Peppery Beet & Tomato Gazpacho

brasserieI love eating out in France (who wouldn’t?!), especially at lunchtime and preferably at a modest brasserie in a very typical French village, somewhere deep, deep in the French countryside. I do not really enjoy eating at stiff, fancy restaurants where plates are made to resemble works of art. Keep the art for the museums and bring on the real, honest food prepared with love! Though to be perfectly honest, I feel there is much more artistry in a well-made, simple meal than there is in a snobby chef’s masterly food arrangement skills. In fact, I have been moved to tears by a perfectly cooked steak — just as I have by a Rembrandt! And, I have been bored and aggravated to tears while sitting at a pretentious restaurant that served decorative food in tiny portions and where stark faces looked at every move I made, literally following each forkful to my lips. Ugghh…
I recently ate at a restaurant most tourists would pass by (except for coffee or a drink on market day). It’s a hangout for locals run by people some (and, no, I am not one of them) would call ‘arrogant’. Though the restaurant has recently changed management and adopted a new name, not much has really changed. You still have to do your best to get their attention if you want a drink, the locals are still sitting in the exact same spot (God forbid you happen to forget that and take their table — the looks!), and the only thing served from 12-2 p.m. is a straightforward menu du jour consisting of a starter buffet, two main choices and a few dessert options. Don’t even bother asking for a menu. This is it. Take it or leave it.
Never, not once, have I been disappointed. It’s home cooking served with carafes of good local wine, to the sound of French conversation and — sorry — the smell of Gitanes. Because after all, when I go to France, I want to be right in the middle of French culture, trying to blend in as much as possible.
One day, I walked over to the starter buffet and helped myself to a flavorful terrine (with chorizo!), some cold vegetables, grilled aubergine and a verrine of thick, ice cold beet gazpacho. You can see the photo here. Oh the taste in that little glass of soup! It was fragrant, peppery, tangy and just beautiful! I have made beet gazpacho in the past, but it wasn’t as good as the one I had that day. So I took note of what I was tasting and vowed to recreate that recipe when I got home. It’s been gloriously HOT here in the Netherlands — no better time to make it than now! Here’s the recipe, which yes, tastes just like the one I had at that perfect and utterly French restaurant. Enjoy!

Peppery Beet & Tomato Gazpacho
Serves 6-8
beet gazpacho

  • 3 tomatoes
  • 500g cooked, vacuum packed beets (with juice)
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, bruised
  • 1 tsp pink peppercorns. bruised
  • 1 tsp dried coriander
  • 4 tbsps rosé vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp piment d’Espelette
  • 320 ml water (or more, if you like a thinner soup)
  • fleur de sel
  • freshly-cracked pepper 
  • good olive oil, to serve

Make a small X with a sharp knife on the bottom of each tomato, and plunge them in boiling water for 3 minutes. Rinse with cold water, and remove their skins. Chop the tomatoes roughly, and put them in a food processor or blender together with the rest of the ingredients. Blend well but make sure the mixture is still nice and thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning or add extra water if you like. Leave in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and an extra grinding of pepper.

Smoked Salmon Tartare

tartare 2Today’s recipe is something I quickly made yesterday because I had no intention of hanging out in the kitchen for too long — it was HOT! The temps are passing the 30s here in the Netherlands, and as much as I love warm weather, I am not a fan of cooking elaborate meals in the heat (with the exception of a roast chicken once in a while, but how elaborate is that?).
It was late in the afternoon, and I had no idea what to serve for dinner, so I made a quick dash to my local supermarket. When I spotted two thick, beautifu smoked salmon fillets, I immediately knew what I would make — salmon tartare! A light, refreshing dish with tons of flavor! With a salad, some bread and a cold soup (I’ll be posting the recipe here tomorrow), it was the perfect dinner to end a steamy summer day! PS: I used ring molds to serve the tartare, but you can also serve it with toast or little boats made from Belgian endive. Enjoy!

Smoked Salmon Tartare
Serves 4

  • juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 ½ tbsps good olive oil
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsps chopped chives
  • fleur de sel
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • ¼ cucumber, finely diced
  • 400g smoked salmon fillets, diced
  • crème fraîche, thinly sliced lemon & microgreens, to serve

In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to make a vinaigrette. Stir in the chopped chives, cucumber and salmon. Mix well and refrigerate for at least an hour. When ready to serve, use a ring mold to form the individual tartares. Top each one with a little crème fraîche and garnish with lemon, a scattering of microgreens and a good grinding of pepper.

Haddock with Herbed Crème Fraîche Sauce

haddockI was very excited to find a small tub of Crème Fraîche d’Isigny Sainte-Mère at my local supermarket yesterday. My heart began to flutter, and I smiled like a kid at Christmas as I quickly grabbed that only jar and tucked it safely into my basket. It’s funny how I can get more excited about a tub of cream than a new pair of shoes.
For those who aren’t familiar, this is the mother of all creams. It has a velvety texture and a rich, slightly tart flavor. Once you’ve tried this crème fraîche, all others will just not cut it anymore.
So what did I make? A beautiful fish dish of line-caught Icelandic haddock served with steamed new potatoes and a silky, herbed crème fraîche sauce! Here’s the recipe!

Haddock with Herbed Crème Fraîche Sauce
Serves 4

  • 4 haddock fillets (approx. 150g each)
  • 3 tbsps flour
  • fleur de sel
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • 2 large knobs of good quality butter (it will make a difference, trust me!)
  • 1 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 200ml dry white wine
  • 3 rounded tbsps  Crème Fraîche d’Isigny
  • 3 tbsps chopped chives
  • 2 tbsps chopped flat leaf parsley

Dry the haddock fillets with kitchen paper and slash them on the skin a few times. Flour and season well with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan. Once the butter is melted and bubbling a little, add the fillets skin-side down and allow to cook for 3 minutes. Flip them over and give them another 3 minutes. Remove to a plate, cover with foil and keep warm. Add the wine to the pan, scraping up all the bits at the bottom. Leave to bubble for a few minutes. Stir in the cream and herbs and allow to bubble for a few more minutes. Plate the fillets and divide the herbed cream sauce over them.

 

New Video: Gougères!

gougeresHave you seen my latest YouTube video where I show you how to make Gougères? This easy French appetizer is delicious and perfect for dinner parties or wine tastings. You can use many different ingredients to flavor the savory French cheese puffs, but my favorite combination is blue cheese (especially the bleu d’Auvergne from President) and finely chopped spring onions. So tasty!
PS: the basic recipe is called pâte à choux. Without pepper and a little less salt, you can use it to make cream puffs, chouquettes and éclairs! A good recipe to master! Just remember to fully incorporate each egg into the mixture before adding the next! Enjoy!

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