On the 14th of July we, like the rest of France, celebrated Bastille day. I woke up in a state of relaxed excitement (if that exists), I knew what I wanted, fabulous food, balloons and champagne but I also wanted to have it nice n’easy. For me Bastille day is all about spending time outdoors, enjoying life, embraced by family and not making too much of a fuss (a little bit is ok, though). When we lived in Paris we used to take the kids to watch the celebrations on the Champs Elysées and Place de la Concorde, they were always mesmerized by the colorful uniforms, the fighter jets and the music. This year we’ve become so “countrified” that we even forgot to watch it all on TV. Typically we have Brittany lobster with tarragon butter on the 14th of July but this summer we seem to be in a barbecue state of mind, simply loving the taste of meat infused with smoky vine sarments. We were well stocked for the weekend so we had a bit of choice but everyone voted for crispy ventrèches de porc Basque (Basque porc belly). I served them with steamed new potatoes sprinkled with mint and parsley, and had a last-minute idea to make little zucchini flans from the zucchini mountain that had been gracing my kitchen table and was threatening to lose it’s luster if I didn’t tend to it. I was in no mood to further heat up my furnace of a kitchen with cooking or baking so I went for a simple yet elegant chilled peach soup for dessert. So refreshing, such lovely colors. Talking of peaches, nothing quite says summer like a beautiful ripe peach. I think we have about a crate every day, in Bellinis, tarts, for breakfast, for dessert. Bellini’s are my husband’s duty most afternoons, everybody needs one, with sparkling wine for us, sparkling soda for the kids – all done by hand, the Harry’s bar version – our summer tradition. You can’t beat the feeling as they say.
After a very long, lazy and enjoyable lunch the beach beckoned, it’s where everybody gathers in the evening to have more food & wine and watch the fireworks. We joined some of our friends, met some new ones, and most importantly I finally got some champagne, just before sunset. Louise danced with Mathis on the beach (her chosen one, just 4 years older), I chatted with a very lovely Irish/French couple who we met through mutual friends and Oddur chased after their dog, Elvis, who is trying to abandon his origins as a German Schnauzer with a very hippie hairdo. Through these newfound friends, Paul and Karine, we were introduced to another lady who offered everybody a lovely apricot clafoutis, her husband’s recipe it turned out, a very good one I might add. This is what I love most about food, enjoying it with people I like, new friends, old friends – discovering new techniques and recipes, sharing it all.
We arrived safely at the house, late but not too late. Everybody escaped the guillotine which on Bastille day is quite a feat.
On another, and slightly off topic note, as I am writing this it’s approaching midnight and we’ve had yet another smashing meal, perhaps the most amazing entrecôte à la Bordelaise I’ve ever had. I guess the stars aligned. The kids came back so happy from the beach today, apparently the waves were amazing. Tonight we’re blessed by the gods, the steak, the wine …
What a difference a few shallots make.
Zucchini flans (makes about 10 small flans)
2 large zucchini, sliced in half-rondelles
4 tbsp cornstarch (maïzana in France)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
A handful of chopped mint
150 g grated cheese (Emmental or Gruyère)
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
½ tsp nutmeg
Salt & black pepper
Preheat oven 180°C/ 350 F
Slice zucchini thinly in half rondelles. Slice shallots and garlic finely. In a large frying pan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil and fry shallots, garlic and zucchini for a few minutes, until slightly golden.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs and cornstarch, then add grated cheese, nutmeg, salt & pepper. Combine zucchini/shallots/garlic, lemon juice and sliced mint – stir gently.
Pour mixture into a muffin pan. Bake in oven for 20 minutes, until slightly golden on top.
Grilled ventrèche (pig flank/ pork belly) (for 4)
For this recipe, we grilled them over a sarment vine branches barbecue.
8 slices of good-quality pork belly (here we call it ventrèche, cut into 5-6 mm thickness slices – mine were from a Basque farm) – count about 2 per person
Sea salt/ Fleur de sel & black pepper
Season the pork belly slices generously with salt and a dash of black pepper just before cooking – keep in the refrigerator until grilling time.
Grill on barbecue a few minutes on both sides until golden and nearly crispy.
Soupe de pêches blanches (white peach ‘soup’) (serves 4)
10 white peaches
1 organic lemon – you will need the zest (chopped into small specks) and the juice
300 g granulated sugar
200 ml white wine
A small bunch of mint leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod – slit lengthwise
Peel the skin off the lemon and slice them into tiny specks.
Plunge the peaches in boiling water for 10 seconds. Peel and cut them in half.
In a large saucepan, combine the wine, sugar, cinnamon stick, vanilla pod (slit & vanilla beans scraped off), lemon juice and lemon zest. Bring to a boil and add the halved peaches for 3 minutes.
Set aside to cool. Sprinkle with mint leaves, cover and refrigerate 3 hours minimum before serving.