Sharing good food and wine with someone you love is perfection. – Jean-Andre Charial
The foundation for today’s lunch was simple; it was cold out and I longed for comfort food. Everyone has their own mental picture of what that entails, for me, it is anything Provencal. What I love about southern French cooking is that it is very approachable, unpretentious and rustic yet at the same time diverse and alluring. A food deeply rooted in a regionality carved out by conquest, invasion and geography. Yet at the same moment, it is an artist’s palette of beautiful colors, textures and sensuous flavors.
I am deeply moved by Jean-Andre Charial’s (owner of Oustau de Baumaniere) philosophical book ‘Lunch in Provence’. More correctly, it strengthened my conviction that the foundation of great food lies not only in the provenance of ingredients and simplicity of preparation but in emotion and passion while enjoying it. Charial spoke of lovely, outdoor makeshift lunches where just-picked vegetables and fruits from his own farm, fish caught that morning and local pastured meats were served to a gathering of friends. Shared meals are so much more than simply food, they become life experiences that celebrate through laughter, friendship, and communion with the natural world. They provide meaning and context to our busy lives and enrich our souls. Charial advises “the meal need not be grand, but the experience surely can be.” As I read those words, I closed my eyes and could begin to smell the nearby lavender in bloom. I listened carefully to the cicadas singing softly in the distance as I lifted a spoonful of soupe de poissons to my lips. The briny aromas of the sea carried me to the Mediterranean and made me think, it is time to visit Provence again, even if only through a meal.
The joy of living, I say, was summed up for me in the remembered sensation of that burning and aromatic swallow, that mixture of milk and coffee and bread by which men hold communion with tranquil pastures, exotic plantations, and golden harvests, communion with earth. – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
The premise behind the menu was simple: prepare a comforting meal that would transport us all to the south of France. I settled on a few favorite, rural dishes more likely to be found on your maman’s table than in some upscale restaurant. Soupe de Poissons served with spicy rouille, shredded Gruyere and garlicky croutons can be found everywhere along the Provencal coast. I chose an ancient recipe for duckling from Roger Verge’s grandmother and finished with a simple chocolate mousse with cocoa nib brittle found in Charial’s new book.
Try the duck stew while it is still cold in many parts of the country. It is a great dish for dinner parties because it is best prepared ahead of time and reheated. It will allow you to enjoy the meal as much as your friends.
- 1 Duck weighing 4 to 5 pounds
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, mashed
- 10 black peppercorns
- 10 juniper berries
- 1 piece star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 orange, peel and juice
- 1 bottle of pinot noir
- 12 prunes
- 12 walnuts
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 apple, peeled and diced
- Cut your duck into eight pieces, like you would breakdown a whole chicken, and put in a large bowl with room for more ingredients.
- Add the carrot, onion, celery, garlic, black peppercorns, juniper berries, star anise, cinnamon orange and pinot noir. Let marinate for 10 to 12 hours sitting out in your kitchen.
- Strain the marinade and simmer the prunes and walnuts in it for 20 minutes.
- Melt the butter in a large saute pan and brown the duck on both sides.
- Remove the duck meat and saute the vegetables from the marinade.
- Sprinkle flour over and mix well.
- Strain marinade into vegetables and add the browned duck pieces back. Keep the prunes and walnuts to add back to the sauce later.
- Bring to a boil then simmer for one hour.
- As you cook your duck you may need to add chicken stock to keep it moist and stew-like. I ended up using about one quart.
- At the end of the cooking time, remove the duck pieces and strain out the vegetables.
- Return the duck meat, prunes and walnuts and apple.
- Let simmer a few minutes.
- Adjust seasonings and serve.
- tablespoon flour
- quart chicken stock
- apple, peeled and diced
I offer a slightly simplified version of Charial’s chocolate mousse that does not lose any of it’s deliciousness.
- ⅓ cup flour
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ¼ cup fresh squeezed orange or tangerine juice
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 ounces cocoa nibs (available in most stores)
- ½ teaspoon powdered gelatin
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
- 5 egg whites
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 quart caramel ice cream
- Mix flour, sugar, orange juice and melted butter in your food processor.
- Add the cocoa nibs and let sit in your refrigerator for one hour.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Put six spoonfuls of brittle batter pressed down onto a sil pat covered sheet pan.
- Bake ten minutes or until lightly brown.
- Let cool while making mousse.
- Mix powdered gelatin with two tablespoons of water and let sit for ten minutes.
- Put a small amount of water in a pot to boil then remove from heat.
- Set bowl of gelatin over till it melts and turns to a clear liquid.
- Boil cream and mix with gelatin.
- Pour over chocolate chips and stir till well mixed. The chocolate should be slightly warm to room temperature.
- Beat egg whites in a stand mixer till light and frothy.
- Add sugar and continue beating for 30 seconds on high speed.
- Gently fold into chocolate and pour into serving vessels. I used clear glasses.
- Garnish mousse with cocoa nib brittle and a spoonful of caramel ice cream.