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Category Archives: Masculine Nouns

Pot au feu – classic beef and vegetable stew


One French word: pot, a French recipe: pot au feu, classic beef and vegetable stew.

Half of France must eat pot au feu at the weekend in Winter. It’s a staple of the French diet, cheap and easy to do, comforting, and with its different variations on leftovers, lasts all week. If not a pot au feu, then a potée or a ragoût, variously named each according to its region.

Pot au feu literally means pot on the fire, and used to be a cauldron bubbling over an open hearth. Now of course it’s a presssure cooker more often than not (but not in my house, I’ve never understood pressure cookers).

Un pot au feu is always made with beef, cheap cuts that need ample stewing, with onions (des oignons), leeks (des poireaux), carrots (des carottes), turnips (des navets), sometimes swedes (des rutabagas) and parsnips (des panais), and of course potatoes (des pommes de terre). It should stew for hours and hours, until the meat is meltingly tender, and the vegetables, some of which are just added half an hour before serving, tender and colourful.

Une potée is usually made with pork, a hock (un jarret), some fat smoked sausages (des saucisses de Morteau for instance), a piece of salted pork belly (un morceau de petit salé), and maybe a trotter or two (des pieds de porc). Accompanied by vegetables as above, but often also a Savoy cabbage (un chou frisé) cut in two or four pieces, tops the pot. It is then known as une potée au chou.

Un ragoût is usually made with mutton (du mouton ou de l’agneau), pieces of neck (du collier) and belly (du sauté d’agneau), fried first with a large onion, to which beans of one kind or another are often added.

Another variation on this theme is a poule au pot,    an old hen, stuffed with rice (it then becomes une poule au riz), boiled for a couple of hours with vegetables as before.  Legend has it that Henri IV, a popular French king, who was nevertheless assassinated, but not before declaring that he would ensure that each labourer in his kingdom should have the means to place a poule au pot on his Sunday table! Here is a video on the subject which you might like to listen to to practise your comprehension of spoken French

Since the word of the day is pot, here are a few expressions or meanings of the word:

un pot is a pot; a flower pot = un pot de fleurs; a chamber pot = un pot de chambre; a bribe = un pot de vin (literally a pot of wine); a drink = (just) un pot; to be lucky = avoir du pot; an expression “le pot de terre contre le pot de fer“, literally an earthenware pot against an iron pot, in other words, an unequal combat, where one side is stronger than the other.

But my recipe this week is for a pot au feu, the beef and vegetable stew described above.

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 1kg500 stewing beef, try a mixture of cuts
  • A marrow bone per person
  • A piece of celery, a bay leaf and some thyme to make a bouquet garni
This is a bouquet garni

This is a bouquet garni

  • 9 large carrots
  • One large onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 8 small turnips
  • 8 leeks
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 4 parsnips (optional)
  • 4 swedes (optional)
  • 8 large potatoes
  • 3 star anise
  • salt, pepper, pickled gherkins

Preparation, Day 1:

  • In a very large saucepan, or a pressure cooker, in which case you will have to modify cooking times all by yourself, place the meat (but not the bones) in enough cold water to cover it all amply. Add the onion, into which you have inserted the cloves (spices, not garlic), the star anise, a small handful of coarse salt, the whole garlic cloves, the whole green top of one leek, and one carrot cut into small pieces.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 hours.
  • Place in a cool place until the next day.


Preparation, Day 2:

  • Skim any solidified fat off the top of the contents of the pan and remove the leek greens, the star anise and the bouquet garni.
  • Peel the carrots, cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise. Top and tail the turnips, leave the peel on.  Wash the leeks and remove the tougher parts of the green leaves, cut them into two pieces. No need to peel the potatoes, just scrub them clean and cut into two or four if they are too enormous. Peel and cut the parsnips and swedes into pieces if you are including them.
  • Place all the vegetables and the marrow bones into the pot (you see why you really need a very large one!). The marrow bones will add flavour and if you like beef marrow, will add an extra treat on your plate.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for half an hour.
  • Serve each person a helping of meat, vegetables and a marrow bone. Add only a little of the bouillon (soup), it is nice to mash the potatoes in it.
  • Place toasted bread, coarse salt and gherkins on the table to accompany.
  • The marrow should be extracted from the bone, spread on toast with a little salt on top.


Day 3:

  • Strain off some of the liquid into another saucepan, add some very fine vermicelli or alphabet pasta, heat for 10 minutes and serve as soup with crusty bread.


Day 4:

  • Boil some salad potatoes and season while hot with white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a chopped shallot, a chopped hard boiled egg,some chopped parsley and the rest of the pot au feu meat in 1cm cubes. This is a really excellent cold salad.

Day 5 :

  • Mix up whatever vegetables are left with the remaining bouillon with a soup mixer. I tend not to mix too much, to leave a rich coarse soup. It has become concentrated and is particularly flavoursome.


So you see that with very little effort on days 1 and 2, you will have readymade dishes on days 3, 4 and 5 as well! Just be careful to keep your pot in the fridge if you have room, or in a very cool place (out of doors if Winter temperatures are near freezing).

Bon appétit!


Duck and crispy potatoes

Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

One French Word: paillasson, a French recipe: Confit de canard, pommes paillasson (duck and crispy potatoes)

A thing one should absolutely always have in the storeroom is a tin, or several tins, of confit de canard. Legs and thighs of duck, preserved in their fat, have become much more common in recent years, and much less expensive. You can use them in a dish of cassoulet (haricot beans, duck and pork, shall I give you the recipe here some time soon?), fried into crispy morsels on top of a salad (recipe here), or just heated in the oven and accompanied by chips, sliced sautéed potatoes (pommes sarladaises = potatoes the way they eat them in Sarlat), or, as in my recipe, pommes paillasson, which is the French name for the better known Swiss rösti. This consists of grated potato fried in a thick pancake until it is crisp on the outside and melting on the inside.

This is the very classiest fast food to serve to guests who turn up unannounced forty-five minutes before supper time, and a morale boosting dish when you are feeling low. With a lovingly prepared green salad, and some ice-cream served with the alcoholic raisins I mentioned in last week’s post, you will have rustled up a meal fit for kings in half an hour or so.

The French language bit:

paillasson (masculine noun), un paillasson, le paillasson, les paillassons (a doormat, the doormat, the doormats)

from the word une paille = a straw, which also gives us une paillasse = a straw bed (une paillasse is also said of someone who is weak and gets walked over; and sometimes also, but not very usually, the draining board of a sink).

Une paille is also a drinking straw;  and a colour – jaune paille = straw coloured, literally straw yellow.

Etre sur la paille (literally to be on the straw) = to be broke, to have no money.

Un chapeau de paille = a straw hat

Une botte de paille = a bundle of straw, or a bale (but it would be the old, small bales, not the new enormous round ones)

Paillasson in my recipe refers to the texture and colour of the potato pancake, which is strawlike. Where it is evident that we are not talking about a dessert, potatoes (pommes de terre, literally apples of the earth) can be simply called pommes (which also means apples).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for two people :

  • 2 preserved duck legs and thighs, (I buy mine individually frozen, but they are more usually found tinned), with most of the fat removed. Keep this fat for roasting potatoes, or frying vegetables for soup.
  • 4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and not too finely grated
  • Optional: onion, or garlic, and/or bits of bacon
  • Oil and a little butter for frying
  • Salt and pepper



  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Place the pieces of duck on a non-stick baking sheet, or on an oven tray covered in grease-proof paper (be careful of aluminium foil, they tend to stick; actually they tend to stick anyway!).
  • Place in the oven when it comes up to temperature, 20-25 minutes if tinned, even if cooked from frozen.
  • Peel and grate the potatoes. Place in a sieve, squeeze with your hands to remove a maximum of moisture. You can them pat gently between several layers of kitchen roll to remove still more moisture.
  • Add 1/4 level tsp salt per potato used, and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • If you are going to add onion or garlic and/or bacon bits, fry these up and mix with the raw potato. I personally prefer my pomme paillasson “nature”, that is, without added trimmings.


  • Heat a tbs of oil (I used olive) with a small knob of butter in a frying pan, when it sizzles, scrape the potato into the pan and flatten it out with a spatula (choose a size of pan which will allow you to flatten the potato to a thickness of about 1cm or just a little more, so that it reaches the sides of the pan). Press it down, work a fork around it so that it is perfectly formed. It should not be thin around the edges.
  • Turn the heat down to medium. The potato should brown nicely on the outside but soft in the middle. If you fry it too briskly, it will burn without properly cooking on the inside. When you are ready to turn the potato cake, after about 4-5 minutes, run a palette knife under the potato to loosen, place a plate over the frying pan and turn the plate and the frying pan simultaneously. On the plate, the fried side of the potato will be on top.


  • Put another tbs oil and a little butter into the pan, heat well, and slip the potato from the plate back into the pan, without breaking it, press down, bring the sides in a little to make it regular. Turn the heat down slightly again, and fry until the underside is uniformly golden. About another 5 minutes. When it is ready, slip it onto a clean plate, sprinkle with salt and serve.
  • Take the duck out of the oven and serve onto warmed plates with a portion of potato cake.
  • Serve with a salad : I did an endive (chicory I think it is in English, you can see from the photo below what I mean) and orange salad. Orange goes well with duck. Just slice an endive, peel and slice an orange, pouring the juice over the salad, add some parsley or coriander and a little walnut oil, salt and pepper. It needs no vinegar because of the orange juice.


Both the duck and the potato should be really crispy. Nothing worse than confit which has not been crisped up properly. And the potato should be melting in the middle. Doesn’t your mouth water just looking at the picture?

Bon appétit!

One French word: pignon, a French recipe: Tatin d’aubergine


Tatin d'aubergine


Several people have asked me for this recipe, which I regularly do for vegetarian guests, and was my a contribution to a birthday party a week or so ago. I used to do classy bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley, providing the evening meal for tired and hungry travellers. It was then that I built up a store of really good vegetarian recipes that made those who did not want to eat meat still feel part of the celebration. That is, not as is typical in France, or has been until recently, just taking the meat off the plate and leaving three green beans and some salad!

The recipe is not complicated, in the sense of difficult, but does have a number of steps.

The grammar of it:

pignon (masculine noun), un pignon, le pignon, des pignons = a pine nut    

Have you ever tried cracking the very tough shells that fall with pine cones from parasol pines and extracting the little nuts? My daughter, whose patience is unlimited, used to spend hours as a child cracking them with a stone on the steps under our parasol pine. One year, during a particularly rainy September, a few germinated and I now have the children of that parasol pine, to which I was so attached, growing in pots on my terrace here in Brittany. I think that enormous tree, which my Father planted from seed,  was one of the hardest things to leave behind when I moved here.

One can understand, with all the work involved, why pine nuts are so expensive. But they add a nutty crunch to salads and roasted vegetables that is hard to beat.

A pine cone is une pomme de pin literally a “pine apple”. We called them tisty tosties when we were children, can’t think why, though it might be the noise they make when they hit the ground?

Un pignon is also the gable end of a house.

So my recipe for today is my (famous!) tatin d’aubergine. I have already explained tatin in an earlier post and the fact that any upside down tart now qualifies as a tatin.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for a 27cm-29cm tart (enough for 4 people as a main course, 6 for a starter)

  • A handful of pine nuts – pignons
  • 2 or 3 aubergines, fat ones that are not too long
  • A little olive oil
  • A few handfuls of sea salt
  • 3 heaped tbs sugar
  • A jar of sundried tomatoes (taste them to make sure they are not too salty)
  • A tsp or two of dried Italian herbs
  • A roll of good quality puff pastry, circular if possible (32cm diameter)


  • Wash the aubergines and trim the ends. Cut into half centimetre slices, discarding the outer slices which are just skin. Lay them out on a clean draining board or a large chopping board, a layer at a time, covering each layer with a sprinkling of sea salt before adding another layer on top. Continue in this fashion until all the aubergine has been sliced, stacked and salted. Leave for half an hour. This procedure removes the bitterness and a lot of the water so that, later in the cooking process, the moisture is not released and makes everything soggy. This is called “faire dégorger” in French,  to draw out the liquid.
  • Rinse the slices under lots of running cold water to remove not only the salt, but the saltiness. Squeeze each slice as if you were wringing out a dishcloth, rinse again, squeeze again and set aside.
  • Grease a 27-29cm tart dish with olive oil.
  • Make a small quantity of caramel in a saucepan with three heaped tbs sugar and a dash (just a dash) of water. Cook until it starts to colour (shake do NOT stir, unlike 007’s martinis…), it needs to be caramelly but not burnt. The line is fine, practice makes perfect. Pour quickly into the tart dish and using both hands, tip the dish to spread the caramel as far as possible over the bottom. It will set very rapidly, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t spread too far.
  • In a heavy bottomed frying pan, roast the pine nuts dry (no oil) until they start to colour. Don’t take your eyes off them, they burn really quickly and taste awful. And as soon as they are done, get them out of the pan, which will be very hot and will continue cooking them.
  • Spread the pignons evenly over the bottom of the tart dish on top of the caramel.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (see conversion table page).
  • Place a large dried tomato upside down in the middle of the tart dish and eight more around the edge. This is the side that is going to show when you turn the tart out, so make it pretty.
  • Pour a tbs olive oil into the same pan as you used for the pignons, heat well and fry the aubergine a few slices at a time until it colours well (burns slightly). (This can be done without oil if you wish.) This is the longest part of the recipe. Turn the slices, and when they are done, place them in the tart dish with the wider part of the slice towards the outside, and the thinner end overlapping in the centre (you can even trim off the middle bits if they overlap too much). Cover the whole dish, using any little irregular bits of aubergine to fill up the holes.
  • Place more pieces of dried tomato half way down the aubergine slices (that is, between the edge tomatoes underneath and the centre one underneath, so that each mouthful will have a taste of dried tomato). Sprinkle with italian herbs and finish with another layer of aubergine slices. This uses quite a lot of aubergine, so I always prepare three aubergines in slices, and if there are any left over, I use them the following day in a moussaka or something like that.
  • DO NOT add salt or pepper.
  • Cover the dish with the puff pastry, tucking the edges in roughly. They mustn’t hang over the edge of the dish.
  • Bake in the oven for about half an hour, until the puff pastry is risen and golden brown. Sometimes a bit less, it depends on your oven. Keep watching it for the “just right” moment.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the dish. The tart should be served warm, not hot, and can even be served cold. It can be reheated if you have prepared it  slightly in advance. BUT it should NOT be turned out until just before eating, or the pastry will soak up all the juice and go soggy. This is really important.
  • When you do decide to turn it out, run a knife around the inner edge of the tart dish to loosen the pastry, place a larger dish upturned over the pastry, protect your wrists in case any hot juice leaks out, give the dish a quick shake or two to loosen everything and flip it over quickly. Give another couple of shakes and presto! Your tart should be pastry side down and very decorative dried tomato and pignon side up! (If any bits stick just rearrange the presentation when no one is looking.)
  • Serve with a green salad.
Stacked, salted aubergine slices

Stacked, salted aubergine slices

Toasted pignons and caramel

Toasted pignons and caramel

To show how hard I wring out the aubergine slices!

To show how hard I wring out the aubergine slices!

Tatin just out of the oven

Tatin just out of the oven

Tatin d'aubergine2

Did you manage all that? Not so difficult really, and the result is delicious and quite impressive. And unusual. Nice to find something unusual.

Bon appétit!

One French word: navet, one French recipe: pétales de légumes

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navet, masculine noun (un navet, le navet, des navets) = turnip (pronounced nah-vey)  .

Not most people’s favourite vegetable, but when they are young and fresh in spring their flavour is delicate and not overpowering as it often is in autumn and winter, and they can easily be eaten raw. Or used to accompany a meat dish, boiled briefly then glazed in a sugar and butter mixture.

Un navet is also currently used to denote a flop, when talking of a bad film, theatre performance or book.

My recipe today is a little different to the taste buds: pétales de légumes = vegetable petals

Main ingredients – looks a bit like a still life, doesn’t it…

For each person you will need:

  • One small raw spring turnip
  • One small raw beetroot
  • One ripe tomato (I used a beef tomato)
  • One small courgette (zuccchini)
  • and any other vegetables you may feel like that can be cut into fine slices (radishes?), or fruits (oranges, strawberries?)
  • salt
  • chili flakes
  • olive oil
  • raspberry vinegar


Wash and trim all the vegetables. Peel the beetroot but do not peel either the turnip or the courgette.

Slice the courgette into as many thin lengthways strips as possible, discarding the first slice, which is just skin (simply for aethetic reasons), and place around the edge of each person’s plate in wavy, curly shapes.

Peel and slice the beetroot into very fine slices and being careful not to taint the courgette with beetroot juice (again for the aesthetics), place an overlapping circle of beetroot slices inside the ring of courgettes.

Wash your hands, the knife and the chopping board. Finely slice the turnip and place another ring inside the beetroot ring. Do not season.

Core and skin the tomato (plunge it into boiling water for a minute or so, the skin will come off easily). Cut into small cubes, place in a bowl with the equivalent of one smallish dried chili (outside and seeds), flaked. Quite a lot of salt (tomatoes need salt), but you can rectify later. One tbs raspberry vinegar. 2 tbs olive oil (if you are several at table increase the oil and vinegar). Mix to a smooth paste with a soup mixer. It makes a sort of rather thick gazpacho-like mixture. Taste and rectify seasoning. It should be fairly chili hot, vinegary, with a good strong flavour of olive oil.  Place a spoonful of this mixture in a tiny bowl in the centre of your vegetable plate. Leave the rest of the tomato dressing in a larger bowl on the table, because it is more-ish and people can help themselves and drown their plates in it if they like. But it looks better to present only a small quantity.

This is an excellent starter, fresh and appetizing-looking, but you can also make a main course of it if you are feeling fragile and only want raw vegetables, maybe accompanied with crusty bread and butter, or viande des grisons (thin cured beef slices). Or parma ham.

Bon appétit!

One French word: petit pois, a French recipe: cake à la feta et aux petits pois

The French language bit:

Petit pois  (un petit pois, des petits pois) = garden pea (pronounced peuh-tee pwah

We’ve had pois cassés = split peas, but these are the nice tender variety that we shall have on our plates in a month or so.

Just as a noix (= walnut)  is used to indicate a tablespoon sized portion, often of butter, so petit pois denotes a pea-sized portion, of a cream from a tube for instance.

Petits pois à la française are peas cooked with silverskin onions, a little fried bacon (lardons) and the braised heart of a lettuce. It always seems strange to me, but then I was at one time Anglo-saxon, that the French really prefer their peas from tins (cans) and not fresh or frozen. We like them bright green, they prefer khaki. Same with “French” beans (haricots verts). One gets used to them, but I could never prefer them.

When you see on a menu “à la Clamart“, it means the meat is served with peas.

Avoir un petit pois dans la tête (= literally to have a pea in your head) means to be stupid, to have a pea-sized brain 

My recipe is for a cake à la feta et aux petits pois = a loaf-shaped cake with feta cheese and peas. This is really useful as an apéritif nibble recipe, you can put it in mini molds to make bite-sized portions (but do reduce the cooking time accordingly). It is also good for picnics or taking to the office. It makes neat slices that aren’t too crumbly. It contains protein and vitamins.  It is good cold, with mayonnaise, or hot with a homemade tomato sauce. Very versatile, and ridiculously easy to do.

Main ingredients

For four people you will need:

  • 150gr flour
  • a heaped tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 10cl vegetable oil
  • 10cl milk
  • 130gr frozen peas
  • 130gr feta
  • 1/2 tsp salt, 4 grinds of the pepper mill
  • a handful of chopped fresh mint
  • a handful of grated cheese


  1. Heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Grease a loaf tin.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, the salt (but taste your feta first to make sure it is not too salty, in which case reduce the amount), the oil and the milk. I used virgin organic rapeseed oil, which is bright yellow and has a delicate flavour. You can use olive oil just as well.
  4. Add the flour and the baking powder and beat thoroughly so that there are no remaining lumps.
  5. Bring a very small amount of water to the boil (do not salt it) and put the peas to boil for 3 minutes.
  6. Cut the feta into small squares.
  7. Chop the mint.
  8. Add the drained peas, the feta and the mint to the egg and flour mixture and pour into the mold. Make sure you are using real Greek feta and not some imitation. Not at all the same thing.
  9. Put a handful of grated cheese (pale yellow cheese NOT orange cheese, this will spoil the aesthetics of the dish) in a stripe down the centre of the cake.
  10. Bake for 40 minutes – it may need 50 but watch it after 40.
  11. Unmold and allow to cool slightly if you are serving it hot, cut into slices (slicing is a little tricky when hot as the feta is far from firm). Allow to cool completely if you are serving cold and chill in the fridge.

Any left over cake should be wrapped in tin foil or cling wrap and kept in the fridge. Try not to slice more than you are going to use, it keeps better in one piece.

The colours of this cake are delicate and springlike (printanier, we just had that word). Very appetizing.

Bon appétit!

One French word: anis, a French recipe: saumon en papillote à l’anis

A nostalgic parenthesis: do the British among you remember aniseed balls? Do they still exist? The size of a small marble, deep rusty red, but when you sucked them they became white and your tongue went rusty red instead? And when you got right to the middle after hours of work, there was the prize: a single aniseed to crunch between two incisors! My favourites when I was little.

 The French language bit:

Anis, masculine noun (l’anis) = aniseed (pronounced a-neesse, or sometimes a-neee), but you never say un anis or des anis. If you want to say one aniseed, or lots of aniseed, you say une graine d’anis, or des graines d’anis (one aniseed seed, or lots of aniseed seeds). 

Anisé = aniseed flavoured, such as all the Mediterranean apéritifs, pastis in the south of France, ouzo, raki, arak… each Mediterranean country has its version.

I bought some organic aniseed the other day, not for any particular purpose, but I have since been using it for making tisane (herbal tea), lovely, a teaspoonful with boiling water poured over it and a bit (or not) of honey. And you can eat the seeds when you’ve drunk the tea!

Aniseed is very different from fennel, or dill, or cumin, or caraway. I use it in this recipe for salmon: saumon en papillote à l’anis and it complements the fish perfectly.

You will need a piece of salmon per person. I prefer slices across a fillet (called le filet in French), not through the whole fish with the bones (called a une darne). A teaspoonful of aniseed per portion, and a little butter or cream.


  • Heat the oven to 180°
  • Prepare large squares of aluminium foil or greaseproof paper, and place a piece of salmon on each
  • Salt and pepper each portion and add the aniseed
  • Place a teaspoonful of butter or cream on top of the lot and close the papillote
  • Cook in the oven for about 12 minutes for a small portion, 15 minutes for a larger. Don’t overcook salmon, it must be moist

Serve with new potatoes and some fresh crunchy celery. Salmon always looks so lovely next to something pale green like celery or cucumber.

Bon appétit!

One French word: vin, a French recipe: fraises au vin

A variation on a previous recipe of strawberries with limoncello liqueur: since it is the strawberry season, we should have a whole stock of recipes at our fingertips!

Fraises au vin

Vin = wine of course. Probably the word that the world over is most connected with France.  The French cook a lot with wine, and often the wine is as good as that served at table.

Fraises au vin, main ingredients

This recipe is very simple, but no less good for that. Strawberries, nice and ripe, cut in four, sprinkled with a little sugar and the grated or zested rind of one or two oranges, depending on the quantity of strawberries, with a glass or two of red wine poured over them. Stir delicately, leave to infuse for an hour, or overnight. If you don’t want to use alcohol, use the juice of the same oranges.

Bon appétit!

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