19 Sep
2013
Posted in: food
By    No Comments

How to Cook Like the French

For my dear friend Ana who recently moved to Paris. Her father in law is coming over to visit in his already asked her if she knows how to cook, and being that he is French, he probably was really asking if she knows how to cook French food.

When we think of French food we may think of elaborate processes and lots of butter, fatty fois gras, cheeses and breads or we may even cringe at the thought of eating snails, frogs or caviar. And of course you can find all of that in French restaurants and even some homes, however regular French home cooking it tends to be the light full of greens, and has a lot of Mediterranean influences.

So here Ana is a little recipe that I learned while living in France and I hope it inspires you to learn how to cook French cuisine.  Here’s my personal recipe for the tart aux poireaux (leek tart).

Lets start off with the pate brisee.  A pate brisee is the tart base. I’m sure you can probably buy some in the grocery store however it’s invaluable to know how to make one of these, because you can use the same recipe altered just a little bit to make at sweet pie dough as well. And who doesn’t love homemade pie from scratch?

The pate brisee is essentially a shortbread dough and it’s important to remember the following things while you’re making your dough:
1.  Use real butter and make sure it’s cold. We don’t want right in the middle of making the dough.
2. The secret to great pastry is to handle it as little as possible. If you’re going to use your hands run them under cold water for a few minutes and pat dry before handling the dough. This prevents the dough from being processed by your body heat. Another alternative is to use a food processor or if you don’t have one the back of a fork.
3. If you’re not experienced in rolling out dough that’s okay. The simplest way to make a tart shell with this dough is to press it into the pan. Afterwards let it rest for at least a half an hour in the refrigerator.

Ingredients.

2.5 cups (350 grams) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter chilled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup (60 mL) ice water

Place the flours, salt and sugar together and mix. Add the butter and press it between your fingers or a fork or process until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the water it in one tablespoon at a time until the pastry holds together. Its supposed to stick just enough that when you press a little pastry between your thumb and index finger it holds together. Now place your pastry on the counter and kneed just a little bit until your pastry has come together . If you’re going to roll this out, gather it into a ball wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least a half an hour. If you’re going to put this directly into the pan flatten it out into a disc and push it into your tart tin evenly and gently starting in the middle and ending up the sides. Freeze it for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate it for longer, before baking..

Now let’s get to the filling.

Ingredients
4 leeks
1 red pepper, diced
30 cl (a few large tablespoons) of creme, or mixture of milk and cream or creme fraiche, or sour cream or cream cheese – take your pick!
Shredded Gruyere or Parmesan cheese
3 eggs
Salt pepper
1 – 2 tbsp (14-28 g) butter (or 2 tbsp olive oil)

Optional ingredients to make your tart super awesome:
1 cup of baked ham, diced into cubes
or a Packet of smoked salmon
1 – 2 cups of Peas

You’ll need a medium to large bowl to mix the ingredients and a pan to sautee as well.  You’ll also need a small bowl for cleaning the leeks.

First of all, prepare your leeks. Cut the very end with the roots off. Then thinly slice the white part of the leeks. Once you hit the green leaves, stop.  We don’t use that part of the leek for cooking since it becomes really bitter, however, if you don’t want to throw it away, clean it and chop it up to use to make vegetable stock.
leeks

Once you’ve cut your leeks, put them in a small bowl filled halfway with water.  Let your leeks rest in the water for 20 minutes.  This CLEANS your leeks.  Take your leeks out carefully and you’ll see all the sediment that the bottom of the bowl.  TADA! Now dry your leeks and let’s get cooking!

In a sautee pan under medium heat, add your butter.  Add your diced red pepper. Stir around for a minute or two and then add your leeks.  Keep and eye on your mixture so that it doesn’t dry up too much (you can always add a little more butter), but your vegetables should start sweating, so you should be okay.  Mix them around a little.  Add, some salt and pepper to taste.  They’re going to cook like this for about 10 minutes.  Once the leeks are kind of wilty, it’s time to take them off the burner to let them cool.  Preheat your oven to 375 F (180C).

In a medium-large bowl, mix the cheese, cream, eggs (and I like to add in a little pepper here too) together.  Now you would add your leeks and peppers to this mix, but make sure they’re cool enough, you don’t want your eggs to scramble right there.  From here, you have a few options. If you would like to use the baked ham, you could have added that to your leeks while they were cooking or you could add them in at this stage as well.  I like to add them in here.  Another option is to cut your smoked salmon and put it in this mix, but I prefer to lay the strips of salmon on the tart base and pour the leek mixture over that.  Whichever you choose (or don’t choose), now is the time to pour your mix into the tart and set it in the oven at 375 F for 45 minutes, until the top of your tart starts to get a little golden.  E voila! Tarte aux Poireaux!

So, what do you think?