Thursday, February 17, 2011

Old Time Common Sense

So today am beginning with some classic French recipes because they are 'cheap', also easily adapted, and for those of us who have even a small garden, we should be able to forage there to find at least one ingredient.
Foraging for food (hunting 'food for free' in the countryside) is now becoming so 'fashionable' that several top restaurants now employ someone to do the foraging. Because the foraged food is fresh and not on sale, this is counted as almost 'posh nosh' and we are charged accordingly when it is shown on the menu. Why pay when we can easily go out and forage for ourselves, but before we do, we should always get a guide book that tells us what is edible and what is not. Mabey's book Food for Free, is a good one to use. It may now be out of print, and there will almost certainly be similar, and new books on the subject, that we pay more for, but worth seeking a copy in a second-hand book shop or website.

The first 'freebie' few of us need to look up as it is so familiar. The Dandelion! The name itself comes from the French 'dent de lion' - because the dandelion leaves, with their deeply serrated edges, look like a row of lion's teeth. The French call it Pissenlit (translated in English to 'wet the bed') - as the leaves have diuretic properties).
It makes an excellent starter when entertaining, both for the economical aspect and also the 'history'.

Although the recipe serves a goodly number, amounts can easily be reduced to feed as few two (or even one for that matter). Again just use the recipe as a guide. The two 'essential' ingredients being the dandelion leaves and bacon, and at a pinch you can get away with just that, with a little dressing.
It is essential the dandelion leaves are freshly picked and clean. Ideally, when they start growing in the garden, put a plant pot over the top to 'force' them, then they become a lighter green colour and slightly sweeter - also keeps the cats away! If not forced, use the young leaves as they are not so bitter. In any case, after picking in the wild (or garden), always give them a good rinse. Avoid 'foraging' by the roadside as everything grown there will be covered in car fumes, often difficult to remove by washing. If you have no garden, unable to forage elsewhere, then baby spinach or chicory leaves are suggested as being used in place of the dandelion.
A suggeston, if - having purchased packs of bacon offcuts - there should be enough fatty bits to render down on their own, this bacon 'dripping' can be used instead of oil for this dish, as it adds even more flavour.

Pissenlit aux Lardons: serves 8
2 tblsp sunflower oil
8 oz (225g) bacon rashers, cut into half inch (1cm) dice
about 8 handfuls crisp dandelion leaves
4 tblsp red wine vinegar
2 - 3 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
4 slices bread, made into garlic croutons (recipe given below)
Fry the bacon with the oil until crisp. Tear the dandelion leaves into pieces and place in a WARMED salad bowl, then pour over the bacon together with the oils in the pan. Add the vinegar to the pan, bring to the boil, then stir in the mustard. Pour this over the salad seasoning well with pepper, and a very small amount of salt (to lift the flavours). Serve whilst still warm, with croutons.

garlic croutons:
use sliced white or wholemeal bread (toasting thickness), brushing each side with olive oil or melted butter and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 200C, 400G, gas 6 for 2 minutes, then turn the slices over. Turn off the oven and continue crisping the bread for 3 minutes in the residual heat or until just becoming crisp, then rub the baked bread with a cut garlic clove, then cut into cubes. If you wish to crisp further, return to the oven for a couple more minutes (again using residual heat).

This next recipe, in many ways is almost identical to the above when it comes to ingredients, but prepared differently. The basic recipe is given, but it is very common in France to add lightly fried chicken livers, pieces of herring (sardines?), anchovy fillets, beef tongue, farmhouse sausages, boiled potatoes, pickled herrings, and fresh herbs (possibly not all at the same time - but then, with the French, who knows!). With the additions, the cook book calls this then "an exuberant dish, and always highly seasoned".
The 'fresh greens' suggested in this salad are: young dandelion leaves, curly endive, cos lettuce (Little Gem would be good), and lamb's lettuce. To this I suggest those young Mixed Salad Leaves that I hope most of us will be growing (again) this year.

Salade Lyonnaise: serves 4
6 handfuls of young dandelion leaves, OR- see above.
6 oz (175g) streaky bacon, chopped into 2" (5cm) pieces
2 slices granary bread
2 cloves garlic, halved
1 tblsp red wine vinegar
4 eggs
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
5 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp Dijon mustard
1 tblsp chopped fresh chives, tarragon, and/or parsley
salt and pepper
Grill the bacon until crisp (or fry if you prefer). Toast the bread then both sides with the garlic, then cut into 1" (2.5cm) strips. Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together until well blended.
Bring a shallow pan of water to the boil, adding the vinegar. Break the eggs into a cup, then carefully slide them into the boiling water so that the bubbles hold the whites together. Simmer for 4 minutes to cook the whites firmly enough, but still keeping the yolks runny. Remove from the pan and tidy the whites by trimming with a pair of scissors.
Tear the greens into bite-sized pieces, mixing in the herbs, then add the bacon and crouton. Pour the vinaigrette over and toss. Finally arrange the eggs on top. Serve immediately.