A few weeks ago we had a big storm here in Médoc. After days of glorious sunshine the weather hit us around midnight with torrential rain and ferocious winds. Soon after the electricity left us. We stumbled around the house, with iPhones and candles, frantically searching for the raincoats and hats that had previously been made redundant by the sun. The kids enjoyed the adventure of skulking around the garden in oversized rainboots, getting in the dogs, securing a few plants. Afterwards we had hot drinks together and observed the forces of nature. The next morning we looked at the damage in the garden, not too bad, a few broken branches, the pool covered in leaves, some unhappy tomato plants. There was still no electricity and my husband thought it was quite charming until he realized that it meant no coffee, he’s not that fond of tea. Slowly we settled into our morning habits and braced ourselves for days of “old fashioned living”. It wasn’t to be though, the electricity came back hours later – for once we could have done with some French inefficiency.
In the course of the next few days we found out that many others had less charming experiences that particular night. Our good friend Fabien had devastating damage to his pretty windmill (he was stoic about it though “I guess we’ll just have to rebuild it”, he said with a bittersweet smile). The place worst hit by the weather was Pauillac, somehow caught in the eye of the storm. Many of the amazing weeping willow trees of Chateau Lafite, that grace the road we usually take to Pauillac were broken and torn – it’s was a sad sight. And most curiously, the bell of the church in Pauillac fell off and landed on the roof of a little house that stands next to the tower.
We have a habit of going to markets on Saturday mornings and this weekend we chose Pauillac, perhaps because we felt the town needed a little lift after all it had endured and nothing says I’m back better than a bustling market filled with people. It’s a very good market I might add. When we arrived I realized that I had absolutely no idea of what to get and not even a starting point – no particular cravings, which in my case just doesn’t happen. I guess I’ve been cooking so much for my book that I’ve managed to satisfy, briefly, every part of my palate. This food calmness, however, didn’t last. As soon as I saw the chasselas grapes of Moissac, perhaps the food I most associate with my childhood and summers spent at my grandmother’s house, I knew they would take the lead. Now who would they dance with? A tasty piece of foie gras, no not this time – I chose to pair them with the all too inviting filets mignons of pork. I love cooking pork on a slightly sweet and sour note, besides a piece of meat that’s called mignon (it means cute in French) deserves to be only paired with sweetness.
Reine Claude plums are hard to ignore this time of year, filling every stall in every market. They got my attention even if I had no idea of what to make of them (it’s the Moissac effect again, apparently the first Reine Claude plums/greengages were cultivated there). Lots of other vegetables found their way into my basket, all kinds of beans, garlics and onions. I found the rest of my family wishfully looking at a pizza truck. “I’m thirsty” said Hudson, “Maybe we should share one” said my husband “just to sample it”. I’m not too big on pizzas but this time I was outvoted. We shared a big one with duck breast – a local favorite that makes for an interesting mix. “It’s the magret des Landes” said the merchant reassuringly. It’s good to know where food comes from, isn’t it.
On the way home we drove through the vineyards of Pauillac and even if we were in a bit of hurry I couldn’t resist the urge to jump out of the car and take a little walk. The landscape is just so beautiful and at the risk of sounding childish, walking amongst the vines is like jumping into a painting, just like they did in Mary Poppins, into a fantastical world with castles and forests and picturesque vineyards. We probably stayed there for an hour, the kids were thrilled to find a little tower open and accessible.
Later that afternoon I started preparing dinner. It’s such a pleasure to arrange all the fruits and vegetables on my kitchen table. So much goodness, some of them linked with places in my heart or parts of the year. The green plums of summer found themselves in a tart made with a speculoos biscuit crust (which I may add only needs 8 minutes baking time). The grapes of my childhood found happy partners in the filet mignons, shallots and white wine. The haricots beans were only too happy to be introduced to the pearly and translucent spring onion, dressed with a sienna colored vinaigrette.
Local is lovely, seasonal is swell.
ps: I borrowed part of the title of this post from a blog called ‘Local is lovely‘ – it’s a super blog, isn’t it nice to see what’s cooking on the other side of the world?
Pork filet mignon with chasselas grapes
500-600 g/ 1.5 pounds approx pork tenderloin (filet mignon), sliced approx 1.5 cm thick
1-2 small bunches of chasselas grapes
150 ml/ 2/3 cup white wine + 2 tbsp for the end
2-3 shallots, sliced finely
30 ml / 1/8 cup veal stock
Salt and pepper, for seasoning.
Unsalted butter and 1 tbsp olive oil, for frying
Slice shallots finely and fry in 1 tbsp butter for 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add wine and lower heat – reduce until nearly totally absorbed.
Slice the grapes and deseed (I only deseed half of the grapes as they are so small and they look so pretty). Add to the pan, along with a little knob of butter and cook for 2 minutes, until glossy. Set aside.
In another pan, heat olive oil and the rest of the butter, fry the pork filet mignons for 3-4 minutes on each side. Season with salt & back pepper. Remove the filets from the pan, scrape off residue from the pan, add the veal stock, 2 tbsp wine (for those you like the extra sweet note, why don’t you try this step using port instead? It’s really good!) and 1/2 tbsp butter. Reduce for 2 minutes on a high heat. Return meat to the pan, lower the heat and add the shallots/chasselas grape mixture for a few seconds. Season if necessary. Serve immediately.
Yellow flat bean salad with spring onion (serves 4, as a side dish)
450-500 g yellow flat beans (or any fresh flat beans variety)
2-3 spring onions, sliced finely
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp mustard
1 garlic cloves, minced
1 & 1/2 tsp wine vinegar
Salt & pepper – for seasoning
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir until the vinaigrette is smooth.
Rinse the beans. Cut the tips. Using kitchen scissors or a knife, cut the beans in half. Cook them in a large pot of salted boiling water for approximately 25 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside and leave to cool.
Slice spring onions finely. Scatter the onions and drizzle the vinaigrette over the beans.
Reine claude tart with salted butter caramel and speculoos crust (serves 6)
This tart was a winner with my family. The mixture of the salted butter in the speculoos crust, combined withe the slight acidity of the fruit compote and the sweetness of the plums is too delicious, and when you add that drizzle of the salted-butter caramel… it’s heavenly.
250 g/ ½ pound speculoos biscuits
90 g/ salted butter, melted
700-800 g reine claude plums, sliced
For the compote/ fruit purée
2 small apples
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp muscovado sugar
150 g / ¾ cup granulated sugar
45g/ 3 tbsp salted butter, at room temperature
60 ml/1/4 cup heavy cream, slighty warm
1 pinch fleur de sel (fleur de sel salt, or alternatively kosher salt)
Preheat oven 180° C/ 350 F
Crumble the speculoos biscuits in a food processor. Add the melted butter, mix until you get a dough-like mixture. Spread/line this mixture on a 26 cm / 10 inches tart pan. Blind bake the tart for 8-10 minutes. Leave to cool and place in the freezer for 1&1/2 to 2 hours before garnishing so the crust sets.
Peel apples and pear. Slice coarsely and place in a saucepan. Cover and cook on a low heat until the fruits are softened, about 20 minutes. (you can use a fork to mash them of necessary) add the cinnamon and sugar and continue to cook. Set aside and leave to cool.
For the caramel:
In a saucepan, melt the sugar until it forms an amber-colored caramel (do not stir until it melt completely), on a medium to low heat. As soon as the color turns amber, take off the heat and add salted butter. Stir quickly with a wooden spoon, return to heat for a few second . Take off the heat again and add the slightly warm cream. Stir quickly and return to heat for 10 seconds, stirring continuously until smooth. Set aside.
Slice the plums into slim slices. Spread the fruit purée in the base of the tart, then garnish with the plums (see photos). Drizzle caramel on tart, or serve it as a sauce on the side. Keep leftover caramel in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Re-heat gently before serving.