May 31, 2006

Bonjour! from the Bleu Bateau Café

Cooking in the French countryside is easy! A loaf of bread, a bottle of vin ordinaire and a friend to share it on the deck of the Julia Hoyt. Now add a round of creamy goat’s cheese, a slice of ham and a handful of fresh herbs. Eh Voila! The perfect French pique-nique—afloat!

Not all French food is complicated. Here in the sweet countryside of Southwest France, I have found the little tricks and secrets that make cooking like a French grandmother easy--a busy French grandmere! The best and freshest produce jumps into my market basket every Saturday as DuPont and I jump into the 2CV (that little cartoon French car!) and head to Nerac along the Baise River. An impromptu menu begins with radishes with their greens for a simple peppery soup, a bundle of fresh garlic to rub over grilled country bread, a duck breast to grill, slice thinly, and drizzle with a red wine sauce made with a glass of wine, a shallot and some honey to sweeten the end. I drown a box of ruby strawberries with a vanilla pod in a bowl of wine and some sugar cubes and serve it in glasses for dessert. Simple, easy and so French!

Shopping in the small villages that line my canal, a Long Village of good food and wine, is a fat lesson in French cooking. The baker, butcher and wine maker will tell me how to prepare their favorite dishes; my neighborhood is like a living cookbook. Afterwards, sitting in the village café with a petit blanc (a little white wine) or a mure-rouge (blackberry and red wine) with DuPont at my feet, I write the little stories that my market friends have told me. My French neighbors love good food and they are proud to share their specialties in tips and tastes. Curious about what and how I cook, Xavier asks me if I know how to stuff a quail with grapes and cook it over a bed of vine clippings. Dominique tells me to place a bay leaf between each slice of the pork roast he is cutting for me, wrap it in bacon and roast it for 20 minutes a kilo- no more! Francoise slices pain d’epice, like gingerbread, and serves it with a dab of duck rillettes, it becomes a new favorite. Jean-Francoise, the self-crowned King of Ducks, hands me a slice of salt-and-pepper-cured magret or duck ham wrapped around a nugget of raw foie gras. Take that you supermarket wimps!

At the end of the umbrella-ed allée is a small stand of organic treasures- fresh garlic, sweet beets, tender courgettes and the first real cherry-like tomatoes. Now I have dessert! By the time I load the trunk of the raspberry red convertible I have enough recipes for a chapter in a new book- ‘Eating the Long Village!’ ; by the time I return to my Van Gogh blue barge, tonight’s dinner has solidified into a gentle and easy meal to cook for friends. Don’t forget- "Cook fast, drink light, have fun! "


Aperos sucre-salé
Duck rillettes served on gingerbread toast

Soupe aux fanes de radis
Radish leaf soup

Roti de porc en robe de ventrêche et laurier
Bay-scented Pork roast wrapped in bacon

Dessert en douce!
Savory dessert- sweet cherry tomatoes
served with real crème fraiche and sprinkled with olive salt from Majorca.
A creamy rich fresh tasting savory surprise to finish the meal with a sweet wine!


Adele said...

I love the way the pork roast sounds.....what type of roast did Dominique cut for you? I'm planning to try this recipe on my Weber using the indirect heat grilling method.

Kate Hill said...

Adele, The shoulder is a well-respected and favorite pork roast- flavorful without being dry. Like most butchers here, the Chapolards lay a few strips of lard across the roast before tying with a string- a self-basting truc. The indirect heat grill sounds perfect! Enjoy.