Monday, May 6, 2013

Savory Clafoutis -- for Mother's Day Brunch (French-style AND gluten-free)

It is always a joy to find a good cookbook. LA TATINE GOURMANDE, written and photographed by Béatrice Peltre is one I have enjoyed for the past year. All the photos are beautiful and appetizing, and the recipes are simple and quite modern, yet gluten free. This is a cookbook for the 21st century that everyone should have. Someday when I have the opportunity to write a cookbook, I would like to do something like this.

When I saw this recipe in the book I immediately grew an appetite and started cooking, because eggs have been an important part of my daily diet since childhood. As in many other cultures, the traditional Japanese breakfast always has eggs, and often raw eggs (a fresh raw egg beaten with a little soy sauce and poured over hot, steaming rice is delicious!).

Living and cooking professionally in the U.S for many years, I know that many Americans are not fond of soft eggs, and definitely not raw ones. Often, perfectly cooked soft, juicy eggs were returned with complaints in restaurants where I worked. I still do not really know why but everyone has different texture preferences, I guess. When I was a child, I was told that cooking an egg too much destroys not only the taste but also the nutrition. And my grandmother would tell me that a pale yellow soft egg is like a gentle woman... or something like that.

Clafoutis is a very popular dessert all over France in spring and early summer. And as many of you know, it is normally made with pitted cherries and other seasonal fruit like plums or fresh berries. However, this dish is a wonderful savory version for brunch/lunch or supper. It is even delicious cold the next day. Egg is a relatively inexpensive food but quite nutritious. So it is very important to use fresh organic eggs to make this dish stand out. Spend a little more in order to treat your palate and your health!

Caramelized cherry tomato, zucchini, and goat cheese clafoutis
Recipe adapted from La Tartine Gourmande by Béatrice Peltre

Serves 4-6 (using one oval baking dish about 10” long and 7” wide)

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the dish and zucchini
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 thyme twigs
1 bay leaf (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound (440 g) medium cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon raw sugar
1 medium zucchini (or asparagus and mushrooms) thinly sliced lengthwise (use a mandolin if you have one)
4 tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch
½ cup whole milk
3 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream (or another ½ cup milk)
1 oz grated Pecorino or Comté cheese
5-6 basil leaves, coarsely chopped or julienned
Salt and pepper
2 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled

1.       Set a rack in the center and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Brush a 10-inch baking dish with oil and set aside.
2.       In a frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and thyme twigs and cook without browning about 4 minutes, stirring until fragrant and the onion has softened. Add the bay leaf and garlic and cook another minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring gently, then add vinegar and sugar. Continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Discard the thyme and bay leaf; set aside.
3.       In another frying pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Arrange zucchini slices at the bottom (you might need to do this in a few batches) and cook for 30 seconds on each side, adding more oil as needed. Season with a little salt and pepper.
4.       In a small bowl, beat the cornstarch into the milk. In another medium size bowl, beat the eggs. Mix the diluted cornstarch, the heavy cream and grated cheese into the eggs. Add the basil, season with sea salt and pepper, and mix well. Arrange the vegetables at the bottom of the dish. Pour the egg batter in and top with the crumbled goat cheese. Place the clafoutis in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the egg flan is set and the top is golden brown. Serve with a green salad.

NOTE: The first time I made this dish, I did not have zucchini, milk, Pecorino, Comté or fresh goat cheese, but I had fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. I made it with what I had, and it was pretty good. However, this recipe (especially with the Comté and fresh goat cheese) results in a really “French taste” that I love. You may substitute asparagus or perhaps fresh peas for the zucchini. And in my opinion, good, mild Pecorino cheese is not easy to find, so I do not recommend using it unless you really like it. You may also substitute unsweetened almond milk instead of milk and heavy cream (or use all milk and no cream). If you do, add 2 more tablespoons corn/potato starch.

Approximate nutrition per serving as a side dish (1/6 of pan), assuming ½ tsp salt added:

290 calories, 23 g fat (9 g saturated), 130 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 14 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 9 g protein.
Good source (at least 10% Daily Value) of vitamin A,  vitamin C and calcium.

Without cream (using total of 1 cup whole milk, plus extra cornstarch):
250 calories, 16 g fat (5 g saturated), 105 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 9 g protein.
Good source (at least 10% Daily Value) of vitamin C and calcium.
(Note:  Calories, fat and saturated fat will be even lower if non-dairy milk or low/reduced-fat milk is used)

Nutrition data by Palate Works (