Fine food and philosophising: why apéro dinatoire is the Gallic occasion we Brits would do well to adopt
Words: Jenny Tregoning
If there are two things the French love, it’s food and philosophising. So no wonder the hot social invite across The Channel – ‘apéro dinatoire’ – combines these two pillars of French culture.
Essentially, apéro dinatoire is a souped-up version of the French apéro (pre-dinner drinks and nibbles), but with more substantial plates of charcuterie, pâtés and canapés to share. Think of it as a laidback cocktail party – the vibe is loungy rather than standing on ceremony – where friends get together after a long week, over champagne and conversation.
“Apéro is an important time to catch up with friends and family, to stimulate conversation as well as your palate,” says Frank McGivern, leading bartender and brand ambassador for Chambord.
It’s also a chance to show off your culinary credentials without having to cook a three-course meal (win win). As host, you should be spending time with your guests, not flapping around the kitchen.
Amandine Chaignot, executive chef at the Rosewood Hotel in London, agrees: “Never forget that people are there for you. The purpose is to gather, not to deliver Michelin-star food. And I always have a bottle of champagne in my fridge in case of emergency.” Emergency champagne? Now you’re talking. Read on for Stylist’s guide to the best apéro. Santé!
Rural France enjoys an abundance of wild mushrooms, which the French regard as a delicacy. “The fresh flavours of raspberries and sparkling wine will cut through the rich umami flavour,” says McGivern.
Wild mushroom toast
Cooking time: 45 minutes
- 30g unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ onion, halved and sliced
- 2 tsps fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 225g wild mushrooms, such as chanterelle, stemmed and sliced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp dry vermouth
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the toast:
- 3 tbsps pine nuts
- 4 thick slices sourdough bread
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp parsley
Step 1: Put a large shallow pan over a medium-high heat. Melt the butter and olive oil then add the onion, rosemary, and thyme. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring well. Reduce the heat, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until the onions are golden.
Step 2: Stir in the mushrooms and salt and cook until the mushrooms soften. Add vermouth and pepper. Once the vermouth is completely evaporated, remove from the heat. Taste and season.
Step 3: In a small frying pan, toast the pine nuts, shaking the pan often, until golden. Put on a plate.
Step 4: Toast the bread under a grill, drizzled with olive oil. To serve, top each piece with the mushroom mix and finish with the pine nuts and chopped parsley.
From Toast The Cookbook by Raquel Pelzel (£14.95, Phaidon), out now
Pair with: a Loire meets cognac
- 12.5ml Chambord
- 12.5ml cognac
- 1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
- 125ml dry sparkling wine
- Lemon twist, to garnish
Add the spirits to a chilled champagne coupette, top with your preferred sparkling wine and garnish with a lemon twist.
A taste of Paris
These macarons are a savoury twist on the version you’d find in Paris. Pair with an Academy Gimlet. “The citrus will complement this light dish very well, while the basil will add a lovely subtle flavour,” says McGivern.
Lemon and black pepper macarons with smoked salmon
Makes 18-20 macarons
Cooking time: 2 hours
- 100g ground almonds
- 100g icing sugar
- 90g egg whites (about 3 eggs)
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp lemon extract
- A few drops of yellow food colouring
For the filling:
- 280g cream cheese
- 300g smoked salmon, sliced
- 18-20 small grapefruit segments
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.
Step 2: Line two baking sheets with baking paper. Put the ground almonds and icing sugar into a food processor and quickly blitz, then sift into a bowl. Set aside.
Step 3: In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the caster sugar a little at a time, whisking until the mixture is stiff. Gradually fold the almond powder, pepper, lemon extract and food colouring into the egg whites until the mixture is smooth and shiny.
Step 4: Spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a 1cm nozzle, then pipe discs about 4cm in diameter onto the baking sheets. Sprinkle a little pepper over each macaron. Give the base of each baking sheet a sharp tap against the work surface, then leave to stand for 30 minutes to allow to dry out. You should be able to touch the top of each macaron without it sticking to your finger.
Step 5: Bake for 12-15 minutes, briefly opening the door after 10 to let out the steam. Leave to cool on the baking sheets until almost cold, then transfer to a wire rack.
Step 6: For the filling, put the cream cheese into a bowl and beat until soft, then spoon into a piping bag and pipe a little on to the base of each macaron. Top with a slice of salmon, a grapefruit segment and a frond of dill. Pipe a little cream cheese on to the base of a second macaron, then place at an angle on top of the first. Store in the fridge for up to a day until ready to serve.
From Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea by Eric Lanlard (£20, Mitchell Beazley), out now
Pair with: An academy gimlet
- 60ml Grey Goose vodka
- 15ml fresh lime juice
- 10ml basil-infused sugar syrup
Shake everything in a cocktail shaker, then strain into a short tumbler filled with ice cubes. Garnish with a basil leaf.
Rillettes is a French classic, especially popular in central France. Stay regional by teaming it with a light red from the Loire Valley. “Pork rillettes is packed with flavour but quite fatty so a crisp and light red is the best match,” says Stylist’s wine expert, Jane Parkinson.
Serves 4 as a snack
Cooking time: 2 hours (with 2 hours refrigeration time)
- 200g pork belly (rind removed), trimmed and diced
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 30g butter
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- A pinch of mace
- 1 bay leaf
- A pinch of dried parsley
- Salt and black pepper, to season
- 50ml dry white wine
- 150ml chicken stock
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to serve
- Parsley, finely chopped, to serve Melba toast, to serve
Step 1: Put the pork in a non- metallic container then massage the salt into the meat. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Rinse and dry the pork – the salt should draw out some of the moisture but if you’re slow-cooking it, don’t leave it as long as it will benefit from keeping the fat.
Step 2: Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat, then add the pork, garlic, mace, bay leaf and parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, to slightly brown the pork, then add the white wine and turn up the heat high for 2 minutes to reduce the wine. Pour in the chicken stock.
Step 3: Turn the heat down low and put a lid on the pan. Leave it cooking gently for 75 minutes. At this stage, press one of the pork pieces with a fork and if it starts to fall apart, it’s had long enough. If the mixture is starting to dry out, add more chicken stock. Cover and leave to cook for 20 minutes, until the meat is falling apart.
Step 4: Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Discard the bay leaf. When cool enough to touch, pull the meat apart and mix it with your fingers. Discard any large pieces of fat that remain.
Step 5: Transfer the pork to a container and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour to set. This is best at room temperature as it allows the flavour to come through, so remove from the fridge 30 minutes before serving. Add lemon juice, black pepper and a sprinkling of parsley. Serve with melba toast.
From Appetizers by Miranda Ballard (£14.99, Ryland, Peters & Small), out now
Pair with: Domaine des Rochelles Anjou Rouge l’Ardoise 2014
“This has red berry freshness, is fantastic value, and is best enjoyed after 15 minutes in the fridge,” explains Parkinson. (£10, hhandc.co.uk)
A classic combo
It wouldn’t be a French cocktail party without fromage (or champagne). Camembert originates from Normandy in northern France and is delicious in these apple tarts paired with the vibrant fresh fizz of champagne.
Camembert and apple tarts
Cooking time: 50 minutes
- 25g unsalted butter
- 2 firm dessert apples such as Granny Smith or Cox’s, peeled and cut into thin wedges
- 1 tbsp clear honey
- 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
- 375g ready-made puff pastry
- Plain flour, for dusting
- 150g camembert, sliced
For the walnut drizzle:
- 50g walnuts
- 3-4 tbsps olive oil
- 1 tbsp chopped tarragon
- Salt and black pepper
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
Step 2: Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat, add the apples and fry until golden. Stir in the honey and balsamic vinegar. Remove from the heat.
Step 3: Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to 2mm thick. Using a cookie cutter, stamp out 12 discs. Grease 6 boat-shaped mini tart tins and line the tins with the pastry discs, trimming off any excess. Place an empty tart tin on top of each lined tin and fill with rice to stop the pastry from puffing.
Step 4: Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then remove the extra tart tins and rice. Return to the oven and bake for a further 2-3 minutes, until cooked through. Cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack. Leave the tart tins to cool, then repeat.
Step 5: Make the walnut drizzle. Blitz the walnuts, oil, tarragon and salt and pepper in a food processor until it has the texture of pesto. Set aside.
Step 6: Fill the tart cases with the apple mixture and top each with a slice of camembert. Bake in the oven for about 8 minutes until the cheese is all lovely and melted. Drizzle the walnut oil over the tarts to garnish. Serve warm.
From Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea by Eric Lanlard (£20, Mitchell Beazley), out now
Pair with: Champagne Delamotte Brut NV
“Champagne is a fantastic match with cheese,” says Parkinson. “This one has delicious flavours of buttered toast, lemons and apples, which pair perfectly with the gooey French camembert cheese.” (£29.95, corneyandbarrow.com)