A cheese-free alternative to pizza

flammekuche 261014

The other day, I was reflecting on how difficult it must be to enjoy a good pizza if you don’t like cheese. I tend to think that tomato-based pizzas aren’t very interesting or tasty unless there is a generous amount of mozzarella on top but that’s just me.

It’s been a while since I have shared a recipe, and this time I was inspired to do so by a close friend who never gets to eat pizza because she hates any and all cheeses. So when we were in France in the summer and I was reminded of this whilst perusing the supermarket shelves, I was determined to try this recipe out at home.

One of the traditional dishes of the Alsace near the border with Germany is the Flammeküche, or Flammenküche, also known as tarte flambée (which is a tart cooked in a wood-fire oven, not the intriguing ‘pie outbreak’ Google Translate would like it to be). It is a type of pizza with a white base, topped with caramelised onions and smoked lardons and customarily baked in a wood-fire oven. Its stand-out characteristics are:

  • The base is made of cream and yoghurt: yes it works!
  • Not only does it not usually have cheese on it, it doesn’t even need it, which as a cheese and pizza aficionado I was a bit suspicious about originally, but I was positively surprised by the outcome.
  • The traditional dough is made without a raising agent.

The end result was delicious although I wasn’t totally sold on the dough. I must have done something wrong somewhere as it was sticky and difficult to work with, and when cooked, it was, well, quite ‘doughy’. Badgerman is a big fan of doughy and loved it but I think I will be a bit more careful with the amount of water I add in the future. If you’re unsure about dough in general you can still make this very successfully using pizza dough or a shop-bought mix and spreading it as thinly as you can although the end result won’t be quite the traditional way.

flammekuche pics 261014

INGREDIENTS

For the dough

  • 250 g plain flour
  • 50 ml rapeseed oil
  • 1 small glass of lukewarm water
  • A pinch of salt

For the topping

  • 60 g of crème fraiche
  • 50 g of plain yoghurt (I used Total yoghurt; this is the nearest equivalent to the French ‘fromage blanc’ I have been able to find)
  • 1 large onion
  • 250 g smoked lardons (or streaky bacon cut into thick matches)
  • 12 g corn flour
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD

  1. Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl, add the oil and start to work the dough with warm water. You may not need all the water so add it slowly and see how it goes. Work the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands and put it aside.
  1. Cut the onion into thin strips or rings and brown them slowly in a frying pan with a little rapeseed oil, then add the smoked lardons and cook them for two minutes. Put aside.
  1. Mix the crème fraiche with the plain yoghurt, corn flour, nutmeg, pepper and a little salt. The lardons will add saltiness so don’t add too much.
  1. Pre-heat the oven as high as it will go (typically 240°C or 250°C – thermostat 8). Spread the dough as thinly as possible on a baking tray covered in baking paper. Spread the cream mix evenly over it, top with the onion and lardons and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

You can eat it as you would a pizza with a green salad on the side.

Inside a Franglish Pantry: dry pasta shapes

Inside a franglish pantry

I am sure some of you are at least a bit confused by this post title. Why on earth am I writing about dry pasta shapes? What could possibly be French or English about pasta? After all, it’s been a long time since English people believed spaghetti grows on trees, and pasta dry and fresh is a staple dish in most British households.

This is not a post about bog standard every day pasta. Today, I am talking to you about a very special type of pasta that has its own category in France: ‘pâtes à potages’. These are basically teeny tiny pasta that you add to your soups and broths to give them more body.

For some reason, I cannot find these in England in dry form at all, and if I can, I know not where. But if I tell you broth pasta can come in the shape of letters and numbers, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s because they only exist in the one form in the UK, as part of one of these guilty food secrets no one talks about that you’re only buying ‘for the kids’: Heinz alphabetti and numberetti in tomato sauce.

Alphabet and numbers pasta is very popular everywhere because it’s fun, but in England the fun is restricted to the tin cans of questionable cooked tomato pasta. Whereas in France, you can have fun whenever you want. In fact, if you wanted you could just eat tiny pasta for the rest of your life without the nasty tomato sauce. You could eat them with just butter and cheese, or with vegetables, or whichever way you like to eat your pasta. Alphabet pasta need not be a guilty pleasure, it could even be part of a healthy dinner!

dry alphabet pasta

 

The French make Panzani has created a whole range of broth pasta in various shapes, all tiny and perfect for adding to soup. The most classic is vermicelli and the alphabet and numbers ones, but there are also ‘cheveux d’anges’ (angel hair – even more fine and delicate than vermicelli), stars, pearls, and finally Pescadines, which the blurb tells me are a bit bigger, a cross between vermicelli and macaroni.

Last time I was in France, I couldn’t resist buying them for Little Girl, and then we hit a problem. I don’t like soup. Badgerman doesn’t like soup. Little Girl is not wildly excited about soup either. I have had a lot of boring soup, and it’s fiddly and well, where’s the meat? But then I had this pasta, so I had to find a way to make soup fun aside from the pasta.

So I made a basic vegetable broth by simmering the remnants of a chicken stock with a litre of water and some chunky vegetables, added the pasta in the last ten minutes, and chucked in some cubes of cheddar and fresh chives I had kicking about the house just before serving. It was absolutely delicious and confirmed to me that I’m a broth kind of girl. I need to see what’s in my soup so the all mushed-in types are out, whereas I can get excited about this broth (also the cheese was inspired if I say so myself).

veggie alphabet broth

 Am I alone in finding soup boring? If not, how do you make soup fun in your house?

 

A most versatile chicken stew recipe

chicken stew recipe

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while, as it is one of my go-to, most used method for making chicken stew. It is my own take on a Chicken Forestière, which is just a fancy French term for chicken and mushroom stew. The cunning thing with the cooking is that once you know the basics, you can bend it to your will by using any vegetable you have lying about the kitchen. If you don’t have any mushrooms or bacon or herbs, it will still taste good. You can make the most basic recipe with chicken, onions and stock and it will be lovely, or you can turn it into a dinner party winner by adding all sorts of delicious things to enhance it, like using wild mushrooms for example. You can even change the stock to a tin of chopped tomatoes and you have turned it into a Spanish chicken stew. It is literally the most versatile recipe I know.

Note for slow-cooker lovers: the prep for this dish is a little bit more time-consuming than just putting everything in a slow cooker but only by about 25 minutes, and the result will be worth the extra effort. It is still pretty much fool-proof, unless you are known for being able to carbonize fried onions, in which case, slow cooker all the way my friend.

Note on the ingredients: all the ingredients which are there purely to make it tastier but will not drastically change the recipe if omitted are in italics.

Note for baby-led weaning: this recipe is suitable for blw, just cut the carrots into long sticks and omit the salt.

In which you only get a picture of the pot because it was all gone by the time I remembered to take a picture

In which you only get a picture of the pot because it was all gone by the time I remembered to take a picture

Ingredients

  • 1 kg of chicken: the cheaper cuts i.e. thighs and drumsticks. They’re much tastier than the breast anyway.
  • 4 slices of smoked bacon, diced
  • 75 mls dry sherry or white wine (use water if you don’t have any, but it’s ‘almost’ required)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 350 g chestnut mushrooms
  • Assorted root vegetables: carrots are the best, but otherwise courgettes, swede, celery, red peppers, etc
  • 40 g plain flour
  • 500 mls chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 100 mls single cream (this one is the most optional of all)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

Method

1. Season the chicken with salt & pepper. In a large flameproof dish (I use my Le Creuset but any deep casserole pot will do), heat the oil and a bit of butter to a fairly high heat and brown the chicken and bacon pieces on all sides. Transfer to a side dish.

Chicken1

2. Pour off any excess fat from the flameproof dish. Return it to the heat and brown the sediment. Pour in the sherry or wine and stir with a flat wooden spoon to deglaze. Pour the liquid over the chicken pieces and set aside.

Chicken4

3. Fry the onion with a knob of butter or a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil on a medium heat until they start to colour and soften. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently for 6-8 minutes or until their juices start to run.  Whilst this is happening, prepare the stock.

3.5 If you are going to go with a tomato base rather than the stock for a Spanish twist, ignore step 4 altogether, pour in a couple of tin cans of chopped tomatoes and a glass of water and head over to step 5)

4. Stir the flour into the onion and mushroom mix then remove from the heat. Gradually add the stock and stir well so the flour is completely blended in.

Chicken6

5. Add the reserved chicken, bacon and juices, return to the heat and stir to thicken. Add all your other ingredients (vegetables and herbs) and keep a medium heat. Once it starts to simmer, cover with the lid and leave to cook for at least one hour (one hour is sufficient, but I would recommend an hour and a half so the meat falls off the bone). It may feel like there is not enough liquid as it might not cover all the ingredients but don’t worry, the vegetables will generate their own moisture and add to the final sauce.

Chicken9.1

6. If you want a richer sauce, stir in the cream in the last 30 minutes. (not if you’ve put tomatoes though, that would be gross)

7. I would normally serve this stew with rice and baby corn but you can serve it with new potatoes, which you can add to the stew at the same time as the vegetables so they all cook together.