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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cooking Cucumber: the French Way

Cucumbers - at least one plant in my garden every summer
I previously blogged about cooking cucumber. Those recipes were Asian-inspired. I mentioned that the French cook cucumber too and that Julia Child had a number of recipes for cooked cucumber. As befitting a proper French dish, many of them contain a heckuva lot of cream. France has some of the richest dairy land in the world and they are justly proud of their cream and cheese. Still, as much as I love cream, her recipes seem a bit excessive to me. As sacrilegious as it may sound, I'm going to tweak dear Julia's recipe.

The basics remain the same: you need to draw out much of the water in the cucumber before baking it. Otherwise, you end up with soupy boiled cucumber, which isn't all that appetizing.

Baked Cucumber with Cream
(serves 4-6)

6 medium cucumbers
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
⅛ teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill (or use basil or parsley)
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
3 Tablespoons heavy cream
more black pepper

Peel the cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the cucumbers the long way into about ½" slices. Then cut into 3" pieces. Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with vinegar, sugar, and salt. Mix and let sit for 30 minute to an hour. Drain, pour onto a towel, arrange in a single layer then pat dry with another towel. You want the cucumber pieces dry so they cook up crisp.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Melt the butter with the fresh herbs and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper in a small saucepan. Place the cucumbers in a large shallow baking dish - large enough so the cucumbers are in a single layer. Pour over the melted butter and mix. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, stirring a few times during the baking. Remove from oven. Stir in cream and additional black pepper, if desired. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume One - Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, Borzoi, 1961.

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