At about the same time that the café gourmand became popular in France, another wonderful speciality appeared – the verrine. You may already know the word terrine which is a recipient made of terre, or clay; it has also come to mean the contents, usually a pâté.
Well, the verrine is both a glass recipient and its contents, generally about the size of a shot glass.
Just as the café gourmand consists of several mini-desserts, the verrine is really a mini-starter but served as an accompaniment to an apéritif. It can, of course, be used for a café gourmand. Since the verrine is usually transparent, colour, texture, volume and appearance are very important, and layers are often used.
The verrines come in all shapes and sizes, and are usually made of glass or porcelain. You can buy sets in any large supermarket that include tiny casseroles and spoons. Of course, any appropriately-sized recipient can be used. My mother’s crystal shot glasses are among my favourites! You can also buy plastic throwaways.
If you do them yourself as an apéritif dinatoire, I guarantee that your guests will be bowled over. For two people, they are a little time-consuming, but for 4 or more, they are actually a time-saver and you don’t have the problem of making sure everything is ready at the right time. You just need a lot of fridge space!
I have some favourites that I’ve developed over the years, initially gleaned from a series of three verrine cookbooks, of which there is no shortage. You can even find them in the book stalls in the motorway service centres these days. Just google verrine and you’ll come up with 3 billion hits!
Of course, you have to be a little finicky. Spooning beetroot and fromage blanc purée into a tiny glass without getting it on the sides takes a little practice. I asked a waiter at a cocktail party once if he knew the secret and he did: make a paper cone that stops at the highest level to which you want to fill the verrine. Works perfectly.
So what are my favourites? There are many wonderful combinations that I love: mozzarella and halved cherry tomatoes with fresh basil leaves; eggplant purée topped with ricotta and walnuts; beetroot purée with fromage blanc/yoghurt and chives with mint sprigs; avocado purée with pink grapefruit and prawn; pan-fried fresh foie gras with mango on porcelain spoons; wild mushrooms with broken crackers.
To add some excitement, let your guests guess what they’re eating. Bon appétit !