A cherry classic

On one of my recent flea market forays, I found these lovely porcelain dishes – they just called out to me from their crate!  They weren’t all that expensive so I bought six!!

IMG_5560

With the cherries in season, it was time to put the dishes to work.  I had a feeling that they would be the perfect size for an individual cherry clafoutis.  You might have heard of clafoutis – it is a kind of flan, traditionally made with black cherries.  I had some red cherries, but I thought they would work just fine too! 😀

IMG_5569

The basic ngredients are very simple: cherries, cream, milk, eggs, sugar and a tiny bit of butter to grease the dishes.

IMG_5565

Here’s a completely gratuitous picture of the cherries in one of my new dishes:

IMG_5575

The cherries can be pitted or not – as you wish.  Traditionally the stones are left in the cherries, as they are supposed to release some additional flavour during cooking.  To my mind, the advantage of leaving the stones in the cherries is that it makes for faster preparation.  The washed cherries are simply stemmed and arranged in the dishes – there are 17 cherries in each dish!

IMG_5578

For the batter, the eggs are beaten with the sugar, then the cream, milk and kirsch are added.  Once all is well mixed the batter is evenly divided between the four dishes.

After 30 minutes the clafoutis should be nicely browned and puffed up.

Now you just have to wait until the clafoutis are lukewarm, before you tuck in! 😀  The tops can be dusted with icing (confectioners) sugar, but I prefer mine without.  Bonne degustation!

IMG_5594

Cherry Clafoutis

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

500 g cherries
90 ml creme fraiche
60 ml milk
2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp kirsch (replace with milk if making this for children)
butter for greasing

Pre-heat the oven to 185°C.  Butter four individual oven-proof dishes, just large enough to hold your cherries in a single layer;  my dishes measure 10cm across the bottom and 14cm across the outer rim.  You could also use a single (larger) dish, just be sure that the fruits fit snugly. A square baking dish, approx 23 x 23cm should work well.

Wash your cherries, remove the stems and decide on whether or not you want to remove the pits.  Arrange the cherries in the dishes.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl; add the sugar and beat to mix well.  Add the creme fraiche, milk and kirsch and stir until well blended.  Divide the batter evenly between the four dishes and bake in a pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until nicely browned, and puffed around the edges.

Serve lukewarm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you like.  This can be prepared ahead of time, but be sure to allow the clafoutis to come to room temperature before serving.

Eggplant bonanza

My garden produced an abundance of aubergines – or eggplants, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re from – this summer.  I love aubergines, they are like a canvas for almost any flavour, blending with whatever you want to cook them with and enhancing flavour and texture.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to be given a recipe for caponata by a friend of a friend, after having heard the praises of that particular recipe sung for several months.

Caponata has its origins in Sicily, and uses similar ingredients to ratatouille.  The first time I prepared caponata, I was somewhat daunted by the process:  grilling and peeling the peppers; salting, draining, rinsing and drying the chopped aubergines; cooking all the vegetables separately, then together – it seemed like a never-ending process!!  BUT when I tasted my first mouthful of caponata, I knew that it was worth every minute of the time which had gone into the preparation!

The main ingredients are aubergines, peppers and tomatoes.  My recipe calls for equal quantities in weight of each of these three.  The recipe also calls for onions, celery, capers, green olives, sugar, vinegar, and salt and pepper.

The aubergines are washed, trimmed and cubed, then sprinkled with salt and left to drain in a colander for 60 minutes.  Older recipes state that the salting will remove any bitterness from the aubergines, but I’ve never come across a bitter aubergine in all the (many) years I’ve been cooking.   What the salting does do is improve the texture of the aubergines when you cook them.  They seem to hold their shape much better.

After the aubergines had drained, they were rinsed to remove the excess salt, and dried with a tea towel.  I fried them in batches with a small amount of olive oil, turning them from time to time to ensure they cooked evenly.

While the aubergines were draining I grilled the peppers on the BBQ, as it meant that I did not have to use the grill in the kitchen.  You can also blister the peppers over an open flame on your gas cooker.  They need to be nicely charred with the skin blistered all over.  Once they were done to perfection, I put them into a glass bowl and covered it tightly with plastic wrap. You could also put them in a plastic or paper bag – they will be easier to peel if the moisture is kept in!

After the peppers had been peeled, they were cut into strips in readiness for the next part of the preparation, which involved cooking the peppers with some olive oil for 15 – 20 minutes.

While the peppers were cooking,  I attacked another part of the preparation.  I fried the chopped onions together with the sliced celery until golden, then added the blanched, peeled, and chopped tomatoes, and cooked that sauce until most of the moisture had evaporated and the sauce had thickened.  At this point the fried aubergines and peppers were added to the sauce, and the whole left to cook very gently for about 30 minutes.

P1000432

Are you exhausted already?? 🙂  It does sound like a lot of work, so it’s worth making a large batch of this – I promise you’ll find ways to eat it!!

After 30 minutes the olives and capers were added, along with the sugar and vinegar, and the whole left to simmer gently for another 20 minutes, stirring regularly.  The result was a fragrant and delicious vegetable stew with an almost jam-like consistency.  The recipe says that it should be served up cold, in an earthenware dish! 😉  It also suggests that it could be decorated with pine nuts or hard-boiled eggs.  I’ve never bothered garnishing it, I find it needs nothing added!

Since I made a very large pan of caponata, which wasn’t going to be eaten right away, I bottled part of it in clean jars, and briefly sterilized them – now I can enjoy caponata all winter long 🙂

Caponata

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 600 g aubergines
  • 600 g red peppers
  • 600g ripe tomatoes (plum tomatoes if possible)
  • 2 onions
  • 60 g green olives, stoned
  • 60 g capers
  • 1 to 2 sticks celery
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper

Method

Wash and trim the aubergines, and cut them into 1.5cm cubes. Put the cubes in a colander, sprinkle with salt and mix well.  Leave to drain for 1 hour.  Rinse, drain and pat dry.  Fry them with a little olive oil over medium heat for approx. 20 minutes.  You may have to do this in several batches, depending on the size of your pan.

Grill the red peppers until the skin is blistered all over and charred.  Leave to cool, covered, and peel.  Cut the peeled peppers into strips and fry the strips over medium heat, with a little olive oil, for 15 – 20 minutes.

Peel the onions and chop them.  Slice the celery sticks and fry them together with the chopped onions in some olive oil until golden.  Blanch, peel and chop the tomatoes and add to the fried onions and celery.  Cook until the sauce starts to thicken, then add the fried aubergines and peppers, and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add the capers and green olives (I cut the olives into quarters).  Mix the sugar and the vinegar with 2 tbsp water and add this to the pan.  Mix thoroughly and continue to cook over gentle heat for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Serve cold or at room temperature, garnish with pine nuts or hard-boiled eggs, if desired.

This recipe is modified from the original French recipe, given to me by Marie Helene Laurens.  Merci beaucoup, Helene!

Spice up your life

Last week it was time again to meet up with my friends for some more cooking and delicious food!  We met up in Caunes Minervois and the theme our friends had decided on was Indian food, to be precise Keralan.  And while I think of it – last year I wrote about the Open weekend at my friends nursery in Caunes Minervois   – so before I get sidetracked I wanted to let you know that this year’s open weekend will take place on June 1 and 2, 2013;  you can find details here; do visit if you are in the area!  The garden was already looking pretty good, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty to keep you interested.

End of digression – back to the food!  The choices for the menu had been made and it ran as follows: peanut salad, spicy prawns, spinach with coconut, fish baked in foil, vegetable sambar, rice, spicy pineapple.  The ingredients had all been prepared and soon we were all chopping, grinding, peeling, shredding and grating away, working on our recipes.  I’d elected to work on the spinach with coconut and the spicy pineapple. I was not entirely sure that I liked the idea of the spinach and coconut combination, but since we vowed to try new things I kept an open mind about it.  First catch your coconut, or in our case crack it open.  In the absence of a machete, we used a small axe and then the extracted flesh had to be peeled and grated, then ground to a smooth paste in a food processor with some chopped onion and garlic, and a little water. In one picture you see the paste along with some chopped green chili.  The sliced shallots and the halved chili pepper in the other picture are also for this dish.  The recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey’s Flavours of India.

Once it came to cooking it was all very quick.  The shredded spinach was put in a large pan and put on gentle heat until wilted.  The coconut paste and chopped chili were then added in a well made in the middle of the spinach and allowed to steam for a little while.  In a separate pan we heated some oil and fried mustard seeds and rice until they started to pop, then added the sliced shallots, and cooked them to a golden colour.   The halved chili went in right at the end.  Then all was added to the spinach and mixed.  Of course since I was cooking I didn’t take pictures of the progress of that particular dish :-(.  But there are plenty of other photographs!

The spicy pineapple was good too – the pineapple was trimmed neatly, studded with cloves, then fried in a hot pan until golden all over.   It was roasted with a spiced syrup which had star anise, Szechuan peppercorns and cumin and had to be basted every five minutes – quite something!  It did have a gorgeous flavour though, and there were absolutely no leftovers 🙂

Here are pictures of the starters and main courses arranged on plates – very delicious!  Oh, and making chapatis was very easy and good fun!