February 15, 2004
Weekend cooking

Unless we are having friends to dinner, weekend cooking is usually a pretty relaxed affair in our place and tends to focus on "things I need to use up before they go bad". This weekend, it resulted in two of my favourite dishes: Cream of Cress soup and Brie and Onion tart.

Cream of Cress Soup

I love making soup for so many reasons: it's usually quick, full of good vitamins, makes you warm on a cold February day and is easy to bring to work for lunch. (I have really good Tupperware.) This one makes you feel particularly healthy, despite the cream...and the copious amounts of Parmesan I like to add...

Oh and best of all, I got to try out my new hand-held Braun blender which I bought at BHV this weekend - it worked like a DREAM. I might have to do a product review elsewhere.

Ingredients:

1 bag of cress
1 bag of spinach
half a small jar of crème fraîche (about a third of a cup)
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
a few dollops of dry sherry
a tablespoon of butter
parmesan
handful of mushrooms (optional)
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup skim milk
lemon juice to taste

Sauté the onions and chopped garlic in the butter. Once the onions are soft and the garlic is cooked, add a splash or two of sherry and let it nearly cook away. Add the washed spinach and cress, woody stems removed. Add half the broth, cover and raise the heat to steam. After a few minutes, when they are all limp and cooked, remove from heat. Use a hand-held blender or normal blender to zap into a smooth purée. Add the rest of the broth, the crème fraîche (or sour cream) and milk. Reheat, but do not boil. At this point, I usually throw a few handfuls of sliced mushrooms into the broth, but that's just me. If you order this soup in a Paris restaurant (soupe de cresson) it will not include fungi. Also, I'm not sure that the parmesan is usually found in this soup, but personally I love it. Taste the soup before serving and add freshly ground pepper and lemon juice to taste. If you used sour cream, lemon juice may not be necessary. It sort of livens up the taste a bit.

Some notes: I'm already cheating on this site, because this is not the soup as I made it last night. In fact, I used twice the garlic and onion and came up with a soup that was just a little too onion-y. So, ever resourceful, I pulled the frozen Cress Soup base that I had in my freezer from the last time I made too much and popped it in the pot. It was kind of interesting - I think I must have put some fresh basil in the soup last time. Anyway, it did the trick and turned it back into a lovely soup.

Another note: a great trick I learned from Marcella Hazan (author of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a very good book) is to save your rinds of parmesan in the freezer and throw a bit into cream soups like this. It melts away the last bit of cheese that was too hard to grate and you can throw away the last soggy bit before you serve.

Brie and Onion tart (as adapted from Nigel Slater's recipe)

Those of you who know me are already aware of my love affair with Nigel Slater's recipes. They are rarely fat free, nearly always indulgent and very casual good eating. He's a columnist on the Observer, which was until recently my favourite newspaper. (Until they started charging Europeans four euros for a quarter of a paper....but that is another story and a rant that can go on for days if I let it.)

Getting back to the recipe, Nigel's stuff can rarely be improved upon in terms of making them even more deliciously sinfully rich and fatty. But Steve came up with a way for this one: to the melting rich Brie cheese and buttery onions, we add...bacon. Mmmmmm.....

What you need:

Some onions, about five medium (enough so that you can spread a thick layer of sautéed onion slices on your pastry)
A puff pastry (I buy them pre-rolled - they are pretty good here and much better than I could do myself. At least I think so, having never tried.)
Butter
A handful or two of lardons/a few slices of bacon (streaky bacon in Brit-speak)
Fresh thyme or rosemary (both work)
Some brie - a triangle about 3-4 inches wide at the base.

Slice the onions in thickish wedges and sauté them in the butter until they start to go soft. Add the lardons or bacon slices cut in thin strips. Add a handful of fresh thyme or rosemary. Grind some pepper into the pan too, if you like. When it's all soft and buttery, roll out your pastry. Use a blunt knife to trace an crust half an inch or so from the edge of the pastry. Slice the brie in long thing strips and spread half of them on the pastry in a radiating circle. Tip the onion and bacon mixture onto the pastry (you can drain them first if you like) and spread it over the pastry to the edge you traced. Spread the rest of the cheese on top of the onion mixture (between the spokes of cheese under the onions, for example). Put in a hot oven (200 degrees celsius/375 fahrenheit) for 20-30 minutes or until the pastry is brown, the onions have just started to brown and the cheese is bubbling. Let it cool for a few minutes before serving. You might want to serve it with a nice leafy salad for contrast. Your arteries will probably thank you if you do.

Note: a lot of Americans remove the rind from French soft cheeses, but this is really unnecessary. In France, there are elaborate rules about how to cut the various shapes of cheese and they all revolve around the idea of making sure that everyone gets his or her fair share of the rind. It's good. So save yourself some time and trouble and please do not bother removing the rind from soft cheeses. You may remove them from some hard cheeses if you like. (Although if you get a good Tomme, you really should keep it....mmm....)

So there we have it: TWO recipes. Now Barrett will come back and tell me what I should have done.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at February 15, 2004 7:20 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version
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I've tried this parmesan rind trick before - it's actually very useful in a vegetarian soup, where it can add some strength that's otherwise missing...

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