Week 12: Earthly pleasures

It has come to my attention that potatoes and apples are not very sexy. It’s true but here you are reading about apples, carrots and potatoes nonetheless. Could we be onto something? There’s been the “eat local” revolution, the “eat seasonal” revolution, the “eat like a caveman” revolution, how about the “eat boring” revolution? Unexciting staple fruits and vegetables turned into delicious meals. If you had asked me 4 months ago, before the Normand knocked, how many ways there are to prepare a potato (yawn), I could have come up with maybe half a dozen boring recipes. Now, at your fingertips are 25 (and counting) different and exciting transformative ideas for the old tuber! And there are so many other, even more boring, vegetables out there: what about the poor turnip? Or cabbage? Rutabagas?

While we’re waiting for the revolution to take hold…if you weren’t fully convinced by the Dorset apple cake and the Hungarian casserole, or maybe you’re only willing to splurge on apples and potatoes for REALLY GOOD recipes, bringing up the rear this week are two culinary masterpieces. Neither is very complicated and both are completely delicious as the stack of empty plates and jam jars will attest.

Tempting potato cake

Marmelade de pommes râpées au gingembre (Apple-ginger marmalade)

Tempting potato cake

In the Karoo cookbook, it reads: « An intriguing legend surrounds this dish. It is said that way back a religious zealot foreswore all earthly pleasures and embarked on a hunger strike. One day he caught a whiff of this potato cake. The aroma alone was sufficient to change his mind.”

Anything I say now will only detract from the intense sense of urgency you are currently feeling to get out your closest casserole dish and start preheating your oven. So for fear of distracting you from a dish that embodies the pleasure of all earthly temptations:

Potatoes, 6, large, peeled and sliced into matchsticks, then patted dry with paper towel

Onions, 4, large, finely chopped

Butter, a bit more than 4 Tbsp (60 g)

Anchovies, canned in oil, 1-1/2 oz (45 g) (You don’t identify anchovies with earthly pleasure? It’s a shame they have such a bad rap in the US due to the overuse of their salty kin on cheap pizza. Good canned anchovies don’t have nearly the overbearing fishy taste that has you now desperately searching for an alternative. Give them a try. Jan claims that he knew a version of this recipe from when he was an exchange student in Sweden and that the Swedes excel at anchovies. Prove it to yourself at your nearest Ikea, under the name ansjovis.)

Salt + pepper

Cream, fresh, 1 cup (250 ml), (if you want a meal that’s worth sticking around on Earth for, don’t skimp on the cream)

Breadcrumbs, 2 Tbsp (30 ml)

Cheddar cheese, grated, 4 Tbsp (60 ml) (Can be substituted with another grated cheese. You see, cheddar cheese is not widely available in France. I know, shocking. The king of the American cheese aisle has not managed to invade French culture with the same perniciousness as Mickey Mouse and a certain more recent tale about a couple of girls and a lot of snow. The cheddar we do sometimes find comes from England. Saying this might cost me my passport but I’ll be frank, British cheddar is way better than its American cousin. Did we rashly throw the cheddar cheese manual into the Bay with the tea leaves?)

Parsley, chopped, fresh, 2 Tbsp (30 ml)

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Sauté the onions in butter.
  3. Place the dry potato matchsticks in a greased casserole dish with the onions, anchovies and the anchovy oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Pour over ½ cup of cream.
  1. Bake for 15 minutes.
  2. Reduce oven heat to 350°F (180°C).
  3. Pour on the rest of the cream. Combine the breadcrumbs, grated cheese (I used Dutch Mimolette) and parsley together and sprinkle on top.
  1. Bake for a further 20-30 minutes until the cream has been absorbed and the top is golden brown.
  1. Serve to hot religious zealots.

Tempting potato cake

In the Karoo cookbook, it reads: « An intriguing legend surrounds this dish. It is said that way back a religious zealot foreswore all earthly pleasures and embarked on a hunger strike. One day he caught a whiff of this potato cake. The aroma alone was sufficient to change his mind.”
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Potatoes 6, large, peeled and sliced into matchsticks, then patted dry with paper towel
  • Onions 4, large, finely chopped
  • Butter a bit more than 4 Tbsp (60 g)
  • Anchovies canned in oil, 1-1/2 oz (45 g), see Note below
  • Salt + pepper
  • Cream fresh, 1 cup (250 ml)
  • Breadcrumbs 2 Tbsp (30 ml)
  • Cheddar cheese grated, 4 Tbsp (60 ml)
  • Parsley chopped, fresh, 2 Tbsp (30 ml)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
  • Sauté the onions in butter.
  • Place the dry potato matchsticks in a greased casserole dish with the onions, anchovies and the anchovy oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour over ½ cup of cream.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Reduce oven heat to 350°F (180°C).
  • Pour on the rest of the cream. Combine the breadcrumbs, grated cheese (I used Dutch Mimolette) and parsley together and sprinkle on top.
  • Bake for a further 20-30 minutes until the cream has been absorbed and the top is golden brown.

Notes

Anchovies: You don’t identify anchovies with earthly pleasure? It’s a shame they have such a bad rap in the US due to the overuse of their salty kin on cheap pizza. Good canned anchovies don’t have nearly the overbearing fishy taste that has you now desperately searching for an alternative. Give them a try.

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Marmelade de pommes râpées au gingembre (Apple-ginger marmalade)

This has got to be the number one best thing you can do with an apple. (Especially with an apple that has been languishing in a cellar for four months.) If Tempting potato cake is the pinnacle of a potato’s career, this marmalade is apple nirvana.

It takes only about an hour, start to finish, to make approximately 4 jars of jam. If you are serving it to Germans, that’s about a three-day supply, served for breakfast only. I’m only slightly exaggerating. I brought a jar along on our week in the Black Forest with my mother-and father-in-law and it was gone, scraped, probably even licked, clean midway through its second breakfast. Not only that, the fact that I did not bring along more jars was a topic of conversation over the five breakfasts that followed. Be prepared.

And with the addition of ginger, it’s a truly versatile marmalade. It would be the perfect addition to a course of cheese. Or it could be strategically applied to over-cooked meats and poultry as a chutney. Or served warm on a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I even included it in a chicken marinade (though be aware that the high sugar content makes it susceptible to burning).  But let’s be honest, straight out of the jar by the spoonful is best.

I know this might seem like an over-the-top plug for what might sound like just some old jam, but I assure you this is no promotional hyperbole. I’ve already bought the ginger for our next batch. (By the way, the recipe is from Recettes de Grand-mères: Confitures.)

Apples, 3 lbs (1.4 kg) (The original recipe indicates that one can use even the apples that have fallen to the foot of the tree. I took that metaphorically, and used the apples that had fallen to the foot of our cellar stairs.)

Sugar, 6 cups (1.2 kg) (I used a sugar with pectin added specifically for making jam. In French supermarkets : “Confisuc”. It worked perfectly.)

Ginger, fresh, 4 inch piece (10 cm) (Where was ginger all of my life? Aside from Schweppe’s Ginger ale mixed with cranberry juice I have no early childhood memories involving ginger. My first exposure to real ginger was in Kenya where we drank Stoney Tangawizi. What American cheddar is to British cheddar, Schweppe’s is to Stoney’s: a watered-down and bland facsimile. If your eyes aren’t burning and your nose isn’t tingling, you’re missing out! In addition ginger has life-saving potentials. Nausea, heartburn or stomach ache? Ginger. Stuffy nose or sore throat? Ginger. Bladder infection? Yes, even, ginger.)

  1. Peel and core the apples. Wrap the seeds and the core into a cheesecloth or gauze. (I used a thin old (clean) handkerchief.)
  2. Cut the apples into quarters and then shred.
  3. Peel and thinly slice the ginger.
  4. Place the shredded apple, the ginger and the pouch of apple guts into a large pot. Add 2 cups (50 cl) of water. Bring to a boil and then cook gently for 30 minutes.
  1. Remove the pouch o’ guts. Add the sugar slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon. (According to Grand-mère, in jam-making utopia, every kitchen has a designated wooden jam spoon that is not desecrated through daily use. Our spoons don’t have that luxury.)
  2. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently. Approximately 15 minutes.
  3. As always, when a drop of jam placed on a cold plate does not spread, you’re finished.
  4. Pour the hot jam into the waiting jars, taking care to ensure that each jar receives a fair share of the heavenly candied ginger slices.
  5. Close the jars and turn over to cool.
  6. Serve with a very small spoon to discourage over-consumption.

Marmelade de pommes râpées au gingembre (Apple-ginger marmalade)

This has got to be the number one best thing you can do with an apple.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Apples 3 lbs (1.4 kg)
  • Sugar 6 cups (1.2 kg), see Note below
  • Ginger fresh, 4 inch piece (10 cm)

Instructions

  • Peel and core the apples. Wrap the seeds and the core into a cheesecloth or gauze. (I used a thin old (clean) handkerchief.)
  • Cut the apples into quarters and then shred.
  • Peel and thinly slice the ginger.
  • Place the shredded apple, the ginger and the pouch of apple guts into a large pot.
  • Add 2 cups (50 cl) of water. Bring to a boil and then cook gently for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pouch o’ guts. Add the sugar slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  • Cook over high heat, stirring frequently. Approximately 15 minutes.
  • As always, when a drop of jam placed on a cold plate does not spread, you’re finished.
  • Pour the hot jam into the waiting jars, taking care to ensure that each jar receives a fair share of the heavenly candied ginger slices.
  • Close the jars and turn over to cool.

Notes

Sugar: I used a sugar with pectin added specifically for making jam. In French supermarkets : “Confisuc”. It worked perfectly.

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What to serve once all the Apple-ginger marmalade is gone? On the table next week:

Cabbage and Potato Gratin (doesn’t get any more boring than this!)

Rhubarb-apple crumble

Spargel-Kartoffel Salat, dazu Guacamole (Asparagus-potato Salad with Guacamole)

Turbot aux pommes (Fancy fish with apples)

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One Comment

  1. Weighing in here from across the channel to support your points on both cheddar and ginger 😉 Will give the potato for hot religious zealots a try!

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