lundi 26 mars 2007

Cheesy Fennel Lasagne

France is a country renowned for its cheeses. The variety is astounding – it has been said to have more than 500 different ones available. There are cheeses to suit every different taste:
– cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk
– fresh, soft-white, natural-rind, washed-rind, semi-soft, soft, firm and blue

Comté is a firm cow’s milk cheese from the Franche-Comté region in eastern France, close to the Swiss border. Comté was the first cheese to obtain the coveted “Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée” (AOC) status, certifying that the cheese is produced in accordance with the strict regulations governing the consistency and traditional methods of the area. The cheese is a close relative of Swiss Gruyère. Comté is usually described as salty, mild and fruity. This cheese can be served as part of a cheese platter, in tarts or fondue.

I use Comte in Cheesy Fennel Lasagne. This dish makes great convenience food – prepare it ahead of time and freeze it to use when your schedule is too busy to cook. Just pop it into the oven to heat through and serve it with a tossed green salad.

Cheesy Fennel Lasagne
Serves 6

1 medium fennel bulb, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 large carrot, grated
2 small zucchinis, grated
1 medium onion, chopped
60mL (¼ cup) tomato paste
1 clove garlic, crushed
5mL (1 tsp.) dried oregano leaves
200g (7 oz.) package instant lasagne noodles
80mL (1/3 cup) freshly grated parmesan cheese

30g (2 Tbsp.) butter
60mL (¼ cup) plain flour
375mL (1½ cups) milk
375mL (1½ cups) Comté or Cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F).

Combine fennel, tomatoes, carrot, zucchini, onion, tomato paste, garlic and oregano in large saucepan, cover, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender (about 20 minutes; alternatively microwave on HIGH for about 10 min.).

Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan, add flour, cook, stirring for 1 min. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until mixture boils and thickens. Add cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat.

Layer lasagne noodles with cheese sauce and vegetable mixture in an oven-proof dish, finishing with cheese sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, cover and bake for about 30 min. (alternatively microwave on HIGH for about 20 min.) or until lasagne is tender. Remove lid and bake for a further 10 min. or until browned.

dimanche 18 mars 2007

Fennel and Orange Salad

Fennel, with its distinct anise flavour, has become one of my favourite vegetables. These versatile Mediterranean white bulbs originated in Italy and are now also cultivated in Provence and Spain.

Fennel bulbs can be eaten raw in a salad, or cooked - braised, au gratin, puréed, in lasagne – just to name a few ways of preparing this vegetable. Fennel is a superb complement to fish and is a key ingredient in the Provençal fish soup, Bouillabaisse.

Fennel and Orange Salad is a refreshing Sicilian specialty. It is traditionally served at the end of a meal.

Fennel and Orange Salad
Serves 4

2 large fennel bulbs
2 sweet oranges
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
60 mL (4 Tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil
30 mL (2 Tbsp) fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the fennel bulbs and remove any brown or stringy outer leaves. Thinly slice the bulbs and stems. Place in a shallow serving bowl.
Peel the oranges with a sharp knife, cutting away the white pith; slice thinly. Cut each slice into thirds. Arrange over fennel, adding any juice from the oranges.
Mix the oil and lemon juice together. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over the salad and mix well. Garnish with spring onions.

lundi 12 mars 2007

Strawberries Marinated in Balsamic Vinegar

Strawberries from Spain

Strolling through the Marché de Breteuil on Saturday, I noticed the large, lush looking, deep red strawberries from Spain. A sure sign of spring! These pajaro strawberries are not as tasty as the tiny, wild French fraise de bois but those won’t come into season until June. The other varieties of strawberries grown in France will start showing up in May.

Strawberries make a fabulous and versatile dessert. They can be served plain, sugared, peppered or with crème fraîche, whipped cream or ice cream, macerated in wine, champagne or kirsch, or mixed with other fruit in a fruit salad… just to name a few ways.

Here’s one unexpected combination that really does work.

Strawberries Marinated in Balsamic Vinegar
Serves: 4

500 g strawberries, sliced
30 mL (2 Tbsp) sugar
60 mL (4 Tbsp) balsamic vinegar
3 mL (½ tsp) pure vanilla extract
125 mL (1/2 cup) mascarpone cheese
Sugar, to taste
Fresh mint or basil, finely sliced for garnish

Place strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Pour over balsamic vinegar, stir to mix and marinate for about 2 hours.
Mix the vanilla and mascarpone; sweeten to taste with sugar.
Place a dollop of mascarpone on a plate or in a bowl and heap over strawberries with the juice. Garnish with mint or basil.

dimanche 4 mars 2007

Sopa de Lima

On my last trip to Mexico, I discovered several new recipes to add to my collection. While staying in the colonial city of Mérida in the Yucatan region, I was introduced to local specialites like Sopa de Lima (lime and tortilla soup), Tacos de Cochinita Pibil (shredded pork tacos), Huachinango al Mojo de Ajo (red snapper with garlic), Chilies Rellenos de Queso (cheese stuffed chillies), Horchata de Arroz (rice drink), among others. Here is my adaptation of Sopa de Lima.

Sopa de Lima (Lime & Tortilla Soup)
Serves 4

15 mL (1 Tbsp) vegetable oil
80 mL (1/3 cup) onion, chopped
250 mL (1 cup) shredded cooked chicken
1 L (4 cups) chicken stock
1 fresh green chilli, roasted, peeled and chopped
1 tomato, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 limes (1-1/2 for juice; ½ for slices)
Coriander (cilantro) leaves for garnish

Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan; add onion and chilli. Sauté until onion is tender but not browned. Add chicken and stock; cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add tomato; simmer 5 minutes longer. Stir in the juice of 1-1/2 limes.
To serve, ladle into individual bowls, add some tortilla strips and sprinkle with coriander. Float a lime slice in the centre of each serving.