“Oh my god, the oven’s on fire!”
This wasn’t quite the statement I had intended on making while cooking Den’s birthday meal. In my mind, I would flit around the kitchen, looking all chic and glamorous while creating a culinary masterpiece – a bit like Nigella would.
What actually happened was that I got distracted chopping onions and left the tray of truffle oil that I was heating for the roast potatoes in the oven too long, thus causing streams of smoke to start billowing out of the oven. And when I opened the door – flames! Big, long, yellow tendrils reaching for the outside.
I screamed, the smoke detector went off, Dennis came running in and a cat shot through the cat flap! Chaos! And far from sophisticated.
Luckily, as I slammed the oven door shut in horror the flames went out, and so after some raised eyebrows from Dennis and a little bit of flapping from me, I went back to cooking his birthday meal, ignoring the distinct burnt aroma that now filled the kitchen.
Dennis loves vol au vents. A buffet isn’t a buffet without a vol au vent, he says, and I know that one way to make him happy is to show him a plate of his favourite pastry treats. So it was a bit of a no brainer as to what to make for his birthday.
But what to fill it with? We’re a vegetarian household so chicken and fish were out of the question. Egg mayonnaise isn’t suitable for a main course and the mushroom sauce I usually make is feeling a bit “been there, done that”.
And so to Pinterest for inspiration. I love this website and can waste many an hour admiring the pretty pictures of homes and gardens, fashion, food… (all in the name of research, obviously!).
Looking for ideas for Den’s birthday vol au vent I came across this great recipe by the celebrity chef, Mark Dodson. Not only did it look really impressive but it seemed pretty easy to create and provided a new twist on the classic mushroom vol au vent.
My version is below. It’s almost the same as Mark’s, give or take a few local adaptations due to not being able to find the ingredients in our local supermarket. No fresh spinach was available so frozen had to do instead, I had to use regular mushrooms instead of wild, and there was not a duck egg in sight so regular ole chicken eggs it had to be (free range of course).
What I did find in the supermarket though was some deliciously creamy goats cheese, made here in the Perigord valley by the Garrigue dairy. And rather than serve the dish as a starter as Mark suggests, I turned it into a main course, adding accompaniments of potatoes roasted in truffle oil (another local supermarket gem) sprinkled with Parmesan, and steamed French beans seasoned with salt and pepper.
I also cheated on the pastry – but then, who wouldn’t!
Giant vol-au-vent stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and goats cheese, and topped with a creamy yellow pepper sauce
4 giant vol au vent cases – or “bouchée”, as they are known here in France
For the filling
80g goat’s cheese, sliced
3 segments frozen spinach, defrosted
80g mushrooms, finely sliced
Salt and pepper
For the cream sauce
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
¾ large yellow pepper chopped
Salt and pepper
For the garnish
¼ large yellow pepper finely chopped
- Place the vol au vents on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/gas mark 3
- Make the filling: Sauté the mushrooms, then add the spinach and warm through.
- Putting aside 4 slices of the goat’s cheese, add the remainder to the pan, stir until melted, then season
- Place a slice of goat’s cheese in the bottom of each of the vol au vents and spoon the mushroom and spinach mix on top of it.
- Make the cream sauce: Sweat the onions and garlic in a little olive oil, then add the pepper and the paprika.
- Add the cream, season and bring to a simmer.
- Blend the cream, then strain through a fine sieve into a pan and keep warm.
- Place the vol au vents in the oven.
- While the vol au vents are heating through, poach the eggs in simmering water for 3-4 minutes.
- Take the vol au vents out of the oven and transfer to the serving plates. Drain the eggs and place one on the top of each of the pastry cases.
- Spoon over the sauce and garnish with the finely chopped pepper and rocket. Dust with a little paprika and serve.