viva la france

pear & pecan crumble with homemade vanilla icecream

I adore the French. Really, how can you not love a nation that has an official 35 hour working week, is the home of Champagne, has Paris as it’s capital city, has an official label of origin (AOC) for everything from wine to lentils, chicken and walnuts, that speaks the most beautiful language, that has elevated snails and fatty goose liver to objects of culinary lust and that once had a president who complained that it was impossible to govern a nation that had 265 kinds of cheese…

In honour of Bastille Day, the French national day, last week I decided to whip up a French inspired dinner for a couple of winemaker friends. While I love the high end of French cuisine and would be happy to eat constantly in three Michelin starred restaurants, it’s not the type of food that I really enjoy cooking. I’m more of a country cooking type of gal and prefer to stick to your rustic things like coq au vin…. A dish that I love, not just because it tastes amazing but because it also dispels the theory that white meat and red wine don’t go together.

For dessert I had originally planned on a pear version of the legendary tarte Tatin: an upside down caramelised apple tart that was invented by the Tatin sisters when they had a misadventure with an apple pie.  But the power of suggestion got in the way and I ended up creating a pear and pecan crumble to serve with homemade vanilla icecream….Not very French but delicious all the same…individual dishes of cinnamon spiced pears, thinly sliced and topped with a crunchy golden pecan topping with rich icecream melting in….all good thing….

a bastille day dinner of sorts
coq au vin
sourdough baguette
pear & pecan crumble with homemade vanilla icecream

coq au vin
serves 4

I chose to use spatchcocks for this recipe because they are just so cute but you could either use a larger chicken or chicken pieces as long as they are on the bone.

The idea for cooking the mushrooms and speck separately and then serving on top came from Karen Martini. It makes a difference as you get the mushroom and  smoky bacon flavours separate from the delicious winey sauce making every bight a different adventure.

3 spatchcock (approx 500g each), cut into 4 pieces
2T olive oil
6 baby onions, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
1 bunch baby carrots
6 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
1 stick celery, diced
3T tomato paste
2C red wine
1C chicken stock
100g smoked spec, or bacon cut into batons
180g small button mushrooms, halved
2T olive oil, extra
handful flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
crusty sourdough baguette, to serve

Preheat oven to 150C. Meanwhile heat oil in a large stove top proof casserole dish and brown the chicken on all sides over medium high heat until golden.  Remove chicken and add onion. Cook for 10 mins over low heat, then add garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add bay leaves, thyme, carrots, celery, tomato paste, wine and stock and bring to a simmer.  Bake uncovered for 1hr to 1.5hrs or until chicken is well cooked and the sauce has slightly reduced. Season the sauce.

Heat extra oil in a small frying pan over high heat and cook bacon for a few minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to cook stirring occasionally until bacon is crispy and browned and the mushrooms are golden and cooked through.

Divide chicken and sauce between 4 plates. Top with parsley leaves and the bacony mushroom mixture. Serve with crusty sourdough bread and a bottle of red. We had a very un-french bottle of cab franc from the Napa which worked a treat.

pear & pecan crumble
serves 4

I find that nuts are essential to a good crumble topping.  This one I adapted from a Luke Mangan recipe that appeared in Good Living ages ago.

Peeling fruit and veg is something I always try to avoid. By cutting the pears into thin slices you don’t even notice the peel in the final product.

700g josephine or other small pears, finely sliced
5g (1/4C) brown sugar
1t ground cinnamon
2T water
150g pecans
100g butter
80g plain flour
100g brown sugar, extra
vanilla icecream, to serve (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 200C. Combine pears, brown sugar, cinnamon and water in a oven proof dish. Cover and bake for 1hour or until pears are soft but not loosing their shape.

Divide pears and their juices between 4 one cup capacity ramekins.
Whizz pecans, butter, extra brown sugar, and flour in a food processor until it resembles coarse bread crumbs.  Divide crumble mix between the ramekins, lightly flattening.

Bake 20mins at 180C or until crumbles are golden and bubbling. Serve hot with vanilla icecream to the side.

homemade vanilla icecream
serves 4 as an accompaniment

The secret to great vanilla icecream is good quality vanilla beans and keeping the sugar level low enough so you get some sweetness but can still taste the cream.

1C milk
1C pouring cream
4 egg yolks
75g sugar
2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped

Heat milk, vanilla beans and seeds in a small saucepan until hot but not boiling. Allow to infuse for at least 15mins but longer if you can. 

Whisk yolks and sugar until pale and sugar has dissolved.  Reheat milk until almost boiling and whisk into yolk mixture.  Return to the pan and cook over low heat stirring constantly until custard has thickened, being careful not to boil.  Stir in cream and refrigerate.

Freeze in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

coq au vin in le creuset

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