Simple Moussaka

This is a quick and healthy moussaka that can be made even if you have just come back from a walk in the country, as was the case this week.  Eating blackberries on the way helped, of course!

It is not the recipe for a traditional moussaka and I replaced the lamb with bacon and did not use any cooking fat.

Serves 4:

2 large aubergines

1 big onion, peeled and sliced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

2 small carrots, peeled

6 slices of back rashers smoked bacon

2 tablespoons grated parmesan

5 slices emmental cheese

A handful flat leaf parsley

1. Top and tail the aubergines and steam them in a pressure cooker, making sure they remain firm.

2. Meanwhile, whizz the bacon, onion, garlic, carrots and parsley and cook in a non-stick frying pan without any fat.

3. Slice the aubergines and place them in an oven-proof dish. Cover with a layer of the bacon mixture and sprinkle the parmesan on top.

4. Add another layer of aubergine slices and put the emmental slices on top. Put the dish in the oven at 180C for 20 minutes and serve with a green salad and a cool Pinot Grigio.

Bon Appétit!

Tip: I tend to make a larger quantity of the bacon mixture which freezes well and use it for pasta sauces or as filling for provençal vegetables.

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Calamars à l’Armoricaine = Squid in Armoricaine Sauce

A family favourite and probably my signature dish, Squid in Armoricaine sauce are a little fiddly to prepare but worth the effort.

You can use either fresh squid or frozen, the taste is not altered. Moreover, this is a dish that freezes well and it comes in handy if you have a lazy day.

People are sometimes put off the idea of eating squid because they have only eaten rubbery rings, not sufficiently cooked. In this recipe, the squid are well cooked and tender and the sauce and flambé ensure that the taste is definitely present. The other misconception is that they could be as big as the deep sea monsters  featured in films. Not so, be reassured.

It is best to buy smallish squid but larger ones will mean less work for you at the preparation stage. If you like to cook en famille, young children will enjoy removing the transparent back bone (this, they can do by pulling it out, so do not need to use knives, which should be reserved for the adults cooks) and looking at the beautiful tentacles which resemble flowers. It is a good way to introduce children (but not infants) to tastier and varied dishes so they can educate their palate for adulthood.

My fishmonger sources them fresh from the coast or frozen from California, providing, as he says, that El Niño has not created a problem!

Serves 4:

1 kilo squid

1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1 handful flat leaves parsley, finely chopped

2 small tins tomato purée

50g butter

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

100ml dry white wine

2 or 3 tablespoons Cognac

salt and pepper to season

  1. Warm up the oil in a big cast iron cocotte, if you have one, or in any cooking pot. Gently fry the onion and the garlic. Add the tomato purée with a volume of water identical to the volume of the tin. Stir and let it simmer gently. Add half the white wine.
  2. Rinse the squid in a colander. On a chopping board, slice them open, one by one. Chop off the head just below the eyes and under the tentacles. Remove a little white hard ball that is at the base of the head. Reserve the tentacles. Open up the body and remove the transparent backbone. Discard it (or keep it for birds). If there are eggs, remove them and discard. Slice the flesh into thin strips, approximately 1 cm wide. Keep the slices and the tentacles in a colander and rinse. There is sometimes a black ink which I do not keep, but some people do to make a sepia sauce.
  3. Pre-heat a metal frying pan which is not a non-stick one. Put half the squid and dry fry it until it turns light pink. Collect the cooking juices and pour them in the simmering tomato sauce. Continue cooking the squid and add 25g of butter, stir well.
  4. Pour 1 tablespoon Cognac on top and flambé. When the flames have died down, put the squid in the cooking pot and déglacé the frying pan with some of the remaining white wine. Add the juices to the sauce.
  5. Repeat the operation for the remainder of the squid.
  6. Simmer gently for 20 minutes and add the chopped parsley 2 minutes before serving.
  7. Finally, serve either on a bed of black spaghetti or on a bed of rice, with a good Chablis or any other dry white wine of your choice.

Bon Appétit!

Tip: Save the transparent back bone and let it dry. Small birds will enjoy eating it. They are the original cuttlefish bones.

The black spaghetti have been tinted with the squid ink and they give a pleasant visual contrast to the red sauce.

Autres Coquilles Saint Jacques = Scallops with a Difference

Another family favourite is to use scallop shells and fill them with salt cod, mushrooms and a creamy sauce.
You will know by now that we like salt cod, desalted.
Apart from being healthy, it is part of a culture of growing up by the sea and enjoying all kind of sea food.
This is again an easy dish to prepare and can be made in larger quantities to freeze. I have never tried to freeze the scallop shells as I don’t think they would resist the very low temperatures but the fish mixture freezes well.
Fishmongers are usually happy to let you have free empty scallop shells if you ask.
I believe you can buy some oven-proof dishes in that shape but I prefer to use the real shells which are very attractive.
Usually 1 shell per person is fine but it is easy to double the quantities, depending on your appetite.

To fill 8 scallop shells you need:

300 g salt cod, de-salted ( see previous post on Buljol on 4 September 2014)
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 Portobello mushrooms, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped,
A handful of flat leaf parsley, rinsed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tub of crème de Brie or 1 tin Carnation milk
3 spoonfuls grated parmesan

1. Cook the cod and onion in a pressure cooker. ( check times with pressure cooker instructions).

2. Gently fry the garlic and mushrooms in a non-stick frying pan.

3. Put the fish mixture and mushroom mixture in a mixing bowl and add the parsley and crème de Brie. Mix well.

4. Fill the shells with the mixture and sprinkle a little grated parmesan on top.
Put in a pre-heated oven at 200C for 10 minutes.

Serve immediately with a salad or any vegetable. This time, I have used mini corn cobs.

Bon Appétit!

Tip: condensed milk can replace Crème de Brie if you are watching the calories.
A little mashed potato can be added to the fish mixture and so can a few prawns.
Salt cod can be replaced with smoked haddock or fresh salmon.
Of course, you can add a fresh scallop in each shell.

Fricassée de Champignons = Sautéed Mushrooms

It is now mushroom season and they make a marvellous accompaniment to any meat, hot or cold, or any white fish.

They don’t take long to cook and their scent fills the kitchen in a very appetising way.

Serves 4:

400g Portobello mushrooms, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
A handful flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

1. Warm up the oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the mushrooms, the garlic and the parsley.

2. Gently toss for a few minutes until the mushrooms are tender.

3. Season and serve immediately.

Bon Appétit!

Tip:
Served on slices of freshly baked country bread with a salad or with soup, this makes an easy light meal.

Alouettes sans Tête or Little Beef Parcels

The title of the dish really translates as “larks without heads”, which would seem very off-putting were it not for what it actually covers.
In a country where people are very happy to go hunting and eat small birds,
it would be natural to evolve a dish with that name.
However, I am happy to say that you will not need small birds but very tender and thinly cut minute beef steaks.
So, you can continue feeding the small birds in your garden without any pangs of conscience.

In Corsica, the beef is replaced with veal escalopes.
Most butchers sell rosé veal and you may prefer to try that.

This dish is cooked without any added fat and freezes well.

Serves 4:
8 very thin minute beef steaks ( approximately 80 or 90g each)
3 smoked back bacon rashers, fat removed
2 small carrots
1 branch celery
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small onion
A handful of flat leaf parsley
10 pitted black olives
Tomato sauce, home made if possible, or a tin of chopped tomatoes
300 ml red wine
100ml water
Salt and pepper to season ( Remember that the bacon and the olives will provide salt)

1. Put the bacon, onion, garlic, celery, parsley and carrots in a food processor and whiz. Cook quickly in a non-stick frying pan without any fat. ( The bacon will provide enough fat).

2. When this filling is cooked, put a tablespoon in the middle of each steak and fold the meat carefully to seal the filling in. To ensure that the parcel remains closed,you have 2 options: using a wooden toothpick, pierce the layers of meat firmly, or using strong white cotton thread and tie the meat.
(One disadvantage of using cotton thread is that you need either scissors or a very sharp steak knife to undo the parcel and the sauce may splash a little).

3. Put the tomato sauce in a pressure cooker and place the meat parcels delicately on top. Pour the wine and add the olives. Cover with the water.
Cook for 15 minutes.
Serve with tagliatelle or any other pasta of your choice.

Bon Appétit!

Gambas Flambées au Pernod with a little help from my friends

To celebrate Spring, we planned another cookery class at the club.
Virginie could not attend and I thought I had to take on the challenge by myself since the event had been advertised and quite a few people had signed on.
Everything having been carefully planned I was confident that all would go well. The evening was balmy, the Corsican rosé had miraculously arrived, thanks to my son and daughter-in-law.
As an added bonus, my friend Muriel appeared. Other friends knew she would join us but had decided to keep this as a surprise.
The first batch cooked well and the Pernod and rosé were sampled happily.
When it was time to cook the second batch, disaster struck: the electric wok went on strike!
It was when everyone rallied round and I was able to find an alternative for cooking the Gambas.

Serves approximately 20:

60 raw gambas ( tiger prawns), frozen
Olive oil
Garlic cloves, peeled
Flat leaf parsley
Pernod

1. Defrost the gambas and place them in a deep dish with a marinade of Pernod, garlic, parsley and olive oil for 1hour in the fridge.
2. Heat a wok or big frying pan on a high heat and place the gambas in it.
3. Add the mixture of garlic, parsley and olive oil.
4. When the gambas turn pink, pour the Pernod over them and flambé.

Bon Appétit!

Happy note:
The wok decided to work as soon as it got home! Maybe a case of stage fright !!