May 4, 2024


In France there is a chain of frozen food shops called Picard.  Their range of foods goes from basic stuff, like peas and green beans, through to luxury items.  Our favourite purchases include their croissants, which cook from frozen in eighteen minutes, their salmon fillets, which are not cheap but occasionally on special offer, and twin packs of scallops in chardonnay sauce which are a bit pricey but utterly divine as a starter.  These little gratins also come in reusable ceramic dishes, always a bonus in my book.  We have frequently seen little piles of them for sale at village brocantes - the French rarely throw anything away that they might get a few euros for! I have hung on to mine and by now have collected enough of the little blue dishes to feed quite a crowd!

After treating ourselves to another scallop gratin starter I thought I really ought to look for a recipe for something similar that would make a tasty starter without the hefty price tag.

I spotted a recipe for a smoked haddock gratin on a lovely blog which you can see here and which gave me the idea for my starter.  I used frozen spinach which comes chopped and mixed with a little crème fraîche - a combination that I’m not sure if it’s available in the UK but any fresh or frozen spinach would do the job.  I left the quantity I wanted in the fridge to thaw overnight which made it easy to drain off excess liquid.  

The rest of the recipe is really just an assembly job.

They were perfect little starters, quite rich with all the cream and cheese but very tasty and not too filling! Definitely good for a dinner party.  Next time, instead of smoked haddock, I might try a mixture of prawns and smoked salmon - the little packs of diced smoked salmon or trimmings that you can buy would be ideal.

You can find more recipes for the smoked haddock that I used, and other smoked fish, on the manufacturer’s website here. There are English and French versions.  

UPDATE: I made the gratins using smoked salmon trimmings and prawns, which were delicious.  I also made a couple using chicken and chorizo for someone who was allergic to most fish and they were pronounced delicious too.


5 blocks of frozen spinach in crème fraîche, thawed, or equivalent, or a 200g bag of fresh spinach

1 x 140g smoked haddock fillet, skin removed

6 small knobs of butter

6 dessert spoons half fat crème fraîche

3-4 tblsp grated gruyère cheese

3-4 tblsp grated parmesan

6 slices of a large tomato

2 tblsp fresh breadcrumbs made from 1 slice of white bread


Preheat the oven to 220°C / 200° fan / gas mk 7.  Put six small gratin dishes or ramekins on a baking sheet.

First make the breadcrumbs.  Tear a slice of white bread into pieces and drop into a food processor.  Process until you have fine crumbs.

If using fresh spinach wash and cook it for a few minutes until just cooked then chop it.  If using frozen spinach make sure it's completely thawed.  Press out any excess liquid and share between the gratin dishes or ramekins.

Cut the fish into small pieces and sit them on top of the spinach.

Dot the fish with a small knob of butter and spoon some crème fraîche on top.  Sprinkle with the two grated cheeses and place a slice of tomato on top.

Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling.  Serve immediately.

(As the dishes are straight from the oven you may want to serve them sitting on a heatproof plate or dish so as not to damage your table, placemats or tablecloth.  I served mine on a small glass plate protected from the heat by a pad of folded paper serviette.)

Serves 6.

May 3, 2024


A few weeks ago we went for lunch to a restaurant called Le George in Loches which has had a significant makeover since our last visit.  We were not disappointed and for dessert we had something called "nougat de Tours".  It's a traditional dish from our region of France and with similarities to the traditional dish from our region of the UK - the Bakewell tart.  It consists of a pastry case, filled with a layer of jam and candied fruits then topped with an almond mixture.  We both chose it for dessert and really enjoyed it so we started looking for recipes how to make one.

There are plenty of recipes on the internet but in the end I adapted one by my friend Susan which you can see here. I used strips of candied orange peel rather than marmalade and then went slightly off piste adding some chopped green and red glacé cherries as well.  Then I went even more off piste and slightly wrong.

To begin with I had chosen entirely the wrong baking dish, a round Pyrex one, simply because it was to hand and easier than trying to wrestle my loose based tart tin from the back of the cupboard.  Then, as I was spreading the almond topping over the tart there seemed to be barely enough to cover it and it wasn’t until the tart was in the oven and I started stacking the dishwasher that I spotted the third egg white in its little pot on the kitchen worktop!

(When cracking the eggs for a meringue I usually drop the white into a small pot or cup and add them individually to the bowl.  I've done this ever since the time that the fourth egg white for a pavlova contained a blob of unwanted yolk as I dropped it into the mixing bowl with the others!)

It was also the devil's own job to get slices of the tart out of the dish in one piece.  Definitely not the best looking tart I have ever made but tasted delicious so I  made a second one a couple of weeks later using the right tin and all three egg whites! 

Using a loose bottomed tart tin made the tart easy to turn out and the end result looked much neater.

That one turned out much better and will teach me not to be so lazy and to pay more attention to what I’m doing in future!  Mind you, both tarts were equally delicious!

It also occurred to me that mini versions, along the lines of the old Be-Ro tartlets, might work very well.  I shall have to try that when the opportunities presents itself.

This is the tart we had at Le George and the topping was, I think, more like a Bakewell almond sponge than macaroon, but it set us on a little culinary adventure and Nougat de Tours will be on the menu regularly from now on.


Susan's post is worth reading because she explains the history of the tart including the use of local jams.  My jam was an apricot made from local trees by a friend that lives two miles away!  The jar of apricot is now all used up and the next one in line is her peach jam. Tah-dah!


1 pack of sweet pastry

A layer of apricot jam, around 150g

A layer of chopped candied peel and a few chopped glacé cherries, around 150g

75g ground almonds

75g caster sugar

3 egg whites

2 tblsp icing sugar


Remove the pastry from the fridge 20-30 minutes before you want to use it, otherwise it might crack when you unroll it.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Butter the base and sides of a 20cm loose bottomed tart tin. 

Unroll the pastry and use it to line the tart tin, leaving the edges untrimmed and draped over the edge of the tin.  

Spread a generous layer of jam over the pastry then scatter a generous layer of chopped peel over the top.

To make the topping, put the egg whites into a large bowl and whisk until stiff.  In another bowl mix together the ground almonds and caster sugar then fold them carefully into the egg whites.

Spread the topping evenly over the fruit, making sure not to leave any gaps at the edges.  Sprinkle with icing sugar, leave for a few minutes then sprinkle again.

Stand the tart on a baking sheet (this removes the risk of accidentally pushing the loose bottom up on removing the tart from the oven) and bake for 30 minutes.  Cover with foil if it looks too brown after 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven, remove the foil and cool in the tin.

When cool, carefully snap off the overhanging pastry and lift the tart onto a large can of food or small upturned bowl and ease the outer ring so that it drops down. You can then serve the tart from its metal base or transfer it to a flat serving plate by using a large cake lifter.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.