Falling in love with cheese gougères at a stress-free, French themed dinner

A couple of days ago I had a few friends over for a French themed dinner and served cheese gougères for canapés.They were so moreish and light it didn’t take long for the whole plate of them to disappear between the three of us.

These were a few leftovers – we ate a far larger plateful between us!

For the main course I stuffed tomatoes with a mix of pork mince, ricotta, red onion and a handful of mixed herbs –  a great, relaxed dish to make in advance. In fact, I possibly managed to set a personal best for time not spent in the kitchen cooking once my guests had arrived. Putting the tomatoes in the oven, tossing some salad leaves in a dressing and taking dessert – iles flottantes (little poached meringues floating on a citrus flavoured crème anglaise) – out of the fridge, was near enough all the work I needed to do.Gougères – Makes about 25-30 (adapted from Rachel Khoo’s Little Paris Kitchen)

  • 125ml milk
  • 125ml water
  • 100g butter, cubed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch chilli powder
  • pinch cumin powder
  • 170g plain flour
  • 85g Gruyère, grated (I love cooking with Gruyère but you could use Cheddar or Parmesan instead)
  • 4 eggs
  • N.B. it’s important to have all the ingredients ready and measured out before you start as you will need to work quickly!
  • You will also need a piping bag fitted with a 0.5cm nozzle.
  • Gougères are best eaten warm from the oven, although they will keep for a couple of days in an airtight box and reheat well in a 150°C oven for about 5 minutes.
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two baking trays with baking paper
  2. Add the milk, water, butter, salt, chilli powder and cumin to a pan and place over a high heat, stirring, until the butter has melted and the mixture just starts to come to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the flour. Stir the mixture vigorously until smooth and comes away from the sides of the pan.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to beat the dough for a couple of minutes until cooled slightly. Beat in the eggs one at a time, ensuring each egg is fully incorporated into the mix before adding the next. The dough will go lumpy with each addition but will smooth out once well mixed. Finally beat in 50g of the cheese.
  4. Place the mixture into the piping bag and pipe the dough into 3-4cm balls onto the prepared baking trays, leaving a 2cm gap between each mound. (If you have any very pointy tips on your dough balls, dip your finger in some water and press them down into the dough to prevent them burning in the oven.)
  5. Sprinkle with the remaining 35g of cheese and bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until golden.

Stuffed tomatoes (serves 4-6)

  • 12 medium sized tomatoes
  • sea salt
  • 300g pork mince
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 150g ricotta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons mixed herbs of choice (I like parsley and oregano)
  • 50g Gruyère, grated
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • black pepper
  1. Cut the top off each tomato (setting them aside for later) and scoop out the flesh and seeds from the tomatoes with a teaspoon. Sprinkle the insides of the tomatoes with salt and leave to stand, upside down, for 30 minutes to remove some of the moisture.
  2. If you are going to be cooking the tomatoes straight away, preheat the oven to 180°C.
  3. While the tomatoes are resting, prepare the filling. In a large bowl mix together the pork mince, onion, ricotta, herbs, Gruyère and 1 tablespoon of oil. Season well. (It’s a good idea to make a tiny patty from the mixture and fry it off in a small saucepan so you can taste it for seasoning…it may seem like a bit of a faff, but it’s worth the little bit of extra effort to ensure you don’t end up with a bland, under-seasoned dish!)
  4. Once the tomatoes have rested, stuff them with the filling and top with the reserved tomato tops.
  5. Place in a baking dish and either bake straight away or store, covered, in the fridge for a couple of hours before cooking.
  6. To cook, drizzle the tomatoes with the remaining tbsp of oil. Pour enough water into the tin to cover the base by  few millimetres. Bake in a preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes until the tomatoes have softened nicely, and are releasing juices.

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