How long is it since you have had cauliflower with white sauce? Not since a visit to your Grandparents for Xmas in 1980? Well, I hope to change that with this baked dish – Cauliflower Gratin with Bechamel Sauce with Blue Cheese and White Pepper. It is topped with breadcrumbs which gives it a crunchy, delicious texture to contrast the softness of the cauliflower.
Celeriac undoubtedly makes one of the most superb Winter soups. In parts of France, such as the Savoie where cheese plays an important part in the cuisine, the soup is frequently topped with croûtes of toasted cheese.
Celeriac is that ugly looking bulb, hard to peel because of the lumps and bumps, but makes the most smooth soups.
Croûtes are pieces or slices of bread which have been grilled with cheese on top. These are floated on top of the soup. These are optional, of course, but delicious. Make them thick or thin, use Gruyere, or Parmesan or whatever cheese you have at hand.
I do love those dishes you can do in under 10 mins, or if you are throwing them in the oven and they don’t take any effort, under 20 mins. We are all busy women, right? Doing a hundred things, with responsibilities for a hundred more. Between running my business, doing my “giving back” community volunteering work, running a house and large garden, cooking my heart out, grabbing coffees with friends – well, life is always full. Days are long, tummies get hungry (especially mine) and dinner is demanded on the table, like, NOW.
Right now, life is busier than it has been, and so the focus is on more of the dishes that are wonderful-without-effort. For example, I’ve been known to put on a pot of pasta (to eat with olive oil, black pepper and pecorino), throw these asparagus in the oven, cook some Quick Zucchini and Garlic, and serve all with slices of crusty bread, to great family applause. All done in 15 mins if you turn the oven on when you come through the door, and before while you open some great wine to sip while cooking and chatting. Then for dessert – fruit and soft cheeses. Done.
You have to have these types of dishes. Some days you want to spend 3 hours on a meal. On other days you want a decent meal between the time you get in from work, and the time you rush out to meet the girls from the book club.
In 1990, Le Crueset published a book called French Country Kitchen, and it is still one of the best recipe books I have for simple but authentic French recipes. I spent quite some time working in France, so this is a go-to book when I am feeling nostalgic about French people, food, cheese, wine, and their habit of sitting observing the day. Sadly, most of the book is non-veg, but the Soups, Salads, Vegetable and Hor d’Oeuvres chapters provide just enough vegetarian recipes to justify its place in the cookbook bookshelves.
It is Spring time right now, with all of it’s changeable weather, and we have had storms for the past week. I suddenly had a yearning for soup. This easy soup from the Le Crueset book is perfect. Beans are soaked, simmered with leeks and herbs, and then pureed with cream.
The recipe specifies flageolet beans – when I began cooking with these beans in the 1980’s they were available locally but a recent hunt for them failed to locate any. They can be purchased online, dried or canned, but are rather expensive here. It seems that they are grown in Australia and are very popular (!!) but that might be an exaggeration. So I substitute any white bean that I currently have in the pantry.
This soup, so they say, is reminiscent of the creations of the 18th century French grande cuisine. Asparagus was introduced by the Italians during the Renaissance, and was part of a change in eating habits that saw vegetables introduced into grande cuisine. Previously they had been considered the food of peasants.
This soup is thick, smooth and delicate as well as utterly delicious. It is simple to make with easily accessible ingredients. It is the perfect soup for year-round enjoyment, as it can be served cold in Summer and hot in Winter. We’ve been making this soup since the early 2000’s.
The soup can also be made quickly and easily in any high speed blender that also heats foods as it blends. I have given the instructions for making it this way as well as the usual, stove-top method. In the blender it takes around 15 mins, including cooking the asparagus. When you are using the high speed blender (mine is a Vitamix), then there are no worries about stringy stalks on the asparagus – all is blended into a smooth, perfect soup.
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The carrot spread through Europe in the 14th Century, coming from Spain and Sicily via Italy. In very old recipe books it is treated only as one of the roots, and it wasn’t until the 18th Century that it was given a place of its own in French cuisine. A popular peasant food, the carrot was almost always present in rural dishes, like this one which turns a humble vegetable into an exquisite dish. Thankfully it is more widely accepted now, and this dish is glorious. You will love it.
The carrots are cooked slowly over low heat with oodles of garlic until crispy on the outside and softly melting in the middle.
As Winter marches on, we want dishes that we can cook in the oven, to add another source of heat to warm the kitchen. Baked dishes are also usually hearty, so they warm and nourish the body in a way that we only seek in Winter. And therefore, gratin dishes are so perfect, ticking every box. We are bringing this one back, we have posted it before. But it is such a Mid Winter Winner that we wanted to highlight it for you again.
This dish layers potatoes with cheese, covers them with milk and cream, and bakes them until bubbling and golden. Delicious! It is more potato luxury from France, where potatoes, butter and cream have a natural affinity. From memory, my daughter’s French teacher gave me this recipe, years ago.
This recipe is one of our vegetarian recipes from our first blog that was in existence from 1995 – 2006; you can find them in our Retro Recipes series.
Today we have one of Elizabeth David’s Divine Dishes, a Retro Recipe – one we have been making for decades. It is a Soup for late Summer and Early Autumn through to Winter (tip – freeze tomatoes in Autumn so that you can make this soup in Winter).
This is so simple, cheap but flavoursome, and quite beautiful. Elizabeth David claims that you can taste the butter, the cream and each vegetable. You can!
This recipe is one of the vegetarian recipes from our first blog which was in existence from 1995 – 2006. You can explore more of the Retro Recipes series, our vegetarian recipes from that first blog.
Many parts of the world have pancakes, fritters, or thicker, baked “pan” cakes that are made from chickpea flour and water. In these variations, an infinite array of flavourings are added to the base – spices and herbs; thinly sliced vegetables such as onion, tomatoes, and zucchini, beans sprouts; coriander leaves to give a fresh crisp punch; basil or parsley oil is a terrific addition.
The various versions of the chickpea pancake – farinata in Italy, socca in France, pudla or cheela in India – are often found in the streets of cities and at roadside stalls in the rural areas. They are served on parchment paper or piece of banana leaf, and devoured hot on the spot.
The batter can be made several days before using, so plan ahead and use spare moments to mix the batter, ready for a quick snack or a mezze dish. Mix up a double amount, and make pancakes one day, and baked chickpea pizza a day or two later. Divine.
Elizabeth David’s books should be compulsory reading for every person who enjoys cooking. They are reminders that food can be simple, and yet stunningly delicious. It is so important in today’s world of Ottolenghi-like complex recipes. Of course I love Ottolenghi dishes, but how good it is to be able to put a dish together quickly and simply, rather than spending an hour or so on just one dish.
This is from Liz’s book An Omelette and a Glass of Wine and it is a simple apple dessert. Cooked in a syrup, it is a rare use of sugar on this blog. Our desserts are rare. But at least once per year, we have to cook some apples.