Beignets de feuilles

IMG_20150531_174805This is a very quick post for a very quick and easy canapé dish that showcases the abundant crop of green salad leaves and delicate herbs flourishing at this time of year.  Here in Dorset, we have wild rocket, basil, chives, mint, peashoots, wild garlic and sage in the garden and the local woods, so I have been making the most of them.

Recipes for beignets are common to all my provençal cookery books be they recent publications or older, more traditional recipe collections.   Most of the recipes I have consulted involve frying a single piece of vegetable such as courgette or aubergine, but we need not limit ourselves here.  A myriad of ingredients lend themselves to battering it seems.  I’ve come across recipes featuring anchovies, salt cod, potatoes and courgette flowers (see my chickpea flour version of the latter here) and let’s not get sidetracked right now by sweet beignets…..

Eggs are almost always used in the batter mix but the simple recipe below uses just ’00’ pasta flour and sparkling water to bind the chopped herbs and leaves.  These herby fritters are packed with spring flavour and the simplicity of the batter makes them light and not too filling.  Serve them hot, just out of the pan with a glass of rosé (Tavel worked for us) or fizz.  A little aïoli, pesto or fresh tomato sauce on the side as a dip is always popular too.

I used rocket, basil, chives and a little sage for my beignets this time but you can use whatever you have to hand or what’s available locally.  Spinach and chard work well with some flavoursome herbs to accompany them in the mix.

Beignets de feuilles (makes 16)

30g rocket leaves
A handful of basil leaves
A handful of chives
6 large sage leaves
100g 00 flour
150ml sparkling water
A good pinch of salt
Groundnut or sunflower oil for frying

Rinse the leaves, pat them dry and then roughly chop them.

Whisk together the flour, sparkling water and salt, then add the leaves to the batter and mix thorougly.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and, once it is hot, add a teaspoon-sized, test ball of the batter.  If the batter mix sizzles nicely, you know the oil is ready. Gradually add desertspoon-sized portions of batter, but don’t overcrowd the pan – four to five at a time works well.  Turn the fritters in the oil until they are crisp all over and lightly browned. The kitchen will be filled with the aromas of the various herbs by this stage – my family came running from all ends of the house and garden!   Drain the fritters on kitchen towel and serve immediately with your choice of dip.

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And Pistou?

IMG_20141009_214332It never ceases to amaze me how most people know exactly what pesto is yet when you mention the term pistou, it’s blank faces all round.  This no-nut French cousin of pesto is just as delicious and even easier to make.  No toasting of pine nuts required here.

So, as pistou forms one half of my blog’s title, I thought it was about time we did it justice and featured its many attributes in a post dedicated to this most provençal of accompaniments.  Commonly associated with the dish soupe au pistou, a hearty, chunky vegetable soup which will feature on this page soon, pistou uses basil as its flavouring as does the classic pesto, but there tends to be more cheese and garlic than you would see in the Italian version.  Just as recipes for pesto nowadays use all manner of herbs and nuts, I’ve gone for a sage pistou here as it’s a great match with autumnal courges (squash) many varieties of which seem to be on display everywhere I look right now. If you want to stick with basil for your pistou, just use twice as much as I’ve quoted for the sage in the recipe.

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Regardless of your choice of herb, pistou comes with a warning: it is very garlicky, so use a little less than I’ve recommended if you’re anxious about it.  Traditionally made in a pestle and mortar, this recipe works just as well in the blender and frankly I suspect you are more likely to try this quicker method at home.  As with pesto, pistou is to be added to hot soups and pasta and should never be cooked on its own.

The sage pistou is a great match for the green gnocchi in my last post and would be lovely drizzled over just-out-of-the-oven, roasted autumnal vegetables.  Or why not stir a generous spoonful into a homemade pumpkin or squash soup? Not quite soupe au pistou but warming and satisfying all the same.

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Sage Pistou

10g sage leaves, torn roughly
15g garlic, crushed
50g parmesan, finely grated
100ml extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of salt

Place all the ingredients in a blender and whizz for a few seconds until everything is combined.  Taste and add more salt if necessary.

The sauce will keep for a couple of days in the fridge or longer if you cover it with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil.