Savoury French Toast

Spring is almost here at Fat Weka Farm…but not quite. The daffodils are starting to make an appearance but this flowering cherry taken last year  on 1 October is my true sign of spring.  Perhaps it will flower earlier this year. It’s still holding out with it’s tightly wrapped buds.   In the meantime I won’t be saying goodbye to the nightly warmth and handy cooking space of our wood burner.

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A fire and a dark beer is the perfect matchings for this easy dinner option in winter.

Throughout winter I’ve utilised this radiant warmth to also cook our dinner most nights. One quick favourite has been savoury French toast with a winter slaw.

French toast for breakfast is generally sweet and is a great way to use up sourdough bread.  Sourdough tends to get hard rather than go mouldy.  Sometimes it’s so hard you can work up a sweat just slicing it.  But it magically revives as does any stale bread with the french toast treatment.

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I was lucky enough to be given some duck eggs making a richer custard and a good yellow colour.

Simply mix one egg with half a cup of milk, salt, pepper and about 1 Tbsp of parmesan cheese grated.   If you want a herby punch then add a little sage or thyme. One egg should be enough for four slices of bread and 2-4 people depending on what you choose to add as toppings.  It needs to be thin enough to soak in and coat the bread with the eggy milk liquid.

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I tend to soak the bread in a flat bottomed plate – a pasta dish is ideal. Give it a minute to soak in.

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This bread is a wholemeal from Gilberts and I’ve added some thyme to the egg and milk.

Heat a heavy pan (ideally cast iron) and add a knob of butter or your favourite oil.  Once it begins to sizzle add the soaked bread to the pan.  Cook each side until it browns.

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To assist with the melting of cheese I cover with a pot lid for a few minutes.

Once you have turned over one side you can add a slice of cheese on top.

I like to add slaw on top but you can top with anything you like.  In this case I added some smoked mackerel along with the slaw.

 

20170907_084518 Another option for breakfast is a topping of bacon. When I do this I first begin cooking the bacon and then the french toast in the same pan.

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In summer it’s delicious with tomatoes, basil, black pepper and a drizzle of your favourite oil.  It’s a year round easy breakfast, lunch or dinner depending what you have in the fridge or garden to top it off and an option when the bread is no longer fresh and needs reviving.

A  weekend treat is to have a classic sweet French toast.  Just replace 1 tbsp of parmesan and the salt and pepper for 1 tbsp of caster sugar and either a dash of  vanilla essence or a grinding of nutmeg.  I like to make this sweet version using a raisin bread or sweet bread. Our local bakery Gilbert’s Fine Food’s Date and Walnut sourdough or their delicious and rich Brioche works a treat but when I use a sweet bread like these I just add 1 tsp of sugar.

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Date and Walnut sourdough from Gilbert’s Fine Food bakery, Dunedin.

Top with sliced banana or cooked apple, kefir or yoghurt and a little maple syrup. Our grandson Beau’s favourite is just with maple syrup.  My favourite of course is with my son’s preserved apricots – Augustines of Central.

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Augustines preserved apricots are available at Farro Fresh stores in Auckland, Moore Wilson’s in Wellington, Provisions in Cromwell and Florences in Wanaka. They are tree ripened, spray free and processed by hand in a Central Otago Riesling syrup.

When spring gets here with longer days of daylight, I will want to spend more time outdoors so time saving dishes like this are useful.  One real time saver I have discovered this winter on a trip to Melbourne has been three little hand peelers….more on that next posting.

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Bechamel sauce makes the marrow

The marrow is a perfect measure of time passing.  That courgette plant you eagerly watch over in December for any sign of its fruit, produces a glut of courgettes (or zucchini) in January.  But, once your attention is elsewhere, unwatched, the courgette turns into a monster marrow. 
 
In February at the Sanctuary Community Garden fellow plot holders shared their excess produce. One large lone marrow was all that was left. It seemed wasteful not to try and find a way of making something delicious out of this large and seemingly unwanted vegetable.  Marrow can be challenging with its tough outer skin and it’s subtle flavoured watery flesh.  
In England there is an appreciation of the marrow so I turned to Nigel Slater’s “Eat” for a recipe. The advantage of the marrow’s flesh is that it can be used to sponge up stronger flavours like mushroom. Connect this combination with cheese and Bechamel sauce and Nigel’s Marrow Gratin becomes a delicious and comforting autumnal dish.

Marrow Gratin served simply with baked tomatoes and fresh basil.

Bechamel Sauce

Bechamel Sauce is a French way of making what our mother and grandmother would have called White Sauce.   


True, white sauce is creamy, but the French version has delicious flavours infused into the milk. 

It takes time to make a sauce from scratch but the result is worth the effort. The great thing about this sauce is that it can be frozen for use at another time.  It’s a good idea to make a larger quantity so you have an instant home made sauce available for another day. 
 
First step is to infuse the milk with the flavours of bay, cloves, onion and peppercorns.  In a pot heat 1 litre of milk (I prefer full cream milk) to nearly boiling point with half an onion pierced with 3 whole cloves, half a dozen black peppercorns and a bay leaf.   You can also add parsley stalks.  I used a red onion because it was the only onion I had but any onion is fine.  Set aside for at least half an hour. 
I first remember learning how to make white sauce at school and hearing for the first time the term roux.  Roux means cooking equal quantities of fat (usually butter) and flour to thicken sauces, soups and stews.  Roux is the basis of three of the mother sauces of traditional French cooking; bechamel sauce, veloute sauce (velvet sauce) and espagnole (spanish sauce). Veloute sauce uses white chicken or fish stock (bones not roasted) instead of milk, and Espagnole sauce is a brown beef sauce made with beef bones and adding crushed tomatoes or tomato paste at the end.

To make the roux, melt 75g of butter in a pot, then stir in 75g of flour.  This makes a buttery paste that you cook until it bubbles.  It’s a fine balance – if you don’t cook the flour and butter a little then you’ll get a floury taste to your sauce but if you overcook then the flour will not thicken the sauce effectively. 
Take your pot off the heat and gradually whisk in the reserved and strained flavoured milk.  What everyone fears is a lumpy white sauce but never fear a whisk will get rid of lumps.   I find if you add the milk in stages – in the beginning it quickly turns into a thick paste but as you continue to add milk then whisk, add more milk then whisk etc, it eventually smoothes out. 
 Hint for a non-lumpy sauce:  avoid too great a contrast in heat
when combining the roux with the milk or stock.
Either add warm milk to the hot roux or have the milk hot and the roux warm. 

 Now gently heat and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until your sauce is a velvety smooth texture.  Your sauce is ready if you can wipe your finger across the spoon and a track remains.  


Add cheese and chopped parsley and you have a cheese sauce.

It’s best to thaw any frozen portion of Bechamel sauce slowly in the refrigerator.

Nigels Marrow Gratin

marrow, mushrooms, basil, mozzarella, bechamel sauce, parmesan.
Set the oven at 200C.
Remove and discard seeds and fibres from 750g peeled marrow (about half a large marrow), then slice into thin rounds.  Melt butter with a little oil in a frying pan and as it starts to bubble, put in a single layer of of marrow slices and let them colour a little underneath. Turn over and cook the other side.  They should be translucent and tender.  Remove and drain on kitchen paper.


Continue with the rest of the marrow slices.  
While the marrow is cooking, thickly slice 300g of mushrooms.   When all the marrow is done add the mushrooms to the pan, with a little more butter.  

Season with salt and pepper then as they are approaching ‘doneness’, stir in 125g basil leaves.   Once wilted, remove the pan from the heat.

Cover the base of a large, shallow baking dish with some of the marrow and mushroom mixture. If you have it, tear a ball of mozzarella into pieces and dot them over the mushroom mixture.  This dish is lovely with mozzarella, but I only had a little, so I also added some tasty cheese as well.
Cover with 500 ml of Bechamel Sauce.

Add another layer of marrow and mushroom mixture, seasoning as you go.


Finally generously cover with grated parmesan cheese.  

Bake for about 40 minutes till the sauce is bubbling the top gently browned.


If you are not a fan of marrow then you could substitute the marrow for another vegetable like squash  or kumara (sweet potato).

Time has all too quickly passed in our house in the heart of Ponsonby, Auckland.  I can’t believe it has been 13 months.  Our friend Chris has returned to claim back his home.  I shall miss being so close to the Ponsonby shops and cafes, and the backyard fruits from feijoa, avocado, guava and persimmon trees.   Sadly I too have had to bid farewell to Chris’s wonderful French copper pots that I have so enjoyed cooking with and regularly featured in the blog.

I haven’t blogged for a while as we have packed up our belongings and moved suburbs.  
In the time it takes to be connected up to a broadband service a courgette could certainly turn into a marrow.