I wouldn't deserve to hold on to my titre de séjour if after more than 2 months of blogging, I did not write up a post featuring products typical of the region which has so kindly hosted me for the past few years - the endearingly singular Nord-Pas-de-Calais!
Following my successful experiment microwaving potatoes for mash last week, I had to repeat the stunt to make sure it worked on all potatoes in general, and not only those I had last week. This discovery gave me lots of hope, because for years, I had failed time and again to make gnocchi soft enough to not hurt pelted passersby. Well, guess what? One more point for this express cooking method! Not only was I able to knead the gnocchi dough today without having to keep adding flour, when shaping them into little dumplings, they did not morph back into smooth cocoons! I am impressed beyond words, and for that, it will be classified as another case of "pat my back or sock my eye?".
I don't understand why my recipe books unanimously tell readers to boil or steam the potatoes for gnocchi, because all that moisture is just going to bring out the starch, which is a nightmare for kneading, not to mention a total waste of time!
How to: To serve 6, heat 650g of potatoes in the microwave until they're cooked through (clue, when they stop "whistling" and when pressed with a knuckle, they dent). Sift about 250g of flour (expect to use more for rolling), make a well in the centre, break 2 eggs into the well and add salt and white pepper. Grate the potatoes (or mash them through a sieve) over the flour while they are still warm, then mix and knead to obtain a slightly sticky dough. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then cut into fat strips and then into cubes (add flour whenever necessary). Make dumplings by rolling dough cubes and pressing a fork onto a surface (this helps to "trap" sauce). Cook in salted boiling water until they float.
Variations: Sweet potato. I've also had gnocchi with chopped spinach mixed in with the dough which was good enough to eat without sauce!
Body Count: 0
Gnocchis aren't typically used in kitchens in this region, but I associated them with a regional beer and cheese, a cheese of malodorousness so formidable it is synonymous with a rotting sock - Maroilles! It is more often seen on a tarte au maroilles, and I'm not sure how easily it is found outside France. I live 20 minutes away from the Belgian border, and I don't see them systematically stocked in supermarkets there.
Tip: Having cut up a maroilles a zillion times with my bare hands, I have learned that soap is futile. Wash your hands while rubbing your fingers against anything made of stainless steel, and it will miraculously get rid of any lingering smells! Take this from someone who often handles garlic but hates smelling of it!
As for Ch'ti, it is a word in local patois to signify inhabitants of the region. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but this bottle came from a couple of colleagues who were at my place on Thursday for a gaming session and left this behind! :) It goes very well with maroilles and so I added it to my gratin de gnocchi.
How to: Mix 300ml of cream with 150ml of pale ale, and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat it without boiling, then add cooked gnocchi, diced ham or bacon (300g or so) and onions if desired. Divide into 6 individual portions, then cut up 400g of maroilles and garnish each portion. Bake at 180°C until the gnocchi absorbs the liquid and cheese browns.
Variations: Dark ale is good, too. Cheddar instead of maroilles, endives instead of onions (very regional!!), and cooked potatoes instead of gnocchi.
Body Count: Ham, and possibly rennet in the maroilles.
That's not the end of the regional edition! There's still dessert!
In the meantime, The Painted Chef reminded me this week of another of those dishes I'd been trying for years to "perfect", if it can even be called that. In Singapore, I knew them as Hong Kong Noodles, but apparently, in Chinese restaurants the world over (and in one of my cookbooks), they're sometimes known as Singapore Noodles. Hmmm...
My model of HK noodles is the one I used to eat in my school canteen towards the end of my schooling years. I have made these innumerable times with a mindboggling combination of additions and omissions, and yet it still doesn't measure up! My last resort will be to cook this with half a litre of oil, but I'll save it for the next time. I question a school canteen operator's motivation for adding any secret ingredient too exotic, but I still haven't quite put my finger on whatever it is, so whoever has a recipe that doesn't look like mine, please contact me!
Before I proceed with the underachiever's recipe, I cannot overstate the necessity of char siu (red roasted meat) for these noodles. Unless otherwise stated, pork is used for char siu. I had pork last week, and was loath to have it again, so imagine my glee when I came across whole turkey breasts (I know where to get them, they're just not sold all the time). Mind you, in the picture on the right, all 5 pieces of meat actually came from a single monster turkey breast! I cheated by making these with a powdered spice mix, but Melting Wok will teach you how to do this from scratch!
How to: Soften 400g of bee hoon (rice vermicelli) or dried yellow noodles, or a combination of both, in warm water. Thinly slice an onion and shred a carrot and beat 5 eggs with some water. Chop char siu into cubes or strips. On high flame, heat some oil (preferably peanut) and make several omelettes, cut them into strips and set aside. Add more oil, about 1 tsp of five-spice powder and white pepper, then add vegetables and saute until they go slightly limp. Add 1tbsp each of Chinese rice wine, oyster sauce, dark and light soya sauces (just an estimate - the more the merrier), then throw in noodles and toss until they are coated with sauce. Add omelette strips and char siu and heat through. Serve with vinegar-preserved green chillis.
Variations: Despite hating them, I've added beansprouts in the past out of sheer desperation. Love garlic, but not sure how much of a difference its presence makes. Have replaced 5-spice powder with curry powder before, to no avail. Sesame oil and sugar made an appearance once, but nah.
Body Count: 1/5 of a turkey breast
Without forgetting my masala quota, I also have beans thoran for you. I actually made this on Wednesday but didn't have time to post it earlier. Credits to The Painted Chef again for planting this idea in my head! :)
How to: Finely chop 300g of long/string/French beans. Grind one chopped onion with 100g of shredded coconut and green chilli (I used 2). Crush several cloves of garlic. Heat some oil and pop 1 tsp of mustard seeds. Add ground coconut paste and fry until the raw onion smell dissipates, then add beans, garlic, 1/2 tsp of turmeric and salt.
Variations: Curry leaves can be added.
Body Count: 0
Enfin, le dessert!
If you like coffee for its taste and not just the caffeine, you would like chicory as well. It so happens it's produced in abundance here, as a natural by-product of the endive industry.
On the right are just a few of the good things to be found here. Gingerbread is dissolved in and used for thickening the sauce for carbonnade flamande, one of my favourite beef stews, but I'm not sure I'm willing to make it anytime soon. Bols' Crème de Cacao (chocolate liqueur) is made in Holland, but will be used in the recipe that follows. I confess, I haven't tried Les Chuques du Nord, but they're supposed to be coffee candies with a caramel centre.
I had another tub of mascarpone to spare, so am back with a Tiramisù du Ch'Nord.
How to: Place a layer of ginger bread at the bottom of each serving glass and drench it with crème de cacao, or whatever liqueur you fancy. Whip 2 egg yolks with 100g of sugar until frothy, then add 2 tbsp of chicory, 50g of whipped cream, 3 tbsp of crème de cacao and 250g of mascarpone. When mixture is smooth, spoon a layer onto gingerbread and repeat layers. Garnish with a mini waffle.
Variations: Way too many! :)
Body Count: 0