Having performed the perfunctory duty of hiding chocolate for the traditional hunt (which the kids still relish) I set my sights on a more satisfying pursuit … filling my family with wholesome food with flavours “à la Normande”.
Normandy is very well known for its “fruits de la mer” (seafood; literally fruits of the sea) and equally for it’s “pommes” (apples) from which locally produced ciders are produced – the best in France.
“Comme entrée” (as an appetiser) I decided to combine the two in a dish I dubbed “moules au cidre mousseux” (mussels in sparkling cider).
Here is the recipe, should you like to try your hand at it: (serves 2 as a main or 4-6 as a starter).
- 100g butter (I used 5 heaped tablespoons because we had no kitchen scale)
- 2 onions or 4 shallots (chopped roughly … this is a rustic recipe after all 😄)
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 2 shakes of dried thyme
- 1 bayleaf
- 2kg fresh mussels (discard any open ones that don’t close when touched)
- 250ml cider (or white wine if cider is unavailable)
- 1Tbs crème fraîche
- 1Tbs cornstarch mixed into 2Tbs water
- The juice of half a lemon
- Melt the butter in a pot big enough for all the mussels.
- Add the chopped onion and cook at a medium heat until glassy and soft.
- Add the parsley, thyme, bayleaf, mussels and cider.
- Cook just until the mussels open. Remove the mussels as soon as they open and set them aside.
- Add the crème fraîche and cornstarch slurry and stir until the sauce is the consistency of a soft custard. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pop the mussels into bowls to serve and pour the sauce over them. Add a squeeze of lemon … et voilà!
With entrée devoured … well three of us thoroughly enjoyed it and the other three turned up their noses, without even giving it a try, and sauntered off to eat their Easter eggs … it was time to attend to “le plat principal” (the main dish).
I bought a beautiful “l’agneau” (lamb) leg from “la boucherie” the day before “Pâques”, thinking it would be closed on Easter Sunday but I shouldn’t have been concerned … it was business as usual and all the shops we open from 10am till 12:30 and again from 2pm till 18:30.
I chose lamb because it’s my favourite, because it it so symbolic of Easter and to give my 3 non-seafood-lovers something they would at least sample (while still sneaking in some anchovies)! It’s interesting to note that in times gone by, apart from fish, the people here didn’t eat the abundance of what the ocean provided, preferring to rely on terrestrial animals for their sustenance. It’s only in recent years that mussels, scallops, cockles, whelks, limpets, crabs, lobsters and the like have featured in their diet.
Having found a recipe online (@Chocolate&Zucchini) for “Agneau Pascal” (agneau = lamb; Pascal refers to Pâques = Easter) and having procured my precious piece of meat and the other necessary ingredients to make a bona fida French meal, I found that my accommodation was lacking an essential utensil; namely a blender! I chopped everything as finely as I could but I would like to remake it when I get home – I’m sure that detail will turn this into a 5-star dish.
Without further ado, here is the recipe (which I have adapted slightly to suit my taste):
- 10 anchovies preserved in olive oil. (I found some with capers that added extra flavour).
- The leaves of a fresh sprig of rosemary
- One lemon (the rind and the 2 tablespoons of the juice)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 tsp olive oil
- Black pepper
- 2kg leg of lamb with the bone in.
- Remove the anchovies from the olive oil and place all the ingredients (except the lamb) into a blender. Blend until the mixture becomes a coarse paste.
- Rub the paste all over the lamb and set it aside for an hour or two (or even overnight) to marinate.
- Cook the lamb in the oven at 220C for 30 minutes and then at 130C for a further 2 to 2.5 hours. It should be succulent and tender.
I served the lamb with stir-fried spring vegetables and “dauphinois” potatoes. O-la-la c’est bon!
“Comme dessert” “je vous présente” (I present you) with a humble pie: “Tarte Tatin aux pommes (apples) et Pommeau (a sweet apple liqueur made by mixing apple brandy and apple juice).
For the pastry
- 1 cup cake flour
- 6 Tbs (90g) butter
- 2 Tbs sugar
- 1 large egg
For the filling
- 4 large sour apples (I used Granny Smith) cored, peeled and finely sliced
- 10 Tbs (150g) butter
- 1-2 Tbs Pommeau (or brandy or omit)
Traditionally the apples are sautéed in a pan and then topped with the pastry. The whole pan is then placed into the oven and baked for 30 minutes. I didn’t have a pan that could go into the oven so I had to improvise …
- Make a rough pastry with the flour, butter, sugar and egg. Put it into the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan and pour into a ceramic dish.
- Later the apples on top of the butter and drizzle with Pommeau.
- Top with the rolled-out pastry and bake for 30 minutes at 200C
- Serve with whipped “créme” (cream) or “glacé” (ice-cream).
“Et voilà. Vous avez mon menu de Pâques”. (There you are. You have my Easter menu).