Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sautéed Green Beans and Potatoes, Walloon Style

This is a recipe from my part of the world - walloon country, the French-speaking portion of Belgium (some 4 million people out of a total 10 - the rest speak Flemish).

Traditionally, this recipe uses bacon, frying it in a pan first until it's crisp. Those who follow me know I rarely if ever use bacon (too fat) and instead replace it with strips of ham, usually the smoked variety (Speck will do very nicely), and fry it in a teflon-coated pan (no butter or oil added!) until crisp.

This is a wonderful recipe that can serve as a main dish if you're in the mood for a fast, light meal and it's especially nice on rainy days. Just looking at it lifts the spirits! Incidentally, the picture above was taken by none other than...little me (after I'd eaten half my portion! It was so good it took me a while to remember to take a photo...)

Here's the recipe for 4 people.


500 g (approx one pound) of green beans, cleaned (strings pulled off please!) and cut in half if very long;
300g  potatoes peeled and cut in sticks like for French fries
1 cup cream (or what I do here in Italy: Mascarpone with a little milk to make it creamy)
200 g smoked ham cut in strips and pan-fried until crisp
Pepper and salt to taste (careful with the salt: the ham will probably give the dish enough salt as is)


1. First cook the vegetables. You can do this using steam - that's what I do, I prefer steaming to boiling in salt water, I think it maintains better the taste of vegetables, but it really is up to you - whatever you're most comfortable doing. The main thing though is NOT to overcook the vegetables - the potatoes, sure, they need to be tender but shouldn't fall apart. And the green beans can even be a little crisp, they will resist better the next step in the recipe, which is pan frying.

2. Now quick-fry all the ingredients - green beans, potatoes and crisp ham (or bacon) - in a pan. A wok will do nicely or any pan that looks nice and that you can bring to the table: the warmer the dish is served, the better it will taste.

3. Once the vegetables are nice and warm, add the cream (or Mascarpone and milk), stir and serve. Finish off with freshly-grounded pepper for extra taste.

Yummy! And so simple to do...
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Eggplant and Mushrooms Sautéed

EggplantImage via Wikipedia

I just made an incredible discovery! Eggplant and mushrooms go together as if they were made for each other! If you cook mushrooms in a skillet, I'm sure you've noticed they release water as they cook.

If you cook eggplants you're confronted with the problem that eggplants will burn before they're cooked unless you use oil - frying them in deep oil is best to ensure they don't go dry on you. And anyone who's tried to grill eggplant slices in order to avoid all that oil (and all the calories!) will agree with me: okay, your eggplants are cooked in a calorie-less way, but boy do they taste dry!!

The solution? Simple, cook mushroom and eggplant slices together in the same skillet! The water released by mushrooms is absorbed by the eggplants (they really drink it up, real sponges!) and the two cook together at the same time and reach a perfect point of softness! I did notice that it tended to dry up towards the end, so in the last 5 minutes you're well advised to drop in a few pieces of peeled tomatoes - fresh and very red.

Et voilà, perfect vegetables to accompany grilled meat, in particular chicken or pork. Super simple to prepare and delicious. Being soft, they add just what's necessary to your grilled and sauce-less meats...

Ingredients for 4
  • 2 eggplants peeled and sliced - if the eggplants are market-bought, it is advisable to sprinkle the slices with salt at least 1/2 hour to ensure that the bitter liquid in them comes out; pat them dry with a paper towel  
  • 2 cups of raw sliced mushrooms (you can often find packages already prepared at the supermarket)
  • one medium-sized tomato, very red, peeled and cubed or a dozen cherry tomatoes, sliced in two and no need to peel them
  • one tablespoon of vegetable broth in powder  (Knorr is a good brand)
  • one tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste 

1. Warm up a broad skillet or frying pan with a little olive oil and when it's hot put in the slices of mushrooms and eggplants together. The fire has to be medium-high.

2. Sprinkle the powdered Knorr broth over the vegetables, salt and pepper. Careful with the salt because you've already got the Knorr broth in there.

3. It will take about 10 minutes to cook. Better stir to avoid burning. Before it actually burns (!), add the tomatoes in pieces: they will release just enough juice to ensure the cooking is finished without damage to the vegetables.

NOTE: I checked on Internet, there are plenty of recipes for eggplant and mushroom casseroles but all of them include onion, garlic, herbs, even cheese and eggs. Of course you can add all these ingredients but the result won't be the same.
(1) eggplants have a very mild, subtle taste and onions etc don't improve them - in fact such strong ingredients tend to overpower them in my humble opinion;
(2) cooking the eggplants separately - or even as in some recipes, frying them - defeats the purpose: the idea is that the liquid released by mushrooms as they cook helps in turn cook the eggplants.


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Friday, September 30, 2011

The Belgian National Dish: WATERZOIE!

leekImage by roboppy via Flickr

There are 10 million people in Belgium and probably as many ways to make Waterzoie, the national dish! You can make it with chicken or fish or seafood, but in all cases it will have leeks as its characteristic feature. It really is a leek soup with either chicken or fish floating in it.

Sounds bad? Think again! It really is very, very tasty and remarkably easy to do if you follow my recipe - it can be quite a lot of work if you start from scratch and actually make a broth with bones and vegetables to cook your meat or fish in. We're in the 21st century and I'm not ashamed to confess that I use industrial bouillon cubes...

Another advantage of Waterzoie is that it can be prepared in advance: the perfect dish when you have guests!

So here's the recipe for 4 persons.


2 cups of leeks cut in julienne strips (at least 4 leeks and try to use the white part and not too much of the green)
1/2 cup white onion, likewise cut in strips
1/2 cup celery, also cut in strips
1 whole breast chicken, leave it whole or cut in two halves,   Alternative: fish or seafood 
1 or 2 bouillon cubes (chicken broth for chicken of course, and fish broth for fish, natch!
1 cup cream (since I live in Italy I use Mascarpone, but normal cream is fine and is what's used in Belgium)
1 egg yolk
Juice of 1/2 lemon (or more as needed - it has to have a sharp "tang")
Butter: one tablespoon
Flour to thicken the sauce (about one tablespoonful of flour plus one of cornflour - maizena - but you will need to adjust to the quantity of broth you have)

Boiled potatoes to accompany


Boil the potatoes and while they're boiling prepare the waterzoie.

1. Cut all the vegetables, leeks, onion and celery,  in thin strips - julienne - about 1/2 inch long. Put in a wide pot, cover with water, add bouillon cube and a small amount (a tablespoonful) of butter.

2. Simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes taking care the vegetables don't burn - add water if need be.

3. After that time and as the vegetables start looking limp, add over them the chicken breasts and sprinkle a little salt over the meat. Cover and continue to simmer another 20 minutes until cooked. At that point the vegetables should be soft and the chicken cooked throughout and tender.

3a. If you use fish then you have to add it after the vegetables have cooked at least 20 minutes: the fish always cooks fast. How long that will take depends on the kind of fish you have chosen: for example, sea bass filets in my view don't need more than 5 minutes. Same with shrimps. More time is needed for lobster. Everytime, adjust the cooking of your vegetables that will always require 30 minutes to reach the right point of mellowness.

4. Now in a saucepan prepare the basis of your sauce: beat in a tablespoonful of flour and one of cornflour in 2 cups cold water and set on the fire to boil. This is how I make a "roux": I don't start by melting butter and working the flour in it. That's not needed! You can always add the butter - fresh, better for your health - at the end, when the sauce is done! Remember to beat it with a whisk so that the flour mixes well in the water and keep beating when it boils. It should boil at least 5 minutes to ensure the flour is cooked.

5. Pull out the chicken (or fish) from the pot where cooked and set aside on a warm serving dish (cover to keep the meat warm) You will serve the potatoes peeled in the same serving dish.

6. Do the sauce: pour the "roux" mixture from your saucepan (that you did in step 4) into the pot with the vegetables. Adjust the quantity of broth (I like it fairly liquid - but it's up to you, how thick a leek sauce you really want). Add chicken bouillon cube(s) or fish broth as needed so that it is rather strong tasting: it shouldn't be too bland because at this point you add the cream + egg yolk + lemon juice. Adjust with salt, pepper and lemon to taste. Once the yolk is in, be careful if you need to warm it up : you cannot boil the sauce anymore or it will turn stringy on you!

7. To serve: put the sauce (which will be very abundant!) in a soup toureen, and cut the chicken and potatoes for presentation on the serving dish.

This dish should be accompanied by full-bodied red wine if done with chicken - white wine if done with fish.

Enjoy!  You could be eating this in Brussels!

Brussels, view from the Kunstberg hillImage via Wikipedia

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A QUICK AND EASY DESSERT: Baked Strawberries and Bananas

StrawberryImage via Wikipedia

This is a no-brainer! Baked strawberries and bananas in a pretty pyrex dish: stick in the oven until the fruit is nice and soft and serve!

Ah, but there's a couple of tricks to make it really special. Here they are:

1 cup strawberries chopped in small pieces
2 to 3 bananas (one per person) peeled and sliced longitudinally
3 taplespoons of Mascarpone or very thick cream
1 tablespoon of White Martini wine (sweet)
juice from 1/2 lemon
Brown sugar to taste


- Heat the oven to 200° or mark 6

- In a small saucepan melt the mascarpone, add the wine, strawberries, lemon juice and sugar.

- Set your banana slices in a pretty dish that goes in the oven and can be served as is at the table.

-Pour the mascarpone mix all over, making sure it also goes underneath the banana slice (if they break, don't worry, it doesn't matter)

- Put in overn about 15 minutes, until the fruit is done (the bananas must be soft)

Et voilà! Easy right? And you'll see how people LOVE it!
Bananas white backgroundImage via Wikipedia

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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gratin Dauphinois (baked potatoes French-style) Made Easy

Gratin DauphinoisImage via Wikipedia
There are lots of ways to make a gratin Dauphinois, that scrumptious French-style baked potatoes, all soft and mushy inside and with a nice golden crust on top...If you Google it, you'll find dozens of recipes. But after trying a few, here's the easiest way to do it, and also the best for your health: no cream, no full milk, just skim milk and next-to-no butter!

Here's how I do it.

Ingredients for 4

- 6 medium-sized potatoes, the baking kind (not the red-skinned variety that is good for frying; buy the brown/beige colored ones)
- skim milk to cover your sliced potatoes (about 1/2 litre)
- 5 to 6 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano cheese (you can use a mix of Parmigiano and Emmenthal)
- garlic
- a little butter (a teaspoon does it!)
- salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven at 200° or mark 6 (or whatever you use to properly roast a chicken)
  2. Peel and slice the potatoes THINLY (use a mechanical cutter if you have one!). Do NOT wash but throw them directly into a bowl and cover with milk
  3. Mix in the grated cheese, salt and pepper
  4. Rub a pyrex dish (any baking dish that goes into the oven) with a peeled piece of garlic, then rub in butter
  5. Pour your potatoes together with the milk into the baking dish
  6. Sprinkle more grated cheese on top (at least 2 table spoons) and dot with (a little!) butter 
  7. Put in your hot oven
Et voilà! That's all it takes, super easy! The dish is ready when the potatoes are soft through and through (check with a toothpick, it should sink in easily) and the top has turned into a golden crust!

This accompanies well any meat dish...

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Of the Importance of Parsley in Sauces and Soups

Garden Chervil from Thomé Flora von Deutschlan...Image via Wikipedia

One person in my family, very dear to me, hates parsley - this post therefore is not for him!

Unless you're absolutely allergic to the idea of using parsley, here are some suggestions for parsley-based sauces and soups.

One of the most famous one is the Italian Salsa Verde or Green Sauce, a superb parsley-based sauce that accompanies perfectly boiled meat or fish - and there are of course French and German versions as well. Then in Lebanese cuisine, parsley is, as everybody knows, an essential ingredient in Tabbouleh or bulgur salad (along with mint, of course).

You can find these recipes all over the place on Internet or in a library.

But what I want to do here is to tell you about an interesting MEDIEVAL GREEN SAUCE of my own. Another example of serendipity in cooking!

I found my inspiration in French cookbooks on medieval cooking, and if you look at the originals you'd be amazed how our ancestors had neat ways of making sauces for their meat and fish. And naturally, parsley entered in nearly all of them. Unfortunately other ingredients did too and they're hard to find in modern markets. So I ended up with a parsley-based sauce that I use on all sorts of meat and fish. Most recently, I poured it over cold, thin slices of roast turkey (cooked the day before) and served it at room temperature, with extra sauce in a gravy boat. It was a real success with my friends! Of course, the same meat could have been served hot, with the sauce warmed just so, taking care NOT to boil it or it loses all its flavour!

- 2 thick slices of bread, white or whole meal is fine but the bread should be tasty!
- 1 small glass of dry white wine (alternatively: a tablespoon of white vinegar but it's less refined); you can add a tablespoon of Porto or Madeira if
- 1/2 cup of consommé or meat broth (if you make the sauce to accompany meat; use fish broth to accompany fish). You can use Knorr-type cubes or powder, but make sure you put enough in: you shouldn't need to use salt in this recipe.
- A VERY large bunch of parsley: the more, the better
- one spoonful olive oil
- Pepper to taste (I always put it in abundantly - it exalts flavours)


It's really simple, no cooking required.

Soak the bread in water and squeeze it dry. Put all the ingredients in a blender and chop up fine and voilà, it's done!

Soups all gain by having a sprinkling of parsley on them, but then, for real parsley lovers, there's... the GREEN SOUP!
It's just loaded with parsley - literally, two handfuls! Btw, it's not medieval, and it is inspired by the Belgian chervil soup. Since I live in Rome and there's no chervil (cerfeuil in French) here, I use Italian parsley. You know what I mean: the flat kind.

Ingredients for 4 persons
1 big potato
1 small carrot
2 celery branches (be careful to remove the strings!)
1 big white onion
1 leek (white part only)
Bouillon cube to taste
Fresh parsley: at least 2 handfuls (remove most of the thick stems, try only using the leaves)

Peel and cube the vegetables. Throw them in pot, cover with water, add bouillon cube and bring to boil with the lid on - then simmer covered, until the vegetables are soft and ready to be puréed in your mixer, or whatever you use to purée your stuff.

As you finish puréing (and make sure it's turned creamy on you) add the parsley and give it another swirl until the parsley is finely chopped and your soup, originally white, has turned green.

Don't cook anymore: just warm up and serve, so that the fresh taste of parsley is preserved!

Post-scriptum: The illustration I used is chervil...not parsley! Sorry if I played a trick on you, but it's such a pretty illustration, don't you think?


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Pear and Figs Compote: an unusual mix of fresh and dried fruit!

The Pear, Oregon's state fruit.Image via Wikipedia

How about an unusual combination of cooked fruits? Pears (fresh, peeled and quartered) complement wonderfully figs (the simple, sun-dried variety), with an appetizing bittersweet result. Cooked in wine, the figs become big and soft, and are beautifully set off by the pears.

 How to do it? Super simple:

Ingredients for 4 people:
3 to 4 pears, peeled and quartered
A dozen sun-dried figs or more - snip off the tail, it's too hard to cook, but leave them whole
One small glass of Sweet Martini White Wine (or any sweet wine will do)
1 to 2 tablespoons of Brown Sugar (the quantity depends on how sweet your pears are)

Put everything in a pot and cover. Cook on a low fire until the pears are soft but haven't come undone (about 10 minutes)

Enjoy! It's best lukewarm...

Btw, pears are a wonderful addition in the kitchen, often making for unusual tastes. Check out the recipe below and you'll see what I mean:
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