Pasta, polenta and potatoes

PASTA WITH GREEN SAUCE AND QUAILS’ (OR HEN’S) EGGS

A wicked pasta dish for spring, nice for a light lunch or supper, or as a starter. As a general rule, allow 50g dried pasta per person for a starter, 100g per person for a main course. Double these quantities if using fresh pasta

Serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a main course
a good handful of greenery, about 100g, trimmed
(e.g. wild garlic, flat-leaf parsley, spinach or watercress)
250ml crème fraîche liquide (whipping cream)
1 teaspoon cornflour/starch (Maizena)
salt and pepper
300-400g fettucine, paglia e fieno, linguine or other fine-cut pasta
20 quails’ eggs OR 4-6 hens’ eggs
100g bacon bits (lardons)
chervil or parsley sprigs to garnish

  • Boil 1 cup water in a pan, add greenery and cook for 5 minutes
  • Sprinkle the cornflour onto 2 tablespoons of water in a cup and stir till smooth
  • Remove pan from the heat, add cream and slaked cornstarch and blend till smooth with a hand-held blender (or tip it into liquidizer and blend till smooth)
  • Season with salt and pepper and bring briefly to a boil [NB it must boil, otherwise it won’t thicken, but don’t overdo it or you’ll lose the lovely green colour.] Set sauce aside
  • Bring some water to a boil in a small pan and boil the quails’ eggs exactly 3 minutes, drain, refresh with cold water and peel [If using hens’ eggs, put them in a pan of cold water, bring to a boil and count 3 minutes from when the water boils – drain, refresh and shell – the white will be cooked and the yolk runny]
  • Fry the bacon in a small pan till the fat runs, lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels
  • Put some soup bowls in an 80oC oven to heat (pasta needs hot plates as it cools down fast)
  • Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, generously salted water according to the instructions on the packet; reheat sauce
  • To serve, pour a puddle of sauce into heated soup bowls, top with a ‘nest’ of pasta, arrange egg[s] in the middle of the ‘nest’, scatter bacon bits on top, garnish with chervil or parsley sprigs and serve promptly

LASAGNE WITH ARTICHOKE HEARTS AND BLUE CHEESE

A good supper or lunch dish, quickly made with store cupboard/freezer staples. Good supermarkets have fresh lasagne (or make your own, recipe follows); or use dried ones – check if you need to blanch them first. Picard has frozen artichoke hearts.

Serves 4-6
25g butter
2 tbsp flour
500ml (1 ½ cups) milk
150ml (1/2 a cup) thick sour cream (crème fraîche épaisse)
125g blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Bleu d’Auvergne, Stilton)
salt and pepper
500g frozen artichoke hearts
25g butter
1 x 250g pack fresh lasagne sheets
(or 250g home-made pasta)

  • For the sauce, melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes
  • Add the milk and cream and bring to a boil, stirring all the time until it boils
  • Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes
  • Crumble in the cheese, season to taste and set the sauce aside
  • Heat the oven to 200oC/400oF
  • Slice the artichoke hearts and cook them in butter for 8-10 minutes or until tender; season with salt and pepper
  • Cut each lasagne sheet into pieces to fit chosen ovenproof dish (or roll out home-made pasta to a very thin rectangle and cut pieces to fit the dish)
  • Spread a little sauce in the dish and put pasta sheets on top. Build up layers of sauce and artichoke hearts, finishing with pasta and a layer of sauce (4 layers pasta, 3 layers of artichokes/sauce)
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until hot through and the top golden brown and bubbly
  • If you prefer, the dish can be microwaved – allow 8-10 minutes depending on the strength of your microwave and the depth of the lasagne. Finish under the grill/broiler to brown the top

LASAGNE OF SALMON AND WHITE FISH WITH SPINACH SAUCE

A sprightly lasagne which layers pink and white fish with a vibrant green, mildly garlicky spinach sauce. Do all the preparation a day ahead, let sauce cool thoroughly, put it all together and keep it in the fridge till ready to roll.

Serves 4-6
200g fresh spinach, trimmed OR 100g frozen spinach, defrosted
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsps Maizena (cornflour/cornstarch)
250ml whipping cream (crème fraîche fluide/Schlagrahm)
250ml fish stock or 250ml water + 1 tsp powdered fish stock
salt and pepper
250g fresh lasagne sheets
800g skinless, boneless fish fillets (mix pink and white if you wish)

  • If using fresh spinach, boil 250ml/1 cup water and cook the spinach for 5 minutes – drain spinach and sqeeze dry – reserve cooking water!
  • Put cooked/defrosted spinach in the blender with crushed garlic, Maizena, cream, 250ml stock (or reserved cooking water), salt, pepper and blend till smooth – don’t worry if it looks curdled, it will sort itself out when heated
  • Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring with a whisk, lower the heat a little and simmer 4-5 minutes till lightly thickened
  • Cut the lasagne sheets to fit chosen dish
  • Fish fillets should be no more than ½ cm thick – if necessary, slice them horizontally and season with salt and pepper
  • Spread a little sauce in the bottom of the dish, add some lasagne sheets, sauce and fish fillets, piecing them together to fit the dish in one layer
  • Follow with another pasta sheet, more sauce and more fish fillets
  • Add another pasta sheet, more sauce and fish; finish with a sheet of pasta and more sauce (i.e. 4 layers pasta/sauce + 3 layers fish/sauce)
  • Cover with foil or microwave-safe plastic wrap (depending on how you plan to cook it – see below) and refrigerate dish if not baking immediately
  • To cook the fish lasagne:
  • EITHER (conventional oven), cover lasagne with foil, heat oven to 200oC and bake fish for 30-35 minutes or until thoroughly hot (test with a skewer held to the cheek)
  • OR (microwave): cover lasagne with microwave-safe plastic wrap and microwave on maximum for 6-8 minutes or until thoroughly hot (test with a skewer held to the cheek)

FRESH PASTA WITH SHELLFISH AND BROCCOLI IN THAI RED CURRY SAUCE
A great supper dish for summer, or a starter for a dinner menu. Serve it in big soup bowls which you’ve remembered to heat beforehand.

Serves 2 for a main course, 4 for a starter
a handful broccoli florets
zest of 1 lime, pared off with potato peeler and cut in shreds
300g mixed cooked shellfish (shrimp, mussels, squid etc.)

1-2 tbsp Thai red curry paste (or to taste)
200ml coconut milk
350g fettucine or other fine pasta
cilantro to garnish

  • Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and cook the broccoli florets  and lime zests for 5-6 minutes or until the broccoli is just tender.
  • Drain the broccoli and zests, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.
  • Mix the curry paste into the reserved cooking water and put it back in the saucepan.
  • Warm some soup bowls.
  • Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water till al dente, following the instructions on the packet.
  • Heat the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the shellfish, broccoli
  • and zests and let them heat through for a couple of minutes.
  • Drain the pasta and arrange in the heated soup bowls.
  • Spoon the shellfish, broccoli and sauce over the pasta
  • Garnish with coriander

GRIESSPFLÜTTA (Alsatian-style semolina ‘gnocchi’)

If (like me) you have miserable memories of semolina from childhood days, here’s a delicious dish which may win you round. The semolina is cooked with milk, butter and eggs and left to cool until quite firm.  Then it is cut into the shapes desired and fried till golden in hot butter. The gnocchi work beautifully with roast meats or duck.

Serves 6
1 litre milk
75 g butter
salt and pepper
nutmeg
200 g fine semolina (semoule de blé tendre)
2 eggs + 1 yolk
oil for frying

  • Bring the milk to a boil with 50g butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg
  • Add the semolina and cook, stirring, until thick
  • Let it bubble gently for a minute or two
  • Remove from the heat and beat in the eggs and yolk
  • Check the seasoning
  • Turn the mixture into a shallow buttered baking tin or dish about 3-4 cm deep, and leave to cool
  • Tip the whole thing out onto a board and cut into lozenge shapes (or stamp out with a cookie cutter to the shape desired)
  • Fry in the remaining butter with a little oil on both sides till golden

POLENTA PASTICCIATA

A robust autumn dish of layered polenta with wild mushrooms and Gorgonzola. Great with roast chicken or quail.

Serves 4-6
25g dried ceps or mixed dried fungi
300g fresh mushrooms (cultivated or wild), sliced
1 litre (4 cups) water + 250ml (1 cup) funghi soaking water
salt or ½ a stock cube
250g quick-cook polenta flour
25g butter
3 spring onions (scallions) finely chopped
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp crème fraîche épaisse
150g Gorgonzola or Fontina (cubed) or Gruyere (grated)
½ cup fromage blanc

  • Put dried ceps or mixed fungi in a bowl, cover amply with warm water and leave to soak for about an hour or until plumped up
  • Drain the soaked fungi and rinse well to remove grit; strain the juice through a fine cloth or a coffee filter paper
  • Put 1 litre (4 cups) water and 1 cup of strained juice in a large pan with the salt or stock cube and bring to a boil
  • Tip in the polenta and bring to a boil, stirring vigorously – it will plop about explosively – and then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring the while
  • Turn the polenta into a lightly oiled dish (or spread onto a piece of oiled foil and shape into a rectangle) and let it cool
  • Trim the fresh mushrooms, wash briefly under running water and slice
  • Melt the butter in a saucepan and soften the spring onions and garlic
  • Add the sliced mushrooms and drained fungi, season with salt & pepper, cover and cook till they wilt a bit and render their juice
  • Raise the heat and cook hard to evaporate and concentrate juices
  • Add 4-5 tbsp soaking liquid + 3 tbsp cream and simmer 5 minutes more
  • When the polenta is cool, cut it in 1 cm slices, arrange a layer in the bottom of a lightly oiled ovenproof dish and cover with some cheese and half the mushrooms.
  • Follow with more polenta, more cheese and the remaining mushrooms.
  • Finish with a layer of polenta, fromage blanc and more cheese
  • Bake in a 200oC oven for about 30 minutes or until thoroughly hot and bubbly

ÄLPLER MAGRONE (‘COWHERD’S MACARONI CHEESE’)
A robust and delicious supper dish of elbow macaroni, potatoes, bacon bits and cream, great for when the weather turns cold. In Switzerland it would traditionally be served with apple sauce; a salad makes a nice alternative accompaniment.

Serves 4
300g elbow macaroni
300g firm, waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed
150g streaky bacon, diced small
200ml whipping cream
black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
100g Sbrinz or Parmesan cheese, grated
1 onion, sliced
25g butter

  • Cook the macaroni and potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender – about 10 minutes
  • Drain and set aside
  • Fry the bacon lightly until golden
  • Pour in the cream and season with pepper and nutmeg
  • Stir in the pasta and potatoes
  • Lightly butter an ovenproof gratin dish and layer the mixture with the grated cheese, finishing with grated cheese
  • Heat the oven to 180C
  • Bake the gratin until golden brown and bubbly – 10-15 minutes

RÖSTI (SWISS POTATO PANCAKE)
Be sure to use firm, waxy potatoes for this dish (Charlotte, Nicola, Rattes, BF15), or new potatoes in season. If you use floury (mashing-type) potatoes you’ll end up with a mush.

Serves 4-6
1.5kg firm, waxy potatoes
salt and pepper
50g butter
1 tbsp olive oil or sunflower oil

  • Cook the potatoes in their skins till barely tender – about 15 minutes, depending on size
  • Allow them to cool, then refrigerate for several hours or overnight
  • Peel and grate the potatoes coarsely using a cheese grater or the grating disc of a food processor
  • Mix with salt and pepper
  • Warm a serving plate for the Rösti
  • Heat half the butter and oil in a large, non-stick, heavy-based frying pan
  • Tip the potatoes into the pan and press down with a spatula to make a nice, thick potato cake
  • Adjust the heat so that the underside cooks steadily to a rich golden brown
  • Take a look underneath – when one side is done, invert a plate over the pan and turn the Rösti out
  • Heat the remaining butter and oil in the pan and shunt the Rösti back into the pan, crusty side uppermost
  • Cook the second side in the same way until golden brown
  • Turn the Rösti out onto the warmed serving plate

GRUMBEEREKIECHLE
Grumbeere are potatoes in the northern Alsace dialect (‘earth berries’) and kiechle little cakes or patties. These are a bit like mini-Röstis but with raw potatoes and added egg, and they’re great with any kind of meat. Don’t grate the potatoes too far ahead, or they will blacken.

Serves 6
1 kg firm, waxy potatoes (e.g. Charlotte, Nicola)
salt and pepper
2 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
plenty of parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
oil

  • Peel and grate the potatoes
  • Put them in a sieve to release some of their juice
  • Tip them into a bowl, and season to taste
  • Mix together with a fork the onions, parsley and eggs
  • Add this to the potatoes
  • Heat enough oil to film the bottom of a non-stick frying pan
  • Fry spoonfuls of the mixture (about 4 to a pan, depending on size) on both sides till golden brown, turning once
  • Put them in a serving dish lined with paper towels and keep them warm while you prepare the rest

TATIN OF NEW POTATOES WITH A HERBY SALT CRUST

Think tarte tatin (but savoury) and you’ll see where this one’s coming from: new potatoes are packed into a quiche pan or cake tin, topped with a herby salt dough and baked in the oven. The tatin is inverted for serving, so the potatoes are revealed in all their golden glory.

 

Serves 6-8
18-24 medium-sized new potatoes
olive oil
400g coarse salt
400g flour
1 tbsp herbes de Provence or thyme leaves stripped off stalks
2 egg whites
about 200ml warm water

  • Mix together the flour, salt, herbs and egg whites in a large bowl
  • Add enough water to make a stiff dough
  • Knead well till it comes together smoothly – add more water if necessary
  • Scrub the potatoes but don’t peel them
  • Cut a piece of baking parchment to fit the bottom of the quiche tin or cake pan and butter or oil the sides
  • Arrange the potatoes tightly together in the pan/tin and sprinkle with olive oil
  • Pat out the crust thickly to a round the same size as the pan and lay it on top of the potatoes, tucking it in so the potatoes are snugly encased inside
  • Heat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF and bake the potatoes for 1-1½ hours or until the crust is golden brown and hard
  • Leave the potatoes in the turned off oven till ready to serve, then invert onto a plate (discard the crust)

SALT ROAST NEW POTATOES WITH BAY LEAVES
New potatoes (or firm waxy ones, the kind to use for salad or Rösti) are sawn through not quite in half and stuck with a bayleaf. The potatoes are then anointed with oil and baked in an ovenproof dish over a bed of coarse salt.

Serves 6-8
24 medium-sized firm potatoes
24 bay leaves
coarse salt
olive oil or herby oil

  • Scrub the potatoes well and cut them in half without going right through
  • Stick a bayleaf into each cut potato
  • Sprinkle a good layer of coarse salt in the bottom of an ovenproof dish just large enough to take all the potatoes in one layer
  • Sit the potatoes on top of the salt, drizzle olive oil or herby oil all over them
  • Heat the oven to 200o C and bake the potatoes for about an hour or until golden
  • Lift potatoes off the salt to serve (chuck out the salt, or the salt police will be after you)

TORTILLA DE PATATAS DE LA SOFIA
Soph’s Spanish omelette
Our daughter spent a long time perfecting her tortilla technique, taught by her mother-in-law, Mari-Paz. After many days (months? years?) of patient tuition, Mari-Paz declared that she’d passed with flying colours. The key to success is not to overcook the tortilla once you’ve flipped it over, otherwise it will be dry and leathery.

2 onions, finely chopped
4-5 tbsp olive oil
1kg firm or new potatoes
6 large eggs
salt and pepper

  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a non-stick frying pan
  • Fry the onions till golden, stirring occasionally
  • Lift them out with a slotted spoon and put them on a plate
  • Peel, quarter and slice the potatoes fairly thickly
  • Add the rest of the oil to the pan and tip in the potatoes
  • Season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and fry potatoes over gentle heat till tender (about 15 minutes) – stir from time to time to make sure they don’t burn
  • Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl with salt and pepper and beat well till frothy
  • When the potatoes are done, lift them out with a slotted spoon and add to the eggs, along with the onions
  • Put the pan back on the heat (there should only be a thin film of oil in the bottom, if not tip some into a dish and reserve it to cook the second side) – shake the pan to distribute the oil evenly and get it good and hot again
  • Tip in the egg mixture and cook till the underside is done, the middle still a little liquid and the sides are starting to get frilly – about 5 minutes – you can tell when the bottom is ready when the tortilla will move about in the pan if you shake it vigorously
  • Place a flat lid or plate on top of the tortilla and turn it outonto the plate/lid
  • Return the pan to the heat, add a little more oil to film the bottom, slide/shunt the tortilla back into the pan
  • Cook till the second side is just done and the middle still nicely juicy – about 3-4 minutes only – don’t overdo this step or your tortilla will be dry and leathery
  • Slide the tortilla out onto a plate or board and let cool
  • Cut in wedges or squares and serve warm or at room temperature

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