Bonjour from the warmest French October since 1878, so say the meteorologists. it’s lovely waking up to blue skies every day, watching as the leaves turn slowly from green to all colors, to ride a bicycle wearing shirt sleeves. It’s also ominous, like Ground Hog Day, simply because it’s abnormal. At the market a grower lamented that her shell beans weren’t “filling,”. How can they? There’s no water. On the other hand, another grower crowed about his best ever season, even though his technique is to irrigate like mad. “But oh,” he said. “For it to be mid-October and not have to deal with the mud. I could get used to this.”
We take the good, then, and revel in this more glorious than ever shoulder season, as the vegetables of summer make way – but not much way – for those of winter. During class this week we did just that, applying techniques and tricks to everything. Sit down, take a look, enjoy, then get into the kitchen!
And the Week Begins…..
We visited the local boulangerie early in the morning – for us. Baker Maxence had been at work since 3 a.m., shaping, slicing, rolling, baking breads which were burning to the touch. He handles them all by hand right out of the oven. Doesn’t even notice the heat.
Here, I’m demonstrating sautéing plums, which have been flamed with Calvados before being folded in a custard mixture, baked, then topped with a sugar, egg, and butter topping so they emerge crisp and golden.
When using the mndoline, BE CAREFUL and, in the words of today, BE MINDFUL. The mndoline is a razor blade on legs, and it is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. It can cut through just about anything, but you must be very aware of what you are doing. I suggest you get a mandoline glove and then be sure to put it on. You don’t need two; just one for the hand pushing whatever it is you are cutting. Carrots and zucchini sliced on the mandoline and served as a salad are gorgeous and delicious.
Below – I’m taking the top shell off a fresher-than-fresh sea scallop that was barely out of the water. It came of the boat just hours before I had it in my hand. With scallops this fresh, first you slice them paper thin and eat them raw. Then, you cook them in butter and oil on one side until they’re golden, flip them, and serve them with a sprinkling of….nothing at all, or salt and pepper, a fine dust of curry powder, some minced lemon zest, herbs….
And finally, when in Louviers, watch out for Viking battles. They’re still upset the Gauls won.
NORMANDY PLUM CUSTARD - FONDANT NORMAND AUX QUETSCHES
Preheat the oven to 400̊F (205̊C). Thoroughly butter and flour a 2-quart (2L ) round baking dish about 4 inches (10 cm) deep, or 10 individual 1 cup (250ml) ramekins or molds.
Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the plums and sauté just until they are hot through, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the Calvados, swirling it in the pan. If the Calvados doesn’t flame up, light it with a match, being sure to stand well back from the pan and averting your face. Reserve the plums.
Prepare the custard: In a large bowl, mix together the vanilla sugar and the 2 tablespoons of butter until the mixture combined. Add the eggs and whisk until they are thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the milk, then sift the flour and the baking powder over the mixture, and whisk it in until the mixture is smooth and pale. Fold in the plums and any juices they’ve given off (unless there are cups and cups!), and pour the mixture into the prepared mold. If using individual molds, evenly divide the mixture among them - it should come about halfway up the side of the molds. Bake in the center of the oven until it begins to puff and look golden, 30 minutes for a large mold, 15 for individual molds.
While the custard is baking, prepare the topping: Mix together the vanilla sugar and the butter until thoroughly combined and smooth, then whisk in the egg until it is thoroughly combined. Remove the baked custard from the oven and spread the topping over it. If using individual molds, spread an equal amount of topping over each one, and return to the oven to bake until it is golden and bubbling, an additional 20 minutes for either size mold. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before serving.