One day last week my friend Elsie and I decided to master the art of verrines, brightly colored layers of ingredients served on top of each other in little glasses. Verrines have been popular in France for some time—stylish, structured, easy to prepare, elegant to present. They are perfect to begin or end a celebratory holiday dinner. They are especially perfect for buffets, where a variety of verrines can be arranged in a display of colors and flavors. The name comes from the French word for glass – verre – and the straight forward layering method means you don’t have to be a master chef to create your own version of the dish.
We allocated precisely four hours to make, serve, and devour four different verrines.
The photos in this article were taken at the table in less than advantageous light, but they show that it’s possible to make show-stopping appetizers to wow your dinner guests. Copy these or let your imagination run wild–diced vegetables, seafood, mousse, purees, minced tuna, panna cotta, ricotta, shaved cheeses, small sprigs of winter greens—the palette is endless.
Use small glasses, just big enough for one, smallish serving. Possibilities include shot glasses, cordial glasses, small wine glasses, martini glasses. Rocks and old-fashioned glasses can be filled up halfway as well. Cylinder shapes are best, but be sure a spoon will fit inside.
Differentiate layers with colors. Use some ingredients with bold colors and alternate those with light ones. Cheese, cream or purees of vegetables like cauliflower or celery root provide great contrast and define layers.
Vary the textures. Add a crunchy topping to purees and mousse. Alternate them with diced fruits or vegetables. For winter verrines pomegranate seeds add a pop. Sectioned citrus also works.
Marry the flavors. Color and texture are what make verrines a treat for the eyes, but remember they must taste good, too.
Below are very brief directions for the four verrines we made, in the order in which they were served. (I assure you they look much better in person.)
Cauliflower Puree and Diced Beets
Simmer cut up cauliflower in milk until the cauliflower is soft. Strain, reserving the milk. Cool to desired temperature. Puree the cauliflower in a food processor, adding some of the milk, bit by bit, until the mixture is soft but not soupy. Spoon into glasses. Peel and dice roasted beets. Spoon a layer of beets over the cauliflower. Top beets with crumbled goat cheese. Serve.
Avocado, Pink Grapefruit and Pomegranate Seeds
This is a pretty red and green verrine for Christmas. Peel the grapefruit and cut the sections away from the membrane. Collect the juices, and make a vinaigrette with some EVOO. Slice avocado into thin slices. De-seed the pomegranate (follow this simple method http://pomegranates.org). Arrange avocado slides in the bottom of the glass, then add a layer of pink grapefruit and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Repeat. Drizzle grapefruit vinaigrette over the top layer, enough to season the ingredients but not so much that it pools at the bottom of the glass. Garnish with parsley, cilantro, or other small leafy greens. Serve.
Tuna with Pineapple-Mango Salsa
We ran out of glasses by the time we started on this verrine so we used a stemmed water glass that was a little large for the ingredients we had on hand. This was very quick to assemble because I bought a container of Trader Joe’s mango-pineapple salsa so all we had to do was finely mince the tuna. USE very fresh SUSHI-GRADE TUNA. Spoon some of the salsa in the bottom of the glass. Add a generous layer of tuna. Top with another layer of salsa. Garnish with cilantro or scallions. Serve. (I know, I know, the photo is horrible. But it’s a winner so try it, please.)
Pear, Walnut, Blue Cheese and Watercress Salad
The composition of this verrine is less structured than those that are layered. The key is to arrange the ingredients so they create a beautiful tableau when viewed through the glass. Make a vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar and a mild vegetable oil. Peel, core, and dice pears. Sprinkle with some lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Tear watercress (or mache) into bite-size pieces. Crumble blue cheese of your choice into pieces approximately the same size as the pear dice. Arrange layers of pears, walnut pieces, blue cheese, and greens. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette. Serve. A small salad fork would be appropriate here.