Vol-au-vent translates literally to “flight in the wind” and refers to the airy lightness of the baked puff pastry shell. It is said to have been created by Antonin Carême in his Parisian patisserie in the early 19th century. Since then, the dish has become something of a stodgy classic, often filled with heavy, cream-based sauces and rich garnishes, such as scallops, shrimp, or chicken and mushrooms.
This version is decidedly lighter, harnessing the bright flavors of Provence, and will make an elegant first course for a late-summer dinner. And you don’t need to be anywhere near a Paris pastry shop to enjoy this perfect example of classic French cuisine.
Vol-au-Vents with Provençal Zucchini
1 package all-butter puff pastry (about 18 ounces or 500 grams)
1 egg, beaten
1¾ pounds (800 grams) zucchini—about 2 large or 4 medium, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, basil and parsley
1 teaspoon dried lavender
1 lemon, zest and juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 410°F (210°C).
2. Using a sharp knife or cookie cutter, cut out eight equal-sized pieces (about 5 inches or 12 centimeters in diameter) of puff pastry. Place four of them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brush the edges with the beaten egg. Cut the centers out of the remaining four, leaving about a ¾-inch (2-centimeter) border. Place the borders over the egg-washed bases and prick the exposed middle a few times with a fork. Brush the tops with egg wash as well. Chill until the oven is ready. Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and cook, tossing occasionally, until the zucchini begins to brown. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice, zest, herbs and lavender. Cook for another minute or so, to combine the flavors. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Carefully press down the center of the puff pastry baskets to create more space inside. Fill with zucchini, and serve immediately.
Note: The puff pastry scraps make a great quick hors d’oeuvre. Simply brush with egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or coarse salt, and bake. You could also make them sweet (a nice accompaniment to ice cream) by sprinkling them with sugar instead, which will form a delicious, crackly crust.
Camille Malmquist is an American pastry chef living and working in Paris. In her spare time, she cooks and bakes at home (believe it or not), as well as tackles the difficult task of trying out as many restaurants and bakeries as possible, then she blogs about her food and travel adventures at Croque-Camille.