Celeriac, Potato & Turnip Gratin

Celeriac & Potato Gratin

The dark days of winter call for food that is soothing as well as seasonal, so wherever you are in the world, I suggest you cosy up with this satisfying gratin when the weather takes a turn for the worst.

It is also a lovely thing to do when the days are short and gray; stay tranquil and stay in the kitchen, peeling and slicing and filling your home with delicious smells.

This is a simple homestyle French dish, very impressive and hugely delightful. When I’m in France, I like to make this to accompany a rotisserie chicken but it can also be a meal in itself or, if you like, add a hearty bottle of red, a cheese platter, crusty bread and a green salad for a feast. 

3 small turnips (about 375g), peeled, halved and very thinly sliced

½ a celeriac, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced

½ a swede, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced

650g waxy potatoes, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced

225ml double cream

100g crème fraiche or sour cream

250ml milk

125g Gruyère or similar, grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A 30 x 20cm baking dish, very well buttered

Serves 4-6

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/375ºF.

Put all the prepared vegetable slices in a large bowl and toss gently to combine. Set aside.

Combine the cream, crème fraiche or sour cream and milk in a small saucepan and heat just to melt the crème fraiche or sour cream. Stir well and season with salt and pepper.

Arrange half of the vegetables slices in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with a little salt and one-third of the cheese. Pour over one-third of the cream mixture. Top with the rest of the vegetables slices, the remaining cheese and a sprinkle of salt. 

Pour over the remaining cream mixture and cover the dish with foil or dampened baking parchment. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. Remove the cover and return to the oven and cook until tender and well browned on top, 30-40 minutes more. Serve piping hot.

Photo: Martin Brigdale © Ryland Peters & Small

How to Cook Magret de Canard

how to cook duck magret

A simple recipe for pan-seared duck breast.

This is the basic cooking method for a boneless duck breast. You will need a cast iron skillet for top of the stove, then a baking paper lined tray for the roasting part.

How much time you cook really depends on the size of your magret. Use your eyes and cook the fat side until it looks nice and golden but not burned; obviously a big piece of meat will need a bit more time than a small piece. 

The key is temperature control. You want the pan hot at the outset, then finish with a roast in the oven. You need to use a high heat to start, to achieve the golden skin, but after a minute or so it is time to turn in down a notch. Keep a close eye once it has seared and begins to render the fat. 

Serve just plain, with sautéed potatoes, garlicky or not. A green salad and a red Madiran wine will complete the meal nicely.

Serves 1-2

1 duck magret, 500-700g (you may need 1 or 2)

Salt, any kind you like but not too coarse

At least 30 minutes before cooking (but as much as 2 hours if you can), remove the duck from the fridge. Trim the fat around the edges and score the fat side in a criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle well on both sides with the salt, pat in and let stand; this is a sort of dry-brine which helps to season and tenderize.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F, line a small baking tray with parchment. 

When ready to cook, heat your pan. No oil or any fat, there’s enough on the duck!

When it is hot but not smoking, add the duck, fat-side down. Sear for 1 minute on the high heat, then lower a bit to continue cooking until golden, 3-7 minutes, (if it starts to burn, lower the heat). You may want to check using a pair of tongs; just lift and peek don’t move it around too much.

With tongs, turn and cook the lean side for 2-4 minutes, then transfer the meat to the baking tray and roast until meat is done to taste, 4-8 minutes longer. Remove, cover with foil and let rest on a cutting board, at least 10 minutes.

Slice thinly and serve.

Chocolate Chestnut Tart

Chocolate chestnut tart 

A very simple and elegant tart recipe. The chestnut flavour is subtle but quite pleasant, and it makes the texture much creamier and smoother. This can easily be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator until needed (for up to 24 hours), but do not serve it chilled; room temperature is ideal.

1 pre-baked Sweet Pastry tart shell, still in its tin and cooled 

cocoa powder, for dusting

whipped cream or sweetened crème fraîche, to serve

Chocolate chestnut filling 

100 g dark chocolate, finely chopped

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large egg, beaten

200 ml double cream

250 g tinned sweetened chestnut purée

baking parchment and baking weights or dried beans

a loose-based tart tin, 23-35 cm diameter, greased and floured

Serves 8–10

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) Gas 2.

To make the filling, put the chocolate in a large microwave-proof bowl and microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds. Remove, stir and repeat until almost completely melted. Remove, add the butter and stir until melted.

Stir in the egg, cream and chestnut purée and mix just to blend.

Put the tart shell on a baking tray and set this on the oven rack, partly pulled out. (If you try to fill the shell and then transfer it to the oven, it will surely spill over the edges and burn.) Pour the chocolate mixture into the tart shell and carefully slide the oven shelf back into place.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, until just set. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

*NOTE If you don’t have a microwave, put the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water – don’t let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Leave until melted, stirring occasionally.

photo Martin Brigdale © Ryland Peters & Small, from Bistro by Laura Washburn Hutton, published by Ryland Peters & Small 

Tarragon Cream Chicken

There are two things which make this taste amazing: a good quality chicken and fresh tarragon. Please seek out free-range organic chicken if you can and do not replace the fresh herb with dried. This dish absolutely requires fresh tarragon, an iconic French ingredient. If you cannot find any, replace the tarragon with fresh parsley and enjoy anyway. This also uses a standard French cooking technique, called a sauté so no matter which herb you use you will learn something and have an enjoyable meal. Potatoes make a nice accompaniment, either steamed, boiled or mashed.

Tarragon Cream Chicken

Poulet à l’estragon et à la crème

Serves 4-6

1 whole chicken, cut into pieces

1 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tbsp unsalted butter

1 large shallot or 1 small onion, chopped

1 small sprig thyme

2-3 sprigs fresh parsley

1 bunch fresh tarragon

3-4 tbsp crème fraiche

Salt and pepper

In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the pieces in a single layer, melt the butter and oil, then add the chicken pieces skin-side down. Do not crowd the pan; you may need to work in batches to make sure there is enough room. Cook the chicken until golden brown on both sides, taking care not to burn. Transfer the pieces to a plate, season well with salt. If you’re working in batches, continue browning. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, remove some with a spoon.

Add the shallot or onion to the pan and cook for a minute or so, just until it begins to brown. Return the chicken to the pan and add about 180 ml (3/4 cup) water (or enough to cover halfway). 

Tie the thyme, parsley and about 1/3 of the tarragon in a bunch with kitchen twine. Add to the pan. Cover and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through, 35-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, strip the leaves from the remaining tarragon sprigs, chop finely and set aside. Add the stems to the cooking chicken.

When the chicken is cooked through, transfer the pieces to a heatproof serving dish. Remove the herb bundle from the pan and discard.

Raise the heat and cook until the sauce is reduced by about two-thirds. Taste and adjust seasoning. Continue reducing if necessary. 

Juat before serving, stir in the crème fraiche and chopped tarragon. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.

photo by Martin Brigdale © Ryland Peters & Small, from Bistro by Laura Washburn Hutton, published by Ryland Peters & Small

French Onion Soup

This soup is synonymous with bistro fare in France and here is a simplified recipe. As the name implies, the flavor comes from the onions. The trick is to ensure you cook the onions slow and low, until they are really caramelized so be sure to take the time it takes to brown them properly. Once you’ve done that, it’s a cinch.

If you want to do the melted cheese-bread topping, you will need ovenproof bowls for serving. If you don’t have the bowls, do not worry. Put toasted rounds of baguette in the bottom of your soup bowl, top with grated cheese and pour over the hot onion soup. Different, but just as yummy.

French Onion Soup

Soupe gratinée à l’oignon

50 g unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 large onions, about 1.3 kg, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon plain flour

1 litre beef, chicken or vegetable stock

600 ml dry white wine

1 fresh bay leaf

2 sprigs of thyme

1 baguette, sliced

about 180 g Gruyère cheese, finely grated

coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Serves 4–6

Put the butter and oil in a large saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over low heat until deep golden and caramelized; the time depends on your pan so I cannot say exactly. Use your eyes, and taste.

Once the onions are fully cooked, add the garlic and flour and cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Add the stock, wine, bay leaf and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then lower the heat and simmer very gently for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (At this point, the soup will be cooked, but standing time will improve the flavor – at least 30 minutes but, like any soup, this is always best the next day.)

Before serving, turn on the grill or the broiler.

Put the baguette slices on a baking sheet and brown under the grill/broiler until lightly toasted. Set aside.

To serve, ladle the hot soup into ovenproof bowls and top with a few toasted baguette rounds. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top and set on a baking tray to make it easier to get in and out of the oven. Cook under the still-hot grill until browned and bubbling. Serve immediately, taking care because the bowls will be hot!

photo by Peter Cassidy © Ryland Peters & Small, from Bistro by Laura Washburn Hutton, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£9.99)

Sweet pastry

A recipe for an easy-to-handle pastry because there are no eggs. Not as rich as some, but a sweet tart filling almost always has plenty of eggs and I find it best to have a nice crumbly crust that isn’t too hard to roll out and transfer to the pan. This includes instructions for blind baking.

200 g plain flour

2 tsp fine/caster sugar

100 g cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Pinch of salt

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and, using the pulse button, process until the butter just breaks down.

A 3 tablespoons cold water and pulse again until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. You may need to add 1 more tbsp water if the mixture is very crumbly.

Put a large sheet of baking parchment on the work surface and tip the pastry mixture onto it. Gather it all up and form into a ball, then flatten to a thick disc. Wrap well in the paper and let stand for 30-60 minutes. If it is very warm, you may need to refrigerate a bit.

Butter your tart pan.

Roll the pastry out to a circle that is just bigger than your tart pan, enough so it fits comfortably up the sides and transfer the pastry to the pan. You may find it easier to use a big piece of parchment paper to roll the dough out on and then use the paper to help you tranfer it to the pan. If the weather is warm, this is often helpful. Once in the pan, tidy up the bottom so it fits snugly against the sides and well up to the edges. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or if you have room put it in the freezer.

To Blind bake: Preheat the oven to 180°C/360°F.

Remove the tart base from the refrigerator or freezer and prick the bottom with the tins of a fork. Line with parchment and fill with baking weights (or use uncooked rice or beans) and bake for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the paper and weights and bake for another 8-10 minutes or until the bottom is lightly golden.

Let cool before filling and baking your tart.