Wed 15 Jul 2009
“Right,” I said, “Allons, enfants de la patria and all that.”
“We should have a French dinner tonight,” she said. “And French wines.”
“Good ideas,” I said.
“And you should do it,” she said. “You know, moules, steak frites, escargot, duck a l’orange.” A pause. “French onion soup.”
Now there was a certain rigorous logic behind this statement. I am, after all, the one who is out of work, not she, whiling away the hours laboring over this blog, practicing the piano and generally indulging in grandiose visions of the future. (“Yes, I will write that novel!”) So, I did a little cookbook investigation and decided to prepare a sort of rustic dinner consisting of an onion tart, soupe au pistou and a pear clafoutis. Went to the store, bought what was needed, though I’ll tell you, while the tart was baking and the soup was simmering, with ingredients still to be chopped and put in, I thought, “No way am I making a clafoutis tonight.” So LL took the slices of pear that I was marinating in cognac, lemon juice and sugar, caramelized them in butter in the good ol’ cast-iron skillet, and we had them over vanilla ice cream, which was immensely satisfying.
Here’s what we ate and drank for Bastille Day 2009.
O.K., so I cheated on the onion tart. It should be pretty obvious from the picture that this is a small onion pizza, ha-ha! not an Official Julia Child-Sanctioned Tart. Yes, I made a pizza dough using one cup of flour — the usual pizza has about two-and-a-half cups of flour — but the same amount of yeast (1/2 a teaspoon) so the dough rose fairly quickly. I followed the advice from several French cookbooks and allowed the thinly sliced onions to cook over very low heat for about 45 minutes with salt, black pepper and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. I patted out the dough by hand, instead of rolling it, so that it would be fairly irregular, spread the onions on top, added some sliced black olives, more thyme and a generous amount of shredded Gruyère cheese, and put it into a 450-degree oven for 12 or 15 minutes. It was self-indulgently good.
I went looking for a Bourgogne Aligoté, not a common wine in the ol’ Mid-South, but found exactly what I was looking for at Great Wine & Spirits, owned by a longtime friend, Gary Burhop. This is the Bourgogne Aligoté 2007 from the distinguished house of Amiot Guy et Fils. Aligote, the “second white grape of Burgundy,” is generally described along the lines of “tart, acidic and functional” and is best-known as the wine from which a true kir is supposed to be fashioned (with a few drops of cassis, the black currant liqueur). Some domaines lift aligoté above the fray, however, and Amiot Guy is one. (A. Villaine is another.) The Amiot Guy Bourgogne Aligoté 2007, as elegant as aligoté gets, feels etched in limestone and wreathed in little waxy white flowers. This piercing minerality is buoyed by scintillating acidity and hints of roasted lemon, pears and almond skin. The wine is defined by lovely heft and balance, though the finish, one grants, is dry and chalky to the point of astringency. This drank nicely with the onion tart, cutting through the richness, but would probably really shine with grilled trout or shellfish. Very Good+. About $24.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
The next course, soupe au pistou, I took from Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud Cookbook (Scribner, 1999). This is a country-style soup from Provence, finished with pistou, a sort of pesto sans pine nuts, though — shoot me if you will — I bought a jar of pesto instead of using the bales of basil it would require to make it. Anyway, this is a sort of kitchen sink concoction with celery, onion, leek, garlic, potato, green beans, carrots, chickpeas, zucchini and, finally, plum tomatoes, which you don’t add until the soup is finished and off the fire. You could use a vegetable stock, if you wanted, but I just used water as the base and let the leeks, onion and potatoes sort of melt into the liquid, making a fragrant and flavorful broth. Before serving the soup, you stir in some pesto or pistou and scatter julienne basil over the top. It was really good.
For the soup, I opened the Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne “Cuvée Léa Felsh” 2006, Côtes du Rhône Villages. The soup could probably have used a wine less robust than this one — even a rosé — but the wine was so well-made that it hardly mattered. (In fact, I’m sipping from a glass of this wine as I type these words, and it’s lovely.) Cairanne is one of a small number of villages in the Côtes du Rhône Villages region considered a good enough source of grapes and wines that it is entitled to put its own name on labels of its wines.
This was substantial, hearty, robust without being rustic, seething with lavender and lilac, earth and minerals, black currant and plums and blueberries with a high wild berry note. Flavors of slightly macerated and roasted black and blue fruits are supported by stalwart but smooth tannins that unfurl to reveal touches of wet slate, tar, leather, briers and brambles. The dusty, earthy finish pulls up underbrush and moss and, intriguingly, powerful spicy elements. As with a wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, not far away, this blends grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, carignan, cinsault and counoise grapes. Try this from 2010 through 2015 or ’16 with veal chops, country-style pates and terrines and hearty pasta dishes. Certified organic. Excellent. About $20, though found on the Internet from $14 to $18.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
So, we didn’t have the clafoutis; there’s a limit to how many courses one can cook after 7 p.m., and timing a meal of several courses, especially with dessert, has always been one of my weak points as a stove-meister. Still, caramelizing the pears in butter with the cognac and lemon juice was brilliant and resulted in a simple yet sumptuous dessert. Not much eye-appeal but great flavors.
Along with the Amiot Guy Aligoté ’07 and the Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne ’06, I purchased a half-bottle of the dessert wine Seigneurs de Monbazillac 2002, a blend of 85 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc and 5 percent muscadelle. Monbazillac, part of the Bergerac appellation, is a sort of country cousin to Sauternes and Barsac, further west in Bordeaux. (Bergerac’s most important river, the Dordogne, merges with the Garonne to form the Gironde that flows northwest through the Bordeaux region.) Sweet wines from Monbazillac, made from the same grapes found in Sauternes and Barsac, don’t have the finesse of their more elegant relatives, but the wines are satisfying and much less expensive.
The Seigneurs de Monbazillac 2002 gave off aromas of honeyed peach and apricots, cloves and crystallized ginger. In the mouth, the wine was thick and chewy, almost viscous though brightened with keen acidity and minerality; flavors of roasted apricots and pears were permeated by baking spice and a hint of orange rind. The principle feature, however, is a kind of foresty earthiness that grounds every other aspect. Simple, direct and appealing. Very Good+ and a sweetheart of a food and wine match. About $11 for a half-bottle.
Victoire Imports, San Leandro, Cal.