Medieval Kitchen, Chateau de Pierreclos, Burgundy, France
Medieval Kitchen, Chateau de Pierreclos, Burgundy, France
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Engelbrecht, Lisa
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August, from 'The Cook and the Gardener',
Part 4
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  "The best way to eat them is in the garden, warm and pungent from the vine,
so that one can suck unashamedly, and bend over if any of the juice escapes.
.~ M. F. K. Fisher, on tomatoes

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Cherry Tomatoes
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Gibson, Mark
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Plum Stall in Market on Rue Sainte Claire, Annecy, Rhone-Alpes, France
Plum Stall in Market on Rue Sainte Claire, Annecy, Rhone-Alpes, France
David Tomlinson
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Plum Tree Panel III
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Jimenez, Rodolfo
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Alex-Corton, Burgundy, France, Europe
Alex-Corton, Burgundy, France, Europe
Simanor Eitan
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La Belle Cuisine


Recipe Source:

Cook and the Gardener:
A Year of Recipes and Writings
from the French Countryside
by Amanda Hesser, 1999, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

"The ancient link between the gardener and the cook is at the heart of this remarkably evocative cookbook, in which Amanda Hesser relates the story of
a year she spent as cook in a seventeenth-century château in Burgundy.
Before long, her culinary life becomes inextricably bound to the seasons of
the Yonne River Valley and to Monsieur Milbert, the seemingly impervious,
charmingly sly peasant caretaker of the château's kitchen garden..
"Along with the recipes comes a wealth of practical advice on everything from storing potatoes to beginning sourdough starter to making cassis. Essays
celebrate the seasons of the château kitchen garden and relate the growing
friendship between the old gardener and the young cook. As Milbert opens
up to Hesser, the reader glimpses the quirky customs and sensible wisdom of
a vanishing way of life in provincial France."

The Cook and the Gardener is the winner of the 2000 IACP Cookbook Award
in the Literary Food Writing category. No doubt you'll agree the award is well deserved. It remains one of our all-time favorite cookbooks.


Seared Tomatoes with Olive Oil and Sage

“A good tomato is a product of good weather and a good gardener. Monsieur Milbert pampers his tomatoes. Back in spring, he places open-ended paper bags around each plant to protect them from the cold. Every morning he fills the trough with water and lets the sun warm it to air temperature. Then he uses the warm water to feed the tomatoes, which are sensitive to temperature changes. (Cold water would shock them and encourage disease.) I have watched him countless times as he trudged back and forth, back and forth, between his stone trough and the plants with his watering pail.
He harvests them as they ripen, plucking them from their woody vines just above the flowery stems. His tomatoes are not pretty. They have thick peppery skins (as a result of the cool Burgundian nights) and scars from frost and come in the strangest shapes, sometimes with limbs. But they are undeniably sweet and succulent, thanks to his careful gardening.”

Serves 4

4 very ripe tomatoes, cored and
halved like grapefruits
Coarse or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch sugar
8 sage leaves
1/4 cup best-quality olive oil

1. Heat a large iron skillet or heavy sauté pan over high heat, Meanwhile,
cut a few slashes in the skin of each tomato half and season with salt,
pepper, and a little sugar. Lay a sage leaf on top of each cut side.
2. When the skillet is almost smoking, reduce the heat to medium-high. Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and lay the tomato halves, skin
sides down, in the skillet. Sear the tomatoes until they are well
browned, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning, about 5
minutes per side. Using a spatula, carefully remove to a serving plate,
keeping the sage leaves intact on top of the tomato halves. Sprinkle the remaining olive oil over the tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
They can be served warm or cool and can be stored in the refrigerator
for up to three days.


Cherry Tomato – and - Oregano Salad

“The cherry tomato vines scaled their supports so rapidly, growth was noticeable overnight. When their surge finally came to a halt, the plant thickened from the bottom up and the limbs on which the fruit developed stretched out like ferns.
Slaves to the sun, the tiny fruits grew slowly, fattening to veiny green orbs at an almost imperceptible rate. And in their last hour, they reddened in an ordered fashion, starting with the tomato closet to the trunk and graduating to the one dangling on the very tip.
The cherry tomatoes and I had a positive, if brief, brush with one another. I could actually think up enough things to do with them at the same rate they ripened.
None rotted on the vine and we always are every last one fresh.
The intensity of the cherry tomatoes makes them a better match for oregano than regular tomatoes. This salad, which is marked by brilliant cross sections of the
cherry tomatoes and peppery, spade-shaped oregano leaves captures the essence
of August.”

Serves 4

3 cups very ripe cherry tomatoes, stems removed,
halved lengthwise through the stem ends
(you can mix yellow pear tomatoes with
the red cherry ones if you wish)
2 teaspoons chopped oregano leaves
(about 2-3 sprigs) or 2 teaspoons chopped basil
leaves (about 1 branch)
(chop the leaves only if they
are larger than your pinkie nail)
2 tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
Coarse or kosher salt
3 tablespoons best-quality olive oil

1. In a medium bowl, combine the tomato halves with the oregano and vinegar. Let them marinate for 15 minutes. Just before serving, season
with salt, sprinkle on the olive oil, and toss to coat. Serve in a flat bowl
or on a broad plate.

Serving Suggestions  This salad makes an excellent component of an
hors d’oeuvre platter, along with White Beans with Pistou… Or serve it as
a side dish to grilled meat or fish – also prepared simply, perhaps on top of a
few herbs. Slice a loaf of bread and open a bottle of dry white table wine.


Plum Tarts

Serves 4

1 recipe Pâte Sucrée [Sweet Tart Dough]
1 pound Damson plums or
any small oval purple plums
Sugar, for sprinkling
Confectioner’s sugar, for sprinkling

1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon brandy
2/3 cup finely ground walnuts
(ground almost to a paste)

1. Prepare the Pâte Sucrée and let chill until needed.
2. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. and place a baking sheet on the
center shelf.
3. Divide the Pâte Sucrée into four equal pieces. On a lightly floured
work surface, roll out each piece into a circle about 1/8 inch thick,
and transfer the pieces to four 3-inch tart molds, pressing the dough
firmly into them. Run the rolling pin over the top of each to cut off
any excess dough, reserving it for another use. Chill the lined molds
for at least 15 minutes. To blind bake the tarts: Line the tart shells
with aluminum foil, fill with dried beans, or pie weights, and bake
for 20 minutes, until the edges begin to color. Remove foil with
weights, and bake for 5 more minutes. Keep a close eye on the
pastry because it can change from perfect to burned in the matter
of a minute.
4. Meanwhile, make the filling:  In a medium saucepan, combine the
cream, sugar, flour, nutmeg, vanilla, and brandy. Bring to a boil
and whisk rapidly. It will bubble heavily, thickening to a silky
liquid, in about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the
ground walnuts.
5. Cut the plums: First slice each plum in half by cutting along the
seam that goes down one side of the plum, and continue slicing
down the other side. Remove and discard the pit. Then cut each
half again lengthwise. You should get four pointed boat-shaped
slices from each plum.
6. Assemble the tarts:  In the base of each lined tart mold, spread a
thin layer of the filling, about 2 tablespoons each. Beginning at the
outside edge of each tart, arrange the plum quarters in three or four
concentric circles, cut side up, with one pointed end in the filling.
Use the filling as a sort of ‘glue’ for holding up the plums, adding
more where needed. The finished tart should look like an opening
flower. Sprinkle the plums with granulated sugar, then sift on con-
fectioner’s sugar to cover the plums completely. If the plums are
tart, you will need to be generous with the sugar.
7. Place the tarts on the baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
(The oven should still be set at 400 degrees F.) Lower the heat to
350 degrees F. and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until the
juices are bubbling and caramelizing and the pastry begins to brown
on the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
Remove the tarts from the molds and sprinkle once more with
confectioner’s sugar just before serving.

Shopping for plums  Shop for plums as you do for peaches – at a roadside
stand. Plum skin, be it red, purple, or sunny yellow, should be taut and
smooth. Never buy a plum that is hard. It will not ripen to the juicy state
it should. Instead, it will be dry and fibrous. Bruises are difficult to detect
on a plum unless it has already rotted out. Feel the plums, and if some
spots are softer than others, this indicates bruising. Look, also, for plums
with their stems still intact. A missing stem provides an easy entryway
for bugs.

More Amanda Hesser
August, The Cook and the Gardener, Part 1
August, The Cook and the Gardener, Part 2
August, The Cook and the Gardener, Part 3
Featured Archive Recipes:
Creole Tomatoes
The Tantalizing Tomato
Fruit-Filled Lattice Torte
with Four Fillings

Plentiful Plums
Summer Fruit Torte,

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