September is a great month for avid collectors, avid eaters and avid chefs because this is when wild mushrooms are seriously hitting the scene. It is on the continent that the enthusiasm for the fungal wonders of nature is most apparent, while in Belgium and Germany we seem always to have been afraid of picking and collecting (maybe is a toadstool?). The cep is the prime wild mushroom-cépe to the French and porcino (little pig) to the Italians. Its round shiny cap looks like the Victorian penny bun, but it will now cost rather more than that. They form trees, in clearings in the woods, and around the edges of woods.
Available too the chanterelle, which is also known as girolle. They are quite often thought to be exactly the same, but are actually different strains of the same species. The girolle is found between months of May and July but it is available between midsummer and autumn as well. And of course in the autumn you also find the black Périgord and the white Alba truffle. They are very precious to the French and the Italians, and how special I have just learned in France, in the home of the truffles.
The black diamond market
On the first Tuesday of August, the main street of an otherwise undistinguished town in south west France was magically transformed by one of the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping and important events in the entire French culinary universe-the opening day of the truffle market in Lalbenque-.Truffle brokers and special restaurant supply buyers from all over France, the UK and beyond would flock to Lalbenque on the Tuesday market day, momentarily swelling this small town’s population by up to a thousand. They were all there for only one purpose, attempting to acquire specimens of perhaps the world’s pre-eminent culinary delicacy.
(Lalbenque is 25 kilometers south of Cahors, and it is the largest truffle market in south western France, and from early December until early March, hundreds of kilos of France’s ‘black diamond’, (Tuber Melanosporum), will be sold in Lalbenque’s weekly truffle market (another truffle market is held at Richerenches in the Vaucluse)
The major of Lalbenque told me that all the fuss about the truffle began in the 18th century, when the French gastronome and author Brillat-Savarin described these truffles as “the diamond of the kitchen”. It resulted that by 1900, France produced 1,000 metric tons of Tuber Melanosporum a year, but incessant demand and the resulting over-harvesting has reduced today’s annual harvest to a mere 20 to 40 metric tons.
Exactly how Lalbenque and Quercy (the capital of the territory) assumed such an important culinary role is not clear-says the mere-but the scrubby calcareous soil of the surrounding area abounds with the twisted small oak trees whose roots have a symbiotic relationship with and host the growth of truffles.
Meanwhile he tries to reveal the secret of the truffle we walk to the market. I can tell you that already itself is simultaneously picturesque and unusual. Specially on market Tuesday, beginning around 2pm, when sellers stand shoulder to shoulder behind benches running in a long line along the main street, displaying the truffles they are offering that day in a basket set on the bench in front of them. Some sellers have but a few truffles, while others have a bounty exceeding several kilos. About a meter in front of the benches is a strategically positioned rope that prospective buyers dare not cross.
The buyers, usually numbering in the several hundreds, stand in front of the rope and engage in discreet conversations with the sellers. Most conversations revolve around weight, since sales prices are calculated in grams and kilos, but occasionally a forward buyer even asks to have a basket handed to him across the rope for a brief inspection, requests that are often declined.
Nervous smiles are exchanged on both sides of the rope, because both buyers and sellers know very well what is about to come. -At exactly 2.30 pm, a rapid fire series of events very quickly ensues. Not a moment before or after, a policeman whistle is sounded, the rope drops to the ground, the buyers charge forward, earnest and somewhat frantic negotiations ensue, and five minutes later, the market is over for that week. What is remarkable is that even though all sales have truffle weight, as well of course quality, as key value drivers, you will never see a scale at Lalbenque. Sellers will tell you what their basket weighs when you ask, but verification is considered an insult.
The opening day of the truffle market at Lalbenque is always the first Tuesday of every month. It is of particular interest because the elders of the organization that runs the market, the Syndicat des Trufficulteurs, in December parade through Lalbenque in long, black ceremonial robes and plumed Three Musketeers-type hats, with golden medallions hanging around their necks. With much ceremonial flourish, the Mayor of Lalbenque declares the market to be open.
Prospective sellers at the Lalbenque market are required to arrive early, and are ushered into a back room at the Marie where syndicat experts sniff, poke pinch, examine and otherwise take steps to assure that this particular batch of truffles are genuine Tuber Melanosporum, and not Chinese counterfeits. The Chinese truffle, Tuber Sinensis, is a decidedly inferior culinary product that is often passed off as a Perigordian black truffle. It is frequently joked in culinary circles that half of the Perigordian truffles sold in London, Tokyo and New York are Chinese. But not at all in Lalbenque. The syndicat verifies Tuber Melanosporum botanical correctness, which gives comfort to buyers and presumably emboldens bidding.
The laws of supply and demand have driven the price of Perigordian black truffles to stratospheric heights. You can expect to pay upwards of €500 a kilo for good quality truffles at Lalbenque (€900 in Paris), and considerably more if summer weather has not been conducive to truffle growth.
Cooking with truffles
Myriad culinary applications of truffles exist (I even saw a recipe for truffle ice cream!), the local recipe book of Vino Veritas offers a few brief suggestions here in Lalbenque. The biggest mistake a would-be truffle chef can make is muddling the delicate and subtle nuances of truffles with other flavors. The food applications that show off truffles the best, in my opinion (but consider please I’m not an expert), are those made with eggs it was Mussolini the dictator’s favorite, rice or potatoes, and very little else. Very little preparation of the truffles themselves is either necessary or desirable. You want to maximize the surface area of the truffles you are using and then heat them for just a bit to bring out the volatile odor elements. Take a one euro vegetable peeler (the expensive truffle shavers are a rip-off), place shavings of truffles in a small saucepan with butter, heat under very low heat for just a few moments, add the truffles to the balance of your chosen dish, and be prepared for oral ecstasy.
Be aware of the shelf life of fresh truffles is about three weeks and it looses its weight day by day. Store them in a tight-lidded container in the refrigerator submerged in aborio rice, which allows a little air circulation but not too much, and facilitates the most delicious risotto long after the truffles themselves have been consumed!
Stuffed cabbage roulade with chanterelle rice
Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods. Evidence from 30,000 years ago in Europe revealed starch residue on rocks used for pounding plants. It is possible that during this time, starch extract from the roots of plants, such as cattails and ferns, was spread on a flat rock, placed over a fire and cooked into a primitive form of flatbread. Bread has a significance beyond mere nutrition in many cultures because of its history and contemporary importance. Bread is also significant in Christianity as one of the elements (alongside wine) of the Eucharist and in other religions including Paganism.
In many cultures, bread is a metaphor for basic necessities and living conditions in general. For example, a “bread-winner” is a household’s main economic contributor and has little to do with actual bread-provision. This is also seen in the phrase “putting bread on the table“. The Roman poet Juvenal satirized superficial politicians and the public as caring only for “panem et circenses” (bread and circuses). In Russia in 1917, the Bolsheviks promised “peace, land, and bread.” The term “breadbasket” denotes an agriculturally productive region. In Slavic cultures bread and salt is offered as a welcome to guests. In India, life’s basic necessities are often referred to as “roti, kapra aur makan” -bread, cloth, and house.
Words for bread, including “dough” and “bread” itself, are used in English-speaking countries as synonyms for money. A remarkable or revolutionary innovation may be called the best thing since “sliced bread”. The expression “to break bread with someone” means “to share a meal with someone”. The English word “lord” comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlāfweard, meaning “bread keeper”.
In Hungary bread blessing is celebrated on 20 of August every year. That day is also the day of St. Stephen (the name day of their first king). The roots of that harvest holiday date back to the reign of Maria Theresa; the monarch issued an order that we commemorate the state founder king of Hungary Steven on 20 August every year. Visitors from lands afar flocked to attend the St. Stephen day celebrations held on the Buda Castle Hill in order to celebrate the cutting of the new bread amidst splendid harvest festivities. The Hungarians revive these traditions on 20 August every year.
However in Scotland according to an ancient tradition the Bannock bread is celebrated on the first of August. But what is Bannock bread? It is a variety of flat quick bread or any large, round article baked or cooked from grain. When a round bannock is cut into wedges, the wedges are often called scones. However, in Scotland the words bannock and scone are often used interchangeably. The original bannocks were heavy, flat cakes of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough formed into a round or oval shape, then cooked on a griddle. In Scotland, before the 19th century, bannocks were cooked on a bannock stane (Scots for stone), a large, flat, rounded piece of sandstone, placed directly onto a fire, used as a cooking surface. Most modern bannocks are made with baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent, giving them a light and airy texture. There is a suggestion that bannock cakes played a pivotal role in the deciding of a person for human sacrifice during the late Iron Age in the discovery of Lindow Man.
(The Lindow Man, also known as Pete Marsh, is the preserved bog body of a man discovered in a peat bog at Lindow Moss near Wilmslow in Cheshire, North West England. The human remains were found on 1st of August in 1984 by commercial peat-cutters. At the time of death, Lindow Man was a healthy male in his mid-20s, and he may have been someone of high status, as his body shows little evidence of heavy or rough work. There has been debate over the reason for Lindow Man’s death, for the nature of his demise was violent, perhaps ritualistic; after a last meal of charred bread, Lindow Man was strangled, hit on the head, and his throat cut. Dating the body has proven problematic, but it is thought that Lindow Man was deposited into Lindow Moss, face down, some time between 2 BC and 119 AD, in either the Iron Age or Romano-British period. The body has been preserved by freeze-drying and is on permanent display at the British Museum.)
But to return to the Bannock bread, nowadays there are many Bannock varieties but the most well-known is the Scottish bannock or the Selkirk Bannock, named after the town in the Scottish borders where it is traditionally made. It is a spongy, buttery variety, sometimes compared to a fruitcake, made from wheat flour and containing a very large quantity of raisins. The first known maker of this variety was a baker named Robbie Douglas, who opened his shop in Selkirk in 1859. When Queen Victoria visited Sir Walter Scott’s granddaughter at Abbotsford she is reputed to have taken her tea with a slice of Selkirk Bannock, thus ensuring that its reputation was enshrined forever. Today, Selkirk Bannocks are popular throughout Great Britain, and can be found at most large supermarkets.
The ingredients of the easiest bannock is the next: flour, salt, butter, water and baking powder (further infos about it see on the internet).
During the month of June and July, so many home-grown summer fruits are at their best, among cherries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries, loganberries and tayberries, and of course the inimitable strawberry. I love cherries in the hand, a great snack, but they equal pleasure cooked, both in sweet and savory dishes. It is said that they are over 2000 varieties of cherries in the planet, and in parts of Italy they claim to have been growing them for at least 2000 years. Most cherries are derived from two species-the sour or Morello cherry and the wild or sweet cherry.
Gooseberries seem to be a particularly British and Hungarian fruit to me, and in fact there aren’t many gooseberry recipes from other countries in Europe. Like cherries, they can be used in both sweet and savory contexts, poached and plain, baked in sweet pies or pounded in a fool, or famously, as a tart sauce to accompany mackerel. Raspberries are one of my favorite fruits, and the best in June and July, when the summer days are long. But the prime June-July for me is the strawberry. The original fruit was the wild variety of fragaria vesca, which is native to both North America and northern Europe (it is thought to be circumpolar that by some botanical miracle, it passed across the pole). The name in English comes from the Anglo-Saxon streow, to scatter or strew, and refers to the runners which stray out from the plant in all directions. Both garden strawberries and wild or Alpine strawberries are at their peak of perfection during these summer months, exemplified by their appearance at many European summer sporting occasions.
Cointreau champagne raspberries or strawberries
Served almost iced on a hot day provide probably one of the coolest and easiest of desserts. A spoonful of sweet vanilla whipped cream, is all that is needed to complete this dessert.
Ingredients: 450 g raspberries, 1 teaspoon of finely grated orange zest, 3-4 tbsps of champagne, 1 tbsp of icing sugar, plus more for sprinkling, 2 tbsps of Cointreau
for the vanilla whipped cream: 1 vanilla pod, 150 ml double whipping cream, 1 heaped tbsp of icing sugar
Directions: Blend 100 gr of the raspberries with the orange zest 3 tbsps of the champagne and the tbsp of icing sugar, then strain through a fine sieve. The extra tbsp of champagne can be added for a stronger flavor, if needed. chill until ready to serve.
Separate remaining raspberries between four dessert glasses or bowls, then sprinkle each portion with icing sugar and the Cointreau. These can also be refrigerated until needed.
To make the vanilla whipped cream, split the vanilla pod, scraping the seeds from each half. Add the seeds to the cream in a chilled bowl, along with the icing sugar. Whisk until soft-peak stage and the cream is ready to serve. The addition of the icing sugar to the cream will help maintain the creamy consistency for up to 1 hour comfortably, providing i is kept in refrigerated.
just before serving, spoon the champagne raspberry sauce over each bowl of raspberries, offering them with the flavored whipped cream.
My husband hated the polenta, because of a bad childhood memory. Me, I have never eaten it before but I could live without it. Then we were in France (in 2014) at the Cote D’Azur and we went to Camargue and I ordered it in a small, cosy restaurant. I liked it so much I even asked the waitress for some more information about the way it was prepared! Then returning home I interviewed my Italian friend who praised this dish. He couldn’t stop talking about it! He told me that in the past it was the staple food of the poor people in Italy. So I gave a try and prepared a polenta dish and my husband loved it! He found it so delicious he even wanted to be sure it’s really “the polenta” what he disliked so much in the past?
Ingredients: 3 cups milk or water, 1 cup polenta, 2 eggs, butter, oil for frying
Methods: Bring water or milk to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Pour in polenta steadily, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until polenta is thickened. It should come away from sides of the pan, and be able to support a spoon. This can take anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes (not true for me it took 15 minutes non-stop stirring) Pour polenta onto a wooden cutting board, let stand for a few minutes. Then add two eggs, salt and pepper to taste. Make balls or cut out from the dough nice baking forms. Put into oven and bake or fry them in oil.
Polenta is a dish of boiled cornmeal that was historically made from other grains. It may be served as a hot porridge, or it may be allowed to cool and solidify into a loaf that can be baked, fried, or grilled. The dish is associated with Northern and Central Italy. The only problem with the polenta that it takes a long time to cook, simmering in four to five times its volume of watery liquid for about 45 minutes with near-constant stirring; this is necessary for even gelatinization of the starch. Some alternative cooking techniques have been invented to speed up the process, or to not require constant supervision. Quick-cooking (pre-cooked, instant) polenta is widely used and is prepared in just a few minutes; it is considered inferior to polenta made from unprocessed cornmeal and is best eaten after being baked or fried. That was the way I have done! Polenta can also be prepared with porcini mushrooms, rapini or other vegetables or meats, such as small songbirds (in the case of the Venetian and Lombard dish polenta e osei).
Some Lombard polenta dishes are polenta taragna (which includes buckwheat flour), polenta uncia, polenta concia, polenta e gorgonzola and missultin e polenta—all are cooked with various cheeses and butter, except missultin e polenta, which is cooked with fish from Lake Como where George Clooney lives. In some areas of the Veneto region, it can also be made from white cornmeal (mais biancoperla, once called polenta bianca). In some areas of Piedmont in the northwest, it can also be made from potatoes instead of cornmeal. In the westernmost alpine region, the maize is sometimes combined with local grains like barley and rye (polente bâtarde or polente barbare), and often frichâ and toasted on a loza (thin refractory stone)
Chicken cream, and mushroom is one of the best combination. This perfectly delicious French recipe is not difficult at all, but it can not be prepared ahead of time or the chicken will lose its fresh and juicy quality!
The chicken is roasted, then carved, flamed in cognac, (that’s my fav part) and allowed to steep for several minutes with cream, mushrooms and port wine. It is the kind of dish to do when you are entertaining a few good, food loving friends whom you can receive in your kitchen
Ingredients: 60 g flour for dredging, 5 chicken legs, 30 g butter 60 ml port wine, 120 ml dry white wine, 120 ml chicken stock, 250 gr mushrooms, 30 ml heavy cream
1. Place the flour in a shallow dish. Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour.
2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in the preheated skillet until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Pour the port, white wine, and chicken stock over the chicken, and add the mushrooms around the skillet.
3. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce heat to low, simmer until chicken is fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the skillet and cover with foil.
4. Bring the sauce in the skillet to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Whisk in the cream and pour over the chicken to serve. You can accompany dish by parsley potatoes, buttered pasta or fresh vegetable. And a full bodied red Burgundy or Beaujolais!
May is the month of the Rose (11th of May was the day of the Rose) This cake is wonderful to enjoy in late spring and early summer-a foretaste of the flavors to come in the warmer months ahead. The beauty of this cake is the candied rose petal decoration and the pistachios.
Ingredients: 1/4 seedless watermelon, thinly sliced 1/4 cup (60ml) rosewater (see notes), plus extra to drizzle 1/3 cup (75g) caster sugar 2 x 250g punnet strawberries, halved 600ml thickened cream, 225g store-bought sponge cake (18cm x 13cm x 4cm) 2 tablespoons almond meal, slivered pistachios and dried rose petals (see notes), to serve 10 seedless red grapes, halved cooking
Step 1. Arrange melon on a wire rack in a single layer, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon rosewater and 2 tablespoons sugar, then stand for 30 minutes for flavors to infuse. Pat dry.
Step 2. Meanwhile, combine berries and another 1 tablespoon rosewater in a bowl, then stand for 15 minutes to infuse.
Step 3. Whisk the cream and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar with electric beaters until thickened. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon rosewater and whisk until soft peaks.
Step 4. Carefully slice the cake into thirds horizontally. Place one cake layer on a serving plate and sprinkle with a little extra rosewater. Spread over one-third of the cream, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon almond meal and top with half the watermelon. Repeat layers, then top with a final layer of cake and cream. Press grapes and strawberries into the cream, then garnish with pistachios and dried rose petals.
Marzipan is a paste made out of finely ground almonds mixed with sugar. The result is a pliable, edible, non-toxic crafting material, ideal as a substitute for modeling clay. With marzipan, the only potential side effect with accidental ingestion is a sugar high. An incredibly malleable alternative, whatever you can dream up, you can make with marzipan. These farm animals are a good start. With a single tube of marzipan, a small amount of food coloring, and a whole lot of fast little fingers, this project is sure to turn your countertop into a barnyard.
Marzipan can be found at the grocery store or the craft store in the baking department and is easily dyed by adding a tiny amount of food coloring to a clump of marzipan. When dying the marzipan pink, use just a tiny dot of red food coloring, because a little goes a long way with red. One tube of marzipan is enough to make all five farm animals if you are accurate with your measurements of the different colors.
7 oz tube marzipan paste
Box of assorted food coloring
Black food coloring
Clean surface for rolling balls with your hands
To get started: First separate a quarter-sized portion of marzipan to make the 10 colored discs for the animals’ eyes. Take the rest and separate it into 5 equal parts so that all the animals are more or less the same size. For each animal, first take a little tiny bit of not colored marzipan and roll into 2 little discs for the whites of the eyes. Then proceed with the instructions for each animal.
Step 1: Draw a beetle shape on a black cardboard and cut it out. Put it away.
Step 2: Take your marzipan portion for the bug and dye it all red using the tiniest dab of red food coloring. Mix the dye in well, making sure there are no streaks.
Step 3: Make 6 little, black balls for the dots.
Step 4: Use the rest to make a bigger black head. Arrange the black balls on both sides three, nicely (push them into marzipan with your fingers). Put the eyes on the head. Place the bug on the cardboard paper and glue it with icing sugar.