Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Jamón Ibérico from Guijuelo and New Potato, Spinach & Pea Frittata with Iberico Ham Topping

A few weeks ago I was contacted by people from the IBEHAM Project and asked if I would like to learn more about and sample some of their Iberian ham (Jamón Ibérico) from Guijuelo a municipality located in the province of Salamanca, and then share my experience with the readers of my blog and on social media. Since I had the pleasure of having tasted Iberican ham before and are aware of its rather unique qualities, I agreed and was kindly sent two different varities -  the Jamón de Bellota and the Jamón de Cebo de Campo.

The Jamón Ibérico (as opposed to the Jamón Serrano) comes from a certified Iberian breed of pigs that varies significantly from pigs found elsewhere. Ibérico pigs are reared in freedom, roaming the meadows foraging for acorns (from the holm oaks and cork oaks) as well as herbs and grasses, building their muscles and thereby facilitating the permeation of fat into their flesh. Their special diet gives their meat that uniquely characteristic taste. Ibérico pigs yield hams that are streaked with glossy marbling fat. The texture of the ham is remarkably soft. Due to high percentage of healthy mono unsaturated fat within the meat, slices of Ibérico ham glisten when served at room temperature.

Many centuries ago, the rulers of western Spain decreed that each town and village should create pastures studded with oak trees, called the 'Dehesa'. During the spring and summer, cattle grazes the fields, during the fall and winter when the holm and cork oaks provide acorns (bellota) that fall from the trees, the Iberian pigs are released to fatten up. Iberico pigs love acorns. Each pig can eat 10 kilos of acorns a day. When the pigs destined to be Bellota hams are released onto the Dehesa at the age of about 10 months they weigh in about 200 pounds each, after 3 to 4 months of the period known as the ‘montanera’ each pig roughly doubles its weight. The pigs destined to be Cebo hams, on the other hand are grain fed for the same length of time. In Spain, there are only four regions that are allowed to produce Iberico ham (both the Bellota as well as the Cebo) – Huelva, Los Pedroches, Extremadura and Guijuelo.

To prepare the hams for consumption, it has to go through a rather elaborate process of salting, washing, post-salting, natural curing and ageing, which can take anywhere form two to five years. This extraordinarily long curing process is possible because of the huge amount of fat on each ham and, in the case of the Bellota hams, the antioxidant quality of their diets. Over the curing period the hams lose nearly half their weight as the fat drips away. The ultimate result is meat that is dark red and well marbled.

When buying Iberician ham make sure to look for the so-called Quality Guarantee – a seal, label and special stamp. The PDO Guijeulo seals and labels guarantee the traceability of an Iberian pork product from animals that are raised, fed, processed and cured under the stringent quality controls. All producers have to meet those high standards before their product can be sold.

The people fom the IBEHAM Project sent me both a red label and a green label sample with the red being acorn-fed (Bellota) 75% Iberian, and the green being grain-fed (Cebo de Campo) 75% Iberian. When we tasted the two well marbled hams, at room temperature, the Bellota tasted somewhat more complex, with a slightly more rounded, nutty flavor, the Cebo de Campo, was a bit less complex and with a higher percentage of fat – yet both were absolutely amazing.

Iberian ham is considered to be part of the well-known Mediterranean diet – thanks to the feeding and breeding conditions of the pigs, the ham is rich in healthy fats, vitamins and proteins. And I must say that it defintively has a complex, intense flavor, with a note of sweetness that is truly unparalleled.

The European Stamp of Distinguished Quality (PDO: Protected Designation of Origin) marks Iberian ham out and confers a distinction of excellence with respect to other Iberian products, sharing a series of values and attributes that differentiate and protect them from lower-quality imitations: deep rooted in the environment and the ecosystem;  100% natural product; traditional production methods and quality control systems that are guaranteed by law and performed by independent inspectors.

The PDO Guijuelo is made up of family businesses, many of whom are third and fourth generation producers, that are engaged in producing a unique product that meets the most demanding quality standards.

Having tasted those wonderful Iberian hams, I realized, again, how very delicious they are, with their rich and nutty flavor, they are certainly a real treat. Thanks very much to the Ibeham project for having given me this chance not only to taste the hams but also to be able to incorporate them in a number of wonderful recipes.

Above I share pictures of my Salsify with Tomato Chili Oil with Jamón Ibérico de Cebo de Campo Topping – a delicious seasonal and regional winter vegetable, with a bit of heat from the chili, sweetness from the tomatoes and delightful bits of Iberican ham - a truly wonderful combination of flavors. And below, I share my recipe for a New Potato, Spinach and Pea Frittata with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Topping - also seasonal, although more on the spring side of recipes - comforting, delicious and a perfect vessel for the amazing topping of Bellota ham.

New Potato, Spinach & Pea Frittata with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Topping


For the Frittata
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 150g (5½ oz) baby spinach leaves, washed and picked through with some water still clinging to the leaves
  • 500g (1 lb 2 oz) cooked new potatoes, sliced (I used red skinned variety)
  • 100g fresh OR frozen peas (small ones)
  • 8 eggs (M), free range or organic
  • 1 tbsp, fresh basil (washed, dried and chopped)
  • 2 tsp fresh chives (washed, dried and finely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp fresh flat-leaved (Italian) parsley, (washed, dried and chopped)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the Topping
  • a few slices Iberico ham (I used Jamón Ibérico de Bellota)
  • some well drained caper berries and fresh herb blossoms (optional)

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (395°F).
  2. Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a large frying pan with a flameproof handle and sauté the spring onions and the crushed garlic for 3 minutes, or until they have softened.
  3. Add the spinach and continue frying for 2 minutes, or until the spinach has wilted. Then add the peas and cook for another 5 minutes. Then stir in the potatoes and heat through.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the basil, chives and parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, reduce the heat and cook for a few minutes over a medium to low heat and allow the mixture to set slowly without stirring until the egg begins to set.
  6. Transfer the pan tot he pre-heated oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until set and golden.
  7. Once the frittata has cooled to room temperature, turn it out onto a wooden board and cut the frittata into wedges, then top with a few slices of Iberico ham, caper berries (or you could use green olives here) and and herb blossoms. Serve straight away.
  8. NOTE: make sure to cook the egg mixture over a medium to low heat and allow the mixture to set slowly without stirring. Stirring once the eggs have begun to set will break the mixture apart. Too high a heat will burn the base before the egg mixture is set sufficiently to be finished in the oven.

One last note, during my research on Jamón Ibérico I learned that it is advisable to serve this ham at room temperature, not cold from the fridge, that way the complex flavors of this carefully produced natural product will have a chance to fully develop – so wether you serve the ham as paper thin slices on a plate, as part of a mezze spread or as a topping to a Frittata, make sure to let the ham come to room temperature before enjoying it - sometimes this delicate Iberican ham is also served on a pre-warmed serving plater, glistening and shiny, giving this product a chance to develop its complex flavors.

Thank you, again, to the kind people at the IBEHAM Project for sending me these wonderful samples of Jamón Ibérico (Bellota as well as Cebo de Campo) from Guijuelo - for more information about the ham, the cooperation with the European Union and the project itself, pls go here  - although I was provided with samples, pls note that the above opinions are my entirely my own.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Gâteau aux Carottes - Carrot Cake

This lovely little Gâteau aux Carottes – (Carrot Cake) is inspired by a recipe from Pierre Hermé, the famous French pastry chef and chocolatier. Back in 2013, we baked the wonderful 'Sablés aux Olives Noires Pierre Hermé - Pierre Hermé´s Black Olive Sablés' for the French Fridays with Dorie Group (FFwD - link here) and we loved the recipe. Today, I am presenting another of his countless recipes, a simple Carrot Cake. As a matter of fact, I love Carrot Cakes, the classic European version with a simple glaze that I blogged about in the past (go here for the recipe) and occasionally also the British or American, double-layer version with lots of grated carrots, nuts and sultanas or raisins and slathered with cream cheese frosting and finished with a topping of candied carrots, chopped walnuts or pecans, a rather indulgent treat.

The first thing that caught my attention when I saw this recipe, was its simplicity - petite cakes with few but quality ingredients and big on taste, always interest me. And this Carrot Cake delivers. It is easy to make and superbly delicious and it contains just a few ingredients - its taste and texture depend upon the quality of the ingredients that you choose to use for the recipe. If possible, use organic carrots and eggs, maybe farm fresh eggs, use a good mild oil here and buy your nuts at a place with a high turnover and grind them yourself just before adding to the batter. As far as the vanilla and cinnamon are concerned, these two ingredients were added by me to the recipe - I like to use homemade vanilla sugar and organic Ceylon cinnamon which has a warm taste and will not overpower the other ingredients. These two additions are a nice compliment to the flavors - leave them out if you wish.

One last remark with respect to these adorable and delicious 'Simple Cakes' (as I like to refer to them), if you can get hold of a small fancy baking pan, get it and then use it! Simple cakes look even more appealing when you use an unusual baking pan. After all, as the saying goes - you eat with your eyes first!

Gâteau aux Carottes -  Carrot Cake
(inspired by Le Larousse des Desserts de Pierre Hermé, Larousse, first published in 1997, latest ed. from 2006)

Ingredients for the Cake
  • 2 eggs (M), farm fresh, organic and/or free range
  • 100g powdered sugar, sifted
  • 4g pure vanilla sugar (use homemade if you have some on hand) - not in the original recipe
  • 50g all purpose (plain) flour (around here I use 'type 405'), plus some for flouring the pan
  • 10g baking powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon (I like to use organic Ceylon cinnamon) - not in the original recipe
  • 60 g finely ground hazelnuts (grind both types of nuts just before making the cake)
  • 70 g finely ground almonds
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 250g carrots (washed, trimmed and peeled you will end up with 200g finely grated carrots, about 3 medium ones), try to use organic carrots
  • 25 ml vegetable oil (I like to use sunflower oil)
  • PLUS: some unsalted, room temperature butter for greasing the pan

Glaze (optional)
  • about 2 heaping tsp apricot jam, heated and strained - not in the original recipe
  • a few chopped natural pistachios
  • OR: use a bit of powdered sugar for a simple yet elegant dusting

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (356°F).
  2. Using a pastry brush, butter and flour your baking pan carefully, turn the pan upside down and shake out any excess flour (I used a small baking pan - a light-colored, non-stick metal pan works best).
  3. In a large bowl, with a hand-held mixer, whisk the eggs with the powdered sugar and vanilla sugar until the mixture becomes white and fluffy (or do by hand with a large whisk).
  4. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, both typs of ground nuts and salt.
  5. Switching from the mixer to a spatula or large spoon (wooden or metal), add the flour mixture to the egg mixture.
  6. Then add half the the grated carrots to the mixture, then the oil and then the remaining carrots and stir just until combined. Do not whisk.
  7. Pour into your prepped cake pan, level and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
  8. Once the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, take it out of the oven, place it on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then carefully loosen from the pan and while still warm brush the apricot glaze evenly over the surface of the cake (optional). If you like, you can sprinkle the finished cake with a bit of chopped pistachios.
  9. Let cool completely and serve - if you have chosen not to glaze the cake, dust with a bit of powdered sugar just before serving. NOTE: this Carrot Cake keeps well for a few days, if you keep it covered and in a cool place.

Nothing beats a simple little Carrot Cake - whether you're enjoying it with your as 'Breakfast Cake' with your morning coffee, afternoon tea or just fancy a treat.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Late Winter Comfort Food - Wholegrain Spelt Flour 'Flambettes' with a Topping of Caramelized Fennel

Just a rather quick post about those delicous Wholegrain Spelt Flour Flambettes with Caramelized Fennel that I made the other day. I love, love this recipe for 'Flambettes', the small versions of 'Flammekueche' aka 'Tarte Flambée', a specialty from Alsace in eastern France, on the German border.

Basically, a 'Flammekueche' can be considered as a cross between a savory tart and a pizza, traditionally topped with sour cream (or crème fraîche), lardons, and thinly slivered onions. My 'Flambettes' are rounds of wholegrain spelt flour dough spread with crème fraîche and sour cream, and sprinkled with previously caramelized fennel. Yum!

Originally, 'Flammekueche' (literally translated as 'flame cake') also known as a 'plat du pauvre' (a 'dish of the poor') traditionally made on bread-baking day, was a bit of dough rolled flat, covered in sour cream and baked in 2 to 3 minutes in a blazing wood oven in order to check the oven's temperature and suitability for baking bread and other items. Often burned at the edges ('licked by the flames'), it has made a real comeback at many a country fair around here, covered with all sorts of different toppings. At home, you can certainly get excellent results with a regular oven and longer baking time. And you can opt for the smaller versions, called 'Flammbettes'.

Wholegrain Spelt Flour Flambettes  with Caramelized Fennel
Ingredients for the Dough
(yields 4 flambettes)
  • 30g fresh yeast
  • 50 ml olive oil (it is best to use a mild olive oil here, suitable for high temperatures)
  • 200 ml lukewarm water
  • 400g wholegrain spelt flour (I like to use organic spelt flour)
  • 1 egg (M), free range or organic 
  • pinch of fine sea salt

Ingredients for the Topping
  • 3 fennel bulbs (about medium size)
  • olive oil
  • a knob of butter
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 100g sour cream (or a bit more)
  • 100g crème fraîche (or a bit more)
  • zest of ½ organic (and/or untreated) lemon, plus juice from about ½ lemon
  • freshly ground black pepper & salt (to taste)

Preparation of the Flambette Dough
  1. In a bowl, mix together the yeast with the oil and 100 ml of the water (stir until the yeast is completely dissolved) – then cover and set aside for 20 minutes in a warm spot.
  2. To the same bowl, add half the flour (200g), the egg and the salt. Mix until it comes together. Then add the remaining flour (200g) and water (100ml) and mix again.
  3. Cover with kitchen wrap or tea towel and leave in a warm place to let the dough rise for at least 60 minutes.

Preparation of the Topping
  1. While the dough is rising, prepare the topping.
  2. Clean and thinly slice three fennel bulbs – making sure to discard the tough stems and roots but keep the fennel fronds for the final topping (after the Flambettes have emerged from the oven).
  3. In a large pan, heat some olive oil and fry the fennel in batches (depending on the size of your pan, you will need to fry three or more times) - salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Once a batch of fennel is golden and soft, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and continue frying the next batch – repeat with olive oil, salt, pepper – until all the fennel is done.
  5. Wipe out your pan, add a bit of olive oil and a good knob of butter and melt on medium heat. Then add a tablespoon of sugar, stir until the sugar is dissolved and then add all the fried fennel back into the pan, stir well, heat through until lightly caramelized, salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, the crème fraîche, lemon zest and juice, pepper and salt – taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  7. Pre-heat your oven (as hot as it will go) – either use pizza stone (if you have one) OR turn a baking sheet upside down and slide in the oven to pre-heat. 
  8. Once the dough has risen, punch the dough gently to knock the air out, then tip out onto a lightly floured surface.
  9. Divide the dough into four balls
  10. Turn the balls of dough into disks (roll out as thin as possible but make sure to leave a thicker/raised border and without ripping the middle). This is best done by hand.
  11. Place on parchment paper (two will fit on one baking sheet).
  12. Divide the cream mixture between the four flambettes (make sure to stay within the border), then top with the caramelized fennel.
  13. Very carefully slide the parchment paper onto the pre-heated baking sheet (you will have to bake one set of Flambettes at a time).
  14. Bake in the hot oven until nice and crisp around the edges – about 12 to 15 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven). Repeat with the second set of Flambettes.
  15. Just before serving sprinkle the reserved (see above) fennel fronds on the topping and if you want a bit of freshly cracked black pepper.
  16. Serve warm or at room temperature.

In Alsace, 'Flammekueche' is often eaten as a first course and shared with a large group as part of a larger feast. But it’s also delicious as a simple supper, with a seasonal green salad on the side. Same holds true for these 'Flambettes' - enjoy as a light lunch (which is what we did), serve as part of a large Mezze spread or serve as a first course for a dinner crowd.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Two Kinds Of Biscotti - Lemon Almond Biscotti & Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

First up, a recipe for Lemon Almond Biscotti -  nice, light, not too crunchy, although baked twiced, easy to make and with a bit of an elegant look to them. These can be enjoyed as they are, dunked into coffee, tea or sweet dessert wine or served as a little cookie on the side with stewed or fresh fruit, or, of course lovely ice cream or a fruity sorbet.

If you are a reader of my blog, you will have noticed that I have posted many different recipes for Biscotti (also know as Cantuccini) before - if you are interested, you can take a look at my recipe for Espresso, Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate Biscotti here or go for my festive Gingerbread and Almond Biscotti here and my Speculaas Biscotti with Almonds here.

Just a few notes concerning this particular recipe for Lemon Almond Biscotti. Since the Biscotti are baked twice, there is no need to toast the almonds beforehand but if you prefer the almonds to be darker and have a slightly more nutty flavor, you can toast the almonds before mixing them into the dough. To toast the almonds, spread them on a parchment lined baking sheet and toast until lightly golden and just until fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool before you add them to the dough.

You should also note that this recipe can be mixed by stand mixer with the paddle attachment, on medium speed, or by hand with a wooden spoon.

Lemon Almond Biscotti

  • 140g (½ cup plus 2 tbs) superfine (baking) sugar
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar OR use ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 60g (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tsp Amaretto
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from one organic/untreated lemon), plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 egg (M), plus 1 egg white (M), free range or organic
  • 190g (1 ½ cups) AP (plain) flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 100g (½ cup) slivered almonds
  • powdered sugar (optional)

  1. In a large bowl, stir together sugar, vanilla sugar, butter, Amaretto, lemon zest and juice. 
  2. Stir in egg and egg white.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Stir flour mixture into egg mixture just until combined.
  5. Stir in almonds.
  6. Cover dough with kitchen wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Preheat your oven to 175° C (350°F).
  8. Halve dough and place on baking sheet lined with backing parchment.
  9. Form into two logs. NOTE: if you find the dough too sticky to handle, moisten your hands with some water.
  10. Bake until pale golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  11. Carefully loosen logs from the baking sheet, then cool on sheets on wire racks, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  12. Transfer logs to your cutting bord.
  13. With a serrated knife, cut logs into 1cm (0.3 in) slices and arrange on baking sheet.
  14. Bake until Biscotti are pale golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
  15. Transfer Biscotti to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  16. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (optional). NOTE: the cooled Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container (cookie tin). Recipe yields about 30 cookies.

If you are looking to bake Biscotti with a bit more crunch and with lots of chocolate the Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti are for you. These dark beauties have a deep chocolaty flavor. And lots of pistachios, those slim, oblong nuts, ranging from pale, creamy yellow to dark green, that are kernels of small olive-like fruit. Make sure you use the freshest pistachios you can, get them from a reliable source with a high turnover and keep any leftovers in a jar in your fridge.

Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

  • 250g (2 cups) AP (plain) flour
  • 50g (1/2 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Belgian or Dutch cocoa powder maent for baking)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 85g (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g (1 cup) superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar OR use ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs (M), free range or organic 
  • 125g (1 cup) natural, unsalted pistachios (shelled) – make sure that you remove as much of the dry skins as possible before you add the pistachios to your dough (best done by rubbing the skinds off between the layers of a tea towel), coarsely chopped
  • 100g (3/4 cup) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I use 72%)
  • powdered sugar

  1. In a bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter, sugar and vanilla sugar until light and fluffy. 
  3. Add eggs, one at a time and beat until combined well. 
  4. Stir in flour mixture to form a stiff dough. 
  5. Stir in pistachios and chocolate chunks.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 175° C (365° F).
  7. On a parchment lined baking sheet with floured hands form dough into two slightly flattened logs, each about 30cm (12in) long and 5cm (2in) wide, and sprinkle with powdered sugar. 
  8. Bake logs for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. 
  9. Cool logs on baking sheet for about 5 to 10 minutes. 
  10. Then transfer to a cutting board and cut the logs diagonally into 2 cm (0.75in)  slices. 
  11. Arrange Biscotti, cut sides down, on your parchment lined baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. 
  12. Cool Biscotti on a rack.

Recipe note - the dough yields two logs with 16 biscottis each – you can bake one log and freeze the other, or, of course, bake both logs at the same time on the same baking sheet. Biscotti keep in an airtight container for about one week and frozen, about one month.