“Sometimes to have a little good luck is the most brilliant planning”. Woody Allen, Crimes & Misdemeanors.
And sometimes good luck comes in the form of little yellow flowers. A few weeks ago we were “trespassing” (my husband’s specialty) in a vineyard, mesmerized by a yellow carpet of flowers on a little hill. We were caught in the act by the owner, Fabien Courrian, and instead of taking it badly he took it so well that he sent us home with six bottles of his wine. On top of if all he turned out to be the nicest guy. Last monday he called us again and told us they were bottling the 2011 vintage that’s been biding its time in barrels. At château Tour Haut-Caussan, they tend to make a meal of such events and he invited us to join him for a ‘simple’ lunch with the team. A quick affair as they had work to do and bottles to fill.
Quick it was, just under four hours. We started nibbling on fresh, raw fava beans from their garden, saucissons secs, quiches and ham. Then came sizzling cuttlefish fillets, fried on the highest heat on coarse sea-salt, served with succulent confit red peppers. His sister Véronique mastered the tastiest chicken fresh from the nearby farm, beautifully flavoured with cognac, shallots and a very generous amount of garlic en chemise (with the skin on). She surprised us with the most irresistible lemon tart served with strawberries on the side. I felt so pampered, enjoying watching the sister/brother team preparing the food and entertaining us with enchanting stories.
Fabien was generous enough to let us pick any vintage we wanted of his delicious wine and he had even taken the trouble to find out my favorite Bordeaux white called ‘Elise ‘(which is by another happy coincidence made by his good friend). On top of all these goodies we sampled some of his father’s olive oil, which is made in the south of France and is as good as any I’ve tasted. But Fabien’s hospitality didn’t end there. After dinner he challenged my husband to a game of pétanque and then graciously lost 13 – 11. Since Fabien’s been playing the game since childhood and my husband has never played it before, it felt a generous gesture indeed – but don’t tell that to my husband.
Perhaps it was just beginner’s luck.
Squid with red peppers (serves 4)
8 slices fresh cuttlefish fillets (each fillet palm-sized)
2 red peppers, sliced into small squares
Black pepper, for seasoning
Heat olive oil in a frying pan and sauté peppers for 20-25 minutes on a medium heat. Season with salt and black pepper. Set aside.
Using a sharp knife, lightly score to mark parallel lines 1/2 cm wide on the cuttlefish fillets. Heat a large pan and sprinkle coarse sea-salt all over (approx 3-4 tbsp). When the pan is sizzling hot, place cuttlefish fillets on top of salt and fry just under a minute on each side. Shake off excess salt and place on a serving dish. Sprinkle with olive oil, peppers and season with ground black pepper.
Roast chicken with shallots, garlic and onions with cognac
1 free-range farm chicken, 1.5 kg/ 3.3 pounds approx
2 heads of garlic (one head of unpeeled cloves, one head of cloves peeled and sliced)
4 shallots, sliced finely
1 large yellow onion, sliced finely
40 ml/ 1/8 cup cognac
Coarse sea-salt and black pepper
Pre-heat oven 180°C/ 350 F
Drizzle chicken with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse sea-salt. Insert garlic cloves (from 1 head of garlic, unpeeled) in cavity.
Place into pre-heated oven and cook for 1 hour approx, until chicken is golden.
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat olive oil. Combine sliced garlic (from the other garlic head), shallots and onions. Sauté for 10-12 minutes, then add the cognac. Reduce for a minute and continue to cook on a low heat for another 10-12 minutes, until soft, golden and glossy. Add mixture to the chicken pan 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
Preheat oven 190°C/ 375 F
Juice of 1 and a half lemons
1 good-quality egg
150 g/ ¾ cup granulated sugar
50 g/ 3 ½ tbsp butter, melted
1 sheet ready-made shortcrust pastry roll
Line tart pan with pastry – spike base all over with a fork. Whisk egg and sugar until light and fluffy. Combine, butter and juice of lemons, whisk until blended. Pour mixture into tart. Place tart in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tart is golden. Leave to cool before serving.