Rick Stein's Courgette Flowers Stuffed with Brandade de Nîmes
On my trip to Uzès, it had been arranged that a Dutch cook called Petra Carter, who has a popular cookery school in the town, was going to cook deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with brandade for me. Sadly, though, she had slipped and broken her ankle so the cooking was off, but her friend Michelle Heuss, a very articulate Australian who runs food tours in Uzès, was available to take me to a fabulous shop there called La Maison de la Brandade. It’s a branch of the most famous producer in nearby Nîmes – their brandade is called La Nîmoise. In addition to three styles of brandade, they sell pissaladière made with brandade and fougasse. But when I tasted the fragrance and delicacy of the brandade, the idea of using it to stuff courgette flowers was the one for me. Unfortunately, even with hot houses, courgette flowers have a very short season, so enjoy them while ye may! Now here’s a bit of reality. When we tested this dish in the depths of winter, Portia and I had to find another way of containing the brandade and we used Chinese leaves. It produced something completely different but fabulous, and we decided to add a simple tomato dipping sauce to go alongside.
|250g||salt cod, soaked for 24 hours, water changed 3 times|
|2||cloves garlic, finely chopped|
|8||courgette flowers or 8 Chinese cabbage leaves (and 8 cocktail sticks)|
|For the tomato dipping sauce:|
|½ tsp||piment d’Espelette (page 306 of Rick Stein's Secret France) or pimentón|
|a pinch||of sugar|
|1 tsp||olive oil|
|For the tempura batter:|
|a pinch||of salt|
|300ml||very cold soda water|
|1 litre||sunflower oil, for frying|
Drain the cod, put it in a pan and add cold water just to cover. Bring to a simmer and poach for 5–10 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove the fish and leave it to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, flake the flesh, discarding any skin and bones.
Put the cod in a food processor with the garlic, cream and plenty of pepper. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil and process until you have a thick paste. Or, if you prefer, use a pestle and mortar. Put the paste in the fridge to chill for an hour.
To make the sauce, put the tomatoes, skin and all, in a blender with the piment d’Espelette, salt, sugar and oil, then whizz until fairly smooth. Pour into a small pan and cook for 2–3 minutes.
If using courgette flowers, stuff each flower with 2 tablespoons of the brandade paste and close the flowers around the stuffing. If using Chinese leaves, roll the leaf around the stuffing, tuck in the ends and secure with a cocktail stick.
Make the batter by sifting the flours into a bowl with the salt, then gradually whisk in the soda water. The mixture might be a bit lumpy, but that’s fine.
Heat the oil in a large pan to 180°C. Dip the stuffed flowers or leaves into the batter, then carefully lower them into the hot oil, a few at a time. Fry for one minute until light and crispy, then remove and drain on kitchen paper. Carefully pull out the cocktail sticks, if used, and serve at once with the sauce.