We talked a lot about the pantry over the holidays; how it was begging to be plundered and used to its French fullest. This is how the simple foods for Christmas Day started with a dozen Le Parfait jars, a flurry of forgotten freezer treats, and a hanging ham from the charcuterie closet. We ate, drank, and made merry while I reduced the creative culinary clutter by ...a little. My friend Elaine declared it a Vide Pantry- like a flea market but more delicious.
Normally my pantry fluctuates through the abundant seasons-too many summer confitures, too little foie gras-but there is always a shelf of Spanish tins, mostly seafood-squid ink, anchovies, razor clams, mussel pateéé, and anchovy stuffed olives. This is souvenir booty from my Spanish Hooky days when I hit the supermarket at the border on the way home.
Another shelf features goods from the Basquelandia Road Trips-a supply of Pyrenean smoked trout, piment d’Espelette, finely ground cornmeal for taloak, and my favorite boudin from Banka. The cave gains a bottle of Grassa clementine eau-de-vie and a case or two of bright cider to share.
Last summer’s garden at Camont produced just enough tomatoes to squeak through this month with a tomato rich duck ragu that I made with the carcasses of the last foie gras classes, a few jars of asparagus to velouté into a winter soup, and shavings of ham to float on a classic bean and cabbage garbure. The pork paté shelf is still full and there are enough black-peppered noix de jambon to last through the next Camp Charcuterie course.
I dip into my under the staircase pantry and out comes… a tobacco brown Virginia-style ham I made three years ago. It is a classic American recipe cured with sugar and salt, pepper and heavily smoked. I let it cure and dry over that year. Now was the right time to soak it, boil it, bake it, and share with friends. Little ham sliders were a hit as slivers of salty goodness on some homemade biscuits that Maurine brought to the Christmas feast from her own freezer pantry.
I managed to reduce my stock of dried fruit: sour cherries, cranberries (Thanks Donna and Bob!), figs, candied mandarins, and prunes as well as chocolate from Chiapas, pine nuts and hazelnuts. All thanks to an easy and delicious panforte recipe from my Italian sister- Judy over at DivinaCucina.com.
The gingerbread cookies elaine made helped to empty the old from the pantry, but because I hadn’t taken a good inventory before we went shopping, we accidently bought more molasses and powdered sugar- enough for next year. But we did use the old first. Even the butter hoarded in the freezer when we all thought there was going to be crise de beurre here went into Stresscake’s Christmas basic butter cookie.
Of all the other great things we ate and shared with friends, my favorite this year might be the simple beef bouillon I served after we brunched all around the kitchen table; after we sat in the little piggery salon and rested while reading a Child’s Christmas in Wales to each other; and when we decided it was time to sit at the dining table and eat just a little bit more of something hot and nourishing and along with some fresh green and bright tasting summer rolls that This Piglet made with the packages of rice wrappers found on a bottom shelf of the pantry. The Bouillon was made when I cooked the beef tongue and oxtail for the Christmas Eve tamales two days before. I squirreled away a couple liters and then just heated it up, added salt and served with slice of baguette and some grated emmental cheese. A sort of French onion soup without the onions. You can make it with any bits of beef and bone you might want to cook for another meal, just reserve some broth and set aside. This is how I made my Christmas bouillon.
Recipe: Beef Bouillon for a Simple Winter Supper
Because I was cooking a beef tongue, I decided to also add an oxtail to enrich the broth with the bones, cartilage and collagen rich meat. I knew this would add another dimension to my broth and the byproduct would be a beefy warming broth. In France, these cuts are considered abats or offal and are sold only at triperies or butchers specializing in tripe and other fifth quarter bits like the stall at the Nerac farmer market.
I used one beef tongue and one oxtail cut into pieces by the butcher. Place the meat and bones into a stock pot just big enough to hold them, some vegetables, and enough water for the soup- 4 liters of finished broth or about 16 cups of soup is enough for 8 people. So a 8 liter or quart stock pot is just right. Add enough cold water to cover the meat, about 5 liters or so. Then bring to a boil without adding anything else. Salt and seasonings come later. Skim off the foam that is produce and discard. this will keep the broth clear.
Now add the vegetables that will give flavor and more nutrients to the bouillion. I used two peeled whole carrots, one peeled whole onion studded with 4 cloves, and one large leek, washed and cut into half. Then I took some fresh herbs to make a bouquet garni: 4 bay leaves, celery leaf, parsley, and thyme, tied them with the string, and added it to the pot. I use fresh herbs mostly because my garden at Camont doesn't freeze over and there is always something aromatic growing.
Finish by seasoning- a tablespoon of coarse salt and some black peppercorns is enough to bring up the beefy flavor. Don't over add spices, let the meat and vegetables produce the dominant flavor. Once everything is added, you can cover, turn down the heat, and let simmer for a couple of hours. I used my pressure cooker and let it cook for 45 minutes- the tongue was tender, the meat falling off the bones, and the flavors of the vegetables and herbs were well infused in the stock.
Remove the meat and vegetables fo other use and then strain the broth through a fine sieve decanting into a few large jars. Refrigerate. When ready to eat, reheat and adjust seasoning tasting for more salt or pepper. Serve in warm bowls with a toasted piece of bread and a handful of grated Emmental cheese on top.