Category Archives: European (vaguely)

Fresh Goat Cheese and Wild Garlic Spread/Dip

Wild garlic season is short, so I make sure I buy it every week while it lasts. Last Saturday, the nice lady who keeps my favourite goat cheese stall (at my French farmers’ market there are now three stalls selling exclusively goat cheese!) suggested I combine fresh goat cheese and wild garlic. As soon as I came home I made this simple spread and it was so perfectly delicious I still wonder why I haven’t thought about it earlier… If you’ve never tasted wild garlic, chopping it into a bowl of fresh cheese and spreading it on a slice of bread is a great starting point.

Ramsons, wild garlic, buckrams, bear’s garlic, bear paw garlic… (Allium Ursinum) is a wild, wide-leaved plant with a very distinct garlic scent and apparently a favourite of bears, who would dig out its bulbs (hence the name). Its edible long leaves are very similar to those of the lily of the valley and mixing them up is very dangerous, since the latter are toxic. The strong smell created when the leaves are rubbed is the only way to distinguish them if one is not an experienced forager. Planting its bulbs in one’s garden (the seeds are sold in Swiss gardening shops) or buying from a trustworthy market stall is even safer! … 

Wild garlic grows all around Europe but while its use in the kitchen is popular in certain countries, it is almost non-existent in the others and often limited to rural areas. In Switzerland it appears in April and disappears in May and is so popular, it can be found on many market stalls and even in supermarkets. It is extremely versatile and can be treated as a spinach or other leaf substitute but also as a condiment, a milder cousin of garlic. If you find yourself with a big bunch of wild garlic, here are some other ideas:

Chicken with Wild Garlic and Cashew Nuts

Chicken with Wild Garlic and Cashew Nuts

Wild Garlic Pillows

Wild Garlic Pillows

Wild Garlic Pesto

Wild Garlic Pesto

Mock Spanakopita Rolls with Wild Garlic

TIPS: I’ve used here fresh goat cheese but if you don’t have access to it (or don’t like it), you can use cow or ewe cheese instead (or thick yogurt, such as Greek yogurt). It just must be fresh and slightly tangy.

Preparation: about ten minutes

Ingredients (serves as a snack for two-three):

250 g fresh goat cheese (or cow/ewe fresh cheese)

125 ml yogurt or sour cream

10 big wild garlic leaves choppes

salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients, add more yogurt if the consistency is too thick (and maybe more wild garlic leaves).

You can serve it immediately, but the taste improves (becomes more garlicky) after several hours in the fridge.

This spread/dip will keep several days in the fridge.

Fresh Goat Cheese Spread/Dip with Chives

I’ve always loved fresh goat cheese, but it has really become my daily fare since I met a lovely young woman selling her organic goat cheese at my French farmers market. The taste has nothing to do with any shop-bought version (organic or not), the cheese freshest possible (produced the same morning) and the price is so low, I let her fill up a big tupperware and enjoy it almost every single day during the goat milking season, i.e. all year round apart from most of the winter (they became all pregnant – I know there must be a proper word for that in English too… – hence the halt in cheese production until baby goats are born).

Even though I had frozen big amounts of this cheese (the texture changes a bit but they still beat whatever one can find in shops), I ran out of them quite a long time ago and was very impatient to start buying it again. Coming back home the very first thing I did was devouring a whole one with a spoon, but just after that I made this delicious spread that makes me feel springtime is already here and reminds me of my childhood.

Actually, it’s an almost identical copy of the simple fresh cow cheese and chives spread I used to eat often as a child and which is very popular in Poland. In countries where goat cheese is expensive, this goat version would be a luxury, but luckily I live close to France where fresh goat cheese is extremely popular and obviously not expensive. The only personal twist I’ve added to my mum’s recipe is garlic, but chives remain the crucial element that makes this spread irresistible.

I usually have this spread on my favourite breakfast bread (this Finnish super thin “diet” one), not only in the morning but also as an afternoon snack. You can also serve it at a party, as a dip with nachos or raw vegetables and it’s delicious on dark/wholemeal bread canapés (if you like pumpernickel, you will love the combination).

If you don’t find fresh goat cheese (or if it’s expensive where you live or if you simply don’t like it), you can use fresh cow or ewe cheese (often called cottage cheese, but make sure it’s all natural).

Here are some other spreads you might like:

Baba Ghanouj/M'tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Baba Ghanouj/M’tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Tzatziki with Fennel

Tzatziki with Fennel

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

TIPS: While you can perfectly replace goat cheese with cow cheese (the taste is different, of course), I do not advise replacing chives with thick spring onions. They are too aggressive, too “oniony” and at the same time are not as aromatic as chives (I did try once and regretted my experiment). If you have access to the Japanese ao negi (slightly thicker than chives and less pungent), it will be a perfect replacement and you can use more of if, since it’s more delicate.

If you have a source of good quality fresh goat cheese, but it’s far away, buy it in big amounts and freeze it in well wrapped portions. Strangely the texture changes only a bit and the taste is practically the same. It becomes maybe less moist, but I still find it delicious mixed with yogurt and used as a spread. (My experiments in freezing cheese are sometimes surprising: I have always thought hard cheese freezes well, but I recently saw gruyère’s texture become horribly crumbly and dry, while the famous French blue cheese roquefort stayed in perfect shape… though I must say I always vacuum pack my cheese before freezing it, apart from the fresh one which is too soft).

Obviously, if you don’t like garlic, skip it. As I said, fresh cheese and chives are the key to the delightful flavours.

Yogurt is used here only to loosen the texture, so its amount depends on the texture of the cheese.

Preparation: 10 minutes

Ingredients (makes approximately a 250 ml jar of spread):

300 g of fresh goat cheese

125 ml natural yogurt (cow or goat milk yogurt will be ok), or more/less; see the TIPS above

6 heaped tablespoons chopped chives (or more)

1 big clove garlic

salt (to taste)

Combine the ingredients and refrigerate or eat it straight away.

This spread will keep for several days in the fridge.

Filo Rolls with Buckwheat (Groats) and Mushrooms

If you like Japanese soba noodles and don’t mind a typical coarse texture of certain grains, you might be tempted to test this combination of buckwheat and mushrooms in crisp thin layers of Greek filo rolls. I can only hope you will love the results as much as I did. If you have never tasted buckwheat, forget all the health benefits you have heard about (I know it puts some people off…) and see it as I do: just another delicious fuss-free carb, versatile enough to go with Greek pastry or spicy Korean meals.

I know many people put it in the same bag as quinoa or other recent wonder food discoveries, but in countries where buckwheat groats/grains have been eaten for generations (Ukraine or Poland, for example) it’s simply an alternative to rice, potatoes, pasta or bread. The traditional method is to toast the grains before selling them and I advise against the non-toasted version (see the TIPS below). In Poland it’s eaten mainly with meat or mushrooms (or both) in sauce, but sometimes also as a filling in dumplings; I guess there are also some regional dishes I’m not aware of. I grew up eating buckwheat quite regularly topped with meat in sauce and I’m pretty sure my mum never insisted on it as being healthy (the way she did with some vegetables…). This attitude made me appreciate buckwheat the way it is: beautifully nutty scented, strong-flavoured carb that nowadays reminds me at the same time of Polish and Japanese cuisines (a curious and rare coincidence!).

It might be seen as a step too far by some of my dear visitors, but I see buckwheat most of all as a nice change from rice in many Asian dishes. After many experiments I realised it’s more versatile than I thought! I find it perfect with spicy Korean dishes, such as bibimbap or the Chicken Simmered in Gochujang Sauce. It’s also delicious when replacing… rice in fried rice! Because of its nutty strong flavours, it pairs perfectly with mushrooms, such as in this Japanese-inspired eringi and teriyaki version.

When experimenting with buckwheat never forget a sauce (either served on top, aside or mixed into the dish) because buckwheat is very dry. I have served these rolls with the spicy Gochujang and Sour Cream/Yogurt sauce and it was just perfect:

Gochujang and Sour Cream Sauce

This Greek Yogurt with Caramelised Onion would be fantastic too:

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

or this Bulgarian cousin of tzatziki:

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

I have posted two other buckwheat recipes, both very easy, so in case you want to explore other options…

Eringi and Buckwheat Groats

Fried Buckwheat Groats

TIPS: If you have never had buckwheat, make sure you buy a toasted version (the colour is medium to dark brown, while the non-toasted is light greenish), which is the traditional one and which has these unique wonderful nutty flavours. The non-toasted one is bland, softer and, just like many people who grew up with toasted buckwheat, I hated the non-toasted form when discovered accidentally in a health food aisle in Switzerland.

Cooking buckwheat is not difficult, but follow the below instructions because it quickly becomes mushy and inedible. The result should be dry and crunchy.

Do not omit fresh parsley! It suits perfectly the mushroom and buckwheat mixture.

Make sure you have another sheet or two of filo pastry just in case… The mushrooms might lose more or less water and you might want to put more or less filling in each roll.

If, on the other hand, you have leftover filling, you can add some vegetables, even some meat leftovers, and prepare it like stir-fried rice, adding some soy sauce, putting a poached or fried egg on top…

The soy sauce is not obligatory. You can add some more salt to taste or nothing.

Preparation: about 1h30

Ingredients (serves two if eaten with a salad as a main course):

6 – 7 sheets of filo pastry (make sure you have one or two more, just in case you have more filling to use up)

250 g (about 1/2 lb) button mushrooms 

200 ml (about 6.8 oz) uncooked toasted buckwheat groats + 1/2 teaspoon salt

6 big European shallots (or 2 medium onions)

6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or 3 tablespoons normal soy sauce (I use Japanese soy sauce, but if you use Chinese, choose the light coloured one)

a handful of chopped fresh parsley

ground pepper

thick creamy sauce (such as the above gochujang sauce)

oil for stir-frying and for brushing the rolls (you can use melted butter to brush the rolls)

Put the buckwheat groats into a cup.

Measure the double of the buckwheat’s volume in water.

Pour the water into a pan. Bring it to a boil, add the salt.

Throw the buckwheat into the pan and let it cook partially covered at medium heat for about ten minutes.

Lower the heat and let it simmer, fully covered, for about 5 more minutes.

The water should be completely absorbed by the grains. If it’s not absorbed yet, put the pan aside, leaving the cover on and it will get absorbed without cooking too.

As soon as it’s absorbed, don’t uncover the pan and put it aside keeping it warm, for example wrapped in a blanket, though in this dish you use the buckwheat cold, so simply don’t lift the cover and prepare the rest of the filling.

Chop the shallots and the mushrooms.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan and stir fry the shallots at medium heat.

Put the shallots into a big bowl.

Stir-fry the mushrooms in another tablespoon of oil until they start losing volume, season them with salt and add to the shallots.

Finally add the buckwheat groats, the soy sauce and the chopped parsley.

Season with freshly ground pepper and combine all the filling ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Spread one filo sheet on a big chopping board.

Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge which is closest to you, a portion of the filling (5-6 heaped tablespoons per sheet).

Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll, so that the filling doesn’t leak during the baking process (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 inch on each side).

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

(You can also cut the filo sheets in two and make smaller rolls; this is what I did obtaining the tiny size of rolls you see above).

Brush the top of the rolls with some oil or melted butter, place on a baking tray or baking paper and bake in the oven until slightly golden (about 30 minutes in mine). Watch them often as they tend to burn quite quickly.

Since the filling is dry, make sure you don’t forget a sauce!

Grilled Razor Clams with Garlic and Parsley

couteauxpI love razor clams for their delicate taste, still recognisable in the presence of strong seasoning, and, most of all, for their texture: soft, but slightly al dente. For years, imagining they were tricky to prepare and/or clean, I was too scared to buy them and ruin the whole big bunch (they are sold in bunches here). Last weekend I finally dared cooking them for the first time and… they turned out to be the best razor clams of my life! I still cannot believe such a simple process yields such outstanding results. You can easily serve them as a starter, as a light main course with a salad or simply have them as a gourmet snack (which begs for a glass of chilled rosé!).

For this first experience with razor clams I didn’t use any particular recipe. I simply chose the most popular French way to serve this shellfish, i.e. grilled with a mixture of parsley, garlic and butter. Some recipes also add some breadcrumbs for an additional crunch, but I chose to skip them this time. There is also a choice between seasoning the clams before the grilling process and after. I preferred to add parsley butter before. As much as I didn’t search a precise recipe, I did look well for best ways to clean the clams. Luckily salt water soaking was cited everywhere as the best way to get rid of sand (the laziest seafood cleaning method I can imagine).

TIPS: You can use only olive oil in the parsley mixture and skip the butter.

Preparation: about 30 minutes + 1 hour soaking

Ingredients (serves two as a main course or four as a starter):

500 – 600 g razor clams

several tablespoons salt

extra virgin olive oil

(freshly ground pepper)

Parsley and garlic butter:

2 tablespoons softened butter

about two handfuls of roughly chopped parsley leaves

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

Place the razor clams into a big bowl filled with cold salted water (count at least two tablespoons per litre) and leave them for one hour. This way they will get rid of their sand (hopefully!).

In the meantime prepare the parsley butter, mixing the garlic, the butter, the salt and the parsley leaves in a food processor.

Wash the razor clams in cold water and rinse well.

Place them in an empty pan at medium heat and warm until all of them open up (you can put a lid to accelerate the process, but usually it takes about 3 minutes).

Do this in several batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain on paper towels. (Don’t worry if some of them fall completely out of their shells, you will put them back into their homes afterwards).

Remove the upper shell’s part (it’s not necessary, but this part is completely useless and takes space on a baking tray). Place the open razor clams in a baking dish/tray on their shell’s lower part and brush with garlicky butter.

Heat the oven grill/broiler and grill them until the garlic bits start becoming golden (this should take about ten minutes). Make sure the garlic doesn’t brown too much; it will become bitter.

You can also grill them in a normal grill and spread the garlic butter juste before serving.

Sprinkle them with olive oil while they are still hot and serve them simply with good quality bread or baguette (you can also season them with ground pepper).

 

Baked Damson Plums with Yogurt

baked_plumspSo simple and soooo good! I wish I could say this more often about the dishes I love… I made this improvised sweet treat last weekend after bringing a big bag of my favourite plums and was really surprised to discover how excellent such an easy and quick dessert turned out. The same recipe can be made with any stone fruit, but for me the oval violet damsons are by far the best choice: the tart skin gives them quite a complex taste, especially when combined with very ripe sweet flesh and makes them perfect for baking. Seasoned with cinnamon, baked with a bit of brown sugar and served warm with chilled creamy yogurt, these roasted plums make a fantastic dessert I can sincerely recommend even to those who constantly watch their waistline.

In case you look for different ways to cook damsons or other plums:

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Light Almond Cream with Plums

Light Almond Cream with Plums

Plum, Prune and Chocolate Jam

Plum, Prune and Chocolate Jam

Damson Jam and Chocolate Tart

Damson Jam and Chocolate Tart

Damson Plum Butter (without sugar)

Damson Plum Butter (without sugar)

TIPS: The contrast between chilled yogurt and warm fruits is very important here, so you can cut up the fruits and divide into individual portions well ahead and then put it into the oven when you serve the main course, for example. If you really have to bake this dessert in advance, reheat it just before serving. I tried it and of course the taste is slightly worse, but better than served cold.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m sure you can prepare it also with frozen fruits (I’ll certainly test it with frozen sour cherries because this is the only way I can get them here).

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

12 big damson plums (or the equivalent of any stone fruit you like)

2 heaped teaspoons brown sugar (or more, depending on the plum’s sweetness and on your preferences)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

thick yogurt or sour cream or quark/fromage blanc to serve 

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Remove the stones from the fruits and cut each half into quarters (if you use smaller fruits, such as mirabelles or cherries, simply remove the stones and don’t cut them).

Put the plum pieces into individual baking dishes, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and bake for about 30-40 minutes.

Serve hot or warm with very cold yogurt, quark or sour cream.