Summer souvenirs of cool French cooking

 

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Summer Cooking Classes during a heatwave? ? Of course, if you are within the cooler stone walls of Camont’s natural air conditioned interior world. Even during la canicule of 2015, we must cook; I just change my attention to how I cook. Last winter I planned a three day cooking course in mid-July. So as we bounced up and over the 100’F mark several times already this month, it was time to shift gears from the famous long slow cooking of Gascony to some easy and fast dishes from our gardens and summer markets.

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Summer hit early this year and has brushed its scorched earth policy across most of Southwest France. Toasted. Burnt. Gratinéed. When students Todd Perry and Ms. Paris by Mouth, Meg Zimbeck- along with my ‘Kitchen Coheart’ Vétou Pompèle- arrived we took a cooler approach to Gascon cooking. This is what we cooked over three easy going summer days. Think cool, chilled, and super fresh from the Wednesday market at Lavardac.

  IMG_1317The beginning of a Summer Cassoulet- fresh borlotti beans.

Some of my favorite meals start with this shopping list:

  • Fresh Borlotti beans from the garden for a summer cassoulet
  • Magret for quick grilled ‘Duck Burgers’ .
  • Prunes for above, too.
  • New potatoes for frites cooked in duck fat, of course!
  • Perfectly ripe melons for Soupe des Melons
  • Peaches for a fruit tarte
  • Duck eggs  from our ducks for a summer clafoutis 
  • 2 kilos of cherries, peaches, apricots or ? for a micro batch of confiture
  • Duck farce or minced meat for a quick summer terrine 
  • Chapolard’s Saucisse de Toulouse
  • Greens for a Salade Gasconne
  • Kate’s Ham for tapas…
  • Perfectly ripe tomatoes for a tarte des tomates
  • and a tourin des tomates

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See, it wasn’t hard to be inspired. We made pastry twice- once savory and once sweet; one in a tart pan, one as a fresh fruit galette. Of course, you want the recipes… But this is about cooking, from scratch, with friends, with some coaxing and hand-to-hand guidance. As Meg said on her instagram feedRecipe? Kate Hill is all about letting the produce shine, so it’s tart dough (pâte brisée) slicked with coarse mustard, topped with the most beautiful local cœur de bœuf tomatoes, rounds of Sainte-Maure de Touraine goat cheese, some crumbled fresh thyme and a drizzle of honey (plus salt and pepper).”   Here’s a little peek of how I teach how to make my All-French All-Butter Pastry Crust- http://www.kitchen-at-camont.com/bake-it-eat-it-share-it-repeat-french-butter-pastry-love/ 

Then we made two soups- one cold not-cooked Melon soup and one warm, light, and fresh tomato tourin (recipe in my book A A Culinary Journey in Gascony)

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We cooked one rabbit for a pot of lemony olive oil rillettes (to serve cold the next day with garlic toasts) and a perfect duck and foie gras terrine, as well as a small pot of rabbit liver paté. IMG_1309This creamy duck egg clafoutis was deep yellow and rich and barely sweet with white and yellow peaches. We made a fresh bean Summer Cassoulet that served us at lunch one day with a great garlicky frisée salad made with tomato vinegar.

IMG_1365The minced magret made a great duck burger stuffed with an armagnac-soaked prune and served with Prune Ketchup on a brioche bun. With duck fat fried frites, of course. Friends came by for lunch on our last day, and the pressure was on. Brenda and David Dadakian of Eat Drink RI popped in, and local friends Linni and Rob with Todd’s family joined us.

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That’s what we do here at this Kitchen at Camont-make a lot of food, then sit down and eat, together. I love these Summer Souvenirs of good times in the kitchen and out, new friends and old. There is one more chance to book some Summer Cooking Classes at Camont in August.  Come on over…

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Summer + Red = #Summerrosso

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This is “Not Campari”. When my dear friend in Tuscany, Judy Witts Francini proclaimed “Red is the New Black” this summer, it started a hashtag war. Her Italian Campari; my Gascon rosé. Somehow, all of a sudden, I was seeing red everywhere! And here’s the proof.

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Childhood Summer memories are running rampant right now. One of my earliest Red images-a horizontal soda pop machine with small glass bottles sporting brightly colored caps full of sweet sticky cold Strawberry Soda.  So when I was given a precious gift of these old variety strawberries-dubbed a Raspberry-Strawberry by some, I knew that I had to find a way to savor the amazing flavor that was quintessentially red.
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After a quick game of tic tac toe with the startling white Pineberry-those oldest variety of new world, South American berries, I took the few remaining red berries-super charged with flavor-from the box-and with just a scant 7 berries I made a VSB (Very Small Batch) of Sirop de Fraise using some simple syrup already tucked in my fridge.IMG_0726I let the strawberries mingle with the syrup over night and declared this a perfect Sunday breakfast drink: a splash of syrup over ice, a float of cold water, a quick stir. As refreshing as a Campari Soda (last savored in Portofino an age ago!) and OK before breakfast.

IMG_0717The idea behind VSB (Very Small Batches, remember?) is to not drown yourself in gallons and liters but to celebrate the very short season and small precious tastes in a mini-moment of Summer Redness. So when another friend (nice to have good friends, eh?) brought a lovely small basket full of THE MOST DELICIOUS cherries to Camont, I knew if I didn’t snag a few handfuls for later, they’d be gone in Gascon minute. IMG_0737So I grabbed a canning jar (the size I usually put my Duck Confit in), and using that same smash with a fork technique, I covered the fruit, stones, stems and all with a cup of fine sugar and filled the jar with some homemade eau de vie stashed in the bar. I covered the top with some cherry leaves for added flavor (check David Lebovitz’s recipe here for more inspiration)  and  set it aside for a few more days. IMG_0730It was only after I had sat back, that I thought to check my own cherry trees here at Camont. There were so few when I looked a couple weeks of ago, I hadn’t bothered. What a delightful surprise to see small but perfectly ripe clusters weighing down the end of the branches by the Gypsy caravans. #Summerrosso confiture coming next!

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Celebrating Summer is a Camont tradition… check our archives here of summer posts for more #Summerrosso inspiration!

 

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Rillettes- #1 Kitchen Charcuterie at Camont

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Simple rillettes often get lost in the big charcuterie picture-that diverse family of patés, terrines, boiled hams, and other salt-cured meats. Really, it’s hard to make a pot of cooked meat and fat look sexy (although I think I did a pretty good job above). Cold meats can be the star of summer garden lunches, pique-niques by the river, and wine-fueled aperos that turn into an excuse for dinner. All you meat mavens can say what you want about bacon, but for me, rillettes are the gateway to learning about charcuterie and remain one of my favorite things to make and eat. Like right now for your summer parties!

Call me an”In-Season-Only Gendarme”, however, I think it’s perfectly fine to make rillettes throughout the year. After all, were not talking about huge quantities- just mouth watering, small batches simmering in your 4 liter/quart le Creuset/dutch oven and packed in a few nice pots to stash in the fridge. Traditionally, the offspring of Winter’s slaughter of pig and duck, rillettes are the by-product of all the carcass meats after making confit de canard, or the sacrificial bits of trimmed belly and loin from the pig.  So last month, when Jayne, the Small Batch Queen of Australia (Preserved & Pickled) came for a professional crash course in Patés & Rillettes- we ignored the season and attacked the project with gusto. I’m glad we did, because it confirmed what I felt about confitures- small batch is better!

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The lesson began with three rillettes, based on similar techniques, and seasoned in three complimentary palates: pork, duck and rabbit. Less a recipe and more a technique, I make my rillettes by beginning a condensed bouillon/broth/brodo with the falling aromatic vegetables, herbs, and spices: leeks, carrots, onions, fennel, bay leaf, thyme, a bit of lovage, and 50% white wine/50% clean water.  Oh, and add a healthy dose of fat-; it’s the fat that makes the rillettes bind together. For the rabbit, I used olive oil and seasoned with lemon juice; lard for pork and duck fat for … yup.IMG_0495

As the bouillon starts to simmer and I pack in the meat (2 whole rabbits or one whole duck, jointed for example, or 2 kilos of pork shoulder/loin), cover with tight fitting lid and bring to a hearty boil. I keep the temperature high and let the meat fall off the bones and start to shred- about 1.5 hours for the rabbit; 2.5 hours for duck; 4 hours+ for pork.  Pick through and remove all bones, gristle, cartilage, tendons, etc… Be meticulous! And as you pick the  bones out, start to shred the meat.

When you are bone-free, start to add back the warm fatty broth and mix with a wooden spoon or your hands. You should have just enough concentrated bone broth (the real kind…) to moisten and emulsify the meat and fat. This is the tricky part as it’s a matter of ‘hand’- too gentle and the proteins, fat and liquid won’t bond; too rough and you’ll get soggy cotton wool. I think of this as making chunky mayonnaise- with just enough moisture and fat to be silky. Now, weigh your total mixture and measure salt and pepper- 15 grams salt and 4 grams pepper per kilogram as a starter. You can add more and I did- 17 gr was about right. Use a scale.  Remember this will be eaten cold and will taste a little flat unless well-salted; a couple days resting will enhance the flavors. And please, use a restrained hand with spices. A pinch of quatre-épices for the duck, a bit of confited lemon zest for the rabbit, and just salt and pepper for the good Chapolard pork.

Rillettes IMG_3891Here at Camont, like in most of Gascony, we toast the bread for the tartines, scratch a raw garlic clove over the surface, and eat the rillettes straight up, barely at room temperature (remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving) and alongside a glass of very cold rosé wine- a fruity Côte de Gascogne like UBY or if you are lucky, Elian Da Ros’ seriously wonderful Outre Rouge. These rillettes are charcuterie at it’s most simple- good meat, salt, fat and the time to make your own good food in your own kitchen. Aux Rillettes tout le monde!

 

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From the Basque Country- simply red, green, and white

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Here are 19,000 words to show you what a little road trip through SW France and NW Spain looks like. I call it Basquelandia. The 4+3=1 provinces of the Basque Country that drapes over the Pyrenees, straddles two countries, and runs to the Bay of Biscay. Mountain farms and fishing ports via for my affection like old best friends- happy to be with one, and then the other. But really loving both at the same time.
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Last week on my annual Salt Circle Road Trip through this mythical kingdom of Basquelandia, I renewed my love affair by sharing the road with a handful of old friends- Cate, Lee, Caroline and Bill. We made a jolly troupe of food lovers, artists, history buffs, gardeners and raconteurs; each table became a organoleptic performance born of salt, earth, and sea.

IMG_9734_2Sheep and Pigs who punctuate the landscape with ringing bells and soft grunts transformed onto our plates as salty memories of timeless techniques for curing and curding. A mouthful of sweet salty ham from the Euskal Herria or Basque pig balanced a perfect glass of cold rosé wine; a slab of Ossau-Iraty cheese dripping with cherry jam from Itxassou.

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A picnic becomes a feast, perched overlooking Les Aldudes; sharing food with new folks on the first days is a gentle way to make fast friendships. We focus on the amazing products produced by people I know- Josette and Gerard, Xole and Michel-while inhaling air so pure we are giddy with clarity.IMG_9692_2IMG_9722_2

The Sea calls soon enough-anchovies to ham- salt to salt. We turn our backs to the green green western Pyrenees- not so high  but dramatically beautiful in their velour Spring cloaks. Fish as fresh as the salt breeze off of the Golfe de Gascogne beckons.

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France morphs into Spain remaining Basque all the way. We bounce between hotels- minuscule to moderne; five-course meals in St. Jean de Luz become pintxos and tapas in San Sebastian.

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The simple stripped down small plate rules- a solitary bite of a pork cheek, one perfect anchovy, a sea slipper on a tablespoon of embryonic fava beans-peeled. A stand-up bar, a sea port grill, a gastronomic mecca-all satisfy this well-traveled troupe. Look at the video on the website for Asador Etxebarri if you need more tempting.IMG_9983 IMG_9959

From my memories, I pull a bag of red, white and green souvenirs. The Basque Flag visible in every nook and cranny of the land.

IMG_9787IMG_9789 IMG_9790 IMG_9862For another look from another roadtrip- http://www.kitchen-at-camont.com/basquelandia-in-three-parts-pigs-pyrenees-ham-getaria-anchovy-asador-etxebarri/. Want to make a trip with me? just leave a comment here:

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Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble for breakfast

IMG_6858The first rhubarb grown in my garden was cause for celebration this week. This is a new patch of ‘Frontyard Foraging Garden’ that was just started barely two years ago when Jill L. came for a gardening internship at Camont.  So since it had already started flowering- see that gnarly bud above? I think I’ll pickle it. Has anyone done this with the flower?

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So, once chopped, I had about 2 cups of stalks. I also had a couple cups of the best strawberries in the world from the neighboring berry farm. 

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Mixed together and sprinkled with raw sugar, they start to give their juices, tout de suite!

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I remembered to add a tablespoon of cornstarch to the mixed, sugared fruit.

 

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Put in a small cake pan, I topped the fruit with a mix of oats, flour, some sugar and melted butter- about a cup of each.

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Bake in a hot oven until browned and bubbling.

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Now the best part- eat for breakfast, piping hot with cream or yogurt. The best garden breakfast from Camont!IMG_9485

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A French Spring: where summer food begins

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The first time I drove into the Lot-et-Garonne department, it was the Spring of 1988. It was snowing. I was driving into a sunny snow storm on the Canal de Garonne.  I remember masses of purple wisteria wired to stone walls, draped over pergolas and woven onto iron fences competing with a thousand tidy orchards exploding with blossom.  Growing up in Hawaii and Southern California, I had a seasonally deprived childhood. I didn’t see my first daffodil until I was in my 20’s and never had a garden planted from seeds and stolen shoots. No wonder that I continue to be amazed at what springs out of dead looking branches and against old stone walls. Since that first French Spring, there have been many other memorable March days with hail, sun and rain- all within the same day. We call it Les Giboulees de Mars- when the wind roars around all 360 degrees and the sun shoves the clouds away. Anything can happen now. And now, so many years later, I still marvel at the explosion of color and weather of this four season paradise- Gascony.

The orchards and fields in this old river basin are sowed and planted, terraced and treed, and dotted with old stone farmhouses claiming small plots of garden. My neighbor’s lemon trees have come out into the sun from their winter shelter in the barn; a beautifully trained wisteria down the road is ready to burst into lilac bunches; a scattering of soapwort rises pink and pretty at the corner of the lane. Camont sports it’s share of color this week, too and wears it proudly like a banner announcing what’s to come.

spring table flowersFrom my new kitchen window at Camont I see forsythia yellow and peach pink, acid green of the willows leafing out and a million paper white petals of the many wild plums trees along the canal. It’s not all pretty flowers though and these are Food Stories, right? So I pluck a handful of blossoms to bring inside, take some of the prunings for a vase, and start plotting the plantings of raspberry, pomegranate and other fruiting bushes I am using to fill in a new ‘foresty’ garden area. (inspired by the King of Forest Gardening Robert Hart) Of course, I see the sprigs of pink and white blossoms first, but I quickly jump to what comes next. At Camont, the most beautiful first tree to sprout deep pink flowers is the actually the last to harvest. It’s is a blood-red peach- a pêche de vigne-  and I can already taste the bright deep stain running down my September chin. When I planted that tree many years ago, I couldn’t imagine the joy of anticipation its pretty flowers would bring. This is the point of ‘frontyard foraging’- plant it now; you’ll be foraging your own yard soon enough.

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It’s a little ritual to wait. Wait to see the next harvest before I use the last of the old. So now I can take the last jars of red peach jam to spread over a goat cheese tartlette or use the deep red cocktail syrup in a Gascon tribute to spring- a Giboulée de Mars Inspired by last month’s cocktail shaker, Sean Richardson, and good friend and a Smarter and Fitter Smoothie Master, Monica Shaw, I whipped up a ‘cocktail smoothie’ to celebrate this delicious equinoctial moment and all the good food to grow, forage and discover outside my kitchen doors.

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Giboulée de Mars- a Cocktail Smoothie for Spring

  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup farm fresh yogurt
  • large soup spoon of homemade pêche de vigne jam or other summer fruit confiture (raspberry, peach, apricot…)
  • several ice cubes broken up in smaller pieces
  • one cup of fresh grapes or grape juice, water, or other liquid
  • a shot of honeysuckle liquor, framboise or other fruit alcohol.

Blend and drink!

Now when I look into my potager garden beds–moved closer last year to the kitchen terrace in a mosaic of metal rimmed squares– and I am hankering to see everything blooming and budding, I remember that first French Spring snow storm. Although it might be the first days of Spring, anything can happen. So patience is the word for the rest of this month. A little extra planning now, will result in a lot more productivity later. This is where my Food Stories from Gascony begin. Remember, flowers = fruit.

For more about Pêche de Vigne and planting your garden read these Spring posts:

 

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Basque encounters of a ham kind

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Driving across the Landes forest southwest from Camont and towards the Pyrenees, is a lesson in patience. I am in a hurry to leave our Camont cocoon, get in the van and start the day driving south. I know that once I pass the kilometers of scraggy maritime pines and sandy fern littered forest floor, I’ll start to get glimpses of mountain clouds, snow-licked peaks, and green pastures. Late leaving, late driving and smothered in fog as we leave the Garonne River Valley, I try to explain to my colleagues and students why we are driving so far… to eat more charcuterie. IMG_7670

I tell a few tales of Basque friends- a California pig breeder perched on the side of a mountain near the pilgrim’s trail raising her family and making cheese; a passionate charcutier who weaves magic with his salt and air spells; a group of small producers who banded together to build a state of the art small processing plant minutes from their mountain valley homes. I try to describe the small Basque auberge in a tiny village where we’ll stay and only end up dithering about church bells answering the sound track of cowbells from the pastures across the valley. I forget to say that that our rooms are large, new, clean and have great views from the balconies.

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The roads that led me here originally are washed over with layers of other memories and jumbled with trips with friends, family or previous students. This trip is the only one that counts now. And I am anxious to get to the end of the road; a road that leads up and up over a mountain top, across a prehistoric path, and back into time. The skies are hazy all afternoon and as we enter the Vallee des Aldudes; smoke streams from the millennial tradition of écobuage or controlled burns as far as we can see and the mountains remain elusive. Where is the foehn effect? That warm dry fresh blowing breeze that helps create this a world class ham growing area. Here, in open air ventilated chambers like this one at Eric Ospital’s Hasparren site, special hams are hanging in white cloth bags for 18-36 months ripening to the temperate breezes and gentle temperature fluctuations.IMG_9248

From mountain pig to salt springs, the drying winds and historic fairs, ham is written across the hills as pigs have crushed chestnuts and turned up brambles. Medieval liturgy dictated curing and aging times and stone sculptures ring the porticos of area cathedrals.  A leftover hospitality to pilgrim and patron alike insures that when we are invited in to the home of one Basque pig producer, we are fed soft shards of nutty ham and slices of chewy saucisson. We never get hungry here. This is along the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostello and we are following in old footprints. We made new friends, we cemented old friendships and we celebrated the successful completion of 2 student’s own paths to discover their salty futures.

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My students have been building up to this all month- they have watched, made, and tasted dozens of good farmstead products working alongside the Chapolard family and in our teaching kitchen at Camont. Now they are seeing out in a new world, how charcuterie–French farmstead charcuterie– rules an entire land. We meet the ham kings, the pig saviors, the community chefs that elevated the work of the land to celestial standing. IMG_9251_2

The wealth of ham–Ibaiona, Jambon de Bayonne, Jambon de Kintoa– leaves a salty impression on us all. The appreciation for the days and weeks and months of work that lead to a quality product that takes over 3 years old to produce is cemented forever in my brain as we hear over and over again about the need for the best raw material, the attention to detail, and the need for patience- patience to let time work its magic. IMG_9254_2

So I am back to the P word again- patience. I realize that after all the times I have visited Eric Ospital’s ham cave, I never seen these hams removed for sale. I have photographed them barely swinging in the foehn wind from their chains, draped like ghosts in their fine white shrouds, and waxed with lard and flour to keep them from drying too fast. This was the first time I had seen them removed from their place of patience and readied for delivery. How many other edible products need so much time and attention, space and patience before we place a thin slice on our tongues and whisper reverently? Oh, jambon…

 

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For more information about eating ham and traveling through the Basque Lands with me- http://www.kitchen-at-camont.com/course/basquelandia-road-trip/

 

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