La Chatte Gitane (or The Gypsy Cat) was the name we chose for our cottage in France. We chose it while on the road, moving home, from Ireland to France with 2 dogs and 7 cats in the car.
This blog began its insignificant life as a recipe book for friends and family who would ask me repeatedly for a recipe of this, that and the other.
Since then it has taken many different directions, like gypsies tend to do. Sometimes making a U-turn and revisiting familiar roads and taking a break when necessary.
You'll find recipes here, but also musings about the places we've called home, the gardens that we've established, not always successfully, the homes we've improved and the environments we've lived in. Currently, that is back in Ireland.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Witloof from Belgium

Although, the French claim it as their own, I am a firm believer that Chicory With Ham and Cheese was, still is and always will be a Belgian recipe.

Legends and facts :
1830 Schaarbeek (nr Brussels). A man called Jan Brammens, who was one of the many farmers, who had to escape from the violence in Brabant, before the independence of Belgium. Before he left, he quickly cut some chicory roots for his surrogate coffee. He threw them in his cellar and to prevent them from drying out he covered them with some soil. When he arrives back at his farm he discovers that the roots had sprouted many conical blanched hearts, which to his mind tasted very nice indeed.

A more accepted version however is about Franciscus Bresier, who worked at the Royal Gardens 'Botanieken Hof' or Kruidtuin'. Planning to grow loose leaved chicory, he kept the roots stacked one closely next to the other in the mushroom cellars and covered them with composted down horse manure. He also watered them regularly to give the plants a head start for when he wanted to plant them out.
To his amazement he noticed the blanched hearts that looked like Roman lettuce appearing on the roots.
During the next two years he did a trial with roots , covered with soil and roots that he left uncovered. Again, the covered roots produced this lovely vegetable.
The 1834-1835 winter is to be the official year that chicory or 'witloof', as we know it now, was discovered.
The way the chicory got out and famous is still a mystery, but a fact is that the first harvest made it's way to the market in Brussels in 1846. From 1840 till then the growing of chicory was a public secret that more and more farmers tended to cultivate. The cultivation then spread to the rest of Flanders, to the Netherlands and France.

Ingredients (for 2)

4 hearts of chicory (or more if you're gluttonous like me)
20 gr butter
100 ml water
1/2 organic stock cube
black pepper

4 slices of good quality cooked ham

for the cheese sauce (and if you like more sauce you can always multiply the amount)
50 gr butter
50 gr flour
300 ml milk
100 grated, mature cheese (cheddar, Gruyère or Gouda)

Clean-up the chicory by slicing off the brown bottom end and crossing in about 1 to 2 cm deep. Remove damaged leaves (if any).
Melt the butter in a pan and sautée the chicory hearts, add stock cube, pepper and nutmeg. Add the water and let it simmer (covered) until the cores are tender. The chicory shouldn't burn, so add extra water if necessary.
Drain in a colander, but keep the liquid.

Meanwhile make your cheese sauce.
Melt the butter in the pan and mix in the flour. Add the milk and vegetable liquid, bring to the boil, while stirring all the time. The sauce should be cooked through for at least a minute to prevent the floury aftertaste.
Take off the heat and stir in half of the cheese.

Roll each heart of chicory in a slice of ham and arrange in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the cheese sauce and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.

Put in a preheated oven 180 ° C or under the grill till the cheese on top has become golden brown.

Serve hot with mashed potatoes or as I do, with rice (that way I can devour at least three)

We often eat chicory just sautéed (step1) with potatoes and meat. When I serve it to people who haven't tried this glorious veg before I always add a tbsp sugar while sautéeing, if not the bitterness (although, only slightly so) might be a shock to some.
I know the 'very' original recipes say to boil the chicory in water for 45 minutes, but I find the intensity of flavours are more profound when sautéed, that's why I've prepared them like this most of my 'culinary' life.

What's still growing in the potager ?

Red Cabbage
Brussels Sprouts (Not originally from Brussels as the name is derived from 'Brassica' Sprouts)
And yesterday we've had our first harvest of Purple Sprouting Broccoli (they do turn the most beautiful deep green when cooked)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lentil Paté

This dish is a success with vegetarians and omnivores alike. Have been making this for years.


2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped (leaves included)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
250 gr red lentils (I sometimes use Puy lentils)
2 tbsp curry powder
50 cl water or vegetable stock
2 tsp marmite or vegemite (optional)
50 gr wholewheat breadcrumbs
seasoning (salt, pepper)


Sautée onion, garlic and celery in the oil for 5 minutes.
Add the lentils and curry powder, stirr and sautée for another minute.
Pour in the water or stock and bring to the boil.
Stirr in the marmite.
Cover and let simmer for about 30 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Take of the heat and mix in the breadcrumbs and add seasoning.
Pour the mixture into an oiled ovendish. Brush with more oil to get a nice crust.
Bake for 45 minutes in a preheated oven 200°C
It can be served hot as an alternative for meat or even cold, spread on a slice of fresh bread.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Work, work, work !

......And then there is time for a bit of fun and to relax. Bert, my OH, taking a break from building the greenhouse and Kerel, the dog, taking a break......... ah well, from going to the neighbours begging for food, I'm sure. They never invited us over for a bite to eat.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Braised Cabbage with Mustard

For Freddie from the Great Big Vegetable Challenge
1 white, green or savoy cabbage
25 gr butter
1 tbsp grainy mustard
1 organic vegetable stock cube
1/2 glass water
nutmeg & pepper
1/2 glass milk


Quarter and slice the cabbage in 1 cm strips. Wash and drain.
Melt the butter and add the cabbage.
Stirr in the mustard and crumble the stock cube.
Pour in the water and cook the cabbage (covered with lid) till al-dente.
Pour in the milk and season with pepper and nutmeg.

Ready, Freddie !

It goes well with sausages or meat balls.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Braised Red Cabbage

This recipe might look strange to most people, but don't knock it till you tried it. This is the way my grandmother, Mit used to make it and after her my mother, Irma and now me.
I had some strange looks and comments from some the volunteers we host, about the jam. Needless to say they all succumb to the warm feeling this dish brings to their stomachs.
It is a great accompaniment for game, but equally nice with sausage, pork chop or lamb.
Usually I prepare it in my pressure cooker, that reduces the cooking time. The cooking time stated below is for the normal pots.


1 red cabbage, quartered and sliced
4 large onions, chopped
1 kg appels, peeled, cored and chopped
50 gr butter or goose fat
loads of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp white vinegar or cider vinegar
1 jar of jam (dark fruits like blackberry or black currant)
brown sugar (optional)


Bring the cabbage, covered with cold water, to the boil. Cook for 10 minutes and drain in a colander. Cooking it like this will make the cabage more digestable.
Melt the butter or goosefat and add the onions, a layer of cabbage, appels, thyme, some cinnamon, pepper... and repeat.
Add vinegar and some water and the bay leaves.
Leave it on a low heat for 1 to 2 hours, stirring regularly. You might have to add some water during this process to avoid the cabbage burning !
Towards the end mix in the jam and add sugar and salt to taste.
The cabbage will benefit from making it the day before you want to serve it.


Oh my ! This beats pizza by a mile or any other savoury tart !
It is very easy if you can forget the crying of cutting the onions.
Originally it is made with a yeast dough like pizza, but you can use shop bought shortcrust or puff pastry. I make it with flaky pastry.
This recipe is for you Friedel !

On the photo : Friedel & Andrew about to get on the road towards Morocco
Flaky Pastry ( for a 28 cm tin)
250 gr plain flour
125 gr butter
200 ml water

Put flour in a bowl and make hole in centre. Into this put salt, softened butter. Mix evenly with fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs
Add water bit by bit and stop when the flour has absorbed it. Mix well but not too hard.
When it comes away easily from the fingers, make into a ball, put into a bowl covered with a cloth and leave in a cool place for an hour.

1 kg onions , garlic
Provençale herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano)
olive oil
1 egg

seasoning (salt & pepper)
1 tbsp tomato puree
+/- 20 anchovy strips
20 black olives

Peel the onions, slice thinly & crush the garlic. Fry gently in some olive oil without browning.

Add the herbs. Sauté until the onions are soft.
Stir in some tomato puree.
Season with salt and pepper.
Leave to cool and add 1 egg, mix well.

Roll out the pastry. Line the buttered and floured baking tin (alternatively, you could just use grease proof paper)
Cover the base with the onion purée. Use the anchovy strips to make a lattice on the tart. Add the olives between the strips.
Bake in a preheated oven 220° C for 25 minutes.
Serve hot or at room temperature.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Aaah ! Potatoes !

The advantage of insomnia is of course that, amongst all the rubbish thoughts, you sometimes have good ideas too. Like the one I had last night. I decided that there is a good spot in the garden to plant potatoes. So this morning, together with Stephen (our first volunteer of this year) I started digging over the patch, which is about 3 x 6 meters.
Although the sky was blue, the Mistral wind was trying to spoil things for us with gusts of 95 km/hr. I suggested to Stephen to stand with his back against the wind so he wouldn't get the sand in his face, with which he agreed was a good idea.
Two hours later and it was all done, ready for us to start forking it over on Monday. We might even get the rotivator out.
Next week I can get some plant potatoes and Bob's your uncle. Our first attempt to growing potatoes !
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