Change is in the air! The figs have disappeared and in their place are curious (to a ‘petite Anglaise’ like me) mushrooms and chestnuts ( les chataignes) and walnuts (les noix) and the leaves on the trees are beginning to turn from lush green, to vibrant yellow and mellow shades of purple, gold and russet.
We are in that strange, but wonderful limbo that is autumn, one day I am in jeans and ankle boots and the next, as today, back in cropped pants and loafers! Not knowing quite what to wear (as there is a distinctive nip in the air in the morning, but by midday the temperatures are positively balmy) extends to not knowing what to cook. I plan a heart warming dish, only to have to divert to salad at the last minute and likewise salad is abandoned in favour of soup!
So I find a gratin the perfect solution, it can equally be served up with roast meat if the temperatures dip, of grilled fish if they rise – and is equally delicious as a light vegetarian lunch or supper dish……
Some of you know that I have not been very well the past week, (but am recovering slowly) and this leads me perfectly into my little usual cultural observation. France has a wonderful healthcare system, but being a Brit I was used to everything being free on the point of demand. (how long the UK can continue with this ethos is debatable, with an ever increasing elderly population putting more and more demands on the health service and less people in the work force paying into the system, along with asylum seekers, I think that a charge is inevitable – I am waiting the angry responses to this statement, but the world changes and I think that we must change with it)
When I first came here, I refused to visit the GP as I begrudged paying the 23 euro (then, it is now 26) for a consultation. As I work and pay into the system in France, I get a percentage of this back from the social security, so in reality, the fee is more around 10 euro. What I get in return is a very efficient service and can normally see my GP within 48 hours in none urgent situations and when I suddenly took ill last week, I was given an appointment in 2 hours!
So all in all, I think that 10 euro (about £7) is a cheap price to pay.
The screening system for various cancers (breast, colon, cervical) is more diligent here also and you are called more frequently than in the UK – this is also free as it is preventative medicine. Dental services are also excellent and much cheaper. But eye tests are MUCH more thorough in UK and MUCH cheaper, so it is swings and roundabouts.
Back to the gratin….. I make gratin from almost everything, but courgettes have just been in abundance, so this is todays recipe.
1 large courgette
1 large clove garlic
Butter for sautéing and also for buttering the dish
2 medium ‘free range’ eggs (oeufs de poules elevées en plein aire)
½ pint / 250 ml single cream (crème fraiche liquid)
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste
Freshly ground nutmeg (noix muscade) optional, but I love the ‘tangy’ flavour it gives!
Grated cheese (Cheddar or Gruyere, but I particularly like Red Leicester or Comté)
Fresh breadcrumbs (chapelure) or crumbled up ready-made croutons/garlic croutons work very well
Cut the garlic in two and rub inside of the baking dish with first the garlic and then some of the butter (gives a nice hint of garlic, but not so overpowering as putting it into the dish)
Slice the courgette into ¼ inch / ½ cm rondelles and sauté in a little melted butter until just turning golden (doré)
Beat the eggs with the crème fraiche and add the salt, pepper and nutmeg
Arrange the courgette in the prepared dish and pour over the cream and egg mixture
Cover with grated cheese
Sprinkle (saupoudre) with breadcrumbs
Bake in a preheated oven at 180 / gas mark 4 for around 25 minutes (if the top is becoming too brown cover loosely with aluminium foil)