"Aside from the fact that The Cooking of Southwest France is widely considered the definitive work on the cuisine of this region, it also happens to be a book full of recipes perfect for this time of year," writes Heidi Swanson in her roundup of seasonal cookbooks.
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Straw Potato Cake Stuffed with Braised Leeks (Paillaisson de Pommes de Terre aux Poireaux)
This golden, crisp potato cake filled with creamed leeks is one of the best potato dishes In the Southwest, leeks are always cooked until silky and soft, never crunchy like string beans or broccoli. The creamed leeks act as a glue to hold the potato cake together.
I pound leeks (white part plus 1 inch of green), split lengthwise in half, washed well, and dried
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 3/4 to 2 pounds red potatoes
1/4 cup clarified butter
1. Slice the leeks by hand or in a food processor fitted with the medium (4 mm) slicing disk (makes 5 cups). In a heavy medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over moderate heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Cover and cook, without browning, for 20 minutes.
2. Stir in the cream and boil until thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (The recipe can be prepared to this point up to 1 day in advance; let cool, cover, and refrigerate.)
3. Peel the potatoes and cut them in half or quarter so they'll fit in the feed tube of the food processor. Using the julienne blade, cut the potatoes into julienne strips, or use a large knife to cut the potatoes into very thin matchsticks; there will be about 3 cups. Rinse the potatoes in several changes of cold water to rinse off the starch; drain well.
4. Spread out the potatoes on a kitchen towel. Roll up the towel and the potatoes and squeeze tightly to extrude all excess water. The potatoes will keep in this state for 1/2 hour.
5. About half an hour before serving, heat the clarified butter in a large, seasoned cast-iron or nonstick skillet. Spread half the potatoes over the bottom of the skillet, making sure they are spread evenly to the edges. Top with the braised leeks, leaving a 1-inch margin around the edge. Cover with the remaining potatoes and pat with a spatula to form a cake about 10 inches in diameter. Cover and cook over moderate heat for 5 minutes, shaking the pan often to prevent the potatoes from sticking. Lift the cover off to allow the steam to escape and wipe the inside of the cover dry. Return to the skillet and cook, covered, for 5 minutes longer, still shaking the skillet to keep the potatoes from sticking.
6. Carefully remove the cover so that the moisture on it does not drip back onto the potatoes. Again wipe the cover dry. Tilt the skillet and spoon off and reserve any excess butter.
7. Cover the skillet with the lid and invert so that the potatoes rest on the lid. Return the butter to the skillet and heat; slide the cake back into the skillet, golden-brown side up. Continue cooking, uncovered, over moderately low heat, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the bottom is browned. slide onto a serving dish, sprinkle with salt, and serve at once.
Serves 6. Inspired by a recipe from Lucien Vanel.
Cheese Terrines (Terrines aux Fromages)
Header notes from Paula: Roquefort and Laguiole are two of the great cheeses of the French Southwest. Put them together, as in this recipe, and you will have something truly sublime. For a slightly less ethereal experience, other excellent blue cheeses can be used in place of Roquefort, and a really good French Cantal or California Monterey Jack can be substituted for the Laguiole. This terrine is not unlike a souffle, except that its lightness and unusual creaminess derives from the addition of whipped cream. Serve hot or lukewarm with a semisweet white wine, such as a Riesling.
3 to 3 1/2 ounces Roquefort cheese
2 ounces walnut pieces
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons walnut liqueur, or substitute any nut liqueur, such as Nocciole Or Frangelico
Freshly ground white pepper
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1 ounce Laguiole cheese, Cantal, or Monterey Jack, shredded
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter four 6-ounce or six 4-ounce ramekins. Combine the Roquefort, walnuts, egg yolks, walnut liqueur, and pepper in a food processor. Process until very smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
2. In a cold metal bowl, using chilled beaters, whip the heavy cream until stiff. Gradually fold the whipped cream into the cheese-walnut mixture.
3. In a clean bowl with clean beaters, whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir one-fourth into the cheese-walnut mixture. Carefully fold in the remaining whites. Spoon a enough of the mixture into each buttered ramekin to fill about one-third full; then divide the shredded cheese among the ramekins and cover with the remaining mixture. Fill each ramekin three-quarters full. Sprinkle any remaining shredded cheese on top and place the ramekins in a water bath of hot but not boiling water.
4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the terrines are puffed and golden. Remove them from the water bath as soon as they are cooked. Serve warm.
Notes to the cook:
— If the Roquefort is quite salty, use the smaller amount.
— To keep the walnuts from turning into an oily paste, grate them in a nut grinder, or put them through the shredding disc of your food processor.
Serves 4 to 6.
From The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.