Basil oil

This is a very simple sauce, condiment if you will, that I use mostly on Trilogies but which also goes very well with carpaccio of beef, tomatoes on their own or more or less any place where you find a need for something a bit vinaigrette-y.

And best of all it’s really simple to make.

Buy a basil plant or, if you’re a gardening whizz, grow one. Go on, I’ll wait. Tum te tum. Ok.

Now, pull of the leaves. You can leave the tiny stalks attached to the leaves but nothing more.

When you have a container full of leaves, add about 4 cms of olive oil and a small pinch of salt, then whizz it up with your cheap stick mixer. Add more olive oil as you go. Keep mixing until your mixer feels to hot, then taste the oil. You can add a fair amount of oil – I reckon one plant’s good for about 250-400 ml of oil.

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You can use it as it is, or add lemon juice or another acid to really transform it into a vinaigrette. Add parmesan too and it goes well on crunchy salad leaves or beef carpaccio.

It’ll keep a bit in the fridge but be careful, you’re smooshing all sorts of bugs into the basil which could harm you.

 

Pancakes again

Well, crêpes really I suppose. I think of ‘pancakes’ as being the thick, stodgy affairs my mother cooked on Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras) when I was a kid, or those things served in American diners. Which are fine and which I love with maple syrup and butter and bacon, but crêpes are finer, more delicate.

At catering school we used to compete to see who could make the most from a one-litre batter (that is, a batter made with one litre of milk, not one litre of batter itself). I managed 28 and a half; David, my arch-rival at school, managed 32 but only by cheating – some of his crêpes were undersized and full of holes. So I won.

The recipe is pretty simple: 1 litre of milk, 450g flour, a pinch of salt, 50g of sugar, 6 whole medium eggs and 50g of melted butter.

If you do this properly and your catering school teacher is standing over you, you cream together the sugar and eggs and gradually stir in the flour and salt, and then the milk and butter; if he’s not watching you dump everything in the mixing bowl at once and whisk it all together. I then leave it for half an hour and give it another going over with the electric whisk – until all the lumps are gone.

Next, cooking your crêpes. Many will know the maxim that “the first one always sticks” and has to be thrown away; this is either because your pan isn’t hot enough, or because you didn’t add a little oil to the pan, or both. Basically, get your pan hot – leave it to warm for at least five minutes – and then just before adding the batter wipe it over with a paper towel dipped in your oil/butter/fat of choice. I use a mix of butter and sunflower oil and never have any sticking. I have a 5cl ladle which is the exact size necessary for one crêpe, but don’t be afraid to add in a bit too much batter and swirl it around the pan before tipping out the excess – just don’t make them too thick or they’ll taste claggy.

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And then it’s just a question of churning them out. Keep two pans going, more if you have them, and don’t let your attention wander. Also, don’t have your stove too hot – on my electric hob the rings are at 7 on a scale of 1 – 9, which means the crêpes get about two minutes each side.

Stack them up and serve them with, well, whatever you like; Nutella’s a big favourite here as is a sugar/lemon mix; sometimes they go for butter and maple syrup, too.

And chantilly cream, obviously.

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This is a half-successful attempt at chantilly cream – it was hot (over 30°C today) and I hadn’t chilled the cream, bowl or whisk as I’d normally do as a matter of course. The problem when it’s hot is that the cream separates quickly into a solid and milky liquid, but it still tastes good albeit a little heavy.

Bon appetit!

Quick hedgerow tart

We (OK, OK, my wife) picked a sack of blackberries when we went for a walk along the old railway line the other day, and she’s been hassling me to do something with them ever since.

Like, she said, make a tart. With crème patissiere. And pâte sablé.

Well, me and pastry – as they say in French – that makes two; I can’t, won’t make it. I buy it. And pre-made chilled pastry here is nicer than anything I can make myself, so good that people believe me when I say I made it myself. So I bought a 30cm round of ready-made pastry and blind-baked it, 25 minutes at 180°C turning it two or three times to ensure even cooking. Don’t forget to repeatedly stab the base with a fork to stop it rising. And don’t forget to put in your baking beans like I did – this forgetfulness leads to the sides sagging down.

While this is cooking, make the crème patissière: for a tart this size, use 500ml of milk, 100g of sugar, 5 egg yolks, 70g plain flour, a vanilla pod and a pinch of salt.

Put the milk on to heat with the split/scraped vanilla pod (put the whole pod into the milk to infuse – lots of the vanilla flavour comes from the pod itself rather than the seeds). Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks to the ribbon stage (lift up your whisk and trail the dribbles across the surface of the mix – it should stay in place looking a bit like a ribbon for a second or two). Then whisk in the flour thoroughly.

When the milk boils, pour a little into your flour/sugar/egg mix to make it liquid, then add the rest stirring all the time. When it’s thoroughly mixed, pour it back into the saucepan and gently bring it to the boil. Stirring ALL the time, or it will go lumpy. Bring it back to the boil and simmer it for a couple of minutes to thoroughly cook the flour, then decant it into a clean bowl, whisking all the time to avoid those lumps.

When it’s cooled a little, cover the surface with a layer of clingfilm (may be called Saran wrap in your part of the world) and refrigerate it. The plastic film stops a skin forming on top. At catering school we learned to dab a little butter onto the surface to stop the skin forming; my restaurant chef, after looking at me like I was a Martian when I suggested doing this, showed me the clingfilm method.

When everything has cooled down, check your crème for lumps. Whether there are any or not I like to whisk my crème patissière with an electric whisk at this point to make it easier to handle – a couple of minutes with the electric mixer and it’ll pour easily into your pastry case, allowing you to smooth the surface nice and flat.

Then put the blackberries on top. In this example I’ve used the artisanal ‘higgledy-piggledy’ method, i.e. I just poured them on top, roughly smoothed them into a more or less even layer and then tucked in. If you have time and patience you can make them look more artistic, like this one I made earlier (three years earlier, in fact, that’s how often the mood takes me to take the time to do it properly).

Strawberry tart

One last note: for various reasons (OK, I’m lazy and it was the first packet that came to hand) I used brown, less-refined sugar to make this crème patissière and it turned out very well, a subtly caramelised taste which is very pleasant.

Brioche buns

So when I was younger – OK, over 40 years ago – I went to an English Public School. The thing you have to know straight away about English Public Schools is that they’re not Public, they’re Private. Not just anyone can go there, OH no. You have to pass an exam – commonly called the Common Entrance Exam – and pay for the privilege. Pay handsomely, in fact.

At the time, since my parents were poor and I was outstandingly clever, I got a County Scholarship to go to the school, and a great time I had there too.

This is the school, or at least the bit of it that goes back the furthest – all the way to 1616, in fact, when it was founded by William Jones and the Haberdashers’ Guild in London, making it 400 years old this year.085214-111356-800

Anyway, one of the features of the school of my youth was the school Tuck Shop, a small room in the cloisters where we could queue up at 10.45 every morning to buy sticky currant buns. And very delicious they were too.

I’ve had these buns in the back of my mind for the past 40 years, and have now succeeded in reproducing them pretty well, using a recipe for French brioche dough.

Well, recipe; I exaggerate – I follow the instructions on the packet, mix it up in my bread machine (my old hands are too stiff to pound dough, what with the carpal tunnel problems and my innate laziness), form the dough into buns and pop them into the oven.

Simples.

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Brioche dough mixing in the bread machine, under careful surveillance.

So I buy ‘Farine T45 de force’, strong gluten-rich flour specially made for brioches with added gluten and powdered egg yolk; there’s a regular T45 for doing other patisserie which works, but this works even better. You don’t have to read the small print or delve into details – you just buy the one marked ‘Brioche’ on the front. It’s the powdered egg yolk plus the egg you add later that makes it yellow.

The recipe is quite simple: 175ml cold milk, 40g sugar, 8g salt, 75g cold diced butter, a whole medium egg (50g) and 350g of the special flour plus a sachet of dried active yeast (you can get a special brioche yeast here, regular works fine too).

I add these ingredients, in this order, to the bread machine and set it going on its 90 minute mixing and raising program (the small curious child above is optional). After about 20 minutes I add the raisins I love (and which the small child above hates) and they get mixed in appropriately. Sometimes I do have a tendency to add a few too many and it looks, as my good friend Caroline’s granny always said, as if they’ve been ‘Thrown in from the top of the stairs’.

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The ‘farine de blé’ is just to dust the baking sheet, not for making the brioches.

After an hour and a half the dough has risen; I take it out and divide it into eight (roughly) equal balls and leave them to rise again for half an hour while the oven warms up to 180°C.

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They rise quite nicely, and when they’re ready to go into the oven I give them a quick egg wash (roughly beat one egg in a bowl or mug, paint it on with your pastry brush).

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That’s the pastry brush in the background – yes, it is a green cockatoo whose ‘crest’ is the bristles of the pastry brush. And?

After 12 minutes in the oven I turn the baking tray around 180° and give them another five minutes, to ensure even cooking. Then when they come out and have cooled I give them a sugar syrup coating to make them really shine, nice and glossy.

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Miam. Serve with some nice salted butter and good strawberry jam. And, if you can get it, clotted cream.

 

Non-Proustian madeleines

I have made thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of these madeleines. I can make them in my sleep. I may even have made them in my sleep, in fact. I can make them in an hour, enough for a giant birthday party with enough left over for breakfast.

In fact, I’ve made so many of these and done it so often that I never even thought of putting the recipe up here. I might as well explain how to make a cup of tea.*

But. I got into a discussion over on eGullet about making them. Someone posted a question about where to find new madeleine pans, and I posed a question asking why they didn’t even consider the possibility of using silicone molds? I’ve never, ever made them with metal molds. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen metal molds, and if I had I’d have thought them something from the ancient past, a museum piece.

Rusty, in fact. I think of the one or two cake molds I have in metal as rusty antiques which I should throw away. Silicone molds are practical, easy, cheap, durable. Superior.

Anyway.

So Jean-Rémi Joly taught me this recipe that winter when it was just me in the plonge and him cooking to do all the meals from November to Easter. I’d wash up, prep everything, do the amuse-bouches and the patisserie. Madeleines were a nice touch with our cafés gourmets and we made them by the hundred every day.

You start with 500 grammes of sugar and 400 grammes of butter, and cream them together. Use your food mixer, please, unless you want to end up with carpal tunnels swollen to the size of the Blackwall Tunnel like mine.

Then add, one by one, nine medium eggs (50 grammes each). Beat each one in gently until it’s fully incorporated before adding the next.

Then sieve in 400 grammes of flour (type 45 patisserie flour, if that helps); you may call it ‘plain flour’, or something else. It’s the kind with the most gluten in it. Fold it into the mixture along with a hefty pinch of salt (say, 8 grammes) and bicarbonate of soda (7 grammes).

Finish with a slug of rum and the grated zest of a lemon.

Then put a small teaspoonful of the mixture into your greased silicone or metal moulds (I grease them with melted unsalted butter) and pop them into a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 12 minutes. Then turn them around 180 degrees and leave for another 3-5 minutes until they’re browned nicely.

If you’re the sort of person who likes your madeleines to have a little ‘hump’ on the top, bump up the temperature 10 or even 20 degrees, but check on them after 10 minutes so they don’t burn.

The baby madeleines you may be able to make out in these pictures are from, natch, baby madeleine molds. Cute, eh? And so tiny they contain no calories at all.IMG_4452

Remove them from the molds after allowing them to cool for 5 minutes – otherwise they’ll stick to the inside – and cool on a wire rack for as long as you can resist eating them. The advantage of silicone molds is that they’re very easy to pop out, pushing them from the other side to get them onto your wire rack.

Miam, as they say in Proustian.IMG_4464

 

Chapter 27: Week 25: A little cheffy common sense

French bureaucracy is complicated for a number of reasons, not least the fact that it’s charged with keeping French bureaucracy going. In the UK, 11% of the workforce works for the government in one capacity or another – policemen, nurses, bureaucrats, whatever. In France, the percentage is 24%. Twenty-four percent! A quarter of the workforce which does nothing productive at all, just spends its days providing fodder for the nation’s stand-up comedians and moaners. Blimey.
So today at school we spend an hour learning about the French judicial system which, according to the bureaucrats who organise the French educational system, I need to know about before I’m safe to unleash on the omelette-and-chips buying French public.
Like much of the civilised world, French government is divided into Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches (are you asleep yet? Try reading this in a hot, stuffy, sunlit classroom after getting up at 6 am, working in a hot kitchen all morning and then stuffing yourself with stodge at lunchtime) and the separations thereof  “As detailed in the 5th French Constitution of 1958, the fundamental text of the Republic, of the state of law and democracy,” I noted before nodding off. And then I woke up and drew a huge diagram of the French judicial system, the eight tribunals and all the rest of it. Blimey. No really, blimey.
Anyway. Luckily this morning was much more interesting. The cookery we learn at school is very traditional; the recipes largely date back to Escoffier and the early 20th century, some beyond that to Careme or earlier. It’s the basis of French cuisine from which everything since has sprung – this is how Escoffier made a fond de veau, veal stock, no one has found a better method so this is how we do it now is what we are told at school. The French are, quite rightly in my view, very proud that their cuisine is the foundation of most cookery in the Western world and, naturally, insist that theirs is the best version of it available.
In a way it’s reassuring; these methods have been tried and tested by generations of chefs over more than a hundred years so they work and work well; equally it’s discomfiting to realise that, if your recipe doesn’t work it really is your own fault and it’s really you who’s done something wrong.
I am most discomfited by things which are supposed to rise and foam, everything from whipped cream to bread. So today I have the cold sweats as we approach the pâte à brioche which we are going to use to make a favourite snack dish of many French people, the saucisson brioché, sausage in a (brioche) bun, i.e. posh sausage rolls.
Frankly I’d much rather make the saucisson, a process that interests me much more than baking simply because I know I can do it. I’ve already written about how Pascal, the nice chap with whom I share a workstation at school, whips my cream for me while I cut his potatoes into pretty shapes. My inability to make things rise extends to bread too I’m sure, since every time I’ve tried making it myself at home – either manually or in a bread machine – I’ve managed to produce only doorstop-quality lumps of flour and water so unleavened the ancient Israelites would be proud of me. Although if one of my loaves fell on them out of the sky they’d end up with concussion rather than a decent feed. I have no idea why I can’t make bread or decently-risen cakes; I have warm hands, I have acid sweat, I am stupid – all are possibilities and, indeed, true in at least two of the three cases. The fact remains that, in the rising stakes, I’m a non-starter.
So brioche, Chef Garnier assures us, is easy. Anyone can make it. It’s almost as easy as profiteroles, he says. My profiteroles always end up as flat as my Yorkshire puddings, I tell him, and have no reason to think that my brioche will be any different.
We’ll see, he says.
The lesson starts with a discussion of flour types; today we’re using what is known in France as Type 45 or Farine de Patissier, since it is very rich in gluten, the protein which gives it the strength to stay up once it’s risen. “This is very white flour,” he tells us. “Even whiter than English skin.” Har har, who would he tease without an English guy in the class? Anyway, the higher the number the less gluten the flour has, Chef tells us. Right.
So we sieve the flour and form it into two adjacent rings, one large and one small. These are fontaines, which literally means fountains but translates better as wells, to receive, in the large one, the majority of the liquid and eggs; the smaller one takes the yeast dissolved in a little of the warmed milk; the large well takes the sugar and, importantly, the salt. Mix the salt and yeast and the former kills the latter and your dough will not rise. Hmm. Perhaps salt from my sweaty hands is killing the yeast? But then why am I equally incapable of making cakes rise when using levure chimique, baking powder?
Anyway. We mix up the two wells separately for a couple of minutes, adding the salt, sugar and eggs to the large well before mixing the two fontaines together. The mixture, we are warned, must be neither too dry nor too humid; it must have body, Chef says, and you give it body by battering it against the steel worktop, throwing it down and lifting it up like some sort of alien blob, thumping it down to Give It Body. It’s done when it no longer sticks to the counter, apparently, but the fault in the process here is that, until it no longer sticks to the counter, it sticks to the counter. And your hands, clothes, hair, face and anything else it touches. So much for Escoffier’s great recipes.
But eventually I wear my dough out enough so that it gives up (most) of its hold on me, my clothes and the worktop and I add little parcels of softened butter (beurre en pomade en petits parcelles) before leaving it to rise for half an hour at 30-35 degrees. At which point we ‘chase out the carbonic gas’, as Chef translates it (badly) for me before allowing it to rise again.
Roll it out, wrap it round your sausage (Ooh Missus!), paint it with egg yolk and into the oven for 45 minutes or so until it looks just like the ones they sell in the shops. Well, a misshapen version of one they sell in the shops, one which only my mother could love and even she would be caught feeding it surreptitiously to the dog under the table when she thought I wasn’t watching.
Still. Chef deems them all Good Enough to let us out to lunch and we trek off to the school canteen to eat, well, saucisson brioché. What a coincidence. I am careful to choose a slice from one not made by me and quite tasty it is too, if you ignore most of the pastry and eat the bought-in saucisson inside.
And avoiding the stodge is a good idea, it turns out, since there’s that aforementioned class on the French legal system immediately after lunch.
We eventually escape with our lives after a nice nap to spend the afternoon making ‘Chou de ménage’, household cabbage. What?
Household cabbage, it turns out, is a cabbage cut into quarters and then used by Chef as an example of ‘Braiser par expansion’, braising by expansion whereby the delicious taste of the cabbage expands out into its cooking medium (can you spot the fatal flaw in this argument, children? Can you?)
Anyway. Trim your cabbage, cut it into four equal quarters, rinse it in vinegared water to kill the beasties, blanch in boiling water for a few minutes, refresh in iced water, drain, cut off the root which you’d left to hold the whole thing together while it cooked (oops), fry off your Garniture Aromatique (onions and carrots cut into a nice macedoine), add the cabbage wrapped with bacon or couenne (the membrane which surrounds a pig’s stomach – very useful for holding together things which would otherwise float off and do their own thing – pop it into your casserole dish and cook it in the oven at 200 degrees Centigrade for an hour and a quarter. Blimey. All this for braised cabbage? Ah, but the lessons are about braising and wrapping and making a macedoine with everything the same size. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t have learned these lessons on something edible.
Still. We finish off the afternoon with some Pommes Fondants, melting potatoes. The object of which, of course, is not to finish up with melted potatoes. Well, not until they arrive in the client’s mouth that is. We start with large potatoes, 7-8 centimetre jobbies which we cut in two and then turn so that they’re all the same size and with the legally obligatory seven-sided shape and then cook in a buttered dish in the oven, moistening regularly with ‘fond blanc’, white chicken stock (i.e. stock made from unroasted chicken bones – as opposed to fond brun, which is made with roasted bones) so they sit up to their waists in it. Except that, at the end of the cooking time (an hour or so) the liquid should all be just evaporated and your spuds barely coloured. So get that one right or turn your pommes fondants into pommes on fire.

Obsessive chefs

I have worked for mad chefs and for obsessive chefs. The two are not necessarily the same.

One mad chef told everyone in the kitchen different stories about his life: to me, his daughter was finishing her studies to become a doctor; to the sous chef she’d just been airlifted by helicopter to a specialist brain surgeon in Switzerland after suffering brain damage in a car accident. Mad chefs are mad.

Obsessive chefs can be nice about their obsessions; with them, a disappointed glance at your attempt at recreating their favourite plate is enough to send your heart tumbling down into your steel-toed kitchen shoes.

Other obsessive chefs are just plain horrible to work for: one screamed at me for five minutes for putting a packet of paper serviettes in the wrong place (to the left, the LEFT, no not THAT far to the left!); another was so jealous of his ideas and recipes that he didn’t unveil the new season’s menu to me, his second de cuisine and deputy, until the first night we were supposed to be serving it.images

But Magnus Nilsson takes this to a new, Olympic level; a chef who closes his restaurant for two months of the year so his brigade can design and rehearse the new season’s dishes.

His book, The Nordic Cookbook is more a work of journalism in some ways than recipes to follow along with at home; an exhaustive pilgrimage through Scandinavian cooking history. He garnered headlines by daring to include recipes for whale meat – it tastes of fish – but for me it’s his fanatical attention to detail that’s the most interesting.

Spending hours pondering how to peel and arrange asparagus on a plate, for example. Writing in The Guardian, Jordan Kisner explains:

I watched two men spend several hours auditioning asparagus. It wasn’t clear at first what they were doing. One would pick up a green stalk from the 10 that had been selected and turn it over in his hands gently, considering how best to peel it. Then the other would pick a stalk up and frown at it. After a while, one of the men, Nilsson’s chef de cuisine, a young Italian named Jakob Zeller, picked up a small paring knife and with meditative care traced a light cut around the circumference of the stalk, just below the crown. He then placed the asparagus back down on the cutting board and, taking up a traditional vegetable peeler, made delicate strokes from the incision to the base of the stalk. A haystack of asparagus wisp collected on his board. Next to him, the sous chef, a Swede named Neil Byrne, tested ways to remove another stalk’s buds, hoping to make it look as though they had not been removed at all but that the restaurant had found magical asparagus that never had them to begin with. It took these men 35 minutes to peel three stalks.

35 minutes for three stalks? In every kitchen where I ever worked you get 35 minutes to peel and cook 5 kilos of asparagus AND take your lunch break. Good grief.

This is why his 30+ course tasting menu costs over $330. Good and grief are both suitable expressions, separately and apart.

But I’m glad that chefs like this exist; without demanding – bizarrely demanding – chefs we’d all be eating well done burgers and frozen fries.

Obsession is painful to live with, both for those like me who were subjected to unreasonable demands and those who are the obsessives.

Luckily some have it, and hence we have Olympic athletes, Formula 1 racing drivers and great chefs.

Trilogies.

When I started working with Jean-Remy Joly at La Table des Agassins just outside Avignon, one of the first dishes I learned to make was this, the Trilogy.

It’s layers of confited (dried or preserved) tomato, goat cheese and aubergine caviar, an assemblage of Provençal ingredients he put together when he first arrived in the region in 2000 as a tribute to the local gastronomy.

It’s been on his ever-changing menu continually since then.

Of course, I wasn’t allowed to make them at the start; I had to work my way up through the plonge, the dishwashing room and do my CAP cuisine qualification before he allowed me to do anything more than remove the stalks from the tomatoes, but it was a worthwhile education.

Although the Trilogy appears very simple, it takes time to make and illustrates the biggest lesson you have to learn when you start cooking for others than just your immediate family: Planning. You can’t decide to eat this dish half an hour before you sit down at the table; you can’t even decide to eat it tonight if you’re thinking about your menu any later than first thing in the morning, since it takes some time to prepare.

The longest preparation is for the tomatoes which need to be peeled, de-seeded and slow-roasted. In French this is called ‘Monder les tomates’ which means literally blanching them. You need to remove the skins to allow them to dry properly and not be too tough when they’re eaten; leave the skins on and they’re pretty chewy.

To do this you need a saucepan of simmering hot water and a second of iced water. Start by removing the stalk and then cutting out the part of the tomato to which the stalk attaches. Do this by holding the pointy end of a small vegetable knife between your thumb and index finger and, with the tip of your thumb on the hard, green bit of the tomato push the point about half to one centimetre into the fruit. Use the tip of your thumb as the axis and cut a cone shape out of the tomato to remove the hard bit.

Dip each tomato into the simmering water for 10-15 seconds – until you see the skin starting to peel – and immediately transfer them to the iced water. Do this with kitchen tongs, not your fingers. Then peel off the skin – I find it easiest with a vegetable knife, sliding the point under a loose bit of skin and pulling it off.

Cut the tomato in half horizontally and pull out the seeds. Keep them and the fleshy bits around them to make a tomato sauce later, they’re very tasty. Lightly salt both sides of the tomato and add some dried Provencal herbs if you wish. Leave them open side down on a rack to drain liquid for an hour or two in the fridge before transferring them to a baking sheet (I line them with baking parchment or silicone sheets) and putting them into an oven at 80°C for three or four hours. Yes, as long as that. They will shrink but keep an eye on them after the 2.5 hour mark to make sure they don’t colour too much.

While they’re drying you can make the aubergine caviar; cut off the stalk end and then cut your aubergine in half lengthways. Cross-hatch the flesh with the point of your knife quite deeply then sprinkle with salt and Provençal herbs, then add a good dose of olive oil. Note, when you’re cooking there’s no point in using the good stuff – heat denatures most oils and removes the taste to a large extent, so use some cheap stuff for cooking. Keep your sippin’ olive oil to pour lightly over food just before serving.

Roast the cut aubergines in an oven pan with the tomatoes or if you need to do them separately, for an hour at 180°C. Pour boiling water into the oven pan so they don’t dry out – a few centimetres is enough, about halfway up the sides of the aubergines.

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Roasted aubergines

When they’re cooked, scrape the flesh off the skin and squish it up between your fingers so there are no big bits. You’re looking for a fairly rustic effect here. The original recipe calls for sheets of gelatine to be added at this stage to firm up the caviar, but I prefer not to use it. Your choice – if you prefer firm aubergine caviar you should use two sheets per kilo of flesh.

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Aubergine caviar

Take the tomatoes out of the oven when they’re dried enough.

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Roasted tomatoes

The last ingredient to mix is the goat cheese. Buy the youngest, freshest pelardons you can find, the fresher the better – I buy them on the local market at just 4 days old when they’re just starting to firm up and have a delicious, goaty flavour. (They’re delicious spread like butter with Vegemite on toast, too).

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Goat cheese seen here with a couple of stray tomatoes.

Mash them up with a fork, a light sprinkle of salt and Provençal herbs and some of your sippin’ quality olive oil – just enough to bring the mixture together, you don’t want this to be liquid.

Now comes the assembly. Put a small dribble of olive oil into the base of a silicone cupcake mold, then a tomato half. You will have two types of tomato halves, of course, one with a hole in the middle and one without. Serve your guests the pretty ones, obviously.

After the tomato comes a dessert spoon of goat cheese mix, then another of aubergine caviar.

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The assembled Trilogies

Pop them into the fridge for at least an hour to allow them to ‘set’ a little before serving.

While they’re in the fridge, make some basil sauce to serve them with. Strip the leaves from a whole basil plant and put them into a pot.

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Picking basil leaves

Add in a small pinch of salt and a few glugs of good olive oil. Then, using a stick blender, mash them up into a pouring consistency liquid.

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Making the basil sauce

Keep adding olive oil until you have the consistency required. A large basil plant will need something like 250-350mls of oil.

To serve, place your Trilogy tomato side up on a plate (a soup spoon is a good utensil for persuading them out of the mold) and dribble over a dessert spoon or two of your basil sauce.

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Serving suggestion

These were so popular in the restaurant in Avignon that some customers would have them as a starter and dessert.

Bon appetit!

Freaky

Whilst searching for something suitable as a subject for a dictation for my English-learning French students, I came across a new craze: Freakshakes.

They’re milkshakes gone bonkers; milk, ice-cream, chocolate sauce, chantilly, sweeties, doughnuts, apple pies, whatever, all piled into and onto your glass.

Miam, as they say in French.

Once my daughters saw them, they wanted them for their ‘gouter’, their afternoon tea.

So I made some chocolate sauce first. Just melt a bar of dark chocolate slowly in a clingfilm-covered bowl, then slowly stir in enough single cream to make it saucy but still quite thick – thick enough to stick to the inside and outside of your glass, as above.

Coating the top of the outside of the glass allows you to stick on Smarties, fraises tagada and whatever other sweeties you like.

Into the glass goes some cold milk and a couple of scoops of ice-cream, then a generous helping of chantilly cream on top.

Add a few more sweeties and a giant straw and you’re ready to go.IMG_4071

Smearing chocolate sauce around the inside of the glass gives an interesting effect and allows small children to keep busy scraping it off later with their sundae spoons.

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Total production time is about 10 minutes, less if you get your act together and have everything ready to go at production time.

Give it a go. It’s as nice for grown ups as for kids.