Garden Desk


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If you ask a Parisian butcher for coustillous, he will look at you as if you have just landed from another planet. This happened to me a couple of months ago in Paris. And, if you ask a Languedocian butcher what are coustillous in French, he too will look perplexed. This happened to my Parisian aunt when she asked our local butcher what her niece (that would be me) had been grilling the day before.

I’m not sure why we call travers de porc, coustillous. I’m only guessing that it has something to do with the spanish costillas de cerdo. In any case, they decidedly hold their place in the local gastronomy.  In the winter, you’ll find them braised with lentils, preserved confit-style and pan-roasted with Pardailhan turnips, and they play a substantial role in cassoulet.  During the summer, we like to cut them into thick slices and grill them over vines simply seasoned with salt and pepper, or bathed in flavorful marinades.  The following recipe is my current favorite inspired from the herbs growing in my garden.

Oh, I forgot to mention that coustillous are spare ribs.

Grilled Coustillous

Serves 6

  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 4 scallions, green and white part, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced coriander
  • 3 tablespoons minced lemon balm, or 1 minced stalk lemon grass
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons harissa paste or to taste (see note)
  • 3 pounds slab spareribs, cut into ½-inch pieces

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a mixing bowl. Wisk to combine.

Place the spare ribs in a shallow glass baking pan.  Pour the marinade over the meat and turn to coat all sides evenly.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

When ready to serve, preheat the grill to medium hot.

Remove the ribs from the refrigerator, uncover and shake each piece gently to allow excess marinade to drip off.

Grill for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the ribs. They should be fully cooked and juicy. Remove from the grill and let the ribs rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: harissa is a Moroccan paste made from hot peppers and spices. If not available, use your favorite hot sauce to taste.

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While waiting for the royalties (tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini) to take up their summer residence, the advance team in my potager includes assorted lettuces, swiss chard and sorrel.

I have always been a fan of sorrel but its sheer abundance and pungent personality have turned me into a manic groupie. Besides adding large handfuls of leaves to spinach and swiss chard greens before cooking to give them a wonderful lift, I have used it, with different degrees of success, in practically anything I could think of — from the classics like sorrel and potato soup and creamy sorrel sauce for fish, to chicken in papillotes, shredded in salads, wilted with fried eggs, and a less conventional salmon spread with sorrel puree, then wrapped in rice paper and pan-fried.

The following risotto with a distinct French accent is among the many keepers. Too lazy to run to the store to pick up some arborio rice and Parmesan cheese, I used instead a white round rice from Camargue that worked extremely well, and some Cantal cheese that had lost its youthful prettiness for the cheese tray but none of its inner beauty. I hope my Italian friends will forgive me….

Sorrel Risotto

Four to 6 servings

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 5 cups sorrel leaves (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ onion, minced
  • 2 cups white round rice from Camargue or Arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup grated Cantal or Parmesan cheese, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh coriander or basil

Rinse the sorrel leaves but do not dry them. Cut into large strips and place them in a saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat until just wilted.

Bring the broth to a low simmer in a saucepan. Reduce heat to low to keep warm.

Heat the olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft but not brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the rice, stir to coat and continue stirring for 1 to 2 minutes until the rice becomes translucent. Add the wine and stir until almost evaporated.

Add 1 cup hot broth, season with salt and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently. Continue cooking and adding about 3/4 cup of broth at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next. About 15 minutes into the cooking and just before adding the last of the broth, stir in the wilted sorrel. Continue cooking and stirring until the rice is tender and creamy but still al dente.

Remove from the heat. Add the butter and grated cheese and stir to blend. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately garnished with chopped coriander or basil.

Note: if sorrel is too pungent for your taste, you can substitute half of it with spinach.