Weekend in Budapest. We seem to spend an inordinate, an absolutely senseless amount of time in markets when we travel. But where better to get the feel for a people, an impression of the daily life, the heart and soul of a city, if not a market? A stupendous structure in shades of earth and brick, a magical emporium offering a jumble of foodstuff and drygoods. An impressive three-story wonderland of rigid lines, spaces strictly defined, aisles running up and down, side to side like the streets of New York. Stalls teeming with fruits and vegetables, colorful, vibrant; sleek fish gleaming in silver, pewter, shimmering pale; cheeses heady, fragrant, tempting. And paprika. Lots of paprika. Endless heaps of paprika. I select one porcelain box, a cheeky pepper perched atop the lid, deep red, chilli red on white.
We wander the halls, climb the steps to the next level and then the next, perusing the goods, the local products, fingering linens, ogling the bounty. Husband is shooting photos as I remind him that we have yet to select a souvenir of the trip, other than that cute little paprika pot. He spots a stand filled with hand-stitched tablecloths in oatmeal linen and together we choose one, adding it to the sack with t-shirts for the boys.
And then I spot it. Just what I want. A stand up on the third floor, tucked into the farthest corner, lonely and forlorn, not for the tourists. A jumble of housewares and kitchen supplies, as organized and presented as picture-perfectly as the fruit and the pastries down on the first floor: packs of sponges, bundles of mops and brooms, bathmats, plungers and string and scissors, whatever the homemaker may need. Yet mine is not a necessity but rather a desire, a craving, a selfish impulse. Edging the frame of the tiny shop are gatherings of enamelware in pristine white edged in ordinary blue: mugs and tiny milk pots, saucepans, ladles and jugs. And colanders. Strung up nonchalantly, bundled together as an afterthought. The colander was the perfect half circle cut through with holes within holes, concentric perforations dotting the bottom. A long, sleek handle on one side of the round balanced with a small thick hook on the other, the better to perch within a bowl, and I couldn’t see myself walking away from the market, leaving this city without it. Oh, it wasn’t perfect; upon closer inspection one could see minute, delicate chips revealing a dark underside already flecking the imperfect white. But I so coveted this homely, unsophisticated object, an object of desire. My husband, knowing that the oddest things make me happy, hushed my oooohs and ahhhhs, instructing me to remain silent and unmoved while he negotiated a price, hoping that she would throw in the small milk pot.
A Hungarian white enamel colander. So unlike the battered aluminum colander of my childhood that stills nestles among the odd pot and pan in my mother’s kitchen cabinets.
Colander Sieve Filter Strainer a symphony in metal.
The tickety-tack of freshly shelled peas rolling back and forth, back and forth, cupped in the graceful curve of my stainless steel colander. A mad surge of water jolting the petit pois to life, out of their safe little world and pushing them violently up and back like on a roller coaster, a swing set, a see saw. Scoop down into the peas and shuffle them around, sliding through your fingers; jiggle the colander sharply, violently under the rushing stream and watch the peas dash deliriously around and around, a frenzied swirling Dervish.
Berries, gently oh-so gently so as not to break the tender fruit. Place a scoop, a palmful in the bottom of the sieve, berries cradled in fine mesh. Allow the water to wash over the delicate things softly, a quiet wriggle of the utensil to bathe away the impurities without harming the fragile skin. Blood in garnet, violet and indigo, staining white porcelain, staining fingertips.
My aluminum chinois. Nothing soft about the hard-edged tool. Cone-shaped looking for all the world like a Gaultier-Madonna collaboration or something once worn by the Tin Man. On his head. Bulky, too long, too deep, too sharp to fit smoothly into my cabinet; awkward and unwieldy, I struggle with it each and every time I open the door out it clatters and I try and wedge it back in, shuffling all the baking sheets and food mill, equally troublesome. Yet, how I love my chinois, reminding me of pastry classes, reminding me of everything French, making me feel so efficient, so experienced, so expert. A rain of white rice, elegantly slim basmati, rustic brown, that cool scud of waterfall pushing its way through the opaque, seemingly impenetrable barrier, rushing out the bottom, showering through the point. Nebulous. Indefinite. Time washing away impurities like sinful thoughts. Perching the chinois within the curve of a bowl, precarious. Digging out the last of the grains from deep inside the tip, the squelch of the liquid, the scratch of fingernails on metal. Enamored.
A fresh cream cheese dessert from my corner of France, there are many versions of the traditional Crémet. There is even a debate – in my own mind – of whether this is actually a Crémet Nantais or a Crémet d’Anjou from the neighboring region, around the city of Angers. Like many traditional recipes, I begin with fromage blanc faisselle, a chunky type of fresh white cheese made from curdled milk, much the consistency of wet cottage cheese. One could replace this with home-curdled milk, cottage cheese, quark or ricotta. I have also seen the proportions of fromage blanc to heavy whipping cream vary, from equal quantities to two-to-one. As this is a no-bake dessert, feel free to experiment. And sweeten to taste. Like a Coeur à la Crème, a Crémet may have a very slight or mild tang or hint of cheese flavor depending upon the cheese or milk product used. Left to drain overnight to thicken, the Crémet becomes milder and sweeter and is perfect served with fresh berries or berry coulis.
JAMIE’S CRÉMET NANTAIS
This is a very delicate, fragile dessert that should be manipulated as little as possible. As in anything made light from whipping, be very careful when unmolding, spooning from sieve into serving bowl or serving. Do not overfold the ingredients when preparing.
Approximately 300 g (10 ½ oz) fromage blanc faisselle (a chunky curdled milk product) or cottage cheese, ricotta or quark *
200 - 250 ml (generous ½ cup – 1 cup) fresh cold heavy or whipping cream
2 large egg whites
85 g (3 oz) powdered/confectioner's/icing sugar or to taste
Fresh berries to serve
*this is a curdled white fresh cheese similar to a wet cottage cheese.
Spoon the fromage blanc into a sieve and placed over a bowl in the refrigerator to drain the time of a meal or a few hours.
Once drained, beat the fromage blanc in a large bowl with all of the sugar less 1 - 2 tablespoons with a hand mixer on low speed to smooth.
In a separate bowl, beat the cold heavy cream to Chantilly - very thick whipped cream. Fold the whipped cream delicately into the fromage blanc.
In a separate, very clean bowl using very clean beaters, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt on high speed until frothy; continue beating, gradually adding in the remaining tablespoon or two of icing sugar. Beat until the whites are stiff. Fold delicately into the cheese/cream mixture until the mixture is smooth and thick.
Place the Crémet in a fine mesh strainer or sieve (or tightly wrapped in mousseline placed in the strainer or colander), place the sieve or colander over a bowl and place in the refrigerator to drain overnight. Alternately, the Crémet can be divided into individual molds with holes in the bottom like a Coeur à la crème.
The following day, unmold the Crémet onto plates or place the drained Crémet in a serving bowl. Rinse the berries, pat dry. Spoon servings of the Crémet into individual dessert plates or bowls and serve topped with berries. Serves 4 to 6.