And best wishes for the coming year...
What? December already! Where did time go? I'm in shock. This fall has been so busy at work and otherwise. I guess I'd better post a new recipe before you guys give up on me...
Here is a very yummy potato gratin called "gratin dauphinois", very famous in the Grenoble region where it comes from (an hour east of Lyon, at the foot of the Alps). Purists would argue that this isn't a "true" gratin dauphinois because I am using cheese, which would make this dish a "gratin savoyard" (from Savoie region, just north of Dauphiné) but whatever. It tastes great!
This is ideal with some crunchy, delicately bitter frisée salad. In Lyon we add poached eggs, garlic croutons and sizzling hot, diced bacon ("les lardons") to this salad, served with vinaigrette dressing.
Alternatively you could sprinkle a few whole or half walnuts on the frisée and serve it with vinaigrette dressing made of colza or sunflower oil (i.e. a not very flavored oil) plus 1 tablespoon of walnut oil.
No need to have you wait any longer: here comes a very simple leek omelet recipe. I should say a French leek omelet recipe, as you will notice the use of lots of butter (apparently it's a sign!) and also because the eggs are only cooked up to a point where they are still a little bit liquid (which is pretty unusual on this side of the Atlantic). This doesn't mean that the eggs are raw: the whole operation takes place at high temperature. But the omelet is taken off the heat "before it is too late" so as to keep all the flavors intact.
There are many "omelette" variants. The simplest is plain: just eggs (with seasoning). Eaten with a good piece of country-style bread, there's really nothing to add. Other famous recipes include fresh herbs ("omelette aux fines herbes" with chives and parsley), wild mushrooms ("omelette aux champignons"), etc. These ingredients are used as flavoring and should not mask the main ingredients: eggs and butter. To me, traditional French cuisine is all about preserving the flavors of the base ingredients without overpowering them seasoning or sauces. Modern "haute cuisine" hasn't forgotten this principle: it creates more complex flavors by adding subtle touches of spices and extravaganza. It's all a matter of balance.
Back to our leek omelet. Here is what you need:
Place a good chunk of butter (1 tbsp at least) in an anti-adhesive low-edge pan on high heat. Once the butter starts bubbling and crackle, add the leek all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon to cover each piece of leek with melted butter. Stir regularly. After a few minutes, reduce the heat, cover with a lid and slowly cook until the leek are transparent and soft. Season with salt and pepper. Turn down the heat to low while you are preparing the eggs.
I always choose brown eggs (cage-free, vegetable-fed, antibiotics-free). I've never seen white shelled eggs in France and I've never gotten used to them -although I've read there's no difference. Break 4 eggs (or more -you need 2 per person) in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Whip vigorously with a fork. There are two purposes here: combine the yolks with the white and create an emulsion. The more the eggs are beaten, the lighter the omelet.
Put the pan with the cooked leek on high heat again. Add some butter if needed (if the leek have absorbed all of it). Once the pan is very hot, pour the eggs and tilt the pan to spread them evenly over the leek (as shown above). Then wait without touching anything.
After a minute or two, fold the omelet in a half moon shape (above picture). You can tilt the pan to spread the remaining liquid eggs on the entire pan. Then fold this newly formed disk on the half-moon omelet. Never flip the omelet: it would overcook it. Remove from the heat while the omelet is still runny ("baveuse" which means the inside has thickened but isn't solid yet, as shown on the pictures).
And that's it! The trick is to keep the pan on high heat and go quick, trying to minimize the handling of the omelet to avoid breaking it.
Serve with good bread and a side salad for lunch or dinner.
On my plate the other day were simply tomatoes, spiced carrots and beets. I cooked the carrots and beets the day before since they needed some time to cool down.
The carrots (skinned and thinly sliced) simmered in water (3 cups water for about 2 pounds carrots) with olive oil (3 tbsp), crushed cumin seeds (1 tsp), Cayenne pepper (a pinch), garlic (1 clove, crushed) and salt (a pinch) until all the water evaporated (a good 30 minutes on medium heat). The empty pan was then deglazed with red wine vinegar (2 tbsp) and this juice was poured over the carrots.
The beet root was boiled (whole, with skin) in a pressure cooker (in salted water, for 30 minutes after the whistle started blowing), then sliced (1/2” thick) then cut into 1/2”x1/2” squares.
The bread on these pictures was inspired by a recipe in Bahadourian's excellent cookbook "Epices et Aromates". Mr. Bahadourian is the owner of a famous spice shop (épicerie fine) in Lyon, where many of the Lyon region top chefs get their spices and herbs. The book has a first section on spices themselves: where they are from and how to use them. There are several very interesting chapters (for spices, herbs, and blends like curry). The second part of the book is a selection of classic, well seasoned recipes from all over the world (from Indian samosas to Provence bouillabaisse, Hungarian goulash, Sicilian preserved pears and many more). There's even a bonus section with more elaborated recipes by Lyon chefs. It's a relatively small book but I love it. It's full of really useful tips.
The recipe is very simple. It's best to bake the bread a day or two in advance and store it in an air-tight container. Here's what I did:
Another popular endive salad is made with cubed Gruyère cheese, green apple slices, walnuts (and endives).
Back to recipes in my next post...
* For long I've melted butter directly in the cake pan, in the preheating oven. This way the mold was buttered and I didn't have to wash another dish. But it's easy to "over melt" the butter (i.e. get to the point where it's bright yellow and oily rather than white and foamy). Now that I have a micro-wave (it's only been a few months, believe it or not) I find it even more convenient to melt the butter in there. My micro-wave even has a "melt butter" button!