Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Cottage Cooking Club - July Recipes

The month of July marks the fifthteenth 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.

Since I cooked nine of the ten chosen recipes plus re-visited two that I made before, I will write about each dish according to the order in which I prepared them. 

My first recipe for this summery July post was the Summer Couscous Salad (page 89), from the chapter "Hearty Salads“.

This recipe is a variation on the Couscous salad with herbs and walnuts that we made back in November 2014.  As I could not find get "giant" couscous, for this summery version, I used medium-size pearl barley instead. Then some fresh broad beans, sweet peas, as well as diced summer squash, tomatoes, aubergines, and zucchinis. Plus lots of freshly chopped chives, Italian parsley and basil. We love these kinds of salads. adding freshly squeezed lemon juice and some more salt and pepper just before serving gives this salad a nice fresh kick. The salad can be prepared well in advance, you can use whatever seasonal veg you have on hand and no doubt, be the star at any picnic as well - a great recipe to remember year round.

The second recipe that I prepared was Celery and blue cheese bruschetta (page 199) from the chapter „Bready Things“. Always game for trying out some new variations of our beloved bruschettas, I was quite sure that we would not enjoy this one. I followed the short and easy recipe but used Ricotta salata instead of the the blue cheeses such as Roquefort, Danablu, Cabrales, Gorgonzola and Blue Stilton are not really cheeses that we particularly enjoy.

But to my surprise, once I added the thinly sliced celery to the toasted slices of country-style baguette, then some local runny honey, French sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic, a mild olive oil and topped it all off with some fresh fennel fronds, we actually enjoyed this unusual bruschetta. It has an agreeable saltiness from the cheese, sweetness from the honey and a fresh crunch from the celery and the fennel fronds. Nice change from the tomatoes and I am quite taken by Hugh´s bruschetta ideas.

Recipe number three was supposed to be the Peperonata (page 20) from the chapter "Comfort foods & feasts" and ended up being the Caponata (page 307) from the chapter "Mezze & Tapas" -  I simply made a mistake and did not notice until it was too late - but no matter, since we already made this recipe back in August 2014. 

Served alongside a lovely huge loaf of Afghan bread, this is one of my very favorite recipes from the book - chock full of seasonal vegetables such as aubergines, onions, celery, garlic, and tomatoes plus some capers, green olives, sultanas and a small grating of dark chocolate, this must be one of the "must make summer dishes" from Hugh´s book. Perfect warm, on its own, as a topping for bruschetta, mixed into pasta...the uses seem endless. The Caponata has the perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess that I so crave in my summer recipes. and, yes, I will make the Peperonata as a "make-up" in August.

For the fourth recipe, I chose the delightfully summery Runner beans with tomatoes and garlic (page 375) from the chapter "Side dishes". Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall specifies that this "dish works well with French beans too". So that is what I used. I always do. I have prepared this dish many times, it is easy and the fresher the beans and the tomatoes that you use, the more you will enjoy the results. 

When it comes to cooking them, French beans can be called "the fast food of the leguminous world". You only need to boil them in salted water for a few minutes until just tender and they can take all kinds of dressings, from a simple, lemony vinaigrette to a more Asian-style dressing. On the other hand, you may need to string runner beans before you cook and then simmer for about 15 minutes until tender. 

This rather humble side dish combines easy-to-find ingredients. All you need are beans, grated tomatoes, onion (I use red here), and garlic. Then some of the freshest basil that you can get your hands on - I always try to go with green as well as red rubin basil. This basil variety has unusual reddish-purple leaves, and a stronger flavor than sweet basil. I believe it adds a delightful peppery note to this dish.

Onto recipe number five the Summer stir-fry with egg-fried rice (page 286) from the chapter "Pasta & Rice“. For starters, I did not serve this lovely, green dish with the egg-fried rice but with the kids current favorite Asian pasta - these wonderful green tea noodles

For the summer stir-fry I opted for an all green assortment of delicious, seasonal veg, namely zucchinis, French beans, sweet peas, broccoli, and spinach. Then freshly grated ginger, spring onions, chili, and ginger. It always amazes me how wonderful these easy to-follow stir fries can be and how much the kids enjoy eating them - may I add even for breakfast because the day I served this stir-fry was, yet again, another very rainy July day and I needed that picture - so, in summary, this stir-fry makes for a delicious lunch, dinner and even breakfast fare.

My sixth recipe was a repeat performance - the Marinated courgettes (zucchini) with mozzarella (page 314) from the chapter " Mezze & Tapas" that we made back in July last year.

This time I used summer squash - such a pretty yellow color - and I used that Ricotta salata again instead of the Mozzarella. Always such a delightful recipe, one of our all time favorites. Add some small capers ("surfines") and fresh oregano from the garden to this side dish and you will be a very happy vegetable eater.

Who can resist the undeniable charm of burgundy colored spring onions - I cannot, so I decided to add another repeat performance to the list and made the Spring Onion Galette (page 220) from the chapter "Store-cupboard Suppers" again. 

This recipe is another that you should have in the back of your mind when shopping for dinner - apart from the Parmegiano Reggiano that you probably have in your fridge anyways, all you need are spring onions and ready-made good quality puff pastry - voilà! You are all set for the most delightful appetizer or main dish with a lovely seasonal side salad.

It is these kinds of recipes that draw me to this book again and again - I admit that I know quite a few of them by heart now and that I even remember the pages they are on.....and I am just trying to point out how easy it is to incorporate the dishes from Hugh´s book into your everyday cooking. Yes, I am quite aware that we all have tons of cookbooks on our shelves and that we all have our favorite cookbook authors but at the end of the day most of us are looking for healthy delicious, easy to remember, no fuss recipes that we all enjoy. Every. Single. Day.

Having said that it is time to move onto Green beans, new potatoes and olives (page 222) from the chapter "Store-cupboard Suppers".

When I took the first taste of this salad, I said that it tastes like "River Cottage food" - having made most of the one hundred and forty recipes from the book by now, I am familiar with the taste and flavor combinations as well as the combination of textures from this book - they have become part of our lives and are familiar to us, they guide my taste buds when I make recipes from the book or my own. 

Since the kids adore yellow beans and I came across them the other day, I made this recipe with green as well as yellow French beans - just beans, olives, new potatoes, garlic, lemon and tons of fresh herbs - dinner, summertime dinner could not be easier or more delicious.

The recipe for Charred baby leeks with romesco (page 336) from the chapter " Roast, Grill & Barbecue" was the one that made me most curious this month. Many years ago, a friend of mine told me about the festival in the Catalan region of Spain that he always looked forward to every year - the "calçotada" -  a barbecue meal unique to the area and devoted to a variety of giant spring onions. First the fire-blackened outer layer of the onion is pulled away to reveal a juicy white core. Then the tip is dipped into romesco sauce and the dripping calçot is lowered into the mouth in one go. You get the picture. 

No dipping blackened spring onions into the delicious romesco sauce in this house - I went with grilled fennel instead. What a treat - as Hugh says this sauce is good with just about any grilled veg and I loved the flavors here that the ingredients brought to this sauce - the chilies, tomatoes, red pepper, garlic, toasted hazelnuts, red wine vinegar and that lovely, Spanish sweet smoked paprika a condiment I often use) as well as a thick slice of country bread (for thickening). wonderful new recipe to try - might add a bit more spice next time but will definitely serve it with my Antipasta spread in the future.

Recipe number ten was the easy one this month - the Marinated Cucumbers with Mint (page 1222) from the chapter "Raw assemblies".

As every month, I always try to include one very easy recipe. One that is like an afterthought of sorts, the one that you prepare while cooking yet another recipe from the book.

This one is also easy. A few minutes is all it takes. It is English cucumbers, a dressing of cider vinegar, some light oil, pepper, salt and a pinch of sugar plus fresh mint - very British, very fresh, very summery. The kids eats just about every herb there is on this planet but they do not do mint - so, I used our apple mint from the garden and just placed it on top of the salad plates - the apple mint definitely smells of green apples and mint, less strong and more agreeable than the other garden mint.

Last but not least my eleventh dish for this month the Mexican tomato and bean soup (page 138) from the chapter "Hefty Soups".

There is another dish, like the romesco sauce, that I had never prepared before - Mexican food is not that popular around here and it is not the one that comes to my mind first when making soup. But since I believe this was the winning dish for the kids this month, it will certainly grace our table many more times in the future. To me, a good soup has to look attractive, and balance its textures and flavors. More importantly, it must clearly taste of its ingredients, and this soup delivers on all accounts.

So much deep, warm tomato flavor, delightfully accented by onions, garlic, chilies, limes, black beans as well as the Mexican oregano that my dear friend David Scott Allan gifted me when he came for a visit all the way from lovely Tucson, AZ at the beginning of the month - what an utter delight to be able to meet him and Mark and to show him my hometown Cologne. A first US- European blogger meeting for me - I sincerely hope that it was not the last.

In summary, another month full of wonderful vegetable dishes – this month we were delighted to enjoy some of our favorite summer recipes from Hugh´s book for breakfast (HA!), lunch and dinner and, best of all, for relaxed al fresco dinners. What can possibly be better than to cook with fresh ingredients and true to our motto this month "Enjoy summer´s bounty" to the fullest?! So, what are you waiting for - it is time to enjoy the great outdoors. Pack a summer picnic basket with simple salads, breads and fresh fruits.

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!

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...