Two nights ago we were driving through the vineyards and saw the most spectacular view in Blaignan-Médoc. Millions of golden yellow flowers drizzled all over the growing vineyards, and to add to the show, a beautiful old windmill in the middle of it all . It was a picture perfect moment, but as my husband had forgotten his camera, we decided to return the next morning.
We came back to the beautiful spot, and walked through the vineyards with our beloved fox-terrier Sky. She’s our most joyful dog, so it suited her to run through the yellow field of dreams without a care in the world. We were just in time, as the flowers were being removed by the workers, patch by patch. A necessary procedure to prevent the flowers and roots to interfere with the vines. Oh well, at least we enjoyed the last of it!
To make our picturesque moment even more special, we bumped into the owner of Château Tour Haut-Caussan, Mr. Fabien Courrian. The Courrian family have lived in Blaignan-Médoc since 1634. Fabien greeted us so warmly, told wonderful stories, and gave us a tour of the fully functional family windmill (it was restored in 1981), followed by a visit to the château. What I loved most about the château/ family home is the warmth it exudes. You can feel the laughter, the close-knit family and above all the generosity of its owners. Fabien was very proud to show us his open table, where he greets friends and clients who drop by. If you are lucky, there will be good food waiting for you, an entrecôte grilling in the fireplace or a rustic stew. What an idyllic life! Wine, food, friends, a château and a windmill – a dream come true and an inspiration for all. We left his home with a case of wine, a generous gift from Fabien. The windmill is on every label, just like a family crest. I told my husband that life was just like in the movies, and we’re right in it!
When we arrived home, the kids were anxiously waiting with my mother-in-law to jump in the pool. We set a table in the garden, and I rushed in the kitchen to make a perfect starter dish after our little vineyard visit. A vignarola, in other words a spring vegetable stew. Fresh fava beans, peas, artichokes, spring onion, parsley, mint and a dash of pancetta (or guanciale) are the ingredients for this delightful Roman dish. As a matter of fact, this dish is called vignarola (vigna, vine in Italian) because all the vegetables were known to be grown in between rows of Roman grapevines. As they had to be picked to give the vines space to grow, the vignarola recipe was born. At least that is what I heard from my Roman friends. When we were walking through Fabien Courrian’s vineyards, he plucked a few tender spring onions from the vines. We tasted a few, raw and fresh from the earth. ‘Best to be eaten steamed, accompanied by a vinaigrette, just like asparagus!’ he said.
For the main course, I made my family’s favorite chicken dish. Roast chicken with crème fraîche, garlic, shallots and herbs. I love the simplicity of the recipe. The result is the softest, juiciest chicken, filled with all the aromas of a rustic French kitchen. Who would have known that crème fraîche could work such magic in the oven.
After a beautiful lunch al fresco, we enjoyed a family gardening day – Wednesday afternoons are leisure days, because the kids don’t have school. I love this break-free day, making us feel that the school week is slightly shorter. We planted more roses, lavender, tomatoes, strawberries, herbs and camelias. I am especially excited about the tomato crops, as they were such a success last year. We all refilled our energy with a nutritious gâteau au miel, a golden brown honey cake, so old-fashioned, perfumed with orange blossom water.
It was a magical day, as if summer visited spring for one brief moment. All I can think of now are windmills and the warm, bright fun filled days that await us. This week was a sneak preview and I must say it’s looking good.
ps: By the way, I need your vote! I was recently nominated on Saveur magazine’s annual food blog awards 2013 for ‘Best Regional Cuisine Blog’! Voting closes on April 19th – that’s tomorrow! Click here to vote (you’ll just need to register – takes a minute). Merci! Mimixx
La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
2 large artichokes or 4-5 small artichokes (usually sold in a bunch), trimmed and quartered
250-300g/ 2 cups fresh fava beans (or frozen), shelled
250-300g 2 cups fresh peas (or frozen)
1/2 small head of romaine lettuce, chopped finely
2-3 spring onions, finely sliced
50 g/ 2 ounces pancetta or guanciale, finely sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice + a few squeezes of lemon for the artichokes
A small handful of parsley, chopped
A small handful of fresh mint, chopped
If you are using large artichokes: Using a sharp knife, trim the artichoke bottom and stem until the pale leaves appear. Cut in half. With a spoon, remove the prickly spines and fuzzy choke. Cut into 4 wedges.
If you are using small artichokes: Same as above, but you don’t have to remove any fuzzy choke. Set aside.
For the fava beans and peas: Pod the fava beans and peas. Remove the skin on the fava beans (unless you buy ready-peeled fava beans). Set aside
In a medium-sized pot or shallow saucepan, sauté the sliced pancetta along with the spring onions in 2 tbsp olive oil for 2-3 minutes.
Add the artichokes, season with salt and pepper, add 2-3 tbsp water, cover and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.
Add the fava beans, peas and romaine lettuce. Add a tbsp or two of water if necessary. Cover again and cook for a further 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Drizzle with 1 tsp lemon juice and sprinkle with parsley/mint just before serving.
Roast chicken with crème fraîche and herbs
1 whole chicken, approx 1.2 kg/ approx. 3 pounds
300 ml/ 1 & 1/4 cup crème fraîche (you can also use fromage blanc – alternatively, you can mix 2 tbsp buttermilk or sour cream with 1 cup heavy cream)
4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 shallot, finely sliced
A large bunch of parsley, chopped
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Sea-salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350F
Take out the chicken approx 30 minutes before cooking so it is at room temperature. Mix crème fraîche with finely chopped garlic, parsley, thyme, sea-salt and black pepper. Spoon half of the mixture inside the cavity of the chicken. Truss the chicken securely with kitchen twine. Rub the remaining cream all over the chicken (make sure to rub under the thighs and wings). The cream must be thickly spread on chicken (see photo). Sprinkle 1/2 tsp sea-salt on top of chicken.
Transfer to preheated oven and cook for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Check pan halfway and add 2-3 tbsp of water if the sauce in the pan starts to dry out.
Serve with mashed potatoes. After boiling peeled potatoes (I count 2 medium potatoes per person) add one egg yolk and 30 g/ 2 tbsp butter + 1 tbsp crème fraîche, salt to season)
Gâteau au miel (Honey cake)
150 g/ 1 & 1/4 cup plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp milk
2 tbsp orange blossom water
100 g/ 7 tbsp unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
50 g/ 1/4 muscovado sugar (you can also use brown cassonade sugar, the cake will be slightly lighter colored)
100 ml/ 7 tbsp honey + 3-4 tbsp to drizzle on cake
Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350F
In a bowl, mix sifted flour and baking powder. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until frothy. Add honey, milk, orange blossom water, butter and mix well. Add sifted flour and baking powder.
Butter and base-line a cake mould with parchment paper (my cake mould is approx 8 inches wide).
Pour batter into cake mould and bake in preheated oven for approx 25 minutes. Unmould after 5 minutes and leave to cool on a wire rack. Just before serving, drizzle honey all over cake. (if honey is too thick, heat it gently for a few seconds on a very low heat)