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European Chefs Share Their Mothers' Little-Known Dishes 

Most of us learned to cook from the same person in our lives. Her name is Mom, and she was most people’s first favorite chef, whether she’s a Cordon Bleu grad or just whips up a mean instant oatmeal.

For food lovers who grow up to be chefs, it’s no different. That’s why the New England Culinary Institute recently debuted a series of occasional special meals spotlighting the women who taught the school’s chef-instructors their first recipes.

On December 4, NECI celebrated the first such event by welcoming Monique Burnier — or, as chef-instructor André Burnier knows her, Maman. She introduced Vermont to farcement, a potato dish so local to her native Mont Blanc region that even executive chef Jean-Louis Gerin, also from the French Alps, had never tried it.

Gerin says that whenever a chef’s mother visits Vermont, he plans to host a similar event. “We want to show people how chefs learn to cook,” he says. “How does a chef get the inspiration to become a cook and then an instructor?”

In honor of the holidays and NECI’s recent inaugural dinner, we share Maman Burnier’s ancient recipe, along with two more to help you prepare Christmas or New Year’s dinners for your family in a très Euro manner. Before long, Vermonters may get to meet those chefs’ moms, too.

André Burnier, France: Farcement

Chic, short-haired Monique Burnier is no casual fan of farcement. She’s the vice president of La Confrérie du Farcement au Pays du Mont-Blanc, an association that promotes the preservation of the traditional dish that appeared in Savoie when potatoes were first cultivated there around the time of the French Revolution.

Burnier’s son, NECI chef-instructor André, says that every town in the region has its own versions of the savory casserole. Each family’s take varies, too. This is how his mother taught him to make farcement. Serve it as a hearty dish of its own or as a dumpling-like side for stew.

Yield: 1 loaf pan, 4.5 by 4.5 by 16 inches. Serves 10.

  • 2 ounces soft butter
  • Slices of smoked bacon, about 15 rashers or enough to cover the mold
  • 3 kilograms (6 to 7 pounds) potatoes
  • 20 grams (2 tablespoons) kosher salt
  • 4 grams (2 teaspoons) pepper
  • 2 grams (1 teaspoon) nutmeg
  • 500 grams (1 pound) prunes
  • 150 grams (5 ounces) raisins
  • 100 grams (3 to 4 ounces) bacon, diced
  • 2 eggs
  • 150 grams (5 ounces) crème fraîche
  • 30 grams (1 ounce) flour

  1. Gather all ingredients before grating the potatoes. The potatoes will oxidize and turn brown very quickly, so you need to be ready to go.
  2. Butter the loaf-pan mold with the soft butter, then line with the bacon slices until they cover the mold completely.
  3. Peel and grate the potatoes using a Parmesan-style grater (the potatoes need to be grated into a pulp, not shreds).
  4. Drain some of the water from the potatoes until you have about 5 pounds remaining.
  5. Make sure that all the starch that settles on the bottom of the drained water is included in the potato mix. The potato pulp should still be wet.
  6. Add the rest of the ingredients and spoon the mixture into the mold.
  7. Cover the mold with foil and cook in a water bath for five hours at 350 degrees periodically replacing the water that evaporates. The water should be as close to the top of the mold as possible, but make sure no water gets into the mold.
  8. Once cooked, remove the farcement from the mold to a platter.
  9. Note: Once cold, the farcement will become quite firm. The leftover farcement can be sliced one inch thick and browned in a sauté pan with oil or butter until hot. Enjoy the crispy edges!

Christoph Wingensiefen, Germany: Venison with Lingonberry Demi-Glâce, Braised Red Cabbage and Potato Dumplings

Chef-instructor Christoph Wingensiefen hails from the small town of Odenthal, half an hour northeast of Cologne. He says that celebratory meals in his hometown almost always include venison, wild boar or other game.

But because of strict German hunting laws, applied even in rural areas, Wingensiefen wasn’t out getting the meat himself. “In Germany, hunting is like a job. You have to do a three-year apprenticeship,” he explains.

Whether you shoot your own or buy it already cold, you’ll be sure to enjoy the deceptively simple Christmas dinner Wingensiefen learned to cook by watching over his mother’s shoulder.

For the venison:

  1. Cut 6 ounces out of a venison loin and season with salt and black pepper. Dust with flour and sear until medium rare.
  2. Mix 8 ounces of veal demi-glâce with 2 tablespoons of lingonberry jam, bring to a simmer and serve with the venison steaks.

For the cabbage:

  • 2 heads red cabbage
  • 2 onions
  • 2 crisp apples
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 stick cinnamon

Chop cabbage, onions and apples. Put in a bowl, then add other ingredients. Mix well and let sit overnight. The next day, cook in a large pot until cabbage is tender, about 30 minutes.

For the potato dumplings (Kartoffel Kloesse):

  • 2 slices good-quality sourdough or white bread
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon corn or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (more if needed)
  • 1/8 cup potato starch (can be replaced with cornstarch)
  • 1 large egg

  1. Trim crusts off bread and save them for another use. Cut bread into half-inch cubes and fry in butter and oil mixture until golden brown. Transfer to paper towel to dry.
  2. Cook scrubbed, unpeeled potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and cool slightly before peeling. Once peeled, cut potatoes into large pieces. Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
  3. Mash potatoes with fork or run through ricer into large bowl. Mix in salt, nutmeg, half cup flour and potato starch.
  4. Using hands, knead mixture in bowl until smooth dough forms, adding more flour by tablespoons if the dough is sticky. Mix in egg.
  5. Form dough into balls, using a quarter cup for each. Insert bread cube into center of each dumpling. Roll dumpling between your palms to enclose bread cube completely and form smooth balls.
  6. Working in batches of only four or five at a time, cook dumplings in a large pot of nearly boiling salted water for 10 to 15 minutes (or until dumplings rise to the top). Using a slotted spoon, transfer dumplings to a large bowl. Keep covered with a damp kitchen towel as remaining dumplings are cooked.

Adrian Westrope, England: Lemon-Pastry Mince Pies

Pastry chef Adrian Westrope isn’t the only culinary adventurer in the family. His mother came up with this unconventional version of sweet mince pie, with a tart boost of lemon to calm the dessert’s over-the-top sweetness. The spiced filling may seem exotic to Yanks, but the Essex-bred chef says that, in England, “As a child you are brought up on these delights and grow to love them.”

He recommends serving these mini-pies either with cream, with brandy butter or warmed up on their own to end your holiday meal.

  • 5 ounces butter
  • 3 ounces shortening
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk (reserve the white for brushing tops of pies)
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Mincemeat filling (make your own fruity grind, or purchase a can from a specialty store)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Keep everything as cold as possible when making dough. Rub the fats and flour together, then add granulated sugar. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Add the yolk and some of the lemon juice. Mix together to form dough. Do not add all of the lemon juice, as the mixture will be too wet. Place in the fridge to chill for one hour prior to rolling.
  3. Use a small amount of flour to roll out about half of the dough. Using a cookie cutter, cut out small, fluted rounds. Place each into a greased mini-muffin pan, carefully pushing into the shape of the pan. Complete all 12.
  4. Using the egg white, brush a little on the edges of each pie. Use 1 teaspoon of your favorite mincemeat filling in each pie shell.
  5. With remaining dough, roll out and cut a “lid” for each pie with a smaller cookie cutter. Place on top and gently push to the edge to attach. Seal edges with a fork and brush with remaining egg white.
  6. Place in oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until pastries are light golden. Allow to cool slightly before putting a pinch of granulated sugar on top of each pie.
  7. After five or six minutes, remove from pan with care and place on a cooling rack. Pack and store in a tin or plastic container. Consume many!

The original print version of this article was headlined "Old-Country Holidays"

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About The Author

Alice Levitt

Alice Levitt

Bio:
AAN award-winning food writer Alice Levitt is a fan of the exotic, the excellent and automats. She's been writing for Seven Days since 2007 and appears regularly on "The :30" on WCAX.

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