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Authors: Dorie Greenspan

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Herbed Olives

N
O MATTER THE SIZE
of a French outdoor market, you can be sure that among the vegetable sellers and butchers, the cheese makers and fishmongers, you'll find a stand where the specialty is olives. Well, olives, along with nuts and spices, dried fruit,
citrons confits
(preserved lemons), and often a few savory snackables, like stuffed cherry peppers or rice-filled grape leaves, hints that the vendors have their roots in regions around the Mediterranean. Their selections of olives are wide, ranging from small, shiny black Niçoise olives to shriveled oil-cured olives and green olives the size of Ping-Pong balls; some glisten with olive oil, and others are speckled with herbs and strips of lemon zest. I prefer to buy the plainest olives in the bunch, bring them home, and flavor them myself.

Although it's rare that I season the olives the same way twice—the tweaks are usually a result of what herbs are on hand or what zest I can grab—I do keep the basic proportion of olives to oil pretty consistent. So here's a base recipe that you can play with and make your own. And as to the olives themselves: just use ones you like. In fact, if you've got different olives on hand, some left over from one party and some from another, put them together and flavor them—it will give them a delicious second life. The photo is on
[>]
.

BE PREPARED:
Although you can serve these as soon as they've cooled, it's best to let them stand for at least 8 hours, and they'll be so, so much better if you allow them to flavor for a week or two.

2
cups olives (see above)
3
rosemary sprigs
3
thyme sprigs
¼
teaspoon coriander seeds
¼
teaspoon black peppercorns

teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
½
cup extra-virgin olive oil
4
garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and halved again
2
bay leaves, cut lengthwise in half
1
dried red chile, split, or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2
strips orange or lemon zest, white pith removed
Salt to taste

Spoon the olives into a clean 1-quart jar (I like a canning jar here), another heatproof sealable container, or a bowl. Remove the leaves from 2 rosemary sprigs and 2 thyme sprigs (discard the stems), and chop the leaves.

Put a heavy skillet over medium heat, and when it's hot, toss in the coriander seeds, peppercorns, and fennel seeds, if you're using them. Swirl them around in the pan just until you catch a whiff of their fragrance, then scrape them out of the pan into a small bowl.

Let the pan cool down for a couple of minutes, then put it over very low heat. Pour in ¼ cup of the olive oil and add all the remaining ingredients, including the spices, herb leaves, and the intact rosemary and thyme sprigs. Heat the mixture just until it's warm and fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Pour the herbed oil over the olives and add as much of the remaining oil as needed to cover them. Mix everything around once or twice, and let the jar stand until the ingredients reach room temperature. You can serve the olives now, but they'll be much tastier if you seal the jar or cover the bowl and let them macerate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or for up to a week or two.

 

MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS

 

SERVING
Olives like these are the perfect nibble with cocktails, but they're also good to take along on a picnic. While I like them just as they are, if you want to, you can warm them slightly, either in a small saucepan over very gentle heat or in 5-second spurts in a microwave, before serving at home.

 

STORING
Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator, the olives will keep for about 2 months. When the olives are gone, use the oil to dress salads, toss with pasta, or drizzle over chicken.

buttered radishes

At first mention, butter and radishes seem an odd couple, but they're a classic French combination that, given how great American radishes are, should be adopted across our land. Like most right-minded people, the French prefer their radishes young, mild, and lacking a serious hit of heat (something all radishes develop with age), but no matter the kind of radish, Gallic taste decrees that the force of the radish needs a mellowing counterbalance, and butter does the trick (just as it does when you have buttered bread with briny oysters or salty Roquefort).

If you want to serve radishes in the French style, wash them well, and if they came with stems and leaves, trim their topknots, leaving just enough greenery to serve as handles. Drop the radishes into a bowl of ice water and keep them there until serving. (You can even serve them on ice.) Serve the radishes whole accompanied by very soft butter for spreading on the radishes and a bowl of sea salt, preferably fleur de sel, for dipping; small rounds of dark bread or baguette are optional.

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

I
F A SURVEY WERE TAKEN
to find out the most popular nibble offered with drinks in France, nuts would take first place, followed by olives. You get peanuts at many cafés when you order an aperitif; pistachios and salted almonds at friends' homes; and cashews chez us, because they're Michael and my son, Joshua's, favorite. But as good as fresh nuts are in their natural state, they're better when they've been personalized a bit. In fact, flavored nuts are the kind of thing that can quickly become a
spécialité de la maison,
something friends look forward to having when they're at your house.

I like to make the nuts with a mix of chili powder (I bring it from New York to Paris, where the closest thing to chili powder I can find is a mixture suggested for cooking things
à la Mexicaine),
cinnamon, salt, and sugar, but you can play with the flavors as well as with the nuts. This is a recipe meant to be tinkered with, so that it can be yours, truly.

½
cup sugar

teaspoons salt

teaspoons chili powder
½
teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne
1
large egg white
2
cups nuts (whole or halves, but not small pieces), such as almonds, cashews, peanuts, or pecans (hard to find in France—and expensive), or a mix

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Spray a nonstick baking sheet with cooking spray or line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Mix the sugar, salt, and spices together in a small bowl. Beat the egg white lightly with a fork in a larger bowl, just breaking up the white so that it's runny. Toss in the nuts and stir to coat them with the egg white, then add the sugar and spice mixture and continue to stir so that the nuts are evenly coated.

Using your fingers, lift the nuts one by one from the bowl, letting the excess egg white drip back into the bowl (you can run the dipped nuts against the side of the bowl to get rid of the last bit of egg white), and transfer them to the baking sheet, separating them as best you can.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the nuts are browned and the coating is dry. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the nuts to another baking sheet, a cutting board, or a piece of parchment paper, breaking them apart as necessary, and let cool completely.

 

MAKES 2 CUPS

 

SERVING
These are good with everything from cider and beer to Champagne.

 

STORING
Covered and in a dry place, the nuts will keep for about 5 days at room temperature.

 

BONNE IDÉE
You can swap the spices at whim. For a change, omit the chili powder and go for Chinese five-spice powder (you can keep the cinnamon if you like), curry powder (use just a smidgen of cinnamon with the curry), or even cardamom (in which case, cut the cinnamon). You can also make herb-flavored nuts using finely chopped fresh herbs or dried herbs (just make sure your dried herbs are bright colored and still fragrant). Try mixing the nuts with fresh rosemary or thyme or dried herbes de Provence; keep the sugar and salt, and drop the chili powder and cinnamon.

Hummus

T
HE SAME WAY THAT IMPORTS
like tzatziki (
[>]
) and guacamole (
[>]
) have captured the culinary imagination of the French, so hummus has wiggled its way into the Gallic repertoire: supermarkets large and small stock the Middle Eastern dip in a dizzying number of varieties. At heart, hummus is a simple, basic, satisfying blend of chickpeas, tahini, and lemon juice, and, although it can be paired with many foods—it's particularly good with grilled chicken—it's most often served as a dip with triangles of pita or lavash doing dipper duty.

Making hummus at home is easy and very quick, and once you've got a bowl of it, it's an inspiration: you can make your own "house hummus" by adding chopped roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, garlic (raw or roasted), spices, herbs, or the same vegetables, chopped, that you might want to use as scoops.

1
can (about 16 ounces) chickpeas, drained (reserve the liquid), rinsed, and patted dry
2
garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and chopped

cup well-stirred tahini
2
tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
About ½ teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the chickpeas, garlic, tahini, and lemon juice in a food processor and whir until smooth. With the machine running, add some of the reserved chickpea liquid a little at a time until the hummus is a nice thick, scoopable texture—you'll probably need about 4 tablespoons of liquid. Add the cumin, if you'd like, tasting to get the amount you want, then season with salt and pepper and more lemon juice, if you think it needs it.

Scoop the hummus into a bowl or refrigerator container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface, and chill until serving time.
(The hummus can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

When you're ready to serve, taste again for salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

 

MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS OR 8 TO 10 SERVINGS

 

SERVING
The hummus can be served, as is, with pita, lavash, crackers, or thin slices of baguette or an assortment of crunchy vegetables (like carrots, cucumbers, celery, and radishes) as dippers. You can fold a generous amount of chopped parsley into the hummus before serving, or drizzle over some olive oil and dot the top of the hummus with whole chickpeas.

 

STORING
The hummus can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. If you are making it ahead and want to add parsley, add it at the last minute so it doesn't blacken.

Lyonnaise Garlic and Herb Cheese
(aka Boursin's Mama)

A
UTHENTICALLY CALLED
CERVELLE DE CANUT,
or, literally, "the silk-weaver's brains," this luscious mix, part dip, part spread, part salad dressing, strikes everyone, me included, as the inspiration for Boursin, the soft herb cheese that's as much a supermarket favorite in the United States as it is in France. Created at a time when Lyon was the center of a thriving silk industry, the dish is traditionally made with fromage blanc, which is sometimes mixed with cream. And it is always mixed with a little vinegar or white wine, a little oil, and lots of herbs, usually parsley, chives, and chervil, the licoricey herb that is beloved and easily available in France but less known and much less gettable in America—where tarragon makes a fine stand-in.

While fromage blanc is also difficult to find here and, when found, quite expensive, ricotta, if spooned into a strainer and left to drain for a few hours, works perfectly—it has precisely the right mild flavor and soft, thick, airy texture for this dish.

If you want to serve the herb cheese for an hors d'oeuvre, just put it out with a selection of raw vegetables—it's particularly good with radishes—or crackers or bread. Should you want to use it as a dressing, thin it with a lick of milk or cream and use it over greens of any kind, especially bitter greens. To fancy it up a bit, use it as a stuffing for hollowed-out tomatoes (see Bonne Idée), piquillo peppers, or store-bought cherry peppers. Or, to make it part of a cheese platter, just shape it into quenelles or present it in a bowl with a spoon, so guests can scoop their own.

BE PREPARED:
No matter how you serve it, you'll want it to be cold, so plan ahead. (Plan even further ahead if you're using ricotta.)

2
cups fromage blanc or ricotta (can be part-skim)
½
shallot, minced, rinsed, and patted dry
1
garlic clove (or a little more, if you'd like), split, germ removed, and minced
About 2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
About 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
About 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
2
teaspoons red wine vinegar
2
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

If you're using fromage blanc, put it in a medium bowl. If you're using ricotta, you'll need to drain it for a few hours to thicken its texture a bit. Spoon the ricotta into a fine-mesh strainer, put the strainer over a bowl, and cover the setup with a large plate or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, if that's more convenient. When you're ready to use it, spoon the ricotta into a medium bowl and discard whatever liquid has drained from it.

BOOK: Around My French Table
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