Philippa’s alpine apple pie challenge

travfoodalpine3NAVIGATING airports at half term is a bit like playing a kids computer game, says the Dorset-born private chef Philippa Davis. The route from departures in one country to arrivals in another is pitted with challenges, obstacles and tasks to test your intuition and skill  – and all has to be completed within a certain time frame or it’s game over … or at least a missed flight.

I didn’t miss my flight from Gatwick to Geneva for my week’s ski job (this would certainly be lacking in scenic snow-shots and plates of warming food if I had) but I did feel challenged. At my early morning check-in there was an obscene amount of suitcases, children, ski kit and parents whose morning coffee had not quite kicked in yet.

My trick in these circumstances is to keep my head down, find the queue with the oldest average age and make sure my caffeine levels are fully dosed. It has to be said though, when you do finally reach the snowy peaks and get your first lungful of chilled mountain air the journey makes perfect sense.

travfoodalpine5I do also have to mention on a travel note that the transfer company, generally staffed by young men on gap years, was impressively prompt, speedy and swift. We were unusually briskly, but politely, herded from airport to car park. As soon as the mini-bus was loaded, the doors slammed shut and we were speedily on our way across the border from Switzerland to France.

The rep proudly announced that this was the first time in the company’s history the departure was not only on time but also ahead of schedule! My neighbour nudged me and said with a wink: “You can thank the Six Nations rugby match this afternoon for that.”

My week’s cooking was filled with butter, eggs, cream and apples. The first three ingredients are obvious, hearty ski food that is exactly what is desired and needed after a day throwing oneself down a steep mountain on two plastic planks in freezing conditions. The last ingredient, the apple, became my private nemesis.

travfoodalpine4No matter what dessert I made, after every meal child 3 of the group declined dessert and requested two chopped up apples. I made tartes tatin, cheesecakes, chocolate tarts, strudels, panna cottas, Eton mess but nothing could persuade him. Even the apple pie got turned down. I know you are probably thinking why would I want to persuade a child to have dessert over apples – let me assure you that they generally eat a good balanced diet, were spending all day out on the slopes and happy to tuck into various candies so I just couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t try dessert!

Just as I was losing all hope the answer hit me, quite literally. I was planning to make a batch of ice cream for that night and as I opened the treat cupboard to get some chocolate to melt for sauce, down fell a bag of Maltesers. Bingo! Chocolate Malteser ice cream – if that doesn’t tempt child 3, I give up!

The chocolate Malteser ice cream was indeed tempting enough to be tried, although alongside two chopped up apples of course!

This recipe is for one of the side dishes I made for the week’s big celebration dinner, raviules with wild mushrooms and reblochon. Raviules are the French equivalent of the Italian potato dumplings, gnocchi but they have the added luxury of being fried in butter. I served mine as a side to beef wellington and for that added lushness I massaged white truffle oil into the fillet before encasing it in mushrooms and puff pastry.

travfoodalpine2Raviules with reblochon and wild mushrooms

(I confess the raviules are quite fussy to make so the perfect request when you have a private chef to hand or fancy a few hours in the kitchen.)

Makes enough for 4 as a lunch or 8 as a side dish.

1 kilo of similar sized floury potatoes (King Edwards or Maris piper are good)
100g flour + extra for dusting
2 eggs lightly beaten
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
100g semolina
150g butter plus 1 tbs extra
20g flat leaf parsley roughly chopped
200g wild mushrooms
200g reblochon

With their skins on boil the potatoes in salted water till cooked. Drain, then while still hot, using a tea towel to hold them, peel and mash – this is best done through a ricer, mouli or sieve into a large bowl.

To the potato add 2/3 of the finely chopped garlic, season with salt then stir in the eggs and the 100g flour. Knead lightly with your hand to bring together into a ball.

Lightly dust a tray with semolina then using the extra plain flour to dust your spoons make quenelles out of the potato mix (you will need to re-dust your spoons roughly after every three). Lay the quenelles on the tray and when you have finished the mix lightly sprinkle the tops with semolina.

travfoodalpineBring a large pan of salted water to the boil and poach the raviules in batches – they will float to the top then leave them to cook for 10 seconds. Once cooked lay out to drain on kitchen paper. They can be made to this stage several hours in advance.

When ready to serve: Melt 1 tbs of the butter in a large frying pan on a medium heat. When the butter starts to foam add the raviules in batches and fry on the three sides until golden then remove and keep warm. Repeat in batches with the rest of the 150g of butter and raviules.

When finished, using the same frying pan add the extra butter, mushrooms and the last 1/3 of garlic, fry for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms are just cooked and you can smell the garlic. Take off the heat add the reblochon and parsley stir then tip over the fried raviules. Serve hot.

Delicious as lunch with a crisp green salad with French dressing or as a side to roasted beef or lamb.

You can follow Philippa on twitter and find more of her postcard recipes on