Layers upon luscious layers

Trendy verrine is a study in flavors, textures, colors and temperatures

March 28, 2007|By Betty Hallock | Betty Hallock,Los Angeles Times

Entire cookbooks are written about them, glossy magazine spreads are devoted to them, home cooks blog about their addiction to making them, clamoring, "I have caught the bug!" or "I could not stop thinking about them."

Chic patisseries in Paris showcase them, and prominent French chefs put them on their menus. A pretty, tiny one might come with your aperitif, or it might be the last dazzling thing you see on the table at the end of a meal.

They're called verrines, an appetizer or dessert that consists of a number of components layered artfully in a small glass. (The word verrine refers to the glass itself; literally it means "protective glass.")

Intriguingly composed, they're a study in textures, flavors, colors and temperatures. A beautiful glass might be filled with a layer of mushroom flan, sauteed wild mushrooms, a julienne of prosciutto, parsley gelee, wild mushroom emulsion and topped with a potato-and-prosciutto galette. Another will have clementine-and-mint syrup, fresh clementines and a gingerbread "crumble."

American chefs are just starting to catch on to the verrine. But in France, it's a culinary trend that's captured just about everyone's imagination - including home cooks.

"At the moment, we see things served in verrines everywhere," says Kirk Whitlle, pastry chef at Michelin two-star restaurant Helene Darroze in Paris. Nearly all the desserts in the restaurant's Le Salon are verrines.

One has layers of bay leaf-flavored panna cotta, Mara des Bois strawberries, lemon gelee, lemon crumble and strawberry sorbet. Another has salted caramel ice cream, chocolate-cumin tuile and Madong chocolate cream.

"I started using verrines 20 years ago," says Paris-based three-star chef Guy Savoy, who also has a restaurant in Las Vegas in Caesars Palace. "My childhood prompted me. I saw in those verrines all the desserts of my childhood - chocolate mousse, rice pudding, creme caramel."

Step into a Pierre Herme shop in Paris, and you'll see glass pastry cases filled with rows of elegant verrines.

"Verrine - it sounds like terrine. I refer to them as emotions. Very French," says master patissier Herme. "I am interested in the architecture of desserts, in tastes and textures and senses."

A verrine offers the perfect opportunity to experiment in one's own kitchen. Even a favorite dish can inspire one: A simple Italian salad becomes a verrine with layers of slow-roasted tomatoes, burrata cheese and pesto, with a garnish of crisp prosciutto. Or butterscotch pudding, a wafer cookie, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

Meanwhile, French chefs have brought verrines to Las Vegas. At L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, diners sitting at the counter get a peek into the kitchen, and general manager Emmanuel Cornett says they're often intrigued by a verrine called l'oeuf en cocotte, an egg steamed in the glass on top of a parsley puree. Once the egg is cooked, it's topped with sauteed mushrooms and a mushroom foam.

"People are often pointing to it and asking, `Oh, what is it?' " Cornett says.

One of the signature dishes at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas is a verrine that Savoy calls "colors of caviar." The first layer is caviar suspended in a vinaigrette, topped with creme caviar, a puree of haricots verts and finally a sabayon of golden osetra caviar from Iran.

Executive chef Damien Dulas says, "We tell people not to eat just one layer by one layer but all layers at the same time. They're all complementary."

Betty Hallock writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Red, White and Green Verrine

Makes 6 servings

6 Roma tomatoes

6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the pan and garnish

3/4 teaspoon salt (divided use), plus more if needed

black pepper

1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons pine nuts

1 cup chopped fresh basil

3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 paper-thin slices prosciutto

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons burrata cheese

cracked black pepper

fleur de sel

Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Cut the Roma tomatoes in half lengthwise and place them cut-side up on a rack set on a baking sheet. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over them. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

Roast the tomatoes for 4 to 4 1/2 hours, until they are very tender and begin to collapse and show some browning. Remove from the oven and let cool, then coarsely chop. Add additional salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Stir in the balsamic vinegar.

To make pesto: Using a mortar and pestle, work the garlic and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt into a fine paste. Grind in the pine nuts and basil until a smooth paste begins to form. Slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup of olive oil, then work in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, mixing to combine. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice and adjust seasoning if necessary.

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