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A few recipes from the book

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Recipes from Tastes of the Pyrenees, Classic and Modern by Marina Chang (Hippocrene Books, February 2003. $24.95 hardcover). Thanks to the author and publishers for sharing this with us.

Mushrooms with Roquefort and Banyuls (southwest France)

This recipe employs Banyuls, a vin doux naturel from the Côte Vermeille, in the portion of Languedoc-Rousillon just north of the Spanish border on the Mediterranean. In making this sweet wine, grape brandy is added to the partly fermented grapes, which increases the alcohol content and stops fermentation to preserve part of the natural fruit sugar. Banyuls is aged in wooden vats, and the final product is a wonderful mélange of roasted nut and subtle fruit flavors such as cherries, figs, blackberries, and peaches. The Grenache and other grapes that comprise Banyuls are grown on lovely steep hills above the rocky bays of blue sea and beaches of this Catalan coast. The Celliers des Templiers in picturesque Banyuls-sur-Mer offers tours that allow visitors to sample many different versions of this distinctive beverage. The nearby fishing village of Collioure is the jewel of the Côte Vermeille, and for centuries has impressed travelers and artists with its simple beauty. This dish features the tasty marriage of the incomparable sweet Banyuls wine and a powerful cheese in a perfect balancing act.

  • Makes 4 servings
    4 small, individual-size, round, French bread rolls
    2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
    1 pound mushrooms, coarsely chopped
    Salt and pepper
    1/2 cup sweet Banyuls or port wine
    1/3 cup plus 1 heaped tablespoon crumbled Roquefort cheese
    3/4 cup cream or half-and-half

Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare the individual bread loaves by cutting the top off each roll, creating a 2 to 3-inch hole at the top. Make a bowl by partially hollowing out the center of each roll (excess bread can be saved and dried for bread crumbs). Do not make walls or bottoms of bread bowls too thin or they will melt through when hot filling is added. Place rolls on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, sautéing for several minutes, until well cooked. Sprinkle in salt and pepper to taste. Stir in Banyuls or port wine. As liquid begins to bubble, add the Roquefort cheese and cream. Reduce heat to bring sauce to a simmer. Continue stirring to help melt all the cheese.

Spoon mushrooms and sauce into each roll, dividing evenly. If desired, place bread tops back on each roll and serve.

  • Superb fall or spring dish, alongside game or any roast meat.
    Toasted walnuts can be added into the mixture or used as a garnish.

Magret of Duck with Walnut and Garlic Sauce (Languedoc, southwest France)

Southwest France is well known for many food products, ducks and walnuts being two of them. Magret is the breast meat from the large Muscovy or Moulard ducks in the southwest of France that are force-fed for foie gras. The magret is much thicker than the breasts of other ducks and has a nutty, rich taste, similar to a good steak. Magret has long been a delicacy commonly available only in southwest France, the land of foie gras. Happily, it is now served throughout France, and fine dining establishments in the United States. As with a good steak, magret is usually served with a rare center.

This walnut and garlic sauce or aillade, a variation on allioli, originates from the Languedoc region. In the language of the Occitan, the culture which gave rise to the region's name, Langue d'Oc, this sauce is called Alhad Tolosenca. In Languedoc, this would be made with the local sweet, extremely flavorful, pink garlic "d'Albi," which is primarily grown in and around Lautrec. The ail rose de Lautrec, which is planted in early winter and harvested in June and July, is the most popular variety. The walnut oil, or huile de noix, adds an exceptionally fine flavor to the sauce. It is pressed in autumn, when the nuts are first spread out to dry on wooden balconies of farm houses and then taken to mills in sacks for crushing by huge millstones. The southwest region of France is well known for the resulting walnut oil.

  • Makes 4 servings
    Walnut Garlic Sauce:
    2/3 cup walnuts, in small pieces
    3 cloves garlic, chopped
    1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons lemon juice
    1/2 cup walnut oil
    Magret/Duck Breasts:
    4 duck breasts, boned, with skin on
    Salt and pepper
    2 to 3 shallots, finely chopped

For Walnut Garlic Sauce:

Using a blender or food processor, process walnuts into a purée. Add garlic, salt, and 2 tablespoons of cold water. Continue blending. Add lemon juice and process for 5 to 10 seconds to purée all ingredients together. Begin adding walnut oil in a thin stream. If the food pusher in your processor has a small hole in the middle, feed the oil through it. Make sure the mixture stays thick, and all the oil is incorporated before more is added. To let flavors combine, let the sauce sit for approximately an hour.

If you find that your mixture has separated, pour out the excess oil that floats to the top, and save it for another use. The remaining mixture will be the consistency of a thick sour cream. Give it a stir and serve it in dollops with the duck. It will taste just as good.

For magret/Duck Breasts:

Score the skin with a sharp knife, making cross-hatch marks 1/2 to 1-inch apart, across its surface. Season both sides of each breast with salt and pepper.

Indoor Method: In a hot skillet over medium heat, place the breasts skin side down. Cook approximately 8 minutes, or until the skin is browned. The skin will have released more than enough fat to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in shallots, and turn each piece over. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes more, depending on the desired level of rareness. Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels, to absorb excess fat. Cover with foil to keep warm and allow the meat to rest for 2 minutes.

Outdoor Method: If possible build a fire using grape vines. Another type of wood or charcoal fire will also work well. Grill the seasoned duck breasts over the fire, as you would a steak. When cooked to the desired level, scatter chopped shallots in a plate and place meat over them. Cover with foil or another plate. Place in a warm spot near the fire for 10 minutes. After 5 minutes spoon any juices released over the meat and re-cover.

Slice duck breasts and serve with walnut garlic sauce.

  • Although true magrets are difficult to come by in the United States, and the price is very dear when they are found, the breast of an easily available Long Island duck serves as a fine substitute.

Layered Vegetable Gratin (southwest France)

A gratin is any dish topped with a layer of cheese or bread crumbs and baked. This particular dish is based on a vegetable gratin we enjoyed in Roussillon. The layers of cooked vegetables in a loaf pan create an attractive presentation as a side dish or first course. If you are able to cook your vegetables over a wood fire or hot coals, the light smoke will lend an outdoor or Old World quality to the dish.

  • Makes 6 servings
    1 egg
    1-1/2 cups bread crumbs
    1 large or 2 medium eggplants, cut lengthwise in 1/4-inch slices
    4 tablespoons olive oil
    3 medium to large onions, thinly sliced
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    Salt and pepper
    4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
    12 to 16 black brined or oil-cured olives, pitted and chopped
    2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and sliced
    3/4 to 1 cup grated sheep cheese, such as Idiazabal or Brebis

Preheat oven to 400º F.

Beat egg, pour into a wide bowl with 1/4 to 1/2 cup water. Place bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Dip eggplant slices in egg and then in bread crumbs to coat both sides with crumbs. Brush or rub a baking sheet with 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil. Place eggplant slices on oiled sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, check and turn slices over halfway through. Remove when slices are softened through and crumbs are slightly browned. Reduce heat to 350º F.

Over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a skillet. Sauté 2 onions until soft and translucent. Add garlic, and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.

With the remaining 1/2 to 1 tablespoon oil, coat the inside of a baking dish. Reserve about 1 to 2 teaspoons oil, and mix in with remaining 1/2 cup bread crumbs. You may not need all the oil.

Sauté tomatoes and remaining 1 onion on medium low heat, until onion is wilted and tomatoes are thick and mushy. It should resemble a thick coarse sauce. Set aside.

Begin layering ingredients, starting with onions, then add eggplant, olives, tomato-onion mixture, pepper slices, ending with an even layer of cheese. Repeat this process, ending with cheese. Top with oiled bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes, until bread crumbs are browned. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or cold.

  • Do not add too much salt to this, as the salt in cheese and olives will infuse into the vegetables.
    You can also embellish this preparation by sprinkling in bacon, herbs, or anchovies.
    This is also excellent when eaten cold, the next day.

Pine Nut and Almond Cookies (Piñones) (Spain, Navarra)

Across Spain, nuts are a popular ingredient in baked goods, a legacy left by the Moors. The richly flavored small white pine nuts used in Pyrenean cooking come from the umbrella pine (Pinus pinea), also called the stone pine. Called piñones in Spain and pignons in France, they are especially common in Catalan cookery. Pine nuts were introduced throughout the Mediterranean from Spain. Humans have cultivated this tree for its protein-rich food for well over 6,000 years, and it is still extensively cultivated throughout the Mediterranean. Ethno-botanists believe that before humans expanded the range of this tree over the last few thousand years, it was confined to the Iberian Peninsula, since this is the only area where pine nuts are found away from ancient trade routes. Pine nuts should be stored in plastic zipper-top bags in freezers.

In Catalonia, as in southern Spain, pine nut-covered cookies and cakes are routinely displayed in bakery windows as one of their many holidays approaches. My favorite are the rich pine nut filled and exterior studded cookies from Zucitola Patiserías, a modest bakery on the Paseo Pablo Savaste in Pamplona. In an effort to re-create this Spanish treat, I developed the following recipe. These cookies with nut paste centers are very close to the real thing. To allow most of us to make these cookies without tapping into our life savings, I recommend making these with an almond filling in place of pine nuts. I also found that most of my tasters preferred the almond filling to the richer pine nut filling. However, my husband prefers the pine nut centers.

  • Makes approximately 40 cookies
    Nut Filling:
    1 cup almonds, blanched and lightly toasted or 1 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
    1 to 2 teaspoons flour
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    1 egg, beaten
    Outer Cookie Dough:
    2 cups flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    1 egg
    1/2 teaspoon almond extract
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 to 2 cups raw pine nuts

For Nut Paste Filling:

Place nuts in a food processor with 1 teaspoon flour (2 teaspoons if using pine nuts) and mix until the consistency of sand. Pine nuts may become the consistency of coarse peanut butter due to high oil content. Place ground nuts in a bowl and mix in sugar and lemon zest. Add egg, a little at a time, blending and kneading it into the paste. If using pine nuts, you may only need to add 1/2 the egg to moisten to a pliable, slightly viscous paste. If the paste is too wet, knead in a little more sugar. Knead paste to an even consistency.

For Dough:

Combine flour and salt. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. When well mixed, add egg, almond and vanilla extracts, beating until well combined. Gradually mix flour into buttery mixture. When dough is formed, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 1/2 to 1 hour.

For Assembly:

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Using a teaspoon, spoon out a chunk of dough and quickly roll it into a ball and press to slightly flatten. Spoon a small amount of nut paste into the center of the dough and wrap the sides of the dough around the nut filling to completely envelope it. To reshape any imperfections, quickly roll it into a ball between your palms. Roll top half of cookie in pine nuts, and press them into the dough before placing on cookie sheet.

If dough becomes too soft to work with, place in refrigerator for 10 minutes or until it stiffens up again.

Bake cookies for 15 minutes. Pine nuts and bottom edges of cookie may turn slightly golden, but cookies should not brown. Remove and let cool.

  • Blanche the almonds by placing them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Their skins will bubble and loosen. Rinse them in cold water and drain. Squirt each almond out of its skin.
    To toast almonds or pine nuts, place them in a dry pan over medium heat, tossing and stirring the nuts until lightly tanned.

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