As the days shorten and the nights darken, I find myself dreaming of long lazy lunches in Paris, a winter destination for us as we travel to family Christmases in Europe. I love the grand brasseries that sit quietly amongst the streets that surround the Gare de l’Est from where we travel on to Strasbourg and beyond. Here the menus offer up simple traditional dishes: oysters, pissaladière, croque monsieur or madame, moules frites, tarte du jour with a beautifully dressed green salad – always, always my first choice – salade niçoise and delicately oozing omelettes. This golden baked version is one of my favourites. It’s filled with lemon-baked ricotta, nutty Gruyère cheese, buttery shallots, French tarragon and chives. Baked ricotta is so easy to prepare and you’ll have a bit left over from this recipe so dollop it over pasta dishes or try it indulgently slathered over lightly toasted sourdough with a roasted plum tomato on the top.
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Extra-virgin olive oil
A knob of butter (optional)
4 banana shallots, finely chopped
1 bunch of spring asparagus (you can also use a couple of generous handfuls of peeled broad beans, peas or baby spinach leaves)
10 large free-range eggs
100g Le Cret Gruyère cheese, finely grated
2 tbsp of fresh chives, finely chopped
1-2 tsp of dried French tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
Heat an oven to 180C and lightly butter a shallow 10-inch flan dish with a loose bottom.
Line an ovenproof dish with a square of baking parchment and turn out the ricotta cheese onto it. With the back of a spoon, smash it down a little to broaden the surface area, drizzle with olive oil and half the lemon juice, scatter over the lemon zest, salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes, remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, heat a lidded frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil and butter (if using). When the butter has melted, add the shallots, turn down the heat and allow them to gently sweat down for 10 minutes.
Whilst all that is going on, carefully cut off the tips of the asparagus and set aside. Finely slice the remaining spears and, when the shallots are done, add them (or the peas or broad beans) to the pan. Leave them to slow fry for around five minutes and then remove from the heat.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs. Stir in the onion mixture, little spoonfuls of the baked ricotta, half the Gruyère cheese and, if using the spinach leaves. Mix together, add the herbs and season to your taste.
Pour the mixture into the buttered flan dish, decorate with the reserved asparagus tips and scatter over the remaining cheese.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, turning around once half way through. Allow to cool slightly before turning out on to a plate. Serve just warm or at room temperature with a lemony green salad or, my Mum’s favourite, a mountain of salty skinny French fries and a bowl of garlicky aioli.