Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Polish Style “Caprese”

So. Italians have their World famous Caprese. This little salad is also popular in Poland and commonly served as a starter in thousands of Polish restaurants, not only those specializing in Italian food. The salad is usually served with industrial mozzarella produced by huge international companies. Its texture resembles chewing gum. And it is tasteless. People who know Italy say that fresh mozzarella is good only there; it hates transportation, and should not be stored for a long time (and this one we can buy here in Poland has a long shelf life; of course, I buy it to use it in pizza or toasts, but I avoid eating it in salads).

Why, instead of those poor imitations of Italian food, something simple with fresh local and seasonal products cannot be found easily in our foodie places? Ok, I saw a Polish style caprese once – around 10 years ago in one of Kraków’s resto-bars. And I do not know if it is still served there, because I do not go there anymore (but I will check it out, especially for you).

A Polish version of caprese could be prepared, for example, with some local cheeses such as “bundz” - from the south of Poland, which I already presented a few times on my blog. The season for bundz already started in May. Another cheese called “koryciński” from the eastern part of the country (it is already sold in Kraków, for example on Kleparz market) or just fresh-home made tvarog, the most popular Polish cheese.

So, those cheeses may be accompanied by tomatoes, fresh herbs like thyme or basil, olive oil or … Polish artisanal and organic oil made from plants that grow in Poland: for example: cold – pressed linen oil (remember that cold pressed linen oil should not be used for frying and it should be used within a few weeks after opening of the bottle) or erucic-acids free cold-pressed organic colza oil, which is extremely healthy (sometimes called the “olive oil” from the North) – still not popular, but both available in good stores carrying organic food. The flavor of those two oils is particularly strong; if one does not like it, just use olive oil et voila!

Tvarog is a fresh curd cheese made from cow’s milk. I remember from my childhood how my mom made it during our holidays in the countryside. In those times, access to fresh, raw and non pasteurized milk straight from the cow was not a big deal, like it is nowadays. Even in Kraków, a bottle of fresh, raw milk could be dropped off to your door step every morning. This milk was delivered, I remember, by an athletic and bearded guy who had a habit to climb the stairs with the speed of light (probably training for some sort of a sport). He always sweated like a pig. So, coming back to tvarog - it was traditionally made from warmed, non pasteurized milk “straight from the cow”, which was naturally getting sour. My mom was just leaving this milk in a jar or a stone bowl, then once it became sour (soured milk – “zsiadłe mleko”, “kwaśne mleko” is a sort of a popular drink in Poland), it was poured into a linen cornet and placed in a press (one can just use a stone or something heavy) to eliminate the whey (runny leftover liquid after curding the cheese) and to shape it as a triangle with oval edges.

Tvarog has a bit of a dry texture; it may be sliced, crumbled, whipped with cream or yoghurt, mixed with fresh chopped herbs and veggies,  etc.  It is used in pastries - for cheesecakes, in cooking (for example, dumplings – pierogi, pancakes (“naleśniki”), and sandwich spreads. It may be eaten in a sweet version with honey, confiture etc.

Some say this cheese is not even worth mentioning, as it is tasteless and worthless. I am not quite convinced. Good quality, or home made tvarog can be delicious; it just needs a little accompaniment, like a slice of bread with a crispy crust, salt, pepper, herbs etc. 

Tvarog, in its various versions (full fat, medium fat, light) is usually sold in blocks (one can also buy grind tvarog in plastic boxes). Unfortunately, as food in Poland becomes more and more industrialized, it is not so easy to find one of a good quality.

The French do not know tvarog. They do know how to prepare “fromage frais” which is different from tvarog and which cannot be used in Polish cooking (as it is too liquid). One Tvarog I found in a Polish store in Paris was not good (with a shelf life of 3 weeks). As a result, when I was in Paris, I started to experiment with home – made tvarog. I used tens of recipes (some using milk only, another adding yoghurt, kefir, cream, butter milk). There are hundreds of recipes for tvarog.

The recipe from my “Parisian period” below is a compilation of various recipes that I found on the web, including Polish Galeria Potraw. What came out of my experience in home preparation of tvarog is that everything counts – the quality of milk (after a few non-satisfying attempts, I found out that the best milk was an organic milk of the great Bernard Gaborit, cream, etc, and nearly every time this cheese came out differently (sometimes more acid, sometimes sweeter) etc. Depending on the volume of milk, the cooking and straining time may quite vary. I like it when it is fattier, so I add cream, but you can easily omit it or replace it by more buttermilk, for example. 

Polish Style Caprese

Serves 1

4 thin slices of fresh bundz cheese, or koryciński cheese (about 100 g); or 4 thin slices of home-made tvarog (recipe below)
1 medium, ripe tomato
A few nice leaves of basil
1-2 tablespoons olive oil (if you have access to organic cold – pressed linen or colza oil, try to replace olive oil by one of the aforementioned)

1 Blanch your tomato in boiling water. Peel it, cut into quarters and remove the seeds.
2 Place slices of cheese onto a plate. Place tomato quarters on top. Pour oil according to your taste; add a bit of salt and quite a lot of pepper. Decorate with basil leaves. Eat immediately and enjoy.

Home Made Tvarog

Makes between 500 g and 550 g (depending on how the cheese will be drained)

1 liter full fat, non-pasteurized milk (the best is raw, fresh milk to be bought in shops carrying organic food or from “milk-machines”, if you have one in your town/city/village)
1 liter butter milk (most preferably, organic, with no additives)
250 g heavy cream, non pasteurized, of a good quality
125 g natural, non sweetened yoghurt (the best is organic, without any addition of powdered milk)
1 m2 gauze (or cotton diaper)
2 saucepans

Pour milk into a large saucepan and heat slowly until 40 degrees. Switch the heat off.
Pour it in a large bowl (do not use a metal bowl).
Add butter milk, yogurt and 125 g of cream. Mix everything until it is homogenous.
Cover the milk and put aside in a warm place (the desired temperature should be between 20 and 24 degrees) for about 36 hours, or even 48 (depending on the temperature in the kitchen). The liquid should have a sour taste and should thicken.
Once it is soured, add the remaining 125 g of cream and mix delicately.
Delicately pour soured milk into a saucepan.
In a larger saucepan (rather flatter than higher) bring water to a boil.
Then reduce the heat to a minimum, and place the saucepan with milk in the saucepan with boiling water.
Heat the curd delicately, over minimum heat, between 30 to 40 minutes (this is an individual matter, you really have to be careful!).
From time to time, check with a spoon whether any curd has separated from whey, not only at the edge of the saucepan, but also in the middle.
You should be more careful after 25 to 30 minutes of the curding process. The best way is to taste. You should see little curds on top of the saucepan. The curds should be a bit sweet with a rustic sour aftertaste (the taste, however, always depends on the quality of milk, yoghurt and cream) and they cannot be chewy, gummy nor too hard, otherwise the cheese will not be good.
Then prepare a strainer and the gauze.
Place a strainer, covered with a piece of gauze, in a large bowl. Pour delicately the mixture into the strainer. Be careful – from this amount of milk you will obtain about 1.5 liters of fresh whey. You can throw it away, but you might as well drink it cold (as it is supposed to be very healthy), or use it as a base for soups or even in bread baking.
Once you strained your cheese, remove the strainer with the gauze and place it on a plate.
Knot two opposite ends of the gauze (be careful for the cheese not to fall) and hang it over a bowl for draining. Depending whether the texture you want (cottage cheese for tartines or rather hard cheese, for example, to use as a filling for pierogi ruskie), drain the cheese between one hour and 1.5 or even more. You can also place the cheese in gauze between two cutting boards and squeeze it with something heavy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I am back. With Sorrel Soup

Ouloulou, it’s been more than three months already since my last post. What a shame. Let me explain everything, if anybody still checks my blog after such a long and embarrassing period of silence.

Here’s the reason: we moved to Krakow at the end of February. We had (and we still have) to organize our life and jobs here.

I should have warned you. But I did not, because I was convinced that I would come back to blogging right after my arrival here. That was a big, big mistake – the daily duties of my new life did not allow for that.  Further, I was a bit discouraged. You know, for the last few years I was visiting my country very often, but I was only a visitor here – the center of my life was in Paris, where I developed my passion for the culinary world. On the other hand, I had an idealized image of my home country and my hometown, which probably is a quite common feeling when you are an immigrant. Now, I am not an immigrant anymore, I am back here and I have to face Polish realities. I am a resident, and my husband is an immigrant.  You know, it is difficult for my Parisian husband to adapt to Kraków. He misses Paris; he misses its food: crispy Parisian baguettes, he cries for croissants or pain au chocolat for breakfast (you can get them here, too; but they are of an awful quality), côte d’agneau from Mr. Bajon, chocolate macarons from Ladurée and so on. I do not have any solution: I will have to open a home bakery, otherwise our life will become unbearable.

To change our mind a bit, I decided that we would spend a couple of days (that was at the end of April) with some friends in Ojców (although my husband wanted to stay home), a peaceful and green environment (you know, allegedly when you look at green trees and grass you are supposed to relax) – the village which is at the center of the Ojców National Park, which is the smallest in Poland (21 km2), located 25 km north of Kraków. The park is famous for its castles, caves (around 400 of them), rocks, limestone cliffs and two picturesque river valleys. Ok, let’s say that in comparison with hoodoos that one can find in Bryce Canyon in Utah, it is not so spectacular. One can always complain. However, we’re in Poland, not in Utah and our little rock area is not so bad. Evenings at the bottom of the rock valley resemble the ambience of the old Peter Weir’s movie “Picnic at Hanging Rock”. And in the village of Ojców, unlike Bryce Canyon or Zion Park, there is a ruined Gothic castle, located on a hill (a few years ago, some friends of mine organized a wedding party there). A few kilometers away, one can also visit another castle called “Pieskowa Skała”. Both castles were part of a late-medieval natural system of defense in southwestern Poland (Trail of the Eagles' Nests), constructed under the order of Kazimierz the Great, the King of Poland in the 14th century.

So, we spent a couple of days there, taking walks, sitting on freshly grown spring and juicy grass, checking out the neighborhood, sipping wine or beer, eating outside, chatting with friends, playing with kids. Simple life, and a substitute for countryside holidays when I was a kid. Eating simple food (the most extravagant one being sausages fried over a bonfire). Finally my husband admitted that it had been a good idea to come here.

The Ojców village is tiny (around 80 households, but only around 20 families live there all year round, for example, my old friend Wojtek, who is a wine expert and promotes vineyards – yes, yes, there are some vineyards in Poland and you will find out in some coming posts). Thanks to its location in the middle of the National Park, the village is subject to many legal restrictions, like, for example, the prohibition to sell real estate and construct new houses. However, we could notice a few new and quite ugly constructions, so I am not sure who delivers building permits. People go there to climb rocks, take bicycle tours and practice Nordic walking.

We had lunch in the only restaurant that exists there, which actually rather is a bistro. In the contrary to the French provinces where one can find decent food in tiny villages, meals served in this Ojców bistro were not good; Pascal ordered potato pancakes which apparently were made from some artificial powder; chewy and gummy, with no taste; the sauce accompanying them was a good friend of the Knorr corporation; I ordered some pierogi, which appeared to be previously frozen, and which most likely were not made on site.  How come that in such a beautiful place, visited by numerous tourists who come to spend some good time with mother nature, one cannot try good, seasonal products and regional meals ? Do they think people are stupid?

Well, so it’s already the beginning of June, and we are in the asparagus season. This year, however, I will start the season with a classical, rustic soup. Nothing special. Forgotten vegetables and a soup which was one of my culinary nightmares when I was a kid. I mean I will start from sorrel.

Do you like sorrel? Sorrel, collected here either as a wild growing plant or as a cultivated one, was more popular in Poland when I was little. Nowadays one can find it on food markets, but it is not so common anymore – as one of the farmers told me, people do not buy it so often, so there’s no interest to bother, it means to collect it wild or to plant it. The most common preparation using sorrel in Poland is “sorrel soup”. Or, rather, I will admit that I do not know of any other Polish dish with sorrel (which does not mean that they are none). This rustic style and not-so-good-looking soup (as you know, the color of sorrel, once cooked, changes into something that looks like rust) is served with hard-boiled eggs. Today, I propose you to serve it with poached eggs, which brings a little change to a classical dish.

Sorrel soup with hard boiled eggs was very often served in my school cantina (of course, when in season). I never liked it, as it was always too thick, as too much flour was added to it and it tasted awful. However, now, I like sorrel for its sour taste – as I like sour taste in general. Sauteed with garlic, and placed into a light broth it may actually taste quite good!

Sorrel soup

Serves 4

1 liter chicken or beef broth (you can use vegetarian broth, too)
300-400 g sorrel leaves, washed, stalks removed
2 big garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
6 baby potatoes, peeled, washed and cut into quarters
4 eggs
100 ml sour cream (optional)
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
1 tablespoon white vinegar

1. In a hot frying pan, melt butter, add garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add sorrel and braise for about 5 minutes, until they lose their natural green color.
2. In a saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add potatoes and cook for about 10-15 minutes or until soft.
3. Add sorrel with garlic and their own juices. Mix well. Remove the soup from the heat. Add cream, tempering it previously, mix well but do not boil again. Salt and pepper for taste. If necessary, add a bit of lemon juice.
4. In the meantime, prepare poached eggs. In a flat, but large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add some vinegar. Break the eggs and put each of them delicately into boiling water. Cook over minimum heat for about 3-4 minutes and then remove delicately with a spatula. Remove the excess of water by placing each egg on a paper towel.
5. Pour the soup into plates. Place delicately one poached egg in each plate and sprinkle with chives.

Polish version - wersja polska przepisu

Przepraszam Was za długie milczenie. Tak jak już wyjaśniłam w wersji angielskiej oraz na mojej stronie na Facebooku, trzy miesiące temu przeprowadziliśmy się do Polski. Nie planowałam przerwy w blogowaniu i dlatego też nie uprzedziłam o tej przeprowadzce. Jednakże sprawy i bieżące problemy związane z tą przeprowadzką oraz zderzenie z polską rzeczywistością nieco (a właściwie, dość sporo) skorygowały moje założenia. Dopadła mnie niemoc twórcza, eksperymenty w kuchni zarzuciłam, zaś aparat fotograficzny pokrył się warstwą kurzu.

Dwa tygodnie temu spędziłam kilka dni w niemieckiej Bawarii – głównie w związku ze sprawami zawodowymi. Miałam jednak parę dni dla siebie i udało mi się nawet wypić trochę (hmmm...) bawarskiego piwa, odwiedzić parę monachijskich przybytków kulinarnych, w tym świetny Viktualienmarkt. Aparat poszedł w ruch, ale o tym w kolejnych postach, które już od tej pory będą się pojawiać regularnie (hmmm, miejmy nadzieję...). A na razie poczciwa i codzienna zupa szczawiowa, brunatny postrach przedszkolnych i szkolnych stołówek, który dzisiaj serwuję z jajkiem w koszulce. Lubicie szczaw ?

Zupa szczawiowa

Składniki (4 osoby)

1 l wywaru z kurczaka lub wołowiny (można użyć również wywaru jarzynowego)
300-400 g szczawiu, umytego i ewentualnie obranego z twardszych łodyg  
2 duże ząbki czosnku, obrane i drobno posiekane
6 młodych ziemniaków, obranych i pokrojonych w ćwiartki
4 jajka
100 ml śmietany (opcjonalnie)
2 łyżki posiekanego szczypiorku
1 łyżka soku z cytryny (opcjonalnie)
1 łyżka octu

Na rozgrzanej patelni rozpuścić masło, dodać czosnek i zezłocić przez około minutę lub dwie uważając, aby się nie przypalił. Dodać szczaw i dusić około 5 minut, aż straci naturalny zielony kolor.

Wywar zagotować w garnku, dodać ziemniaki i gotować do miękkości, to jest około 10 – 15 minut.

Do zupy dodać szczaw z czosnkiem oraz szczawiowym sokiem, który ewentualnie powstanie podczas duszenia. Zamieszać i zdjąć z ognia. Dodać śmietanę, uprzednio ją hartując w odrobinie zupy i całość zamieszać. Doprawić solą oraz pieprzem. Jeżeli zupa jest mało kwaśna, można dodać sok z cytryny.

W międzyczasie przygotować jajka w koszulkach: w niezbyt głębokim, lecz szerokim rondlu zagotować wodę i dodać ocet. Rozbić jajka i delikatnie umieścić każde w rondlu uważając, aby nie naruszyć struktury białka i żółtka (ja zawsze wbijam każde jajko do osobnego, małego platikowego pojemniczka, ewentualnie do filiżanki, a następnie umieszczam je kolejno w rondlu, starając się nie naruszyć struktury). Gotować na minimalnym ogniu około 3-4 minut, a następnie wyjąć za pomocą łyżki cedzakowej lub szpatułki i osuszyć na ręczniku papierowym.

Zupę przelać do talerzy. W każdym umieścić jajko w koszulce i udekorować posiekanym szczypiorkiem.
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