jeudi, mars 16, 2006

Pan-Grilled (& Flambéed) French Scallops with Wild Asparagus, Strawberry & Banana Milkshake and Creamy Vegetable Soup with Homemade Croutons

In France, they always tell you that you have to eat according to the seasons. Coming from Singapore where we have none and where in any case we have to import almost all our food, it took me a while to see the light.

I still remember asking hubby once in the middle of winter if he would like me to make him a strawberry tart for tea and he answered : ''No, this is not the season for strawberries.''

Apparently taste, variety and prices are at their best when the fruit or vegetable is in season. Gariguettes, even if you manage to find them in January (because they are imported from a warmer country) just do not taste half as good as the ones that are cultivated in the Southwest of France and harvested between early-April and early-June. And if you prefer Fraise des Bois, you'll have to wait for Summer.

The same thing applies to eating seafood like crabs, salmon, scallops, oysters etc. In France, the best way to eat according to the seasons would be to shop in the local street markets and see for yourself what is on offer on a particular day. The Grand Chefs do their own shopping, they don't get their Filipino maids (if they have one) to do it. You have to see and touch and be inspired by your ingredients. As such, I don't usually plan my menu in advance, I just turn up in my market and decide on the spot what to prepare. The day I found wild asparagus and beautiful scallops from Normandy with their orange coral on, why, that was the day I made Pan-Grilled Scallops garnished with Grilled Wild Asparagus ;-)!

I like to buy my scallops when they are still in their shells. I get the Fishmonger to prepare them right in front of me. In the kitchen, heat up some extra-virgin olive oil in a non-stick pan and add in 7-8 cloves of bashed garlic (about 2 per person). Then place the scallops (3-4 large meaty ones per person) gently in the pan and let them grill a few minutes on each side. I like my scallops well-grilled on the outside and a little rare at its heart. Whatever it is, do not over-cook the scallop or it'll become rubbery. So if your scallops are not too thick, you may wish to just grill them on one side till it's nice and crusty and serve them grilled-side up.

Sprinkle in some freshly-ground salt and pepper and a small amount of chopped mixed herbs like fennel, aniseed, dill, thyme and parsley. When the scallops are browned, add in 2-3 tbsp of white wine. The scallops can be served then with a squeeze of lemon juice, or you could make another variation of the dish by adding 2 tbsp of crème fraîche to make a creamy sauce. My hubby likes to flambéed his scallops before adding the cream, using a Pear Williams Eau-de-vie. It's all up to you.

The wild asparagus are easier to manage than the cultivated ones because you'll normally not need to peel them. Just wash and cook. I usually just scald them in salted boiling water for 4 minutes, drain them and then grill them in a hot pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper and a little bit of lemon juice or Balsamic Vinegar. Goes well with the scallops or with almost anything else.

Actually, when certain fruits are not in season but you still wish to consume them, one way to do it could be to make a fruit salad (with sugar and alcohol) or a milkshake. It's also a good way to make your children eat fruits. A few days ago, I bought some strawberries because my daughter insisted on having them, but they really were not very edible on their own. So I just sliced and dump them (500g) in a big bowl, together with 2 bananas, 150ml of very cold milk, 2-3 tbsps of crème fraîche (single cream) or plain joghurt, 2 tbsp of sugar and blend everything with a handmixer. You can then serve the milkshake with a few slices of fruit and a sprig of peppermint and they'll just love it.

In the same vein, if you want your kids to eat vegetables but they're not too excited about that, try making vegetable soups. The possibilities are endless : Sweet Pea, Leek & Potato, Tomato & Basilic, Cream of Mushroom, Carrot & Sweet Potato, French Onion, Indian Potato & Lentil, Pot au Feu, Minestrone etc etc. They can be served as they are, with a touch of cream, with bacon bits, with croutons, gratinéed... My children love them.

To make a Creamy Vegetable Soup for 4, heat up a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil in a pot and start to brown (all roughly cut up) 1 large onion, 2 large potatoes, 2 carrots, 1 celery stalk, 1/2 red Capsicum, 1 leek, 2 tomatoes (either peeled beforehand or remove the skins before you mix the soup). Sprinkle some herbs like thyme, oregano and basilic, add in 4 cups of chicken stock (or water and a low-fat chicken stock cube) and cover the pot. Cook for 30 minutes. Before serving, mix the soup with a hand-held blender, add salt and pepper to taste and 3-4 tbsp of crème fraîche.

The soup can also be eaten with some grated Emmental cheese and some croutons that you make using toasted stale bread (with or without garlic rubbed on them after toasting). Bon appétit.

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