Salade Savoyarde

Poor neglected blog! Summer is a busy season; I just have time to post a recipe for this lovely salad from Savoie. It makes an excellent fuss-free starter when you are having a substantial main course; or you could eat it as a light lunch. Non-vegetarians can add strips of prosciutto or serrano ham, or crisply fried bacon bits. You can prepare all the ingredients in advance, adding the dressing and croutons at the last minute. This amount will serve about four people.
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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.
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L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, Fontjoncouse: restaurant review

La Montagne d'Alaric

Living in the back of beyond in rural France means that you have a Michelin 3-star restaurant within 30 minutes’ drive. But not along broad, straight roads. Nope, get ready to thread your way along narrow, winding roads through classic Corbières scenery: gorges with streaks of pale rock interspersed with the deep green of holm oak, Aleppo pines and broom. Lower down, the gnarled fingers of pruned vines grasp at empty air. Be ready to pull over at the narrow bridges if you see something coming the other way. As you get nearer the restaurant, the reassuring signs are more numerous: yes, it really is up this hill, round this bend, through this gorge. You imagine the Japanese tourists who have vowed to point-score every 3-star restaurant in France thinking, “But it can’t be up here!” Later I laughed at a Trip Advisor review claiming that you need to be a rally driver to get there. No, these are normal back-country roads that locals drive along every day to get to work.


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You arrive in the village and find the gates, decorated with giant metal fish skeletons and tongue-in-cheek sardine-can lids rolled back around their keys. Hmm, somehow the style of this metalwork looks familiar, and inside we recognise the work of Robert Cros, a sculptor from a neighbouring village: giant bent nails, catapults, light-switches with correspondingly giant price tags. The restaurant has got bigger since we were last there 10 years ago, gobbling up the eponymous well that used to stand in the courtyard, now under glass in the bar area. Another TripAdvisor laugh: a Parisian, after slagging off the food, appears to claim that “quelconque” villages in the Aude populated only by peasants and with inadequate car parks shouldn’t be allowed to have smart restaurants; they should be in a place that is more “historique et exceptionnel”. Paris, presumably.
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30-minute roast lamb (sort of)

gigot before cooking

This is a recipe I received from Jim Fisher of Cook in France. We didn’t actually make it when I was there, but he mentioned it and I was intrigued, as I knew that by the time I got home our friend Magali would have delivered half of one of her lambs, raised on the mountainside only a few hundred metres away from where we live.

Normally, we’d have gone out for a wild asparagus omelette on Easter Monday, to which all the village is invited, but due to circumstances beyond our control, it had to be cancelled. So it seemed like a good opportunity: we invited eight friends and got cooking.

The reason I say it’s “sort of” 30 minutes is because it only spends half an hour in the oven, but you need to put it in 2 hours before the meal. Our guests ended up being late and then we spent a long time drinking aperos, as you do in the Midi, so it ended up getting to the table about an hour later than our calculations had allowed for. Not a problem — it was delicious! This is an excellent way of roasting a leg of lamb, and I think I’ll always do it this way from now on. Apart from the flavour and the energy savings, the other big advantage of this method is that the lamb comes out of the oven very early, liberating it for other things (a gratin dauphinois and some roasted vegetables in our case). And as our experience demonstrated, it is very tolerant about timing.
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A classic French tarte aux pommes

tarte aux pommes

I can still remember the first piece of French pâtisserie I ate, aged 18, on a hot summer day in Brittany. We came out of the bakery with our paper-wrapped slices and sat on a wall in the sunshine to eat them: my very first taste of tarte aux pommes. The pastry was flaky and buttery, the creamy layer of crème pâtissière melted into the thinly sliced apples, slightly burnt at the edges and brushed with shiny apricot glaze that stuck to our fingers. It was unlike anything I’d ever tasted, and I knew I wanted to stay in France forever, so I could eat like this every day.

I don’t think I’ve ever found quite that tart in a pâtisserie since; most of them lack the custard layer and just have plain sliced apples, or a layer of tart apple purée. Delicious all the same, but when I encountered Jane Grigson’s apple tarts from Evreux in Good Things in about 1980, I gave a cry of recognition and set about perfecting them. It took a while, but eventually, after several tweaks to the recipe, my own creations were as wonderful as I remembered that first slice being.

And then I stopped making them, turning to slutty Tarte Tatin as my go-to apple tart recipe. Whatever anyone says about the complexity of Tarte Tatin, it is frankly a doddle to make. All you need for complete success is to burn the apples, butter, and sugar, and how difficult is that? The worst of cooks can do it. It’s always baffled me that people try to make it look so complicated.

This tart is a lot more fiddly and time-consuming, but if you didn’t like spending time in the kitchen, you wouldn’t be here, would you? In any case, you can make the pastry and crème pâtissière in advance and put them in the fridge till needed. Blind-bake the pastry and assemble the tart just before the meal, put it in the oven, and serve it either freshly baked, or lukewarm.

I think this looks loveliest if you bake small individual tarts, but you can make a single large one instead, using an 18-20 cm loose-based tin.
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Celeriac soup with bouillabaisse seasonings and rouille toasts

I have to concede that this can’t be called bouillabaisse because it has no fish in it. But the wonderful richness of flavour rivals a real bouillabaisse, and it looks gorgeous too. Nadine Abensur is a genius to think of replacing the fish with celeriac, whose sweetness complements the spiciness of the soup perfectly (I think parsnip could be another option here). Although it’s “just” a soup, it makes a light main course; this quantity will serve 3 or 4. Sorry, no photo because the ones I took were so awful. But it’s a lovely brick-red colour, just like the real thing — and a lot cheaper 🙂

The ingredients list looks long and daunting. But almost all of them are storecupboard ingredients or basics you are likely to have on hand anyway. And it’s an excellent idea to make it in advance. I cooked it completely several hours beforehand, then left it to sit and mature before liquidising part of it and reheating. The rouille, a spicy form of mayonnaise, takes minutes if you have a stick blender.

This recipe is from Nadine Abensur’s excellent Cranks Bible. If you remember the ghastly wholemeal stodge Crank’s used to serve in the 1970s, it’s nothing like that. As this recipe demonstrates, the recipes are imaginative and heavily influenced by Abensur’s French and North African background. If you like Ottolenghi’s Plenty, you’ll like this, and I highly recommend it if you are vegetarian, cook for vegetarians, or just fancy meatless meals every now and then. You’ll probably have to search for a second-hand copy, but it’s worth seeking out.
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Tartare de tomates

OK, this is just tomato salad presented in a trendy form. But draining and marinating the tomatoes really concentrates the flavour. Assuming your tomatoes have flavour in the first place. If all you’ve got are Dutch hothouse tomatoes, don’t bother.

This is good served with mild fresh goat or sheep cheese. But I think it would go well with fish too. Or thinly sliced raw vegetables (fennel, baby artichokes…). Maybe even roasted garlic. Note that you need to start preparing it at least 8 hours before you want to eat it.

I had a photo, but I deleted it! Oh well.
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Gâteau aux abricots et au miel

apricot yogurt cake

This is that old French favourite, yoghurt cake. Good for cooking with children or Americans because no scales are required — you just use the yoghurt pot to measure your ingredients. Of course yoghurt pots may vary slightly in size, but then so do eggs, and anyway it’s all about ratios. For this cake it’s not critical. I found the mixture a bit sloppy, so I added a couple of extra tablespoons of flour. You might need to cook it for more or less time too, depending on how wet your mixture is.

You can bake the apricots into it — or if, as I did, you happen to have a whole trayful of baked apricots in the fridge, add them before pouring the honey over. Or use any other fruit you fancy. Cherry compote for example.
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Hollandaise sauce

This?

Maille hollandaise
Or this?

hollandaise sauce

I know many people buy hollandaise in jars and OK, it’s acceptable. But it’s not true hollandaise. The real thing is easy and quick to make, and is infinitely superior. I’ve seen recipes that faff about with blenders or even food processors, but this is quite unnecessary A couple of small, heavy pans and a whisk are all you need.

A good hollandaise is a perfect blend between the smoothness of butter, the sharpness of lemon, and the velvety consistency of egg yolks. Wonderful with vegetables such as asparagus or artichokes, and with fish. Or, of course, eggs benedict.
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Tarte aux myrtilles, or bilberry tart

This is a patisserie staple in France. I love the look of these tarts, so dark purple they are almost black, glistening with juice, with just a sprinkle of icing sugar. They taste pretty good too 🙂 I had a big bag of frozen bilberries in the freezer and 6 guests coming, so the conclusion was obvious. I googled, and found Clotilde’s recipe, so I started with that, but tinkered a bit to suit my own tastes. Frozen bilberries have lots of juice, which risks making the pastry soggy and purple even if you blind-bake it. So I added a layer of almonds, sugar and flour to soak up the juice. This worked really well; the tart was easy to slice and serve, and tasted gorgeous with a blob of crème fraîche on the side. Within minutes, there was none left, that’s why there’s no photo. You can take my word for it that it looked just like Clotilde’s.
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