Philippa Vine makes the French connection

Philippa Vine takes inspiration from across the Channel for food that will comfort in the cold.

At the time of writing we’re ankle deep in snow and slush and it makes you realise how lucky we are in having such luxuries as a domestic oven.Yes, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time, particularly in France and America, when if you needed to roast a large dish then you had to carry it to the local bakery and use the oven once the bread had been baked – more ‘meals in wellies’ than ‘meals on wheels’.’A la boulangere’ is the term used to describe oven-baked dishes, usually lamb but sometimes cod and garnished with potatoes (now I know why I did French O-Level all those years ago). While swapping the traditional choice of lamb for chicken, I have extended the French connection by using Dauphinoise potatoes. The beauty of this dish is that it makes doing roast chicken for lunch or supper very simple as it needs no carving and requires no gravy as the potatoes are very moist.

A soup guaranteed to warm you up in this weather is this curried cauliflower and apple concoction. The combination works really well, with the sweetness of the apple balancing the slight bitterness of the cauliflower. The spice gives it a further dimension, while the croutons and florets add some texture.

It is in the depths of winter that you look forward to the first fruit of the year.Now I know that botanically rhubarb is a vegetabl,e but we cooks use it as a fruit. Depending on your childhood experiences, the combination of rhubarb and custard is as irresistible to some as it is off-putting to others, but I’m serving the rhubarb with a set custard which makes the presentation prettier along with some flaked almonds to give it some crunch. It should appeal to even the most hardened of rhubarb dissenters.

Curried Cauliflower and Apple Soup

Serves 6.

  • 700g (1 ½ lb) cauliflower florets
  • 1 medium Bramley apple
  • 200g (7oz) peeled potato
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 725ml (1 ¼ pint) water
  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • Salt and sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
  • 50ml (2 fl oz) double cream
  • Croutons

Peel, quarter and core the apple and cut up into cubes together with the potato. Keep back two of the florets and divide them into smaller florets. Melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to take all the ingredients and sweat the apple, potato and garlic in the butter. Add the curry powder so it coats everything and continue cooking for a minute or two. Put in the cauliflower and the water. Season with the salt and add a pinch of sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer until the cauliflower is soft. Blanche the mini florets in boiling water and drain. Liquidise the soup, return it to the pan with the cream and heat through. Fry the mini florets in a little butter until lightly golden. Serve in deep bowls and scatter the top with the florets and croutons.


Chicken Dauphinoise

Serves 4. You will need a casserole or shallow baking dish.

  • 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 kg (2lb 4oz) waxy potatoes, such as Desiree
  • 275ml (1/2 pint) single cream
  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F, Gas mark 4). Peel and slice the potatoes very thinly and place them in a bowl with the cream and season with salt and pepper. Crush the garlic and mix this in well. Transfer the potatoes into the dish and press them down until they are level. Melt the butter and brush it over the top of the potatoes. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and place the chicken pieces on top of the potatoes skin side up. Brush the chicken skin with more melted butter and return to the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.


Rhubarb and Custard

Serves 6. You will need 6 x dariole moulds

  • 8 sticks of young rhubarb
  • Caster sugar
  • 50g (2oz) flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar

For the Custard:

  • 275ml (1/2 pint) full cream milk
  • 200ml (7 fl oz) single cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 50g (2oz) caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 150C (300F, Gas mark 2). For the custard place the milk and cream in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Beat the eggs with the caster sugar in a separate bowl. When the milk and cream is boiling pour it onto the eggs continuing to beat. Strain the mixture and pour it into the 6 dariole moulds. Stand the moulds into a deep pan and pour boiling water around them. Cover with a sheet of tin foil and cook in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the custards are just set. Remove from the oven, allow to cool them refrigerate overnight. Increase the oven to 180C (350F, Gas mark 4). Cut the rhubarb into 2 inch lengths discarding any coarse ends. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and place the pieces of rhubarb onto it so they don’t touch. Sprinkle with caster sugar and bake in the oven until the rhubarb is soft. Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet and dust them with icing sugar. Place under a hot grill turning them occasionally until nicely toasted. (Don’t take your eyes off them as they always burn when they know you’re not looking).

To serve, carefully run a knife around the custard and turn out onto a serving plate. Arrange the rhubarb around the custard and scatter with the toasted almonds.

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