July 14th - le quatorze juillet - is an important public holiday in France. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the beginning of the French Revolution. Despite its bloodthirsty connotations, it’s now seen as a family day, an opportunity for a picnic or an out-of-doors lunch and provides a good excuse - as if we needed one - for Francophiles to celebrate.
If you're short of time you could just make the main course and buy in a ready-made fruit tart. If you’re not a big garlic fan (which you need to be for the aioli) make a salade nicoise instead.
Smoked salmon, goats cheese and dill cake
The French have a great fondness for what they call ‘cake’ - a cross between a savoury bread and a quiche. They’re incredibly useful as a nibble for starting off a meal, maybe with a few radishes, prawns and a light herby dip
2 tbsp olive oil
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
200g plain flour
1 level tbsp baking powder
3 large eggs
200g creme fraiche (or 100g creme fraiche and 100ml sunflower oil)
1 tbsp lemon juice
200g goats cheese log, rind removed and roughly crumbled
50g freshly grated parmesan
110g smoked salmon or smoked trout, cut into strips
3 heaped tbsp finely chopped dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
You will need a medium-sized (900g) rectangular non stick loaf tin, lightly greased and floured
Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan and fry the onion gently for a couple of minutes until softened. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Sift the flour with the baking powder and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk the eggs and whisk in the creme fraiche and lemon juice. Tip the liquid into the flour and beat well. Fold in the fried onions and their oil, crumbled goats cheese, smoked salmon, parmesan and dill until evenly distributed throughout the mix then tip into the prepared loaf tin. Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes then remove from the tin and leave on a wire rack to continue cooling. If not eating straight away wrap tightly in foil and refrigerate. Cut into cubes.
Suggested wine match: Althought this is a typically Provencal menu with which you could easily drink a ros right through to the dessert, I’d be tempted to start with a glass of sparkling wine such as a Crmant de Limoux from the Languedoc or even an Italian prosecco.
Le Grand Aioli
An aioli is both the name for a Provenal garlic mayonnaise and for the big communal dish which is based on raw and cooked vegetables but usually also contains salt cod and hard boiled eggs. There’s a fair bit of advance preparation - the vegetables ideally need to be cooked individually - but no last minute work. You can make the aioli itself in a food processor but, if you have a decent-sized mortar and pestle, it’s easy and satisfying to do by hand. And the texture and taste are far better. The crucial thing is to have all the ingredients at room temperature.
Choose from the following:
About 600g salt cod, cut into thick, even slices and soaked overnight (see below)
350g young carrots, peeled or scrubbed
1 large or 2 smaller bulbs of fennel
250g fine green beans, trimmed
1/2 a medium cauliflower cut into florets
500g new potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
350g baby courgettes (zucchini), trimmed and halved lengthways
6 Italian-style grilled artichoke hearts in oil
400g ripe, sweet tomatoes, cut into quarters
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
For the aioli
4-5 large cloves of garlic*, peeled and roughly chopped
3/4 tsp flaked or coarse sea salt
2 fresh organic egg yolks, at room temperature
150ml fruity extra virgin olive oil e.g. Provencal or Spanish
150ml sunflower oil
1/2 tsp wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Soak the salt cod in the fridge for 24 hours in cold water, changing it a couple of times. Put it in a saucepan with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer very slowly for about 15 minutes until just cooked. Set aside and cool. Cook each of the vegetables separately until just cooked. I suggest cooking the carrots, fennel, green beans and potatoes in boiling water and steaming the cauliflower and courgettes. Set them aside in a cool place but don’t refrigerate them.
To make the aioli put the garlic in a mortar with the salt and pound until you have a smooth paste. Add the egg yolks and work them in too. Pour the two oils into a jug then gradually drip the oil, drop by drop into the egg and garlic mixture, all the while pounding rhythmically, moving the pestle in the same direction. Keep on adding oil very slowly until the mixture begins to stiffen and you hear a slapping noise as the oil goes in then increase the speed you add the oil to a steady fine stream. Add the vinegar half way through once the aioli has thickened. Once all the oil has been incorporated add 2-3 teaspoons of warm water, half a teaspoon at the time to lighten and loosen the mixture.
Arrange all the ingredients on a large platter or platters and serve with the aioli and some crusty French bread such as a baguette.
* It’s important to use garlic that hasn’t sprouted for aioli otherwise it will taste bitter. Use cloves from a bulb you’ve just bought rather than ones which might have been lying around for a while.
Suggested wine match: A dry Provencal ros such as Bandol rosé would be perfect with this
Apricot tart with Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise
My version of a brilliantly simple recipe from award-winning food writer Alastair Hendy. If you don’t have time to make a dessert though you could easily buy a ready-made apricot or strawberry tart. Or both . . .
1 x 375g pack ready rolled puff pastry
750g ripe apricots
2 tbsp ground almonds
2 tbsp unrefined caster sugar
2 tbsp muscat de Beaumes de Venise or other southern French muscat
3 tbsp soft set apricot jam
Crme fraiche or vanilla ice cream
You will need a large shallow rectangular non-stick baking tin
Take the pastry out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to unroll it. Preheat the oven to 225 C/425 F/Gas 7. Halve and stone the apricots (you can cut the bigger ones into thirds. Unroll the pastry and lay it on the baking tin, trimming off any pastry that overhangs the edges. Prick the base with the prongs of a fork and shake over the ground almonds in an even layer. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp of the sugar. Arrange the apricot halves or thirds in rows over the surface of the tart, leaving a narrow border round the edge and propping up each row on the one behind it. Spoon over the remaining sugar. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the pastry is risen and the edges of the fruit are beginning to caramelise. Spoon the jam into a small saucepan, add the muscat and warm gently, stirring until smooth. Brush the warm glaze over the apricots and serve with crme fraiche or vanilla ice cream
Suggested wine match: Serve small, chilled glasses of Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise