My grandmother always said that it takes time to adjust to a new season, so it’s important to gradually welcome the warmer days. She said ‘En Avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil, et en Mai, fais ce qu’il te plaît‘. (In April, don’t undress to a thread, but in May, dress as you wish). I was over-enthusiastic with the warm temperatures and caught a nasty cold last week. April days can be so unreliable. That’s why I was inspired to make the Tourin à l’ail, a delicious and nutritious garlic soup from the South of France, to fend away my debilitating state. I made the Bordelais version which was the soup the vendangeurs (vineyard workers) would come home to. This traditional soup, made with onions and garlic, is as earthy as it gets. May I also add that garlic is an aphrodisiac? It was traditionally given to newlyweds on their wedding night, as a pick-me-up soup after all the drinking and dancing till the wee hours… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Could this be the miracle soup? Mais oui!
From miracle soup we move to the world’s best cake. To make our lunch more eclectic, my Icelandic mother-in-law baked her famous Icelandic ‘heimsins besta’, which translates ‘Best cake in the world’. Johanna has been baking this cake for 30 years now. It has become a must-make at birthday parties, confirmation parties, dinner parties, or just any occasion. It’s so good and irresistible. The kids were ecstatic that their grandmother baked such a treat for them. I just find this cake so original, filled with surprising textures (caramelized rice crispies in the meringue) and taste. After the last bite, I couldn’t wait to make it again.
Moving from amazing to peculiar things, I saw a white aubergine at the market. I thought I had seen it all – but this white aubergine was a first. As colours influence your mood, I felt very creative and wanted to make something pretty and floral as a dish. I remembered Alain Passard’s beautiful rose apple tart, and got inspired to make a vegetable flower tart, filled with yellow zucchini, garlic and aubergine. A whimsical thought can lead to wonderful things at the dinner table. With the leftovers, I made a bright springy ratatouille, using the classing method without the peppers, rosé instead of red wine. To jazz it up, a 5 & 1/2 minute boiled egg, which I gently fried in golden buttery breadcrumbs. Soft inside with a slight crunchy outside, that’s what I call a little moment of culinary delight.
To end the day, Oddur, Louise and I went for a drive to Saint Christoly de Médoc, a charming village by the Gironde estuary. Quaint and quiet, elegant and demure, I love this place. There’s even a street called rue de Glycines, in other words Wisteria Lane, filled with purple and violet wisteria flowers everywhere. Am I in a dream? This is how I feel in Saint-Christoly. I would love to share one of my best kept secret address, the antique store owned by Mme Anne Bouteiller called Côté Gironde. It’s a gem in the heart of Médoc, and I think the photos speak for themselves. Mme Bouteiller and I chatted, mostly about the beautiful old kitchen utensils, but also her love for food, her old cookbooks and what she was cooking for her friends that night. As we know, in France, all conversations lead to the table.
Tourin à l’ail/ Garlic soup
1 whole head of garlic + 2 garlic cloves to fry/sprinkle, finely sliced
1 onion, finely diced
2 tbsp duck fat (alternatively olive oil)
1 tbsp plain flour
2 eggs (separated)
A few sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp xérès vinegar (or classic wine vinegar)
1.2 liters/ 5 cups chicken stock
Sea-salt & black pepper for seasoning
In a large pot, melt duck fat (or olive oil) and fry the onion for 2 minutes. Add the peeled/ sliced head of garlic and continue frying for 2 more minutes. The onion & garlic must not brown. Add flour, stir and pour the chicken stock in the pot. Bring to a soft boil, season with salt and pepper, add sprigs of thyme. Cover and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.
In a small frying pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and fry sliced garlic until golden and slightly crispy. Drain on paper towel and set aside.
Purée soup using a hand blender, or in batches in a regular blender. Return soup to pot and switch on medium heat.
Separate eggs. Beat the egg whites in a small bowl and whisk continuously into the soup. You should see thin strands in the soup. Take immediately off the heat. Whisk egg yolks with vinegar and dilute mixture into the soup, stir constantly to avoid any curdling. Sprinkle with fried garlic and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil (optional). Serve immediately with thinly toasted bread (I drizzle olive oil on baguette/ toast and grill for a few seconds or until golden.
My ‘spring’ Ratatouille with a breadcrumbed egg
(for a classic ratatouille click here)
Ingredients: (serves 4)
2 medium-sized white onions, sliced
2 yellow courgettes/zucchini, sliced
1 large aubergine/eggplant, cut into cubes
12 small ‘cherry’ yellow tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
25 ml rosé wine (or white – optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Slice all the vegetables accordingly.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan and cook the onions until they are transparent. Add aubergine, courgettes, garlic, thyme and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 3 minutes. Finally, add the chopped tomatoes and the wine (optional), stir gently, cover and cook for 20 minutes on a low heat.
For the breadcrumbed eggs:
40 g unsalted butter
4 handfuls of fresh breadcrumbs
Salt & pepper, for seasoning
Place eggs in cold water. Bring to a boil for 5 and 1/2 minutes, drain and place in ice-cold water. Peel eggs. In a small pan, melt the butter on a low heat, roll the eggs. Increase the heat to medium, gently sprinkle breadcrumbs on eggs using a spoon to roll egg until golden brown. If you can’t get all the breadcrumbs to stick, no worries, just spoon the remaining breadcrumbs and sprinkle on the eggs when you serve.
Zucchini & aubergine tart
1 large aubergine
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Sea-salt & black pepper
For the pastry:
250 g/ 2 cups plain flour
125 g/ 1/2 cup unsalted butter (cubed & at room temperature)
1-2 tbsp cold water
1/2 tsp salt
Mix all the ingredients together, start kneading until you get a good soft dough. Make into a ball, cover with cling film and store in the refrigerator for 2 hours. On a clean surface covered with parchment paper, add a dash of flour and roll out a disc to line your tart dish.
For the filling:
Slice zucchini, aubergine and garlic finely. Line slices alternating zucchini/aubergine to create a rose-like patter until you reach the center. Slide in garlic slices. Drizzle olive oil all over, sprinkle salt, pepper, fresh thyme and 2 bay leaves (see photo).
Bake in a pre-heated oven 180°C/ 350F for approx 30 minutes. Drizzle with little bit of olive oil before serving. (optional)
Meringue cake ‘Heimsins Besta Kaka’
Meringue base and cover:
3 egg whites
200 g granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
350 g/ 2 cups rice crispies
Cream (to be spread on ‘cover’ meringue):
100 g chocolate
2 egg yolk
1 tbsp liquid cream
For the cream filling:
425 ml full cream (for whipping)
50 g dark raisins
50 g dark chocolate
(alternatively you can buy ready-made chocolate raisins!)
Over simmering water, melt the chocolate and dip raisins. Place on parchment paper and leave to set and cool for 20 minutes.
Making the meringues:
Preheat oven to 160°C/ 320 F
Prepare 2 equal-sized cake moulds and line base with parchment paper. Whisk egg whites and sugar and until it reaches stiff peaks. Sprinkle baking powder on rice crispies and gently fold into stiff egg whites . Spoon equal amounts of egg white mixture into both moulds, flatten surface with spatula and bake approx 35 minutes. Gently unmould after 10 minutes and leave to cool completely on a baking rack. Set aside.
For the filling:
Whisk whipping cream until fluffy/ stiff, fold in chocolate raisins.
For the ‘icing’ cream: (make this just after spreading the filling between the two meringue layers)
Over boiling water, melt the chocolate. Off the heat, whisk in 2 egg yolks, followed by 1 tbsp full cream and mix well.
To assemble cake:
Using a spatula, gently spread cream on the base meringue. Add the top meringue. Spread icing all over on top /cover meringue, creating soft waves. Place cake in refrigerator and leave to cool for 2 hours before serving.