French Country Kitchen, by Geraldene Holt: braised chicory with mushrooms

French Country Kitchen is very similar in approach to Jenny Baker’s Simple French Cuisine. I was given Jenny Baker’s book around the time we bought our holiday house in the Languedoc, so I kept it here to provide inspiration. We had a very rudimentary kitchen then, so it was useful having a book of delicious recipes using local ingredients and requiring no fancy equipment. I tend not to pick it up much now; it may soon make an appearance in this neglected cookbook series!

Like Jenny Baker, Geraldene Holt is a British woman who came to southern France, fell in love with it, and being a keen cook, collected traditional recipes from friends and neighbours. I picked up a second-hand copy of French Country Kitchen recently; it’s out of print, so it can be bought for pennies on Amazon. I love the fact that the Internet has made it so easy to find out-of-print books.

This book is organised by ingredients — there’s a chapter on mushrooms for example, one on olives, one on chestnuts, almonds, and walnuts, more conventional ones on poultry and beef, and a whole chapter on the pig, covering every part of it of course., including making brawn and your own sausages.

I’m not a great meat-eater, so I decided to try the recipe for endive belge étuvée aux champignons, or braised chicory with mushrooms. Chicory is something I only discovered when I came to France, and I love its bitter flavour. The result was delicious and makes a change from our usual ways of cooking chicory (wrapped in ham and covered in cheese sauce, or braised with chicken). If you’re vegetarian you could leave the bacon out, although it does add an essential saltiness and a touch of fat to cut the bitterness of the chicory. I might add a splash of soy sauce if I left out the bacon.

The recipe specifies cultivated mushrooms, and that’s what I used. But I reckon it would be even better with wild ones — cèpes or chanterelles. If you’re making a vegetarian version I would recommend the tastiest mushrooms you can find. As fresh tomatoes are banned in our house from October to May, I used a spoonful of sun-dried tomato paste instead of the tomato, which turned out to be an excellent idea.

I like the homely approach of this book, and like the Jenny Baker book it is an excellent choice to take on holiday to France with you, if you like cooking and buying produce at French markets.

2 heads of chicory
30 g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
50 g lardons (optional)
about 100 g mushrooms
1 heaped tsp sun-dried tomato paste, or 1 fresh tomato, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 glass white wine or Noilly Prat (I used the latter)
salt and pepper
a little crème fraîche or yoghurt (optional)

Trim the base of the chicory and cut each head in half lengthways. Melt the oil and butter in a heavy casserole, and lightly brown the chicory on both sides. Remove to a plate.

Add the lardons to the casserole and fry for a couple of minutes. Then stir in the sliced mushrooms and chopped tomato if using and cook for another 5 minutes to soften the mushrooms. Add the tomato paste and all the other ingredients except the cream. Return the chicory to the pan, cover tightly and either bake in a moderate oven (180C) for 20-25 minutes until the chicory is tender, or cook on the hob over a very low heat.

Serve with a spoonful of crème fraîche or yoghurt on each portion. The result, though delicious, is a bit grey, and this improves the appearance!

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