Paris looks so pretty in the fall, the perfect backdrop for leisurely strolls through the streets, balades along the Seine & romantic stops at cozy bistros, which is in fact among of our favorite things to do on weekends – except perhaps for the fact that with little kids, it´s many things, but never leisurely and rarely romantic, at least not in a classic sense ;-).
Last saturday, however, I wasn´t really in the mood for the big city. Some days, crowded streets, lots of people and heavy traffic just isn´t for me (and even if you know of the more quiet places, you somehow have to get there). That´s why my husband and kids went to town alone, leaving me with a few unexpected hours on my own. Usually, this is the time when I do some workout or just settle boring stuff around the house, pretending to be oh so dutiful and busy. Sometimes, I just sit down and read. But what I really love about those moments is that there really is no better time to cook.On Saturdays, there also happens to be a little market down our street, small, unpretentious, but full of delicacies and gourmandises – there´s always something to discover, and I´m there within 5 minutes by foot. These days, the stalls are flooded with grapes: green ones, purple ones, with pépites (kernels) or without, Chasselas, Muscat, so many varieties to your heart´s desire. The sheer sight of them made me long for sun drenched vineyards and golden October days spent in the countryside, so I bought everything I needed for a little autumn feast.
On this special day (and by definition, weekends always are, aside from all those other special days ), I opted for quails, which pair wonderfully with something sweet, so why not with golden raisins – I always have some at home as my daughter and I love them as a snack. For the sauce, I used Pineau de Charentes, an apéritif made of grape juice and cognac – if you can´t find it, port might be a good alternative. Coming home with far too many grapes, I used a good bunch to whip up a lovely grape sorbet (ok, it´s a sherbet, but no one uses that word), slightly adapted from this recipe I once discovered over at David Lebovitz gorgeous blog. It turned out a light and fragrant ending to a meal that felt (almost) like a walk in the vineyards on a sunny autumn day … just with a few extra calories. It´s easy not to miss summer when autumn can taste that good.
Pan seared quail breast and thighs with Pineau de Charentes sauce (serves 2-3):
50 g raisins blonds (or a small handful of sweet seedless grapes, halved)
100 ml Pineau de Charentes (or port)
a few sprigs of thyme, leaflets plucked
salt & pepper
butter and olive oil for frying
Unless the quail is ready to cook, remove giblets and cut off the heads. Rinse under cold water and pat dry inside and out. Position quails breast side up and, with a long, sharp knife, make an incision on both sides of the sternum, very close to the bone. Cut the breasts, then the thighs from the carcasses (save them for a broth, see below). Season poultry with salt and pepper.
In a large frying pan, heat about 1 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil. Over high heat, fry breasts and thighs starting skin side down until browned from both sides (flipping once), about 5 minutes. Add the wine and raisins (you can soak them in the Pineau for 15 minutes if you want), reduce to about half.
Add thyme, adjust seasoning and serve immediately with oven roast potatoes and parsnips (Sliced, generously tossed in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and 1 tbsp of dried thyme and roasted for about 30 minutes at 180°C).
If you don´t like to throw anything away, do as I do and make a simple broth with the carcasses:
Place carcasses in a large high sided pot, add water until just covered. Add a bay leaf, 4 juniper berries, 1 shallot with the skin on & 3 cloves (stick them into the shallot), 1 unpeeled carrot and a few sprigs parsley. Bring to boil. Spoon scum from the surface, simmer for 1h 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Discard bay leaf, juniper berries, shallot, parsley and carrot. Cut any remaining meat from the bones and return to the broth if desired, discard carcasses. Generously season with salt. My kids love this broth as a soup with peas and simple egg&flour dumplings, and it also makes a good base for risotto.
Grape sorbet (yields about 6 scoops, serves 3-4): slightly adapted from David Lebovitz
1 scant kg sweet seedless purple* grapes (yield 650 ml juice)
1 star anise, optional
3 heaped tbsp powdered sugar
1 good pinch fleur de sel
chopped pistachios for garnish
*of course, you can use green ones, but the color won´t be as nice (see last photo)!
In a saucepan, heat the grapes with 2 or 3 tbsp water and the optional star anise, and bring to a soft boil. Simmer until soft, about 10-12 minutes, squeezing with a fork from time to time to release the juices. Remove star anise (if using), strieve mixure through a fine meshed sieve, squeezing out as much as possible. I ended up with 650 ml juice – I found this a very useful tip David also included in his instructions, destined to those of you who prefer to use a good quality grape juice for the recipe. The yield of grapes with seeds, by the way, will of course be less: I ended up with 500 ml for 1 kg of grapes.
Add sugar and salt to the juice (more or less sugar depending on your taste and the sweetness of the fruit). Leave mixture to cool slightly, then transfer to the ice cream maker to churn according to instructions. Serve with chopped pistachios.