The thing that wouldn’t leave
As a kid watching TV I used to love the sketch on Saturday Night Live “The thing that wouldn’t leave”, about an awful houseguest that overstayed his welcome. Later, regrettably, I must confess that I’ve come across this being in various shapes and sizes, though not too often or too severely. It’s the most comic of situations, Mr and Mrs are ready to head to bed but the visitor, doesn’t get or doesn’t want to get the signals. In any case he stays too long.
Then there is that other character, the darling uncle that everybody wants to stay forever, his welcome has no expiry date. He’s the one that you’ll gladly put up on the couch in the living room, or better yet, in the five-star guest bedroom. He doesn’t want to leave, you don’t want him to go, and thus, though goodbyes have been said, though he’s had the last sip of port many times over – he’s still there and everybody is happy about it.
Lately we’ve had an uncle like that, he’s called summer. After dinner, after port and cheeses and sweets we said goodbye to him, but he’s still here, and nothing could make me happier. For weeks now we’ve been predicting autumn, every al fresco meal has been thoughtfully appreciated as if it were the last one for a while. But then a new day comes, out go the plates of summer salads, the chilled wine, the refreshing desserts. The swimming pool thought she’d be off duty by now but she’s more in demand than ever.
As I am writing this they are writing summer’s obituary once again, apparently sweater season is soon upon us.
Autumn is welcome in this house but until then we’ll be happy to entertain that other uncle, the summer that wouldn’t leave – write him off at your own peril.
Bat in a glass
Apart from amazing weather these last few weeks have been dominated by another “thing”, a very large and mysterious old château that will soon be our home. The main work is focused around the heart of the house, the kitchen, and the adjoining rooms where I will open a restaurant next summer and where I will host cooking workshops very soon. Seeing it come to life is so rewarding and promising and we can’t resist going there almost every day. The previous owner left us lots of little treasures to discover, cases of wine in the cellar, oddities in cupboards and chests, an old French flag, a framed certificate of a “Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur”, old recipe diaries, coins and curiosities. A treasure hunt in our very own house, finding interesting objects but also clues that bring us closer to the past history and spirit of la maison. Last weekend we were excited to see how the work was progressing in the kitchen so after our outdoorsy lunch we headed to St Yzans to monitor the travaux. All the kids tagged along, their favorite thing is to peel away the wallpaper and argue who gets which room (although that has long since been decided).
We love to put on music in the old gramophone we found in one of the soon to be guest rooms and the nostalgic music, more precisely Tony Murena’s ‘café au lait‘, echoes throughout the house. On one of our first visits, we were surprised by a bat that seemed to have taken up lodgings on the top floor and though we haven’t seen it since, Hudson, our eight year old boy is very much on alert, once he even brought an umbrella for protection. Last Saturday, we found a beautiful, old glass dome and it reminded me of a trip to the taxidermy shop Deyrolles in Paris. It was just before Christmas and Oddur desperately wanted to buy a skeleton of a bat, gloriously stored in such a glass display. I wasn’t too keen, the item itself … and the price tag were rather off-putting to me. If I remember correctly I gave him an overcoat instead and stupidly a stuffed toy dog (talking about opening Pandora’s box).
On the whole I think I much prefer an empty glass dome and a live bat flying somewhere outside it – a much more hopeful display. And years from now, when people ask me “why do you leave that beautiful dome empty?” I will simply say “It’s a long story … but it’s got to do with a bat”.
Of course if I change my mind I can always use the dome for cheese.
ps: Once again, just a quick reminder for those of you who have or will order my cookbook “A Kitchen in France” that you have a nice print waiting for you and all you have to do is click here and fill in your details.
(Serves 6 as a starter)
There are so many different layers in this soup, from the nutty lentils to the crispy breadcrumbs and pancetta. The garlic cream gives this soup and extra punch. The soup is very easy to make – just make sure to prepare the garnishing while the soup is cooking.
230 g/ 8 ounces dried green lentils
1 large carrot, peeled & sliced
1 onion, peeled & sliced
60 g/ 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
A few sprigs of parsley, leaves picked and chopped finely
100 g/ 1 & 2/3 cup stale bread, ground coarsely
30 ml/1/8th cup olive oil
150 g/ 1/3 pound sliced pancetta
120 ml/ ½ cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, peeled
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
Heat half of the butter in a large pot, cook the onions and carrots for 4 to 5 minutes on a medium heat.
Add the lentils and thyme. Pour about 1.5 1iters of water. Season with salt & pepper.
When the soup starts to boil, turn down the heat and leave to simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
While the soup is cooking, prepare the following:
For the garlic breadcrumbs
Place bread and one clove of garlic in a food processor. Pulse until coarse crumbs form. Heat olive oil in a large pan and sauté the breadcrumbs on a medium heat until golden and crisp. Leave to cool and set aside. Season with salt.
For the pancetta
Heat a sauté pan on a medium heat and cook the pancetta on both sides until golden. Drain on paper towels and chop finely.
Mince garlic with garlic crusher. In a small saucepan, heat the cream and crushed garlic on a medium to low heat, stir well until mixture is warm. Pass the sauce through a sieve. Set aside.
Mix the soup with a stick blender. Add the remaining butter and stir until melted.
Serve the soup with a spoonful of garlic breadcrumbs, chopped pancetta and parsley on top. Drizzle with a bit of garlic cream.
Roast leg of lamb with basil cream
This classic dish is a family favorite, and I love this refreshing basil cream sauce – it flavors the meat in all the right way. Serve with roast potatoes so they can soak up all the goodness.
1 leg of lamb – gigot d’agneau (about 2.5 kg 5 to 6 pounds)
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 large carrot, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
1 large bunch of basil, leaves picked
120 ml/1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
120 ml/1/2 cup heavy cream
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F
Heat olive oil in a large ovenproof /heatproof roasting pan on a medium heat, and brown lamb on all sides. Season with salt & pepper. Add the garlic cloves, sliced carrot & onion, transfer to the preheated oven and roast for 45 to 55 minutes for medium-rare, adjust timing depending on desired ‘cuisson’.
Remove lamb from pan and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.
Make the sauce
Heat the roasting pan and all its juices on a medium heat, scoop out the excess fat with a spoon, and bring to a boil. Add chicken or vegetable stock and reduce to half. Season with salt & pepper. Add the heavy cream and chopped basil. Stir the sauce for a couple more minutes until it thickens slightly and take off the heat. Pass the sauce though a sieve.
Serve the carved leg of lamb with a generous drizzle of basil cream sauce and roast potatoes.
Grape tart/ La tarte aux raisins
This seasonal tart is a recipe given by my friend Claire. It’s actually her mother’s recipe, using grapes from her local vineyard. She recommends using smaller purple grapes, so you don’t have to de-seed them. The almond-based cream is delicious, and I love the combination with the sweet and tangy grapes.The perfect wine-harvest season tart. Merci Claire!
You will need ¾ to 1 pound purple grape (preferably smaller ones), rinsed
For the pastry
240 g/ 2 cups plain flour
1 egg yolk
90 g/ 6 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature
75 g/ ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
60 g / ½ cup almond, ground
45 ml/ 3 tablespoons cold water
1 pinch of salt
In a large bowl, combine the butter with the egg yolk, sugar and salt. Add the ground almond,flour and enough water. Mix until you get a smooth dough. Make a ball and store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
For the cream
60 g/ ½ cup almond, ground
65 g/ 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
60 g/ 4 tablespoons plain butter
25 g/ 1 tbsp cornstarch
50 ml/ 3 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F
In a saucepan, melt the butter on a medium-low heat, add the ground almond, cornstarch and milk. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy. Take off the heat and add the egg yolks/sugar mixture and vanilla extract. Mix with a wooden spoon until the cream is smooth, return to the heat stirring constantly until the cream has thickened to a custard. Take off the heat, pour into a bowl, cover with a film and leave to cool.
Line your tart pan with the pastry, prick the bottom several times with a fork and fill the tart with the custard, smooth the top with a spatula and transfer to the oven for 15 minutes. (I put the tart on the upper part/level of the oven)
Place the grapes (if you prefer, you can halve and seed them – place cut side down) on the custard and return to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Leave to cool and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Just before serving, heat 2 tablespoons grape jelly (if you don’t have grape jelly, use cranberry) in a saucepan and brush over the tart.