Supper Club #2: Comme les Lyonnais

It’s a shame that I started this blog so late, just as my time in Lyon is coming to an end. I feel I have so much to write about, but where to start exactly?

Firstly, I don’t think I could have made a better choice coming to Lyon. It’s got so much going for it: the historic old town and the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière; the two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône; its history as a centre of French resistance during WWII. It’s also been a great base for exploring other French towns and cities… not to mention its proximity to several ski stations!

Never heard of Lyon? That’s okay, I forgive you. Because in fact, neither had I before I started preparing to study in France. Which is why I was so surprised to find myself in such a culturally rich city full of tradition. There’s always something going on somewhere, some festival, event or parade. Being here, I have this constant nagging feeling that I should be immersing myself in culture and art… instead of sitting in my room watching the latest episode of GoT. Oh, the guilt.

The Lyonnais know how to put on a good show though. In December, there’s the annual fête des lumières when the city is lit up for all of four days and nights, streets packed with tourists come to see the light-themed exhibitions. It’s a really spectacular event. In the evenings, it’s also freezing cold. Even wearing ten layers of my warmest clothing didn’t keep the cold away.

But that’s a story for another time – let’s talk about the food. Lyon is supposedly the gastronomical capital of France, after all.

Wherever I travel, I always make a point of trying out the local specialities. For me, food and travelling are irrevocably intertwined and I love trying new things. When I go to restaurants, I’ll typically order the weirdest thing on the menu. The first time I went to Nandos, I ordered chicken liver (alas, it was very disappointing).

Lyon, however, doesn’t disappoint. If there’s one thing you have to do whilst in Lyon, it’s eating in a bouchon – a special restaurant serving the traditional Lyonnais cuisine.

Typical bouchon food

It’s fatty, rich, stick-to-your-ribs kind of food. Very tasty.

Having sampled the cuisine, it was time to try my hand at reproducing it. Thus, the supper club theme of the week: Comme les Lyonnais.

For the starter, I made flatbread; it was quick and easy, done in about 20 minutes from start to finish. It worked very well as a starter with baked camembert flavoured with garlic and herbes de provence. Not a Lyonnais speciality but I was feeling rebellious.

Quenelles are a sort of rich, eggy Lyonnais dumpling. These ones were made with cheese but you can get ones with fish or meat. They were very tasty, especially with the flavourful tomato sauce, but perhaps not quite authentic. The ones I’d had previously had never been so obviously cheesy. They definitely never had strands of stringy cheese forming when pulled apart. Delicious though, authentic or not!

The pralines in the tart are another Lyonnais speciality. They’re basically almonds coated in sugar. Nobody knows why they are pink, not even the Lyonnais. Yet another one of life’s great mysteries…

Normally, the tart is a deeper red colour but the food colouring I used wasn’t quite up to the job, even though I added quite a few more drops than stated in the recipe. I even added a few drops of blue and yellow in a desperate attempt to achieve the right shade but stopped when it started turning a strange colour. I suppose lurid pink is better than lurid violet.

Lurid pink it may be, but there were certainly no complaints when it came to tasting it!

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Based loosely on Jamie Oliver’s recipe here. Makes roughly four medium sized breads.

Pan-fried flatbread

2 ½ cups plain flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup water
Fresh or dried herbs (optional)

In a bowl combine the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre and add the oil and the water. Start to mix the wet and dry ingredients together staying in the centre, pulling in more flour from the edge as you work. When a dough starts to form, turn it out onto a flour surface and knead lightly for 5 mintues.

Divide the dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into ½ inch rounds. In a frying pan, fry the first side over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until bubbles start to form in the dough. Flip and fry the other side for 5 mintues.*

*I didn’t use any oil here since I was using a non-stick saucepan but you could well do so

* * *

Baked camembert

One round of camembert
Herbes de provence or mixed herbs

Remove packaging. Cut off the top layer of skin. Thinly slice a clove of garlic and poke them into the top of the camembert. Sprinkle with herbes de provence. Bake at 180°C for 15 minutes or until the centre is soft and gooey.

* * *

Recipe from here. Makes 10 medium sized quenelles.

Quenelles à la sauce tomate (quenelles with tomato sauce)

For the sauce:

4 medium tomatoes, diced
1 small carrot, diced
6 small mushrooms, died
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ – 1 cup of hot water or stock
Herbs, finely chopped (I used what I had available, chives)

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan. Over medium heat, fry the onions for a minute or two with ½ teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Cover and leave to cook for 5 minutes.

Add the carrots and garlic, cover and leave to cook for another 5 minutes or until the carrots are softened. Add the mushrooms and tomato paste and fry until the mixture is soft. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Add the tomatoes and cover, leave to cook for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes become soft. Add herbs and the stock. I used about ½ a cup but you could use more depending on how watery you want the sauce to be.

Leave to simmer over low heat for at least half an hour – the longer you leave it the better it will taste.

For the quenelles:

2 ½ cups plain flour
100g butter
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3 eggs, beaten
100g gruyère cheese, grated*
½ teaspoon nutmeg

In a saucepan, heat the water, butter and salt. When the butter is melted, add the flour. Whisk constantly over low heat until you have a dough which resembles mashed potatoes

Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly. Add the cheese, eggs and nutmeg and combine thoroughly. You want the mixture to be uniform and a moist consistency.

Divide the mixture into roughly 10 portions. Form each portion into sausage shapes. Leave in the fridge for a good half hour.

In a saucepan, cover the quenelles with the sauce and cook for 30 minutes over low heat.

*I used emmental because I couldn’t find gruyère, still worked very nicely though.

* * *

Tarte aux pralines (almond praline tart)

I kinda messed up the praline recipe… the result didn’t turn out very authentic-looking. But since they were going to be cooked with cream later anyway, it didn’t matter too much in the end.

Based on the recipe here. Alternatively if you happen to be in Lyon, you could just buy some from one of the many shops selling them. Makes 200g.

For the pralines:

1 cup blanched almonds
½ cup sugar
1/4 cup water
4 drops red food colouring

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil. Leave to cook until the liquid begins to caramelize, mixing regularly to coat the almonds. Lower the heat just before the mixture starts to deepen in colour. Pour the mixture onto a tray and separate the almonds whilst they are still warm. Leave to cool.

For the pastry:

I used the pâte sablée recipe from here.

1 cup flour
65g softened butter
¼ cup sugar
1 small egg, beaten
Pinch of salt

Combine the egg with the sugar and salt. Make a well in the centre of flour. Add the butter and egg mixture. Combine until a dough forms.

At this point, I gathered the dough into a ball and wrapped it in cling film to rest in the fridge for half an hour.

Roll out the pastry to ½ cm thickness. Butter a 22cm tart tin and line with the pastry. Bake at 160°C for 10 minutes or until it is dry to touch.

For the praline filling:

200g pralines, crushed into med-small chunks
1 1/4 cups double cream

Combine the cream and pralines. Bring to boil stirring regularly. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and continue to cook the mixture for 10-15 minutes, stirring regularly. The mixture should start to thicken. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly, 1-2 minutes.

To finish:

Pour the praline mixture into the partly-baked tart shell. Bake at 160°C for 8 minutes. Once done, leave to cool then put in the fridge for 1-2 hours to set the filling.

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