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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

French Travel Tales: Leek Tart

Start Your Own Taste Adventure Now!

As you may remember from last time (read part one here) we were just about to go into her kitchen at La Belle Gasconne to make Marie-Claude's amazing Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux from her book, La Cuisine de Passion.

Please join us! There are still a few spaces in Taste the Adventure this summer. 

Marie-Claude's tart uses a brisée dough for the crust. You may also see this called pate sale brisée. It is a French classic. Are you familiar with it? Marie-Claude says this in her book, La Cuisine de Passion, to convey the meaning of brisée.

C'est si Bon! Culinary Travel to Poudenas
La Belle Gasconne Kitchen, ready for action!

"Je ne veux pas marcher sur tes brises."

What could this mean, I asked my friend Aileen Randall, a Carrboro and Chapel Hill French teacher who has been co-leader of numerous Teen-Chef Trips with me in Provence, Paris and Tuscany. Aileen advised this can mean, “I don’t want to poach on your preserves. Or, it could possibly mean "I will not walk in your breezes."

My breezes?

Of course misunderstandings in French, in France, in the French kitchen and in life, are always possible. I accepted the approximation as I accept and admire Marie-Claude. In fact, I didn't need to hear a word for word explanation. I imagined it had to do with the respect of the countryside and so of course it meant that no one should go poach (hunt) on your hunting preserves. It didn't mean I couldn't poach a lovely shad from the Gelise River or a even a chicken, in a rich pot full of carrottes and oignon and laurier that you had just harvested, if need be, just so long as the hunter was invited. Right? 

Marie-Claude in this case..was the grand chausser of the leek tart! the keeper of the tradition! And as a guest "Je ne veux pas marcher sur tes brises." I sure didn't want to poach in her breezes. Or walk. Whatever. 

And so I will always remember the day when Marie-Claude came into the kitchen to see how we were coming along with the tart. I had invited her and her husband, Christian, to lunch -- which of course, was, crazy to begin with! Why had I invited Marie-Claude to lunch on one of her prized recettes - that could never work! But then I had reasoned it would have been brazen to not invite her when we were working in her kitchen trying to replicate her dish. Who better to tell us how it came out? GULP.

In Cuisine de Passion she says, "Me, I always prepare little tartlettes for my clients, but certainly in the family its better to prepare one big pretty tart. If you have company you can prepare many bite size tarts. As a “cocktail-snack” or an appetizer with an aperitif."

We were going with the one big pretty tart. In fact, it was a pretty big tart. We even found one of her tart pans to use.

"The dough must be soft. I smooth it out with the boxwood rolling pin of my great grandmother Aurelie which I take with me everywhere I travel, as my good luck charm."

C'est si Bon! Culinary Travel to Poudenas
Pate sale brisée

Ok, here we need to go back. On our first shopping trip to the Mezin Sunday Marche, we had a marvelous time. We dillied. We dallied. We met Michel, he being our guide, and the farmer of leeks, potatoes, potiron (pumpkin) and wood-turning. Come back for another post about our further adventures with Michel. He took our little group around the market. We took photos. 

"When the dough is smooth and as thin as possible, using the rolling pin I pass my hands under it and then I lightly lift till I can see my hands through it. I stretch it so thin so that I can see my hands through it. And then I put it in the bottom of the tart pan. And then I prick it with my fork. When the garniture (the filling) is in place I cover it with a dough that I try to stretch even more finely than the one underneath. The secret of my tourte is that as for the garnish, (the filling) it changes often, depending on the evening and the inspiration."

Marie-Claude took one look at our bowl of leeks, sitting in a bowl of water, and gently asked, "Do you know what you're doing?" She took down the heaviest pan on the shelf with one arm and plopped it in place on the burner. She whooshed on the fire, and nestled the leeks in a towel and patted them dry as best she could after our insane attempt to clean them. With nary a concern for her hands she moved the damp leeks to the hot pan where they sizzled, but no, actually they didn't - you just think they will. The pan was at the perfect temperature as well it should always be. The leeks sat there and were quite patient to have a little time with the heat. As much time as Marie-Claude commanded. She watched the poireaux with a fierce kind of love, fluffed them with her fingers. They began to steam..they turned a bright green, and then she removed them from the pan. Quickly and spread them out to cool. Then, she left us to finish the dish. "Je ne veux pas marcher sur tes brises."

So, did Marie-Claude ever taste our Leek Tart? Tune in next time. And Teens, join us in Gascony! to make another ...

C'est si Bon! Culinary Travel to Poudenas
Marie-Claude Gracia Rey, La Cuisine de Passion 

Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux
as translated from La Cuisine de Passion by Marie-Claude Gracia Rey

prep time, 1 hour. baking time 40 minutes.

for the pâte brisée salée – standard french short pastry dough

short pastry dough or pate brisee is unleavened and great for savory or sweet tarts, quiches or any other pie sort of knosh. the standard accepted ratio is ½ the amount of fat to flour.

300 grams of butter (1 cup 5 tablespoons)
10 grams of salt (1 teaspoon)
500 grams of all purpose flour (4 cups 2 tablespoons)
1 egg, beaten
125 grams of water (1/2 cup)

for the garniture - the filling
500 gms very white leeks
250 gms little pink mushrooms from the meadow or de champignons de paris
20 cl crème fraiche thick
1 egg

salt and white pepper

Make the pastry.
On a hard work surface - marble, granite or formica - place your flour and salt. mix with your fingers. cut the butter into tablespoon size pieces, and put with the dry ingredients. gently, use both hands and rub without squeezing the butter into the dry ingredients. you are aiming for a sandy texture with all the butter mixed into the dry ingredients, gently and surely. when the butter is well mixed in, with one hand, gently mix the butter/flour with the egg. with the other hand, pour some of the water over the mix and continue bringing the ingredients together. once all the ingredients are mixed together (you may or may not have used all the water), stop mixing and put aside the dough in the refrigerator to rest for about 30 minutes or longer if necessary and more convenient.

Rest the pastry

When it has rested sufficiently divide it into 2 unequal parts; 2/3 and 1/3 smooth out the biggest to the diameter of the tourtier, butter and flour the mold, the moule. garnish the bottom of the moule with the very thin dough. 

Prepare the garnish.

Peel the leeks only keep a drop of the green and then cut in fine julienne. If possible get yourself poireaux de vigne which adds to the impertinence, or possible the strength of the flavor. put them in a heavy pan skillet over average heat, with no water or anything in a way that will be at least 2 cm of poireaux. turn it with a wooden spoon or your fingers so that the humidity of the leeks on the bottom impregnante well those that are on the top. stop at about 6 minutes approximately, when they are still “craquants” and emerald green.

Besides, choose the little pink mushrooms of the meadow, the smallest ones, and the most “croquant” crunchy..the most closed..or by default those old mushrooms of paris. remove the peel and the stems. keep the mushroom caps that you minced them finely. especially don’t wash them. put a layer of the leeks and half a layer of the mushrooms on top of the raw dough. add crème fraiche very evenly over the leeks and the mushrooms, then salt and pepper. the filling must be light soft and delicate and rise to ¾ of the tarte pan. stretching the rest of the dough to cover the tart. now, with a whole egg, brush over the tart, turn it golden with a whole egg.

We’re going to put it in the oven, if your oven is not very aggressive let it cook for 35 minutes and if not then at 40 minutes. serve as is. Either as an entrée or after the foie gras with a dry white wine, a vin de Poudenas. (Colombard ou Ugni Blanc) or a light red wine, (from Duras or un Buzet.)

And don’t tell the men that there are leeks inside because the majority of them detest them. and if they don’t know there are poireaux in there they will feast in all innocence.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

French Travel Tales: Chef Marie-Claude Gracia Rey

Start Your Own Adventure in Taste!

In the dictionary under the word tranquility there are no words, just a photo of La Belle Gasconne, the 14th century mill-house in the tiny village of Poudenas, France. 

La Belle Gasconne was a quite famous Michelin Star Restaurant run by Chef Marie-Claude Gracia Rey. She still lives in the village and shares her stories around the stove and table, if you can listen!  

Water is a primary soothing element. The millhouse lives on an island the Gelise River runs through the house, lulling you to listen and hear the tales of the village.

Marie-Claude’s story inspires more than a bit of magic, too.

Maria-Claude Gracia Rey

I have been going to Poudenas for 20 years and feel very fortunate to have been there and seen Marie-Claude at the helm of the kitchen running the well known Auberge. That was then, in 1996. I was as nervous as one of her wobbly Flan a la Verveine de la Mer. (Her mother’s exquisite flan made with lemon verbena)

Marie-Claude Gracia Rey is humble and modest and never speaks about herself, or her accomplishments. Our oldest son, Erick, is a chef and with his girlfriend, Kayla have cooked dinners for her and her family. 

With both of them and our youngest son, Jaryd, we have enjoyed many a fine dinner at the table where we can look across the millpond with Marie-Claude and Christian, her husband. Along with her sons, who are painters and artists and chefs and sommeliers, one of whom runs Cafe Galerie in the Galerie across the way. As well as her daughter, Marie Christine, who has opened an adorable shop, Le coin de marie c  boutique, next to them. 

One rainy morning we were ensconced in the kitchen making her Leek Tart.

Now before I get too far, and dance right into her recette, let me back up a bit to say there is no way that you can enter, walk, be, or cook in the millhouse kitchen without knowing and feeling that this is still her kitchen. This is not because of anything Marie-Claude says or does, non, non. She will go out of her way to declare this is your home, make you feel at home. She will give out kisses if something breaks, which my friend Cori, can tell you, does happen. 

But in short, because of her incredible presence, her ambiance, you could never forget that this is her domain. And La Belle Gasconne was, and always will be, nothing short of encroyable

Marie-Claude embraces the quiet life now. But at one time this was very far from the norm. Just how far from the norm, I learned this past October. 

To be standing in her kitchen is one thing but cooking there is quite something else. I say this because as much as I thought I knew, I really knew only the tip of her story. 

She shared her large book of newspaper and magazine profiles and interviews with me and I am honored to thank her for every moment and sharing at her table.    

To be continued.....Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux!

Marie-Claude Gracia Rey

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Write With Me: Pero Tafur and the Sea-Faring Focaccia.

Bonjour Mes Amis of the Kitchen and the Pen ~~~

Of course there will be a fire involved. Just in case you were worried that this will be a flat story about a, flat bread, a focaccia.

Now that the holidays have passed..I have set my sights on pulling together various threads of the Psomi manuscript.

This morning as I was reading about carrier pigeons, who should stumble in but Pero Tafur, who claims to be a Spanish traveler born in 1410, about then, and in Cordoba, or about there, somewhere. His stories exbound on sea-going adventures in the Mediterranean, taken vessels, miserable conditions, and the occassional French squire falling off a mountain.

At the time he wrote his travelogue narratives there was no such thing as printing. If you want to go along for the rather extraordinary ride, put on your rain slicker and read the digitized version here but only if carrier pigeons also are your sort of thing. You can also download the pdf version from Colombia University here.

If you'd rather hold the book in your meaty little hands, then cough up the hundred or so dollars of change and order away from Amazon, (which seems like a crime) or directly from Gorgias Press.

Back to the fire. All this talk with Pero made me, of course, hungry. From what I can piece together he had something similar to this Focaccia on board a ship off the coast of Sardinia.

The Best Focaccia...

Chestnut focaccia with poire, lavender and thyme

You may be surprised at how well the pear blends with thyme and lavender atop this chewy earthy bread.

The starter:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 package or 2 t. Dry yeast
2 ½ cups lukewarm water

Start the starter:
One full day, that is 24 hours before you’d like to eat/serve your focaccia make the starter.
Put the flour in a large glass or crockery bowl. And make a well in the center. Add the yeast and water to the well ad gradually stir them to mix them. Gradually incorporate the flour until well combined. Beat until smooth, using a fork is fine. Cover with a towel in a warm draft free place for 24 hours. In order to get a starter going you must feed it. Every 7 days discard 1 cup or 8 ounces of your starter, and replace it with this. 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mixed flour and 1/2 cup water. If a clear liquid forms on top, just stir it in, but if it turns pink, the starter has spoiled. Throw it away.

Once your starter is established, plan to use it once a week or discard 1 cup and feed it 2 cups of flour and 1 cup water to keep it fresh and active.

For the final focaccia:
1 cup of starter
2 1/4 cups more water
2-4 cups chestnut flour
2-4 cups regular flour

For topping:
Olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, combined with 1/8 tsp lavender
3 chopped pears, skin on

Begin by adding 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water to the starter in the bowl and stir until well-combined. Add the salt and enough flour and water (1 cup at a time) to make a thick mass of dough which is difficult to stir. Turn dough out on a floured surface and knead in the remaining flour if needed, until the dough is firm and smooth. Let this dough rise for about an hour, 
The Wood Oven in a Quiet Moment

taking 2 if you can. Shape the dough into a ball, lightly oil a large bowl and set the dough to rest in the bowl. The dough will not act like a normal yeast bread, it will not rise to a really puffy state.

Prepare the pan for baking: use a large baking sheet with sides, pour on olive oil and using a paper towel or your clean hands spread the oil around so the pan is adequately covered. Punch down the dough and transfer it to the oiled pan. Spread the dough, using your hands, stretching it out into the rectangle of the baking sheet. Let rise another 30 minutes if possible. While waiting preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Top with olive oil, lavender and thyme. Spread the pears you’re your hands over the focaccia and distribute evenly. Sprinkle the coarse sea salt over the top – you may need more than you think, as the pears are sweet. Fun! Bake until firm and a rich caramel color. 20-25 minutes. Cool completely on a wired rack. Cut in squares. 

Cori, mon assistant! Another Foccacia..Another Thyme. 
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