled potatoes or toasted French bread with some good, fresh Belgian butter.

Ruth van Waerebeek, a well known Belgian-born cookbook author, describes this famous Belgian dish in her amazing cookbook „Everybody Eats Well in Belgium“  as "a confusion of a soup with a stew, chock-full of herbs and vegetables". And the wonderful Julia Child named this as „the most interesting recipe she's clipped“. And inspired by these lovely ladies, I prepared my Gentse waterzooi with chicken and thickened it at the end with Belgian heavy cream and egg yolks.  Enjoy!

Gentse Waterzooi

  • one whole chicken
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
  • 1⁄2 tspn dried thyme (I am know to use fresh thyme when I have it on hand)
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground black  pepper
  • 3 tbsps butter, unsalted
  • 2 white onions, medium, coarsely chopped
  • 4 to 6 cups of fresh water (depending on the size of the chicken and your pot)
  • 4 carrots, large, peeled and sliced into 0.5 cm rounds
  • 5 leeks, medium, rinsed well, white parts only, sliced into  rounds (of course, since Belgium is know for its fantastic leeks, I brought some back from Antwerp last week)
  • 2 celery ribs, medium, sliced into 1 cm rounds
  • 4 baking potatoes, large, peeled and cut into cubes or slices
  • 1 cup heavy cream (of course, I used Belgian cream)
  • 2 egg yolks (L), organic or free-range
  • 1⁄2 cup Italian parsley, chopped

  1. Remove excess fat from chicken cavity. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Place 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs parsley, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme in cavity. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Melt butter in heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. This will take about 5 minutes.
  3. Place the chicken, breast side up, in the Dutch oven, on top of the onions. Add water to mostly cover the chicken.
  4. Cover and simmer gently over low heat for 30 minutes.
  5. Skim the surface to remove any foam and fat.
  6. Add the carrots, leeks, and celery. Add the remaining parsley sprigs, thyme and bay leaf. Cover, and adjust heat to maintain a slow simmer for another 30 minutes.
  7. Add the potatoes and continue to simmer until potatoes are done and chicken is very tender, about 20 or 30 minutes. Remove from heat.
  8. Remove chicken and transfer to a large plate. Use a slotted spoon or similar tool to remove parsley and bay leaves from broth. Let the chicken rest until it is cool enough to handle, then remove the skin and peel meat from the bones. Discard skin and bones. Slice or shred the meat into bite-sized pieces.
  9. Place Dutch oven with broth over medium heat.
  10. In the meantime heat the cream and the egg yolks together in a bowl. Take a ladle ful of hot broth and slowly add to the egg yolk mixture, while stirring. This tempers the yolks. Then, slowly stir the tempered egg yolk mixture into the larger pot of broth and vegetables. Do not boil or the egg yolks might curdle.
  11. Add the chicken. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and some julienned vegetables OR the vegetables from the soup.
  12. Serve in bowls, making sure everyone gets equal amounts of chicken, vegetables and broth.

Now what would a Belgian celebration be without a lovely Belgian sweet treat. When visiting the the East Flanders city of Geraardsbergen (or Gramont as French-speaking Belgians would call it), true foodies simply cannot leave without having tasted the Mattentaart, a small, round, curd cheese pie that is devotedly prepared by the local bakers. It is a unique regional cake that enjoys great fame, even beyond the national borders. People living in the rich pastureland areas around Geraardsbergen claim that this particular pastry can be made properly nowhere else. Be that as it may, the production of these pies depends heavily on the Geraardsbergen area's main dairy produce, milk and buttermilk, that is used to prepare the unique, fine, dry curd for the cheesecake part. The Mattentaart was the first Flemish food product to be granted (in 2006) the much-sought-after European Regional Product status, meaning that a pastry can only be called Mattentaart if it was actually produced in Geraardsbergen (or the city's neighbouring village of Lierde) and made using the traditional, ancient recipe which dates back to 1510, while also using milk from the region.

Although little is know about its origins, those involved in Geraardsbergse Mattentaart marketing contend that it goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. The words “matten” or “maton”, means coagulated or curdled milk, and the word is often found in old German, French and Flemish dialects. The quality of the “matten” is determined by the quality of the milk and indirectly by the dairy cattle’s fodder. Local bakers know for certain that the soil cultivation is of major importance in the mattentaart production. The curd is made with 8 litres of whole milk to which 3 litres of buttermilk are added. The curds are drained in muslin and hung to dry. The dried curds are finely ground and the egg whites are beaten with sugar, the yolks are added to the curds, and then one mixture is folded into the other to make a lovely tangy fresh cheese filling for these wonderful tarts.

Geraardsbergse Mattentaart

  • 1.5 liters whole milk (I recommend using organic and/or farm fresh, whole milk here)
  • 0.5 liters cups fresh thick buttermilk (again, I recommend farm fresh and/or organic here)
  • 2 eggs (L), organic or free-range
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 55 grams ground natural almonds (or almond meal)
  • 50 grams white caster (superfine) sugar
  •  a few drops of  natural almond extract
  • 300 grams good-quality puff pastry (feel free to use homemade)

  1. You will have to plan a day ahead: Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy pan. When it is boiling, carefully add the buttermilk and stir well.  „Matten“ or curds will start to form in the whole milk immediately as you stir.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and prepare a fine sieve by lining it with a linen dishtowel or double layer of cheesecloth. Place the sieve over a deep pot and pour the curd mixture through it. Allow to drain in a cool place for at least twelve hours. (Stir or loosen the curds occasionally if necessary to help them drain.) The curds should be as dry as possible.
  3. When the curds have drained, separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and whip the egg whites to stiff peaks with a  pinch of fine sea salt – make sure the container you use is completely fat free.
  4. In a food processor, or with an electric beater, beat together the curds, egg yolks, almonds and sugar. Fold the egg whites carefully and evenly into the mixture until completely incorporated.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  6. Butter your tart/pie pans. And cut the puff pastry to fit your pans., thereby lining the bottom of the pan with the puff pastry, then adding the curd mixture. Then place the second layer of puff pastry on top of the filling. Make several incisions on the upper pastry layer.
  7. Put the tarts in the preheated oven and bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes. Reduce to a 175 degrees Celsius and bake for additional 15 minutes. Then raise the oven heat to  200 degrees Celsius again for a final 5 minutes of baking.
  8. Remove the Mattentaart pies from their pans and allow to cool before serving.

If you are lucky enough to come across a genuine Mattentaart, you are in for a treat. The addition of eggs and a touch of ground almond and pure almond extract to the cheesecake mixture produces a flavor that is surprisingly complex for something so simple. The taste of the Mattentaart filling is not unlike that of the French Tarte au fromage blanc or the German Käsekuchen. And the puff pastry adds a delightful, tender crunch, far better in its way than the usual cheesecake crust. Even when you use milk and buttermilk from your region!

I took the liberty to serve the Mattentaart with fresh dark burgundy, sweet cherries and tangy red currants that I brought back from Belgium when visiting last Saturday. And served the Waterzooi as well as the tarts on my beloved vintage plates from a Belgian manufacturer (Boch La Louviere). Could not have celebrated this wonderful country and its rich culinary traditions in a more delicious way!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Apricot Tarte Tatin - Sunshine on a Plate

A Tarte Tatin is a glorious sticky, sweet-topped, popular French treat made known by The Tatin sisters, Geneviève Caroline Tatin and Stéphanie Marie Tatin. It is one of those dishes with a picturesque, but suspect heritage. Legend has it that Stéphanie Marie Tatin, co-proprietor of a provincial French hotel, left apples for a pie cooking for too long on the stove one day. Alerted to her mistake by the smell of burning, quick-thinking Madame Tatin attempted to rescue the situation by covering them with pastry and baking the pie anyway. "After turning out the upside down tart," Wikipedia concludes, "she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert." Certainly, not the first time a chef has tried to pass off a mistake as a special.

Alas, the Larousse Gastronomique spoils this charming little anecdote with the bald fact that "the upside-down tart, made with apples or pears, is an ancient speciality of Sologne and is found throughout Orléanais." But still, we can still be grateful to les soeurs Tatin for bringing it to wider attention and inspiring such lovely creations as my Apricot Tarte Tatin and it just goes to show recipes are always more charming with a great story.

Apricot Tarte Tatin

  • 75 grams (2 ¾ ounces) white sugar
  • 2 tbsp of water
  • a pinch of sea salt 
  • 40 grams (1 ½ ounces) unsalted butter, cubed
  • a pinch of Ceylon cinnamon or the scraped seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
  • about 300 grams fresh apricots, halved and stoned (about 7 or 8 apricots) NOTE: as too much liquid spoils the pastry, it is better to use ripe but not soft fruits here
  • 375 grams (13 ounces) sheet of puff pastry
  • some plain wheat flour for dusting your work surface
  • crème fraiche or good-quality vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

In addition
  • heavy-based ovenproof frying pan or Tarte Tatin pan from Le Creuset
  • rolling pin 

  1. For caramelzing the apricots, put the sugar along with about 2 tablespoons of water and the salt into a heavy-based ovenproof frying pan (I like to use my specialty Tarte Tatin pan here from the lovely people at Le Creuset) and set it over a medium heat. Cook until the sugar first melts and then caramelizes and turns golden brown. Do not stir the sugar but swirl it around the pan every now and then.
  2. Remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the butter with a wooden spoon. Then stir in the vanilla or the spices (if using). The caramel will be extremely hot so watch out.
  3. Continue stirring for 2 to 3 minutes as the caramel cools and thickens. It will look oily and separated to begin with, but will become smooth as you continue stirring. When the caramel is smooth, carefully arrange the apricots on top, cut-side up. Leave to cool for 20 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit).
  5. Unroll the puff pastry sheet on your lightly floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll it out. Cut out a circle slightly larger than your pan. Place a dinner plate on the pastry and cut around it.
  6. Gently slide the pastry on top of the apricots and push down the sides. Prick the surface to allow steam to escape while baking.
  7. Bake the Tarte Tatin for about 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and the apricots are cooked. 
  8. Using oven mitts, remove the pan from the oven. Be careful, as the pan as will be extremely hot.
  9. Leave the tart to stand for a few minutes to allow it to settle, then loosen the edges and place a large cake plate on top of the pan. Very carefully, but quickly, turn it over, using a folded dry tea towel to help you hold it, and allow the Tarte Tatin to drop gently on to the serving plate.
  10. Best served warm, with crème fraîche or a good-quality vanilla ice cream.

As far as the pastry is concerned, I like to use an easy puff pastry in summertime but some chefs (including Julia Child) go for the pâté sucré. At the end of the day, the pastry is really nothing but a humble vehicle for the gorgeous fruit base. If you serve the Tarte right away, puff pastry seems to be the way to go as it crisps up beautifully well, which makes a lovely contrast to the butter-soft fruit above.

Finally, there is the question of whether you add other flavors. Some bakers do not add anything more, while some recipes add vanilla seeds or even a bit of cinnamon. Since you all know that I can easily be considered a bit of a spice fan, I sometimes add fresh Ceylon cinnamon or even add a bit of Speculaas Spice Mix (Speculaaskruiden - my recipe can be found here) but you can go with whatever you like.

A Tarte Tatin is something of a teatime classic and it is definitely one easy recipe. It is all about the flavor of the seasonal fruit used, the crisp pastry, and that sweet, buttery caramel topping, holding the whole lot together. And it is probably at its best cut into slices and eaten while still warm. If you like to top it with a really good-quality vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche, then go for it, but, as usual, I think simplicity is best and we enjoy it plain, fresh from the oven.

No matter which way you serve this lovely tart, you will not regret having this amazing French recipe in your repertoire of easy and delectable summer desserts.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Savory Potato Hearts & Herbed Farmer´s Cheese Dip

It is summertime around here, meaning that the kids are home and that we are busy keeping them happy and healthy and entertained. We are going to the swimming pool, planning outdoor picnics and fun activities, visiting museums and some lovely fairgrounds, and we go hiking – you get the picture. Then there is also the present heat wave, meaning that I go to the market as early in the morning as possible and come back home with baskets full of vegetables and fruits before the kids even rise, pack away all those lovely purchases and go on about our busy day.

A few day ago, after a trip to a nearby climbing park, we drove by a farm stand and we stopped to get a huge bag of carrots (for all those bunnies) and potatoes (for us) – not surprising, the farmer did not have that much left after a long day. I had been planning to make these Potato Hearts for the longest time and after a day filled with kids´ activities, this seemed to be a perfect day for finally making them. The hearts and the dip come together in no time and they make for perfect summertime munching!

It is interesting to point out that in general, the Dutch, Belgians, Spanish and Germans like yellow-fleshed potatoes, whereas the British tend to prefer white-fleshed ones. But color makes little difference to the taste.

Once cooked the texture of potatoes can range from smooth to waxy-textured flesh, perfect for those potato salads to floury-textured flesh ideal for fluffy mashed potatoes. Therefore, it is important to know what type of potato you have bought before you decide how to cook them. Around here potato season begins in April with early waxy salad varieties.

Savory Potato Hearts & Herbed Farmer´s Cheese Dip

Ingredients for the Potato Hearts
  • 500 grams waxy or primarily waxy potatoes, skins on, preferably from a local source
  • 2 egg yolks (L), free range or organic
  • some sea salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper 
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • neutral oil for frying (like canola or sunflower oil)

Ingredients for the Herbed Fresh Cheese Dip

  • 250 grams Quark which is a kind of fromage blanc or other fresh farmers´ cheese
  • juice of ½ lemon (about 2 tsps)
  • some sea salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp freshly chopped Italian parsley (or more, to taste) 
  • 1 tbsp freshly chopped chives (or more, to taste)
  • 1 finely grated carrot (medium sized-one) OR 1 cucumber (small), deseeded and very finely diced

In addition

  • a potato ricer* (you could also use a sieve here)
  • some flour for the work surface
  • a rolling pin
  • one heart-shaped cookie cutter

Preparation of the Potato Hearts
  1. Wash the potatoes and gently boil them until perfectly cooked. This will take anywhere between 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes - test for doneness with the tip of your kitchen knife.
  2. Once cooked, quickly run the potatoes under cold water, drain and peel as soon as possible.
  3. Force the potatoes through the fine grid of your potato ricer and add to a medium-sized bowl.
  4. Then to the bowl with the riced potatoes add the egg yolks, salt, pepper and ginger and stir well with a fork.
  5. Gently pat the dough together and transfer it to your well-floured work surface.
  6. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll out to about 1 cm thickness. 
  7. Using a cookie cutter, cut out the potato hearts. Re-roll the scraps and cut out some more hearts.
  8. Pre-heat your oven to about 52 degrees Celsius.
  9. Heat some oil in a non-stick pan (medium heat) and gently fry the potato hearts for about three minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
  10.  Rest the Potato Hearts on some paper towels, then transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  11. Transfer the baking sheet to a warm oven in order to keep warm.

Preparation of the Dip

  1. Place all the ingredients into a medium-sized bowl and blend with a fork.
  2. Add a little lemon juice, salt or pepper as needed (every fresh cheese is different) or until you have a „dippable“ consistency and the dip is the texture and taste you want.
  3. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve with the warm potato hearts.
  4. Just before serving, sprinkle with a few more freshly chopped herbs.
*The potato ricer is commonly used to mash potatoes. Pressing cooked vegetables and fruits through the small holes produces a puree comparable to using a drum sieve. A manual method such as ricing is best for potatoes, which are starchy and become glutinous when over-processed.

These Savory Potato Hearts are especially delicious when you serve them while still warm but if you prefer to make them in advance and not re-heat them, they are equally wonderful when served at room temperature – our kids will attest to that.

The Herbed Farmer´s Cheese Dip is perfect for these warm and summery days. Using so-called Quark for this recipe or any other light fresh farmer´s cheese, will result in a dip that is enjoyably thick and creamy, yet simultaneously light and tangy.

And if you happen to have any left-over dip, please remember that dips are great for lunch boxes, sandwich fillings or as a topping for wraps. Or serve some with with vegetable sticks, baked potatoes, potato skins, pita breads or flatbreads. The dip will keep in the fridge for about two days. If you plan on making the dip ahead of time, you should not add the chopped chives until about thirty minutes before serving, otherwise, the dip will end up having too much of an onion taste.

Using new potatoes  in my recipes is always quite the treat at this time of year and I always look forward to doing so. And, as you all know, new potatoes only need few additions in order to sing – so, you can just enjoy these Savory Potato Hearts on their own and maybe just opt for a light sprinkling of your favorite fancy salt (you know the one that you received as a gift or bought at that food fair or the fancy new spice store...). Or make a lovely seasonal side salad to accompany these Potato Hearts and opt for the delicious, creamy, summery Herbed Farmer´s Cheese Dip with those added grated fresh veg – that´s all you will need to enjoy summertime eating...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Cottage Cooking Club - June Recipes

This month of June marks the fourteenth month of our international online cooking group, The Cottage Cooking Club. As a group, recipe by recipe, we are cooking and learning our way through a wonderful vegetable cookbook written in 2011 by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, entitled „River Cottage Everyday Veg“.

The Cottage Cooking Club is meant to be a project aimed at incorporating more vegetable dishes into our everyday cooking, learning about less known, forgotten or heritage vegetables, trying out new ways to prepare tasty and healthy dishes, and sharing them with family and friends.

One of the declared aims of our cooking group is to make a decided effort to use as much local, regional, organic and also seasonal produce as is reasonably possible.

My added personal aim this month was to make these lovely recipes even more appealing to the younger taste testers. It was fun adding even more colorful veggies or a few kid-friendly accents to the dishes. Since I prepared all ten recipes plus one make-up this month, I will write about each dish according to the order in which I prepared them. 

My first recipe for this June post was the Tomato and olive couscous (page 231), from the chapter "Store-cupboard suppers“.

Instead of the coarse couscous, I used medium-sized pearl barley for this recipe. Pearl barley is a common ingredient around here. Therefore, it is widely available in small, medium and large - medium being perfect for salads and soups. So, if you cannot get your hands on couscous, you can definitely use pearl barley in this recipe or use other grains such as quinoa, farro, barley, or kamut. 

As per the recipe, I also added halved cherry tomatoes in different colors, fresh basil and Italian parsley for the herbs, as well as black and green pitted and sliced olives. The leftovers are fabulous for school and office lunches - I will try to remember this recipe for my next picnic. So easy, so delicious and so worth making all summer long!

The second recipe that I prepared was the Macaroni peas (page 264) from the chapter „Pasta & Rice“.

So good and now it is also officially kid-approved. This dish works equally well with fresh and frozen or just frozen peas and it makes a nice side dish as well as main course for the kids. I decided to increase the nutritional value here and went with the wholewheat macaronis that I found while shopping for groceries in the Netherlands - they are smaller and have a distinct nutty flavor that stands up very well to the sweet fresh peas - a perfect recipe to try out the wholewheat variety of pasta on your kids.

If you want to amp up the flavor of this dish, I would recommend adding one or two finely sliced two shallots in addition to the garlic. Also, you are well advised to use a hard cheese with tons of flavor here. For dishes like this one I prefer a Pecorino Romano over the usual Parmigiano Reggiano - it has more of a bold flavor. And remember to top it all off with tons of freshly chopped basil and Italian parsley - adding even more flavor and that lovely veggie green color!

The third recipe for June were are the very summery and colorful looking Tomatoes with herbs (page 121) from the chapter of „Raw Assemblies“.

This is really a non recipe, we all need those in our repertoire, no matter who and how many people will dine with us. Just use tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs to your liking, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper - that´s all there is to it. Everyone should make this kind of tomato salad.

This is truly a wonderfully simple side salad that still delivers on flavor. Make sure to use the best seasonal sun-kissed tomatoes you can find - it's worth it.

And make sure to always add some fun to your food when serving those youngsters - a bit of color and distraction often goes a long way!

For the fourth recipe, I chose the delightfully summery New potato salad "tartare" (page 79) from the chapter "Hearty Salads". Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describes this salad as "a simple, deconstructed version of good old tartare sauce" that is used "to dress freshly cooked, earthly little new potatoes".

When I took a look at this recipe, I knew that the kids would really enjoy this salad because homemade tartare sauce happens to be one of their favorite sauces of all times, plus they adore potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. I found the most wonderful new potatoes which are the main ingredient of this salad, I also bought lots of fresh herbs and eggs from a farm nearby.

After boiling the new potatoes with skins on, the next step is the vinaigrette which consists of cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Remember that you have to dress the potatoes while still warm.

After the dressed potatoes have cooled somewhat, you add some capers, gherkins, chopped dill, parsley and chives and do not forget to very gently fold in the quartered hard-boiled eggs. Done! You might want to add some more salt and pepper just before serving - potato salads always seem to need a bit more salt and pepper than other salads.

We always enjoy this New potato salad tartare and although my family really likes the German-style potato salads with a mayonnaise dressing, they also really enjoy this version with a herby vinaigrette dressing. What a wonderful recipe  - I really like to use the small new potatoes that are so very flavorful at this time of year, they do indeed lend a certain earthiness to this salad that is wonderful in combination with the tangy dressing with capers and gherkins and tons of herbs. Delightful!

My fifth recipe this month was a make-up, we made the Aubergine parmigiana aka melanzane alla parmigiana (page 18) from the chapter "Comfort Food & Feasts" back in July 2014 - I just never got around to taking any decent pictures - so this time, I made small. kiddie-sized portions and served the aubergine bake in those adorable tiny cocottes.

What can I say - this is a wonderful simple vegetarian bake made with mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano, as well as aubergines and a flavorful tomato sauce - this dish, in my humble opinion, will out-class any lasagna. 

The mozzarella works brilliantly with the other flavors, and pulling an elastic string of the stuff out of the dish is a joy that never grows old. But I do not think that there is no point in using good buffalo mozzarella here though, it is too soft, and does not melt quite the same way, the more firm regular mozzarella cheese works much better.

Right now the markets are bursting with fresh, robustly flavored tomatoes crying out to be made into a sauce. And to me this is still a summer dish. Fresh basil and oregano from our garden were my herbs of choice here, in addition to the bay leaf that the recipe calls for. And you should serve this with your kids´ and your favorite bread. Room temp is fine - no need to serve these piping hot.

The sixth recipe for the lovely month of June was my personal favorite, hands down - the Bruschetta with garlicky broad bean purée, ricotta and mint (page 196) from the chapter "Bready Things".

Fresh broad beans aka fava beans are sweet and delicious pod beans with a smooth creamy texture. They only have a short natural season during the summer, so are often dried, canned or frozen to preserve them. Fresh beans are more popular than the dried variety, which tend to be quite floury. Young thin beans are eaten pods and all, but larger, older broad beans need to have the tough pods removed. This recipe works with either fresh or frozen broad beans. 

You make a broad bean purée first with garlic, butter and beans. Prepare your bread slices and add the warm purée to the bread, then scatter fresh ricotta on top and finish with flaky French sea salt and freshly ground black pepper - plus some of the best-quality cold-pressed olive oil (from my local oil mill) that you can get your hands on....finish off with some mint (optional).

Just look at the beautiful so-called "apple mint" that I am growing in my garden - it smells like green apples and mint...

This is a perfect summer appetizer! Sweet garlicky broad bean purée, creamy milky ricotta, crunchy sea salt and that toasted bread and the final touch of olive oil - this is the best food at this time of year and I am loving it!

The seventh recipe was the Halloumi, new potato and tomato kebabs (page 334) from the chapter "Roast, Grill & Barbecue". The marinade consisted of olive oil, thyme from the garden, local runny honey and chilli flakes (plus salt and pepper) - for the veg I used small new potatoes, grape tomatoes, yellow summer squash and zucchinis as well as Greek Halloumi.

For the skewers, I went with rosemary twigs (really long ones) instead of wooden skewers - that works so brilliantly as the rosemary branch will give off a lot of that lovely woodsy flavor to the grilled cheese and veg - perfect BBQ summer fare and colorful enough to make even the most picky of eaters more than happy - who does not like fancy finger food of sorts?! Just be careful when using rosemary twigs instead of wooden skewers, they are not as robust and should be picked up with caution while still hot off the grill.

Onto recipe number eight, one of our kids two favorites this month, the Ribollita (page 151), from the chapter of “Hefty Soups".

When I chose this hearty Italian soup, I did not realize that a lot of people think of this soup as some type of winter soup - well, summer around here was late in arriving and I think I managed to cook this up and make it just as delicious to enjoy on a rainy summers´day. You can speed things up here and use canned cannellini beans or make them from scratch but then you need to plan ahead as the dried beans must soak overnight. For the soup use onion, carrots, celery, leeks and tomatoes and a well-seasoned homemade vegetable stock (page 130), then some fresh rosemary, thyme and pepper and salt. Simmer gently away for an hour or so, add shredded kale or fresh spinach (as I did) at the very end. 

Serve bread alongside or serve by putting a slice of toasted bread that has been rubbed with garlic in each plate and pour the soup over the bread. Either way this is a wonderful family-style rustic soup that can be tailored to your family´s preferences and the season - a great recipe to have in the back of your mind.

The ninth recipe this month were the Leeks (and greens) with coconut milk (page 378), from the chapter "Side Dishes". This is a wonderfully simple side dish - I used young leeks (white and pale green parts only) and fresh spinach here (remove all tough stems and shred, no need to steam the spinach, a quick saté together with the previously softened leeks is fine here) - a great combination with the mild curry powder I used and the creamy coconut milk.

I also added a few finely chopped needles from my curry plant, a herb that grows like crazy in our garden these days and that lends an extra mild curry note to dishes and has very pretty yellow flowers.

My tenth recipe was the one I had been waiting to make for the longest time ever since I saw it in the book, the Beet top (or chard) and ricotta tart (page 47) from the chapter "Comfort Food & Feast".

Alas, repeated trips to the market could not make me find those elusive beet tops but I will some day come across them and make this lovely summer tart again. In the meantime I used fresh spinach as well as lemony sorrel.

The name sorrel is used to describe several related plants, including wild sorrel and French sorrel. Its name derives from the French for "sour", in reference to the plant’s characteristic acidity. The leaves of the sorrel plant are the part used in cookery. Sorrel leaves are generally large, bright-green and arrow-shaped with a smooth, crisp texture. Buckler leaf sorrel has tiny, shield-shaped leaves that are good in a mixed green salad or as a garnish. All sorrel is wonderfully sour with a lemony flavor. 

Sorrel definitely adds such a lovely edge to creamy and delicately flavored foods so it is perfect in a tart made with a creamy custard like this one. The leaves are easy to prepare, just wash them well and remove any tough stalks. Unless they are very small, the leaves are generally best shredded, just roll them up, then slice them across thinly. Once shredded and added to a hot pan, sorrel wilts dramatically, rather like spinach (to which it is related). It also loses its bright green color and quickly takes on a different hue - so cook quickly and add some fresh spinach to the mix for brightness and for taste.

This tart is well worth making. The pastry case is easy to work with and fits perfectly in my tart pan with the high sides. The green filling is obviously easily adaptable and  I liked that the recipe calls for scattered ricotta on top of the wilted greens. The ricotta "pockets" stayed intact while baking and made for the most delightful creamy white bites within the custard - we all enjoyed this tart tremendously.

Time to take a bit of a break with a look at these beauties - borlotti beans! A rare and treasured find of mine at my favorite Italian market! 

And last but not least the Pistachio dukka (page 294), form the chapter of "Mezze & Tapas", a traditional Persian combination of nuts, seeds and spices that is usually served in a small dish alongside a bowl of olive oil.

Hugh´s recipe calls for unsalted pistachios and sesame seeds (I used the regular ones as well black sesame seeds that always adds such a nice accent) - for the spice mix I used cumin and coriander seeds (I skipped the mint), chilli flakes and flaky sea salt - loved warming the spices until they smelled wonderful and filled the kitchen with incredible aromas. And the kids always enjoy using my beloved and very heavy pestle and mortar to grind the spices - what fun with a very delicious outcome.

Served with a fruity olive oil, fresh flatbread with sesame seeds and some lovely tiny black French olives (Merci à Dominique), we found this dry dip to be utterly addictive, I am keeping a bit of the left-over in the fridge and will make it again, for sure, maybe even add a bit more spice next time- what a delicious surprise of a recipe.

Another month full of wonderful vegetable dishes – we could not have been happier this month with the recipes and the younger taste testers also enjoyed that extra bit of attention - it really does not take much to get kids interested in healthy foods - just make it fresh, let them smell the ingredients, let them help with the shopping and the cooking and let them taste along the way. Let them use that pestle and mortar. Do not make the food too spicy and do not get discouraged if they do not like a dish or two, there are quite a few things out there that we do not enjoy so much either...your motto should always be: 

"...there is no such thing as kids food, only good food." (CP).

Please note, that for copyright reasons, we do NOT publish the recipes. If you enjoy the recipes in our series, hopefully, the wonderfully talented and enthusiastic members of The Cottage Cooking Club and their wonderful posts can convince you to get a copy of this lovely book. Better yet, do make sure to join us in this cooking adventure! There is still time!

For more information on the participation rules, please go here.

To see which wonderful dishes the other members of The Cottage Cooking Club prepared during the month of June, please go here.