Late winter-early spring is a lean time at the farmer’s market (wow, hearing myself say that, it is hard to believe that it is already turning toward spring!). The last of the fall harvest – winter squashes, pears, apples, onions, garlic – are getting old and a little rough looking. Spring veggies are still just a pleasant daydream. Most of what is still coming from the March fields are winter-over veggies like leeks, cabbage, cauliflower and chard. The limited variety makes it challenging to keep winter meals interesting.
This week, I opted for green chard, looking very colorful on the dull winter farm tables, all fat, juicy stems and smallish leaves. With the exception of Nice, (where the green part is used in ravioli fillings, dumplings and even in sweet tarts with raisons and pine nuts), the French consider the stems the best part of the chard plant, and use it in soups, sautés, in stews and, especially in gratins.
With 24 hours of rain expected, a warm, bubbly gratin seemed somehow just right. I served it with a pan sauteed pork flank steak, which French butchers call the “grillade”. Continue reading →
Confit de canard, or preserved duck, is an indispensable dish of southwestern France and a warm, comforting dish on a cold winter evening. Its origin lies in the culture of duck farming that has shaped the entire region, from the Pays Basque in far southwest, north to Gascony and east to the area around Toulouse. On my first visit to the southwest, it struck me as odd that so much of the land was dedicated to growing field corn, since corn figures very little in the local cuisine. Corn, it turns out, is the starting point for the raising of ducks for foie gras, and foie gras production is king here.
Confit developed from the thrifty farm ethos of whole animal eating. In foie gras duck terms, that means making use of the rest the large framed Moulard duck after the sumptuous liver has been removed. The thick, meaty breasts (or magrets) are usually seared on a plancha grill and served like a steak, or marinated with salt and spices then smoked, thinly sliced and enjoyed cold like best quality cured ham. The fat of the carcass is rendered for use in cooking, representing the the third pillar in the French pantheon of cooking fats (Butter in the north, olive oil in the southeast and duck or pork fat in the southwest).