Gnafron – A French Flan with Garlic Cream

May 15th, 2010

There is a story behind this dish and I have been wanting to make Gnafron since the first time I read about it in Peggy Knickerbocker’s book Simple Soirees; Seasonal Menus for Sensational Dinner Parties. Miss Knickerbocker was in Lyon, France with a friend on a wintry day. It was lunch time and they were hungry. At an open air market on a quay on the Rhone they asked advice from a vendor who sent them to Rue des Marronniers. She assured them that all of the restaurants there were good ones. They chose Chabert it Fils just as it was about to close. After hearing the description of Gnafron, “an andouille flan wrapped in delicate cabbage leaves, steamed to wobbly perfection, and drizzled with garlic cream” Miss Knickerbocker was smitten. It lived up to it’s description and she asked for the recipe. Unfortunately the chef had left for the day and she departed with only the taste memory and an obsession with getting the recipe. It would take more than a year. At a dinner party she ran into an old friend whose fiance’ lived just blocks from the restaurant. The fiance’ got the recipe and sent it to her scribbled on a napkin in French. Her version is in her cookbook which I highly recommend. I have posted more of her recipes Here and Here.

The name Gnafron refers to a hard drinking children’s puppet in the puppet show Guignol written by Laurent Mouruet in the 1880’s. How the dish came to share the name is anybody’s guess. All I can tell you is that it is unusual and delicious. I felt intimidated at first, but it is really not difficult to make. Napa cabbage leaves are blanched to soften them and then draped in small ramekins. The eggy flan mixture is combined with the andouille wine reduction and poured into the ramekins. The cabbage is then draped over the top. They are cooked in a water bath until set. All of this can be done ahead of time. Just as an aside, I have been getting my eggs fresh from a farm near me. I had two left, so had to add two store bought eggs to the bowl. Can you tell which are farm fresh?

Give this flan a try. It is perfect for a brunch or a light supper.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 carrot, diced
1/2 pound andouille sausage or other distinctively flavored, spicy sausage, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teapoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Splash of white wine
1 Napa cabbage, separated, tough parts of the core removed (16 to 20 leaves)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter for greasing the ramekins
4 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
For the Garlic Cream:
3 cloves garlic
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt
Splash of white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the carrot, sausage, onion, thyme, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer slowly for 15 minutes. When the mixture becomes slightly dry, add the wine and stir well.
When the ingredients have become soft and aromatic, another 5 to 10 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, bring 4 cups of salted water to a simmer over high heat. Blanch the cabbage leaves (tender parts only), a few at a time. Remove with tongs and allow them to drain on clean kitchen towels or paper towels.
Grease 6 small ramekins or souffle dishes with butter. Line the dishes with the cabbage leaves, allowing them to overlap so that when the sausage mixture is spooned onto them, they can be folded over to make a little package.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs with the cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir the sausage mixture into the egg mixture and mix well. Divide the mixture among the lined ramekins and fold the overlapping leaves over the top. Don’t worry if the mixture leaks out around the leaves.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the ramekins in a deep baking pan large enough to hold them all. Pour warm water around them so that it comes 3/4 of the way up the sides. Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 1 hour, or until the Gnafron has set and the top is firm to the touch. If the tops begin to brown or get too dark, place a sheet of foil over the tops. It’s okay if the tops get golden brown.
To Make the Garlic Cream:
While the Gnafron bakes, make the garlic cream. In a small heavy pot, combine the garlic, sugar, salt and a splash of water; cook over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes. Add a splash of white wine, allow it to cook down for 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the cream, and warm it for about 3 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the garlic to steep in the cream until the Gnafron comes out of the oven. Reheat the garlic cream over low heat, the cream will be slightly thin. Remove and discard the garlic.
To serve, run a knife around the sides of the ramekins to loosen the mixture. Turn out onto a platter or individual plates or serve in the ramekins. Serve with a little garlic cream drizzled over or around the Gnafron. Sprinkle with a little reserved andouille if desired.

Souffle Aux Epinards and an Ode to Julia

August 23rd, 2009

Julia Child was my Muse. I was married in 1966. After a brief honeymoon on the shores of Lake Michigan and time spent in Gatlinburg,Tennessee, we headed for Florida where my husband would be attending graduate school. Some of my constant companions in the car on the way south were my cookbooks. I was just learning to cook and it fascintated me. When Julia Child first appeared on television I was hooked. We eventually moved to Greensboro, North Carolina and I had the opportunity to take cooking classes from Irena Chalmers who had the most enticing french cooking school and shop. I bought my first copper pan and Le Creuset braising pot from her. She taught me many of the basics of French cooking and she is still teaching today at the CIA. But there was always Julia. I bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1971.

I have been wanting to post one of Julia’s recipes all month because of her birthday on August 15th and the release of the movie Julie and Julia, but the box containing my copy of her book was in our storage building, buried behind furniture and rugs. I finally rescued it this weekend when we brought a load of furniture home for our remodeled lower level. It was good to see it again, looking worn and stained from years of constant use.

Last night I decided to make her spinach souffle. I did not start it until 6:00. I had already brought the eggs and frozen spinach to room temperature. I was confident; maybe a little cocky. I loved the movie Julie and Julia, by the way. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci were magnetic as Julia and Paul and the scenes of 1950’s Paris were mezmorizing. I wanted the whole movie to be about them. Amy Adams as Julie did her best, but I found her character sometimes whiny and annoying. Why couldn’t she have the joie de vivre of Julia? Cooking is supposed to be fun after all. I made my white sauce, grated the cheeses, squeezed the spinach dry and separated my eggs. One of the eggs broke strangely and I got a little yolk in the egg whites in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid. “Oh well, it was just a little”, I told myself. I added the egg yolks to the spinach mixture and turned on the mixer to whip the egg whites. I whipped and whipped and they refused to froth. It became clear to me that they were never going to whip and I was out of eggs. By this time it was close to 7:00. The grocery store in Lake Lure is twenty minutes away, but the gas station at the bottom of the hill is close. I ran to the car and negotiated the curving road to town. The gas station store had just closed at 7:00. I banged on the door like a crazy woman and the owner opened up for me. Unfortunately he was out of eggs. I had no choice but to continue around the lake to the Ingle’s store. I got back home at about 7:45 with a carton of cold eggs. I cleaned out the bowl of the Kitchen Aid, added the egg whites one at a time after first breaking them into a small bowl ( a good tip by the way ) and started the mixer again. The eggs immediately did what they were supposed to do. I folded them into the spinach mixture and poured the whole into my souffle dish, actually my charlotte mold. I learned a trick from Ina Garten to help a souffle puff. Run a spatula in a circle about an inch in from the edge all the way around and the center will puff. Finally I had the dish in the oven. I was exhausted and I didn’t know if the cold egg whites would hinder the souffle from rising. I was also a little cranky. Where had I seen that before? It was a humbling experience.

The souffle finally came out of the oven at about 8:45, fashionably late and not as tall as I would have liked, but looking and smelling delicious. As Julia would say, “Never apologize”. We dug in with gusto.

SOUFFLE AUX EPINARDS (SPINACH SOUFFLE) adapted from Julia Child with touches of Ina Garten

3 Tbls unsalted butter plus more for greasing souffle dish
3 Tbls flour
1 cup scalded milk
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling the dish
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
10 oz package of chopped spinach thawed and squeezed dry
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 6 cup souffle dish and sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese. Melt the butter in a heavy sauce pan and add the flour. Cook and whisk for about a minute. Add the hot milk off the heat and whisk until it is thick. Return to low heat if it does not thicken. Again off heat, add the two cheeses to the mixture. Separate the eggs in two bowls, discarding or saving one of the egg yolks. Beat the egg yolks. Slowly add the egg yolks to the cheese sauce while whisking. Add the seasoning and spinach and stir to combine.

Add the 1/8 tsp cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat them until firm and glossy peaks form. Whisk one quarter of the egg whites into the cheese sauce to lighten, and then fold in the rest. Pour into the prepared souffle dish, then smooth the top. Draw a large circle on top with the spatula and place in the middle of the oven. Turn the temperature down to 375 degrees. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until puffed and brown. Serve immediately.

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Sunday Brunch Part 2 – Proscuitto Egg Cups

May 22nd, 2009

Bacon and eggs are such an expected and loved breakfast entree. There are so many ways to serve them and I considered frittatas and stratas and even flirted with the idea of a savory clafouti. But in the end I chose this proscuitto egg cup dish. I saw it in Sarah Foster’s latest book Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking. I talked about Sara Foster here. This is just the kind of breakfast offering she would choose for Foster’s Market. For people on the run in the morning it makes a nice hands on kind of treat. But you can eat it with a fork if you serve it at brunch. The cups are in no way delicate and if you wanted to, you could serve them on a tiered cake stand. They have the advantage of being pretty to look at and easy to prepare. You can double the recipe for a crowd and you can assemble them ahead of time and pop them in the oven right before your brunch. Sara says that they are good warm or at room temperature. I liked mine fairly fresh from the oven.

6 paper thin slices of proscuitto
6 large eggs
1 cup shredded baby spinach
1 ounce cheddar cheese shredded, about 1/4 cup
12 grape tomatoes, halved
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 6 cup muffin tin. Line each cup with one slice of proscuitto, overlapping as you go. Break one egg in each cup. Top with shredded spinach, shredded cheese and as many halved tomatoes as will fit. I used 3 halves per cup. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes. The whites of the eggs should be set and the yolks should be just a little runny. Let rest in the muffin tin for a few minutes. Run a sharp knife around the outside of the muffin cups and ( I found ) using an off set spatula lift the egg cups out to a serving platter.

Recipe can easily be doubled. As a disclaimer, I did not have Sarah’s recipe in front of me, but this is as I remember it and the results were delicious.

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Savory Leek and Ham Tart

February 8th, 2009

Pie crust has always been easy for me. I know many cooks claim to be intimidated by the prospect of making homemade pastry, but for some reason, I enjoy the mixing, rolling, trimming and crimping. It probably has alot to do with my Mother and Grandmother. I grew up in a small town in Michigan in the house where my Mother was born. My Grandmother lived with us and the two of them were always in the kitchen fixing comforting meals. When my brother and I were small, Grandma did a lot of the cooking, but over the years Mom took over most of it, with Grandma in the background offering encouraging comments like ” You aren’t going to have any potatoes left with the way you are peeling them”, or ” That pot roast is going to be dry if you don’t add more water.” But one thing they always agreed on was how to make pie crust. I have even inherited the measuring device they used for their Crisco. They never used butter in their pie crusts and I am sure that in her younger days my Grandmother probably used lard. So here is their recipe for pie crust if you would like to give it a try. For a 1 crust pie, use 1 cup of flour (with 1/4 tsp. salt), 1/2 cup Crisco cut into flour with a sharp knife until the shortening is the size of small peas, and then 1/4 cup milk stirred in. The ratio of 1, 1/2, 1/4 is easy to remember. A two crust pie would be 2,1,1/2. The dough is then rolled out on a heavily floured board. It is a very forgiving dough and can be rerolled without toughening it if you don’t get it right the first time. I have used this recipe for years, but have also discovered the flaky texture of pate brisee, the all butter alternative. And I have used some recipes that call for a mixture of both shortening and butter. But what I am sharing with you today is a pastry dough that I had never heard of before. It is made with olive oil.

In her book Bistro Cooking, Patricia Wells talks of a version of tart that is made in Provence with the local olive oil. The dish she describes is made with Swiss Chard, but having made it before, I found it to be too heavy and unappealing. I did like the crust though, so I came up with my own filling and tweaked the ingredients slightly for the crust. The advantage of this crust is that, when mixed together, it has the consistency of a cookie dough and all you have to do is is pat it into the tart pan. It does not have the buttery flakiness of most pie crusts, but it is crisp and thin and best of all, simple.

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbls water
1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil
4 leeks, green stems removed, washed well and chopped
2 Tbls. olive oil
1/2 cup diced ham

1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
3 eggs, beaten

1 cup half and half or heavy cream
Dash of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. For the pastry, combine the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium size bowl. Stir in the water and then the oil, mixing until thoroughly blended. Knead briefly. The dough will be very moist, much like a cookie dough. Press the dough into a 10″ loose-bottomed metal tart tin.

Saute the leeks in the heated oil over medium low heat until limp. Add the ham and brown slightly. In a bowl combine the beaten eggs, cream and nutmeg. Place the leek mixture into the prepared tart tin. Top with grated cheese. Pour the egg mixture over all and place in oven and bake for 40 minutes.

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© Penny Klett, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen. All rights reserved.