In this family we have a habit of finding things we weren’t looking for. Or at least things we didn’t know we were looking for. Years ago we went looking for a hound and ended up with a terrier (which has since multiplied), then we thought we might move to Normandie but ended up in Médoc, I studied finance but found myself in the kitchen. Let’s just say that with us, things happen rather than being planned. Last year we went searching for yellow flowers, which we found, but the flowers also led us to the the château of one of the nicest guys we’ve ever met, Fabien Courrian. Earlier this spring, through Fabien, we found something so special that it might change our lives forever. I am guessing I have your attention now?
What we found was the greenish-blue door of an old house in the center of a quiet village in the middle of the vineyards. As I walked through that door I had the most powerful serendipitous feeling I’ve ever had – this house was meant for me. As in a haze I glided like a ghost through the vast dark corridors, the shutters kept most of the sunshine out but what little pierced through led my way. Slowly the house unveiled itself and as we rushed to open more and more windows it was gradually exposed. This house was too good to be true. But wait, it gets better. The house was previously owned by a woman called Plantia, a formidable woman, famous for her black dresses and her wonderful cooking. Hmm, black dresses, cooking – it does ring a bell. There is far more to her story but that is for another post, in fact it is worthy of a book, my next one? She ran a restaurant and a hotel in the house, yes it’s that big and as I walked into her kitchen, adorned with a dreamy fireplace, I could almost smell the cooking of times gone by. It’s all so mythical that it makes me feel like I’m right in the middle of an Isabel Allende novel – it really is a house of spirits and my future lies in it.
To make a very long story short – we decided to buy it, and so we’re moving this summer from our beloved home in the forest to live amongst the vines. It is also the beginning of a new chapter for us in a different way. The house is so grand, so big, with two kitchens, and a terrace on the roof no less, that I can do what I’ve been dreaming about for a while, forever, which is opening a seasonal restaurant (table d’hôtes). It will be the bistrot of my dreams where I’ll serve all my favorite food and source the best products available. Let’s imagine it together. I can picture you walking through the big front gate (that needs to be painted) and I (or maybe Oddur) will greet you with a glass of rosé or perhaps Pineau if you prefer. There might be a little fox terrier puppy fooling around in the courtyard and some folks playing pétanque. You will nibble on the amazing baguette from Soulac and some charcuterie from Louis Ospital. I might give you a bit of tuna rillettes while you make up your mind on the menu and if it was your lucky day, some freshly picked cèpes mushrooms too.
The menu will be ever-changing but you can rely on always finding my parmentier de canard, my crème fraîche with herbs chicken and my chocolate swirl meringues. The wine-list will be fairly small and personal with a selection of the best wines that have ever graced my table. Of course you will find Fabien’s Tour Haut Caussan, Olivier Compagnet’s Elise, as well as one of my husband’s favorites the Clos du Marquis from St Julien. For rosé, I can’t think of a better choice than L’Ostal Cazes, so fresh and perfect for summer. Some Drappier champagne to celebrate anything you want… And I hope I’ll manage to offer the ’96 Château Lynch-Bages that I had last summer and am still dreaming about.
I am so excited as I write this that my chair has now lifted from the floor and I am floating in air (mythical meets Mary Poppins). And there is more news to tell. As you know I am very fond of people who love food with passion. Now I’ll have a chance to finally meet some of you as I am planning to host cooking ateliers (workshops). We might start as early as late this fall, hopefully the rooms will be ready and we’ll be roaring to go. Of course I will give more details later but I’d love to hear from interested parties. There will be fun and there will be food & wine (too much of both).
I might be walking on air but I certainly can’t live on it so despite all this excitement this Mary Poppins as been as busy as ever in the kitchen. I’m still under the spell of fava beans – in all honesty I have them every day and sometimes twice. They are the meatiest of vegetables, so versatile and just so good. Last Wednesday I bought all they had at the market but we still managed to finish it in one day. First I made a delicious steamed flan, with peas and asparagus on the side. La douceur ressort dans la vapeur. Then, because Easter is near, I wanted to try something with lamb and ended up including fava beans in that too. The campagnarde sauce is courtesy of my trusted butcher M. Manenti – a bread, garlic and parsley delight to accompany the lamb. For dessert, a fontainebleau so delicate that only the finest muslin can dress it. Who knows maybe you’ll find yourself sitting at my restaurant next summer and I’ll be serving you a fontainebleau with a smile on my face.
Some people find what they are looking for (or not looking for) at the end of the rainbow but I found my house at the end of the alphabet, x marks the spot for me just before the YZ of Saint-Yzans de Médoc. I’ve had it in the back of my mind for a while now to branch out and open a little bistrot. I’ll put all I’ve got into it and give it my best shot. After we’ve restored the gem of a kitchen to its former glory, after some wallpapers have been updated and a few floorboards put into shape, I hope everything I’ve learned about food and cooking through the years will pay off and that my passions will land firmly on your plate. My enthusiasm and spirit for this project is boundless, blind luck and bottomless ambition have merged and it just feels the time is right – while we’re still young!
p.s. My husband has been listening non-stop to a song called ‘La mia seranata‘ by Jimmy Fontana while he’s been preparing the photos for this post. He says it goes perfectly with the mood of the house. It’s a nice, quaint little serenade, don’t get me wrong I like it, just not twelve times in a row. Nevertheless he recommends you try to find it and play it, in low quality (like directly from an iPod) from another room or even put it inside while dining outside – to imitate the sound coming from a far away old gramophone. So there you have it (yes his instructions are often this detailed).
Fava beans and peas flans
180 ml/ ¾ ml full cream/crème entière liquide
240 ml/ 1 cup whole milk
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
¼ tsp nutmeg
100 g/3/4 cup + 150 g/ 1 cup for garnish fava beans, peeled
50 g/ 1/3 cup peas + 50 g/ 1/3 cup fresh peas
10 green asparagus
A small handful of fresh mint leaves
Lemon zest of 1 lemon
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
For about 4 to 6 ramekins depending in size
Heat milk and cream with garlic in a saucepan, add 100 g peeled fava beans and 50 g peas. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil and simmer on a low heat for a few minutes, until fava beans and peas start to be tender. Take off the heat. Blend mixture with a stick blender until smooth. Whisk the eggs in a bowl and pour in the cream mixture.
Prepare to boil the water in the steamer. Pour about half a teaspoon of olive oil in the ramekins and swirl them around so the oil covers the sides as well. Place 2 fava beans and a few peas in the bottom, and pour the mixture in (3/4 full). Place the flans in the steamer, cover and cook for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until the flans are set.
While the flans are cooking, sauté the asparagus, the rest of the fava beans and peas in a tablespoon of olive oil for 3 minutes on a medium heat in a pan. Add 2 tablespoons of water and continue to cook for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are al dente. Season with salt and pepper.
Prepare a serving plate, unmould the flans using a palette knife, and place the sautéed vegetables on top. Sprinkle with chopped mint leaves, a drizzle of olive oil and a few gratings of fresh lemon zest. Serve warm.
Roast rack of lamb and campagnarde sauce
1 rack of lamb, about 900g -1 kg/about 2 pounds
650 g/ 1 1 1/22 pounds ratte potatoes
8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
250 g fava beans, peeled
A few fresh rosemary sprigs
A dash of piment d’espelette
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the lamb rack
Parboil the potatoes for 10 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water. Halve them horizontally.
Season the lamb with salt and pepper and sprinkle piment d’espelette. Brown the meat until golden in a large sauté pan with olive oil on all sides and place lamb in a roasting pan, along with all the juices and 6-8 unpeeled garlic cloves (we call them ail en chemise). Scatter fresh rosemary sprigs on top, place the halved potatoes and fava beans around the meat. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper.
Place in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350 F. Cook for 20-30 minutes, or until desired cuisson.
For the campagnarde gravy sauce
Sauce from the pan
120 g/2 cups bread crumbs from stale bread (like baguette), crust removed
60 ml/ ¼ cup white wine
180 ml/3/4 cup veal stock
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
A small bunch of parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Process the stale bread (crust removed) until loosely crumbled. Pour the juices from the lamb rack pan into a saucepan, add the stock and cook on a medium heat. Bring to a soft boil, add the wine, salt and pepper, and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Add the butter and take off the heat. Add the breadcrumbs (adjust more or less if you want a thicker or thinner sauce), finely chopped parsley and garlic – stir gently. Pour into a serving gravy dish. Serve immediately with the lamb.
Faisselle is made from fresh curds, hand-ladled into colander molds, so the liquid is drained to your liking. If you can’t find faisselle, then I would suggest to use full-fat/whole fromage blanc as an alternative. Let the faisselle drain for at least 4 hours (or even overnight), either in its own container or place it in a colander and over a bowl in a refrigerator. Fontainebleau is sold in French cheese store, wrapped in muslin cloths and placed in a small cup. My favourite ones in Paris are sold at the fromagère Marie-Anne Cantin, 12, rue du Champs de Mars, 75007 Paris.
350 g/ 12 ounces faisselle (alternatively fromage blanc if you can’t find faisselle)
160 ml/2/3/ cup heavy cream/ crème entière liquide (for whipping)
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise and seeds scraped (optional)
Whip the heavy cream, add the vanilla seeds (optional). Discard the drained liquid and whip the faisselle (or fromage blanc). Fold in the whipped cream to the faisselle (or fromage blanc).
Place the mixture, about the size of a tennis ball) on a square of muslin cloth, join the four ends and twist on top (just like in the photos).
Make a fresh coulis by blending 250 g strawberries and 120 g fine/caster sugar in the mixer. As simple as that.
Serve the wrapped fontainebleau desserts on individual serving plates. Let your guests unwrap the little parcels and serve with strawberry coulis.