11 November 2013

French Pithiviers with Watercress and Ricotta…Leftovers Never Tasted So Good

Pithivier with Watercress and Ricotta
With one friend in Venice and another heading to Paris and Spain for several months I have been dreaming of loitering on the French Bank, eavesdropping on French philosophers over strong coffee at Cafe de Flore, buying cheese and baguettes for an impromptu lunch at the market, skipping down the steps at Montmartre and indulging in far too many trips to Laduree and Pierre Herme. As a Canadian, France is on my mind today with visions of soldiers storming Normandy or valiantly trying to survive at Vimy Ridge. In my minds eye I see row upon row of white crosses for unknown soldiers at Flanders Fields and poppies with their crimson heads bowing in the gentle breezes. I am thankful that my thoughts and memories do not mimic those of the soldier during wartime, that I can travel the world uninhibited and feel welcome there. Thank you to the thousands upon thousands of soldiers who have made this possible. We must remember today and always.

In my armchair journey with child-like wonder I have my face pressed up against the glass of a patisserie window with dreams of croissants, macarons, and Pain au Chocolat. In reality today I wanted something different, something symbolic, something traditional. To gather my thoughts Pithivier or Galette des Rois fit the bill nicely. It is a classic dish traditionally served on the twelfth night of Christmas in France but I think it makes for a wonderful dish at anytime. Traditionally it is a sweet dish but leftover cooked chicken breast, watercress and ricotta cheese beckoned for something savoury. With dreams of turning leftovers into art I headed into the kitchen with determination.

 A Pithiviers is a type of cake or large pastry made in France. It is usually about 10 inches (25 cm) wide, with a top and buttom crust made of puff pastry, with a dense almond paste (“Crème d’amandes) filling inside. The top is rounded and higher than the edges, and slashed, typically in a starburst pattern. The origin of this pastry is credited to the town of Pithiviers in the Orleans area of France. Both sweet and savoury versions exist.

I will be living vicariously through my friends accounts of the seasons in Europe, photos and stories…for now.  I was 18 the last time I walked the streets of Paris. It is a faded memory like an ancient postcard tucked away in a drawer. I have many photos of my 18-year-old self walking up the steps of the Eiffel Tower or having a drink in the French Quarter, of wandering amongst the lavender in Provence or the beaches of the French Riviera. When I travel I have always taken hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. Long before blogging, long before internet, cell phones or digital cameras, I was taking photos of the food at my table while on even the smallest of adventures. There’s something so evocative to me about pictures of food and the power they have to vividly remind me of mouth-watering meals and moments that I’ve had on my travels. I can look at my culinary photos and remember exactly where I was, the scent of the dish placed in front of me, and the way the flavours opened up on my palate. In many cases the taste or smell of something in my past is capable of painting a picture with richer, deeper brush strokes than any snapshot in my photo album.

These savoury pithiviers baking in my oven this morning remind me of a warming breeze, a glass of Chardonnay and a savoury pie enjoyed in the warm sunshine outside of Notre Dame Cathedral. A good hand pie to eat cold, stuffed with a light mix of ricotta and green, peppery watercress, over a layer of poached chicken.

"On a cold November Sunday morn, an old man sits a while
Looking though old photographs, he can’t help but smile
They’re all there, all the boys, with hair cut short and neat
Uniforms of khaki, strong black boots upon their feet.
They met as strangers but soon became like brothers to the end
Smiling at the camera, there could be no truer friends.
They all took the Queen’s shilling, went off to fight the hun,
Soon learnt the pain of loss once the fighting had begun.
So many never made it home, lost on foreign shores
Many more were injured and would be the same no more.
The old man’s eyes mist with tears as he remembers every face
Each of his fallen brothers and the killing which took place
He proudly dons his beret, his blazer and his tie
For today he will remember the ones who fell and died.
On his chest there is a poppy, a blaze of scarlet on the blue
He steps out into the cold, he has a duty he must do
Once at the cenotaph he stands amongst the ranks
Of those who marched to war and those who manned the tanks,
He bows his head in reverence, as the last post begins to play
And he wonders what will happen at the ending of his days
Will anyone remember? Will anybody care?
About the lads so far from home whose life was ended there?
I wish that I could tell him, that he should fear not
For this soldier and his brothers will NEVER be forgot
We owe a debt of gratitude that we can never pay
And this country WILL remember them, on each Remembrance day."

Maria Cassee

Clockwise - Galette des Rois (Paris Sweets in Seattle); ;Smoke Salmon and Cream Cheese Pithivier (Thyme and Envy);Pithiviers (Cook, Move and Eat Fast); Apple Pithivier with Vanilla Apple Butter (Food Thinkers);Butternut Squash and Gruyere Pithivier - Chez Dave

**Pithivier with Watercress and Ricotta**

1 to 1 1/2 cups leftover chicken, cut into slices
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large bunch of watercress, chopped
250g ricotta cheese
100g breadcrumbs
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
500g puff pastry
1 egg, mixed with a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon water, to glaze

Roll out the pastry and cut into 8 rounds, each roughly the size of a small side plate or smaller. Lay 4 on  a parchment paper lined baking sheet and chill them while you make the filling.

In a small sauté pan over medium heat cook chopped shallots until translucent, approximately 3 - 4 minutes. In the last minute of cooking add minced garlic. Allow to cool.

Mix together the watercress, ricotta, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, seasoning, egg and sautéed shallots and garlic.

Place the chicken meat in the centre of each of 4 pieces of pastry, leaving a border of 3cm, then cover the meat with the watercress mixture. Brush the edge of the pastry with the eggwash, then lay the second piece over the top. Press down the edges, and trim to make a neat oval. Brush the whole surface with eggwash then score the surface with a knife in a decorative pattern.

To bake, preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Place the pithivier in the oven and bake until golden (25-35 minutes). Allow to cool before slicing.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. Splendid Pithiviers! This savory version is mouthwatering.



  2. delicious Val!! and what beautiful ble plates :D

  3. I can tell that you are armchair traveling. I find myself longing for my knee to be healed so I can find my own adventures in Europe. These look beautiful, Val. Very much like a more formal "chicken pot pie", but even better!

  4. Delicious! And a huge thank you to those who fought!


  5. Hace mucho que no hago un pithivier, casi siempre en dulce y con almendras, pero este me parece delicioso y no me lo pierdo!
    Un beso

  6. Val, what time were you up cooking this morning? They look beautiful. I loved the post about travelling and remembrance, beautiful and appropriate especially today. Love your writing. it transports me to where you were.

    1. I was up at 7 Dina, but believe it or not these are very simple to make when you have leftovers.It was fun to attempt all of the designs, but there must be a technique, or perhaps the type of dough to create the pithivier I found on-line.

  7. What a great post honoring all those brave soldiers! We must never forget! I was 20 when I was in Paris, but sadly, not really into food! Thanks for sharing your memories! Great pithiviers and poem!

  8. Beautiful. In every way.

  9. I love this recipe. Sounds so perfect with creamy soup on a a cold autumn night. + the photos are gorgeous!

  10. Your savory pithiviers sound wonderful. I'm just ending a trip and now you have me thinking of France. :)

  11. Absolutely gorgeous! Everything looks better in puff pastry, and these are the most elegant leftovers I've ever seen.

  12. Very nice post on Remembrance Day!!! The pithiviers look very appetizing, I'd like to try both the savoury and the sweet version... :)

  13. This is too funny! I JUST saw this picture on Pinterest (about an hour ago), didn't click on it, and didn't even get as far as noticing its source... and then I just thought about you and here I am, looking at the SAME picture! Was meant to be! And! I was just having a serious conversation with my boyfriend of how much I love Paris and can't wait to go back! Thanks for this!

  14. Gorgeous! These sound so good. The pastry looks flaky and delicious.

  15. You just made me starve:-)

  16. This little savory pastry sounds so good!! Love the filling.

  17. Flakey pastries always remind me of France.

  18. Flakey pastry definitely brings France to mind.

  19. Oh my lands, Val, these are gorgeous!! :-) How absolutely beautiful and wonderful. :-)

  20. What fun memories Val and how fabulous to have gone to Paris as a young woman. Love your poem and tribute to Veterans everywhere. I have to say that your pithiviers are gorgeous and fancy enough to have come directly from a window in a Parisian Patesserie.

  21. I watched Martha Stewart make a Pithiviers recently and copied out the recipe. It sits on my desktop. :)
    You are brilliant to make some mini savory Pithiviers, Val. I love the idea and yes, reminds me so much of France!

  22. Lovely post, Val. You brought back many wonderful memories of Paris and the impromptu picnics we would put together on a moments notice. Those beautiful little pies are such a treat.

  23. I always love coming to your blog.
    One just never knows what you'll create, but it's always something tasty and creative.

  24. I so love savory pastries and you can be certain I will give these a try - the flavor combo sounds so enticing!

  25. That's a wonderful pastry - and I'm glad you took it in the direction of savory.

  26. Wow Val, what a nice dish. I have never heard of it before.

  27. Yum, yum, yum! These look fantastic!!

  28. What a gorgeous pastry and nice post!

  29. Extremely elegant and beautiful dish here! Love that it's savory.

  30. Lovely post and delicious-looking pithiviers. I love the idea of a savoury version and have always fancied trying my hand at these pretty pastries. I feel inspired!

  31. Hi Val,
    I love the pithivier photos - gorgeous! I haven't eaten one in a long time either and the recipe and photos make me thing it's time to make some.


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