I finally missed a meal. Several, actually. Can you believe it? I came down with a stomach flu this past Saturday evening and didn't eat a meal until Monday at lunch. I spent most of that time in bed, feeling really lousy. The coffee smells drifting up to my room on Sunday morning did not tempt me the way they usually do. That is generally my alarm clock. So, I just decided it would be best if I stayed in bed for the remainder of the day. The French have a saying-- Je ne suis pas dans mon assiette. Literally, I am not in my plate. That means that they are not quite feeling right and not up to eating the way they usually do. I have never actually heard a French person utter those words, so I asked Chef Érick and he says the expression does indeed exist. I like it because it just seems to sum up an upset stomach. You just don't feel like eating. Quelle horreur. How awful.
Before I came down with the tummy ache, we made dinner for a lovely family of six from Utah. The husband and wife had been here before, a few summers ago, and had participated in a cooking course. They made reservations for two nights in our rooms for themselves, their two daughters and two granddaughters. We served them a wonderful dinner of mussels, grilled shrimp and tuna, rice made with broth from the shrimp heads (you can even fry those little devils and make wonderful appetizers!, by the way), caramelized zucchini, the Tian de légumes d'été pictured above, a selection of three cheeses and tarts for dessert. We served wines from Jean-Paul Cabanis' vineyard in Vauvert, a white and a rosé. I loved the fact that the two granddaughters were taking pictures of their food! I am not alone, after all.
My quest for the perfect brioche recipe has come to an end, I believe. Today's were the best so far. I found the recipe on the back of a little package of dry yeast we bought for my experiments. The French couple here at breakfast this morning ate them and that is the true test. It has been fun trying new recipes and using up most of the orange oil flavoring we bought at Florame. This is a wonderful place in St. Rémy de Provence that makes essential oils. I will share the recipe soon, I promise.
While not feeling quite myself, I got too close to the pan of very hot olive oil where I was working with the zucchini and eggplant for the tian. I burned the little finger of my right hand quite badly. I discovered that lavender oil is a great remedy for burns. Actually, I will do most anything to get out of washing dishes, I guess.
This past week has also been a bit different/difficult for me because my colleagues have gone back to school. The 2008-09 school year at Durham Academy gets underway today. La Rentrée is the French expression for the first day of school. I knew that faculty meetings began last week and it felt strange knowing that all my friends were there all together without me. For as long as I can remember, since Miss McBee's first grade class in 1964, August has meant the beginning of a new school year. New pencils and notebooks and a new pair of shoes. In honor of the beginning of the new school year, Wednesday, market day in Arles, the day of their first meetings, I made a lunch that would be great for a school day. At DA, we do not have a cafeteria, therefore we all brown bag. While walking around the market, I saw the biggest tomato I have ever seen in my life. We bought one because I made such a production out of it. Pictures were taken, of course, bien sûr. It was called la Russe, the Russian. I decided to take one of the leftover baguettes from breakfast and make a sandwich. I sliced the baguette in half lengthwise, sliced the tomato, placed it on the baguette, and added goat cheese, chèvre, on top of the tomato. To season it, I used herbes de provence, sea salt and olive oil. That was the best tomato sandwich I have ever eaten. Since I am from the South, I have eaten my fair share of tomato sandwiches in the middle of summer! I did have a glass of rosé to go with it. After all, I had promised several of my colleagues I would do that just for them as they prepared for the new school year. They would expect nothing less from The Sabbatical Chef.
Le Tian Provençal - Mixed Summer Vegetables Provençal
Tian is the name for the red clay baking dish of Provence, now primarily made in Spain. These dishes are now being exported to the States. They are wonderful for baking and roasting in the oven. Be sure there’s enough liquid in the dish to prevent drying in the oven, and when you remove the dish you can place it directly on the table. It is handsome, and holds its heat.
Preparation time : one hour ; Cooking time : 30 minutes
2 fat eggplant
1 bell pepper (color of choice)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup of olive oil
Grated cheese (in France, often it’s often gruyère, emmental or parmesian)
This recipe has two stages, some of the vegetables are pre-cooked, fried in olive oil, and others are put into the tian fresh.
Cut the eggplant in rounds and salt liberally, set aside to sweat for an hour. Cut the zucchini in rounds, the tomatoes likewise, set aside. Mince the onions, and chop the bell pepper in small pieces, set aside.
Take out a large frying pan and put in your olive oil. Fry lightly the minced onions and bell peppers, simply melting them down, reducing them, to a smooth caramelized mixture. Remove with a slotted spoon and layer on the bottom of your oven-proof casserole dish. Now fry the zucchini rounds, a minute per side, in your oil. Put aside.
When your eggplant rounds are nicely sweated and rinsed of their excess salt, tap them dry and then fry them a minute each side as well, set aside.
Crush and chop your garlic, and now put the entire tian together. Place the onion and pepper mixture on the bottom, then start layering your eggplant rounds (just one layer thick), and then the raw tomato rounds, and a bit of the chopped garlic, crumbled thyme, a little salt, and then a layer of zucchini rounds. Start again till the tian is full and you’ve used all your vegetables. Sprinkle the top with the cheese and place in the oven for 30 minutes at 375F/180C.