Artichoke Stir-Fry

DSC_0079.JPGA crisp and delicious quick stir-fry from fresh artichoke hearts, packed with flavour.

Most books discuss preparation methods which involve submerging the artichoke, or parts of it, in boiling water for some time. I prefer the stir-fry method, which doesn’t water-down the delicate taste.

Trim the artichoke by removing the stalk, most of the leaves, and the hairy carpet (which is called the choke). For this dish, where you’ll slice the hearts, it is easier to trim stalk and leaves first, then slice heart and choke combined, then remove the choke in slices. You’re left with an enormous amount of compostable waste (which the Guinea pigs only eat in the absence of other fresh food), and you have the artichoke heart. Cut it into slices 5mm thin, then cut those into halves. Irregular shapes also look nice, but will take different cooking time due to the varying thickness.

Lightly sprinkle with lime juice right away, and toss about in the lime juice occasionally until you’re ready to cook.

To cook, simply heat a good quality extra-virgin olive oil in a pan or wok, and stir-fry the artichokes for 3..4 minutes, adding more lime juice as you go along, and adding salt and black pepper to taste only in the last minute.

I usually also add capers, sometimes olives, or sauteed potatoes.

We love this stir-fry to accompany white fish, such as a pan-fried sea bass or sea bream fillet with crispy skin. Add a lime mayonnaise, or a Rouille, or a Sauce Vierge, and you’ve got a winner, a champion, a superstar on a plate.

My Moussaka

wp-15435288226415950861927555480911.jpgFirst, a word for the IMP, the International Moussaka Police:

I claim no authenticity with this recipe. Some say Moussaka must be made with tomatos, othes say it can’t possibly contain this or that. This is My Moussaka. It tastes good and looks good and I like, and the closest name match is Moussaka. End of.

The following recipe is for a large bowl, feeding 6 to 8 adults. I use a Pyrex dish 220 x 300 mm, 60 mm deep.

5 medium-sized Aubergines
1 kg lean lamb mince (ask your favourite Halal butcher for leg mince)
500 g Greek Yogurt
1 yellow onion, two gloves of garlic
2 egg yolks

Nutmeg, ground Cinnamon, Sumac (optional), Salt, Pepper, Chilly flakes, Olive Oil

Wash the Aubergines, trim both ends, then cut lengthwise into slices 12..15mm thick (a thick slice of bread). Brush a good amount of olive oil onto both sides of each slice, the sprinkle with chilly flakes, salt and a pinch of nutmeg.

Put this into the oven under the grill, ideally in a combination of circulated heat and top grill. Pretty hot, 190..200C, for as long as it takes. When the aubergine slices develop a nice colour with distinct dark brown spots, you’re done (turn around half way, about 10 minutes the first and 6 minutes the second side).

Meanwhile, put the meat into a large non-stick frying pan on a fairly high heat. Boil away the excess water and crisp the meat. You may need to add olive oil, especially if your meat is really good and lean. Finely dice the onion, crush and chop the garlic. When the meat is crisping up, add onion, garlic and a good splash of olive oil.

Season this with a lot of ground cinnamon – start with a heaped teaspoon. I’m serious. A good teaspoon of Sumac (a fruity Arabic flavour) if you can. Crushed dried Cranberries might serve as an alternative, or just forget about it. Add salt, chilly, pepper and more cinnamon to taste.

Lightly oil the dish, and layer aubergines and meat in an alternating fashion, in vertical layers (not like a lasagna, but have the aubergine slices stand up). When all is layered, you should see alternating stripes of aubergines and meat on the surface.

Now add crushed black pepper, a pinch of salt, a pinch of nutmeg and a teaspoon of lime juice to the Greek yogurt. Also add two free range egg yolks. Season to taste with more nutmeg. Whisk with a fork, then spoon the mix on top of the meat stripes.

Finally, sprinkle some more crushed black pepper and nutmeg flakes over the surface, just for the good looks (optionally, add breadcrumbs), and pop into the oven at 170 C until ready. If your ingredients were still hot, this won’t take more than 12..15 minutes, just until you can see the whole thing bubbling away and the surface beginning to colour.




DSC_0851Pissaladiere is a thin bread or Pizza base topped with onion marmalade, olives and anchovy.

The Base:

You’ll need a basic savoury yeast dough for the base made from 200 g white wheat flour for a standard 280 mm round baking tray. See here for the dough recipe.

The Marmalade:

I normally use very large vegetable onions (which have a bit less bite), and a few red onions (because it looks interesting), but any onion will do. The onions will lose a lot of volume, so prepare a very generous amount. Three very large vegetable onions for a round tray might be just enough. Peel, then slice thinly.

You could use an electric chopper for this, provided it slices rather than grinding the onions to a pulp. I slice manually and tearfully! Of you could follow Jamie Oliver’s advise and get somebody else to do it.

Add finely chopped garlic to taste. Red hot chilly peppers also work well, if you like it hot.

Heat a good swig of olive oil or clarified butter. Toss the onions and garlic in the oil, then cover and let steam gently for 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover, season with salt and thyme, and allow to cook uncovered at low heat for 30 minutes at least, stirring occasionally. Be patient. Very patient. When done, season to taste with salt, thyme, pepper, a pinch of nutmeg. A spoon of soured cream is optional.

The Finish:

Line your baking tray with baking parchment. Roll out the dough, transfer to tray. Let the dough recover and rise again (allow for 20 minutes). Then, thinly spread out the onion marmalade. Top with olives and anchovy, and bake at 200 C until golden, approximately 20 minutes.

Lapin Moutarde

lapinSome dishes feel more French than others. Here’s a household favourite which feels particularly French, and we ate it while cycling in the Pyrenees.

Rabbit stew in a mustard sauce, served with green beans and prunes.

You’d have to butcher a rabbit unless you can buy readily diced rabbit.

Get the beans going first, as they need more time than the rabbit stew. Clean the green french beans, wash and rinse. Fry some tiny bits of bacon, a small and finely chopped onion, then gently steam the green beans in just a tiny splash of water. Add a twig of thyme.

When the beans are about 10 minutes on their way, shallow-fry a handful of dry-cured bacon. Add a small and finely diced onion, and a crushed small clove of garlic. Then add a bit of olive oil and the meat, which you tossed in a mix of one tablespoon of white flour and one table spoon of mustard powder. Add crushed black pepper. Fry and stir until it colours nicely, then add a glass of dry white wine and stir-in a large teaspoon of nice hot mustard.

Put the lid on and allow to simmer for 10 minutes, then season to taste using salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and more mustard.

Add two tablespoons of prunes to each portion. Simply use the canned stuff, with a bit of the syrup.

Serve with fresh white bread.

Choucroute De Mer

DSC_0748 (2)This is the perfect split between my German home cooking and my current home in England. I call it Fish and Chips, Brittany-style for the English, Sauerkraut Unn Fisch for the Germans, and Choucroute de Mer for the French-aware among us. I have heard of French people denying this meal’s authenticity, but trust me. You’ll find it in many places in Brittany. For further reference see Maison Kammerzell in Strasbourg, who has Choucroute aux Trous poissons as well as Choucroute au Saumon on the menu. So there you are.

It’s simple, it’s surprising, it’s different, it’s impressive, it’s delicious.

For 4 to 5 people, you’ll need a large jar (850g?) of Sauerkraut (=Choucroute). In England, you can now get it in most Supermarkets, and in all Polish Delicatessen. You’ll also need 120 g of salmon (lightly smoked salmon pieces preferred) per person, perhaps also 100 g of white fish such as Cod or Haddock, and a couple of large prawns or scallops.

First, cut half an onion into half rings, fry with a little white fat or lard and a good handful of dry cured lardons or good quality bacon. Drain the Sauerkraut, then add with half a cup of dry white wine, 3 crushed juniper berries, 2 bay leaves, a pinch of salt. Cover and let simmer on very low heat. Time is not critical provided the heat is very low.

Heat butter in a frying pan and gently fry pieces of salmon. Sear the scallops or prawns, perhaps poach the white fish in milk.

Now finish the Sauerkraut with a generous amount of double cream. Stir this well under.

You’re done!

Put a nice heap of kraut on each plate, fish and seafood on top. Serves well with steamed potatoes, crispy potato wedges and, of course, with freshly baked bread.

Goes with the remainder of the dry white wine and lots of Aaaaaahs.