Bulgur, chard, & onion stuffed zucchini

There’s something about round zucchini that just makes them seem like they’re begging to be sliced in half and stuffed. Every week, I see piles of them at the farmers market and I usually take 3 or 4 to make for dinner.

The stuffing options for zucchini are endless, but this time around, I went with some other seasonal ingredients: fresh spring onions and swiss chard.

So, I sliced ’em, stuffed ’em, and baked ’em… and then we ate ’em. And they were delicious! Enjoy!

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup fine bulgur
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 medium round zucchini
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 10 mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 stalks rainbow swiss chard (leaves and stems), roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (Comté, Gruyere, parmesan, mozzarella…)

Here’s what to do:

  1. In a medium stockpot, bring vegetable broth to a boil. Mix in the bulgur, cover, remove from heat, and let sit for 7 minutes. Drain excess water and fluff with a fork. (You can also follow preparation directions on the package of bulgur – fine and medium bulgur are cooked differently!)
  2. Slice each zucchini in half lengthwise. Scoop out the insides, leaving about a half an inch of flesh inside. Reserve insides in a small bowl. Steam the zucchini halves for 10-15 minutes, until just tender.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C.
  4. In a food processor, pulse the onions, mushrooms, garlic, and swiss chard stems until finely chopped.
  5. In a large pan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Add in the onions, mushrooms, garlic, and swiss chard stems. Sauté over medium high heat for 4-5 minutes.
  6. In the food processor, pulse the swiss chard leaves until finely chopped. Add to the pan and continue to cook for a few minutes. Season with oregano, cayenne, salt, and pepper.
  7. Turn the heat off and add one cup of the cooked bulgur to the pan. Mix everything together.
  8. In a small baking dish, place the zucchini halves facing upwards and season with salt and pepper. Place about a half a cup of the stuffing into each half and top with shredded cheese.
  9. Bake at 375°F / 190°C for 20-30 minutes, until cheese is melted and slightly browned.

The extra filling can be mixed with the extra bulgur to be served on the side of the zucchini to make this a filling main dish. Serves 2 main dish, or 4 appetizers.

Classic tomato tart

With the abundance of heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market, I usually pick out a few every week and bring them home. Red, orange, even green heirloom tomatoes end up in my kitchen. Here’s the great thing about them: they are so meaty, they taste great raw or cooked, and their lovely colors light up any plate.

I had four lovely tomatoes sitting on my counter last week. M and I headed off to Ireland for a long weekend on Friday (to celebrate meeting there five years ago!), and we had an abundance of fresh veggies that needed to be cooked before leaving. Beet chips and carrot & pumpkin soup are on the menu, along with a fresh tomato tart.

In France, the tomato tart is a classic dish that is perfect for summer. Big slices of pretty heirloom tomatoes are laid over a crust that has been slathered with rich dijon mustard, and fresh herbs with flavorful cheese cover the top. You can’t go wrong with simple, fresh ingredients. The first time I remember trying it was a few years ago at M’s cousin’s house. We’ve made it on a regular basis since then!

To make this tart, I used tomatoes from the Ferme des Mions and fresh cheese from the Ferme des Récollets. Usually, I use a prepackaged pate feuilletée (the shame!), but this time, I tried David Lebovitz’s tart dough recipe. It’s so much better!

Here’s what you need:

For the dough

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 stick + 1 tablespoon (4.5 ounces) butter, chilled, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 tablespoons cold water

For the filling

  • Dijon or whole grain mustard
  • 2-3 large tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped)
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried basil (or 1 tablespoon fresh basil, sliced)
  • 1/2 cup comté cheese (or your favorite cheese that melts well), thinly sliced or finely shredded
  • Sliced goat cheese (optional)

Here’s what to do:

  1. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add in the butter, mixing with your hands until the mixture resembles small crumbs.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg with 2 tablespoons of the cold water. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add the egg to the center, stirring until a dough forms. (Add the extra tablespoon of water if necessary to achieve the right dough texture.)
  3. Make the dough into a ball and roll it out into a circle on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough lightly onto your rolling pin, and then roll it out over a tart pan, pushing in the sides with your fingers.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425°F / 215° C.
  5. Spread an even layer of dijon mustard over the crust (as much as you would on a sandwich, for example).
  6. Lay the sliced tomatoes onto the crust. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, oregano, and basil.
  7. Add on the cheese, and top with sliced goat cheese (optional).
  8. Bake at 425°F / 215°C for 20-30 minutes, or until crust is cooked through and cheese is melted.

Serves 4-6, and tastes great with a fresh salad! Enjoy!

Rustic rainbow swiss chard & mushroom tart

After moving to Cassel, my boyfriend M and I started going to the Sunday morning market in Hazebrouck (about 15 minutes away from our house). There are several local farmers who sell there, and we’ve become big fans of the Ferme des Mions, which is based just outside of Hazebrouck. It’s a family farm run by a young couple and their adorable baby boy. This couple is always smiling! M even went to high school with Elise’s, mom & farmer extraordinaire, brother. They practice organic farming and are in the process of getting their certification. Their veggies are seriously amazing.

We found out about their farm while attending a screening of the documentary En Quête de Sens, which is about trying to live a better, community-centered life. They mentioned their farm during the Q&A session after the film and we just knew we had to check it out! We’ve been ordering vegetables from them on a weekly basis since we moved to Cassel and are are continuously thrilled with the quality and taste.

The first time I picked up a bunch of rainbow chard from their stand, I was hooked. It’s colorful, crisp, and earthy. It’s also very versatile; I’ve used it in stuffed round zucchini filling, sautéed it with bulgur, and prepared a yummy tart with it as the star ingredient. I’ll be sharing this tart recipe with you today.

You could call it a quiche, since there is an egg filling involved, but the swiss chard is so big and flavourful that the eggs are really only there to hold everything together. So, for this swiss chard & mushroom tart, you have several options. Want to use a frozen pie crust? Go for it! (However, there is something special about making a imperfectly shaped homemade crust that makes me feel like I’m channeling an 85-year-old French lady.) Want to add some extra mushrooms, or leave them out altogether? That’s okay, too. Need to substitute milk or heavy cream for crème fraîche? No problem. It will still be perfect, because swiss chard is so darn good, even on its own. Using the leaves and the stalks of the rainbow chard keeps you from tossing out the crunchy stalks and adds to the texture and taste of the tart.

You can bake this in an 11-inch tart pan (as written in the recipe) or in whatever size dish you have. The filling will adapt to the size. The crust turns out very flaky – you can roll it out a bit thicker than I did if you want to avoid the broken edges. But remember, it is “rustic”. 🙂 Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Here’s what you need:

For the crust

  • 300g flour
  • 150g salted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup milk

For the filling

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 bunch (about 5 stalks) rainbow swiss chard, stems diced and leaves cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup crème fraîche
  • 3 tablespoons parmesan, shredded
  • 1 cup Emmental or Comté cheese, shredded

Here’s what to do:

  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour and butter together with your fingertips until the mixture becomes crumbly.
  2. Add in the milk, stirring with a fork, until the crumbs get bigger. Form the mixture into a consistent dough, making it into a ball with your hands.
  3. Roll out the dough on a floured surface and place inside a round 11 inch tart pan (silicon or lined with parchment paper). The easiest way to do this is to roll the dough around your rolling pin and then unroll it over the dish. Place in refrigerator while preparing the filling.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°F / 190°C.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add mushrooms, onion, stems, salt, and pepper and cook on medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, until onions are translucent and mushrooms are slightly browned, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add leaves and garlic to the pan and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat, until leaves are slightly broken down. Remove from heat and mix in lemon juice.
  7. In a small mixing bowl, whisk eggs with crème fraîche and parmesan and season with a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper.
  8. Pour swiss chard mixture onto crust and spread out evenly. Pour egg mixture over the chard. Sprinkle the Emmental or Comté on top.
  9. Bake at 375°F / 190°C degrees on the middle rack for about 30 minutes, until crust is slightly browned and cheese is melted.

Makes 4-6 servings, depending on how big you cut the slices. Bon appétit!

Roasted heirloom tomato soup

I had always hated tomatoes. When eating out, I asked for them to be left off of the plate (or I wouldn’t order anything with tomatoes to start with). I cringed as my dad and brother would bite into whole tomatoes at snack time. I would pull them off of sandwiches. Seriously, I could not stand them.

However, when I decided to become vegetarian, I told myself that I would have to try to start liking more vegetables. Tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers… I’m looking at you guys. Little by little, I forced – encouraged? – myself to just leave the tomatoes on and try them out. It was rough in the beginning, but now I can proudly say that I enjoy tomato dishes and can even snack on cherry tomatoes. What happened to me?!

So when heirloom tomato season arrived, I grabbed a kilo of them from the Ferme des Mions and made this delicious roasted tomato soup from Tyler Florence. The next week at the market, I told the farmer about my delicious soup and they were shocked. “It’s funny, heirloom tomatoes are usually eaten raw, as a tomato salad, seasoned with a little salt and pepper,” he told me.

I may be able to eat tomatoes now, but I can’t eat a whole one raw just quite yet. Check back next year!

The summer days here in Cassel aren’t too warm – the temperature gets up to around 75 or 80F on average – so I enjoyed this soup with some leftover Spanish tortilla. You’ll also love it with a yummy grilled cheese sandwich. Enjoy!

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 small yellow onions, peeled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable broth, divided
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Here’s what to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F / 230°C.
  2. Wash and cut the core out of the tomatoes, then cut them into about 3-4 pieces each, depending on size. Spread the tomatoes, garlic, and onion onto a baking tray and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread into a single layer and roast for 20-30 minutes, until caramelized.
  3. Remove the tomatoes, garlic, and onion from the oven and put them into a large stockpot with the 3 cups of the vegetable broth, bay leaves, and butter. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat, simmering for 15-20 minutes until the liquid has reduced.
  4. Remove the bay leaves from the pot. Add the basil. Remove the pot from heat and purée the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the cream and return to low heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For a super easy grilled cheese sandwich, you can butter one side of two slices of French bread and spread some pesto on the other side of each piece. Use a mixture of shredded comté, gruyère, and parmesan as the filling. It’s the perfect pairing to this soup!

Eggplant (aubergine?!) lasagna

So, I always thought of these cute little purple vegetables as eggplants. Yes, the name is weird. They have nothing to do with eggs. But that’s what they’re called in ‘Murica! I didn’t even know that anyone in the English language called them differently until learning French. Aubergine? Then I realized that in British English, they say the same thing. Aubergines. Also, those who speak British English say courgette for zucchini. (The Frenchies do, too.) I was so lost.

I’ll just use both words in the title of this recipe, to be safe!

When I lived in Lille, I would usually end up buying my vegetables at the big grocery store called Carrefour. I could never find eggplants that came from France. Usually they were shipped in from Spain. You can understand my excitement when we started going to the farmers market in Hazebrouck and I found eggplants – aubergines? – that were grown 12 kilometers from my new house! Merci à la Ferme des Mions!

Tonight, since I had two made-in-France eggplants in the fridge and M’s friend was coming over to rehearse for their Irish music group (I’ll say more about that another time), I decided to whip up an eggplant lasagna for everyone. Last year, I made Jamie Oliver’s aubergine lasagne and became obsessed.  Lasagne?! Lasagna. Is this another British vs. American English thing? I don’t even know anymore.

I decided to spice things up a little bit and added my twist to his recipe. I added a layer of béchamel as well as some chopped rainbow swiss chard to the tomato sauce. Instead of cheddar, I went with some freshly grated Comté. (Have you noticed my obsession with Comté cheese yet?) It may look like a long list of ingredients, but most of this stuff is usually in the pantry or fridge.

The original recipe for the aubergine lasagne (is that English?) is by Jamie Oliver. The recipe for the béchamel sauce comes from Marmiton, a cooking website in France.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 eggplants / aubergines
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked (or 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans whole peeled plum tomatoes
  • 1 splash balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3 cups rainbow swiss chard, thinly sliced (or baby spinach)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or Comté… or whatever you prefer!)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, shredded
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 6-8 no-boil lasagna sheets

Here’s what to do:

  1. Cut the tips off of the eggplants and steam them whole for 30 minutes. Scoop the insides out (tossing out the skin) and chop them up roughly. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the eggplant, garlic, cayenne, and thyme and sauté for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the canned tomatoes to the pan and break them up with a wooden spoon. Add the balsamic vinegar and basil, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add in the rainbow swiss chard and continue simmering for about 10 minutes, until sauce is reduced and chard is wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C.
  4. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, mix the butter and flour together. Heat the milk separately (in a saucepan or in the microwave) until it’s just boiling, then add to the butter and flour mixture, whisking all of the elements together. Place in the microwave and heat for 1 minute on normal power. When it comes out of the microwave, the mixture should be thicker. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. In an 8×8 baking dish, spoon a layer of the tomato sauce, then the béchamel, then add a bit of cheese, then lay down the lasagna sheets. Continue adding layers, ending with a layer of tomato sauce, and top with remaining cheese.
  6. Bake at 400°F / 200°C for 25 minutes, or until cheese is browned and bubbly. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

This recipe makes enough for about 4 servings, and is best enjoyed with a side of Irish music. (For me, at least!)

Summer squash & heirloom tomato pizza

I have yet to find fresh corn in France (le sigh), but there is an abundance of yellow summer squash around here that I just can’t keep my hands off of. I picked up a few of them over at the Ferme des Récollets in Sainte Marie Cappel this week.

This farm is oh-so-cool. First of all, the family that runs it is very friendly. The husband or wife strikes up a conversation with me about the differences between Texas and France or how I’m adapting to life in Cassel each time I visit their store. Secondly, you can visit the animals at their farm, who seem very content. They have donkeys, ponies, rabbits, goats, and cows, all out in the open and well taken care of. Their freshly homemade goat cheese and butter are like little bits of edible happiness. You can even pick your own strawberries. In their store, you can buy products from other nearby producers like apple juice or beer. (I’ll take the latter, please.)

So when I opened the fridge last night and saw that we still had one yellow squash, a kilogram of tomatoes, a few red onions, fresh cream, and goat cheese (all from the Ferme des Récollets), I thought, why not make a pizza? My boyfriend (“M”) is a master when it comes to making puffy herb pizza crusts. His expertise plus the quality ingredients made for one yummy pie, so yummy, I want to marry it! Well, I want to share it with you, at least.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 thick pizza crust, store-bought or homemade
  • 3 small heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 small yellow squash, sliced into 1/8 inch circles
  • 1 small red onion, sliced
  • 3 dollops crème fraîche
  • 3 tablespoons creamy pesto
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (Comté or Emmental work well, but Mozzarella could work too!)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Here’s what to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C (or to the temperature recommended for your pizza crust).
  2. Drop pesto and crème fraîche directly onto the crust and mix together in a circular motion, covering the crust.
  3. Arrange the yellow squash all over the crust, then the tomatoes, then the red onions. Season with a pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and oregano.
  4. Cover everything with shredded cheese, then arrange the goat cheese crumbles on top.
  5. Bake at 400°F / 200°C for 10-15 minutes, or until crust is cooked through and cheese is browned and bubbly.

Don’t be ashamed if it only feeds two people. After dinner, we burned our calories off at the beach with Benji the Dog as he chased the seagulls… 🙂

Hi there & bonjour!

After noticing that over half of my Instagram photos were of food that I made at home, I realized that there may be a better way to share my love of cooking with the world. The idea of blogging about my food scared me, but after some encouragement from my dear friend Cydny, I figured that I might as well give it a try.

I’m not new to blogging – you can read about my life as an expat in France here – but I have never tried to write a recipe. Most of my cooking in the kitchen consists of a few steps: looking at the gorgeous veggies that I picked up at the farmers market that week, selecting a few, completing the dish with spices and protein-rich grains, and tasting as I go along. However, there are several dishes that I see myself making over and over again, and they deserve to be shared. Voilà, the goal of Pepper & Cream. Pepper, because every dish needs a little kick, and cream, because the cows down the road have become my wonderful new neighbors.

M and me at our friend's farm just outside of Cassel
M and me at our friend’s farm just outside of Cassel

Living in the small town of Cassel, France with my boyfriend and our dog and rabbit, I enjoy visiting local farms and cooking with delicious fresh ingredients. We live a vegetarian lifestyle (eggs and dairy products from down the road are included) and love to host apéros – essentially the French version of an informal cocktail hour with lots of things to snack on – with our friends, hike the trails around our town, and travel. I’ll be posting here weekly following my routine visits to the farmers market. Recipes and the stories behind them will give you an insight on what it’s like to be a vegetarian Texan living in a French town of 2,300 people – and maybe they’ll inspire you to try the dishes out for yourself.

Vanilla gateau
Vanilla gateau
Eggplant parmesan
Eggplant parmesan
Rustic swiss chard tart
Rustic rainbow swiss chard & mushroom tart

Thanks for reading, and check back for a new recipe soon!