Archive | 9:06 am

heirloom·modern: Velouté de Tomates à la Provençal

26 Sep

I wrote about Roy Andries de Groot in an heirloom·modern piece a few months ago. I found him by accident back then, having stumbled upon his wonderful book Feasts For All Seasons. Among the amazing things I learned about Mr. de Groot include that he had been made mostly blind in the Blitz, that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and that he wrote a book that some feel was one of the most influential food books of the last century, Recipes From The Auberge Of The Flowering Hearth.

A few weeks later, as seems to happen to me, I was scouring about in one of the little used bookstores that dot Manhattan, and et voila there she was, Mr. de Groot’s masterpiece, first edition, with a dust jacket and at a reasonable price. Thank you East Village Books!

Velouté de Tomates à la Provençal

(Adapted from Recipes From The Auberge Of The Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot)

Mr. de Groot had a thing for Green Chartreuse. He served it to all his guests and yet knew nothing about it. After years of deflecting questions he finally decided to look into the who, where and why of his favorite tipple. He learned that the liqueur is made by hermits high in the mountains of France, that they had been ejected from the country by the army, not once, but a few times, and that he needed to go there. It was on this trip to visit Les Peres Charteaux that Mr. de Groot stayed at the Auberge (or Inn) of the Flowering Hearth for the first time.

After many trips and many stays at the Auberge, Mr. de Groot finally decided to put his feelings on the place and the valley in which it sits down on paper. He agonized over this decision, “If the Auberge of the Flowering Hearth were to be invaded by thousands of tourists, almost everything that I write about it would cease to be true.” Whether or not the valley was ultimately overrun by yelping, yapping tourists he doesn’t say, but he does admit that changes were happening already, that the modern world was beginning to push in on the idealized rural existence within which the Auberge floated.

When the ladies who own and run the Auberge of the Flowering Hearth, Mademoiselle Vivette Artaud and Mademoiselle Ray Girard, set their table with the animals and birds of their valley and its surrounding mountains, with the fish caught by their friends in the nearby lakes, with the cheeses carefully made and the fruits and vegetables laboriously grown by their farmer neighbors, with the wild mushrooms they pick themselves in the woods, with the wines from the nearby mountain vineyards, they are fulfilling the unity of the way of life–a unity which seems to me to be of the deepest value but which the world seems to be rejecting.

Can you see how this guy influenced Alice Waters?

This time of year in the Northeast is possibly the most wonderful time for produce, hands down. Summer still has a hold on the produce, but autumn is beginning to make her presence known. There’s still tomatoes, even if they’re a little ugly, but there’s also apples and Brussels sprouts. It’s a vertiginous time at the Greenmarket, full of dizzying color and unbelievable bounty.

Mr. de Groot not only returned to New York with wonderful memories and a humdinger of a book, he also returned with a memento, “some of Mademoiselle Ray’s extraordinary recipes. I recorded them in her kitchen as she prepared each in the form of a lesson.” Some of the recipes are very French, complicated, using ingredients that are not readily available here in the States (chamois anyone?), but most exemplify that other side of French cooking, so easy, so basic and so good.

This velouté is a perfect example of the latter style of recipe. It highlights all the bounty of the season in such a complex interplay of smoky, sweet, surprisingly creamy and delightfully sour. The recipe comes from a chapter featuring the other Mademoiselle, Mme. Vivette who was in charge of the Auberge’s wine cellar. The chapter is wonderfully titled “A Proud Wine Cellar on a Low Budget,” a task seemingly made easier if you live in France, 75 miles from Burgundy, but there are tips that not only apply to buying wine, but also produce.

Her first lesson, then, is to get to know as many as possible of one’s local suppliers. It is almost ridiculous–except when buying a standard bottle of gin– to expect to get all one’s wines from the nearest liquor store on the next corner. Each shop after all, is a reflection of the personal opinions of its owner or manager. Each, in his way, has a special slant on buying wine.

The problem is the same with food. If you are even half a gourmet, you will shop around for your fancy foods. You will buy your olives from the Greek grocer. You will prefer the long French loaf of one baker over another. You will buy your veal from one butcher, your pork from another. It is just as important to shop around for your wine.

And the wine he suggested serving with this soup? “White Bordeaux, 1964, Château Laville Haut Brion, Talence, Graves.” I don’t know anything about this wine, but, I have a feeling, that even if I could find a bottle of it, I certainly couldn’t afford it!

Not only did I substitute a different wine (a 2003 pinot noir from Burgundy) I also substituted a sweet German Riesling for his suggested Sauternes, green and yellow tomatoes for red and Brussels sprouts for cabbage. As Mr. de Groot said:

This is no ordinary soup. It is touched with the aromas of smoky bacon and fried salt pork, enriched with the oils of leeks and onions, the fruitiness of soft white wine, with everything finally enveloped, in the true Provençal style, in an all-pervading mash of garlic. At the end, it is converted into a richly creamy velouté in a unique way–by being thickened with a whipped purée of rice.

This really is a unique, soul-satisfying end of summer treat. I hope you try it, and if you ever see a copy of Recipes From The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth grab it.

Head below the jump for my adaptaion of Mr. de Groot’s and Mme. Ray’s Velouté de Tomates à la Provençal.

Continue reading