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.

heirloom·modern: Velouté de Tomates à la Provençal

prep time: an hour or so ~ cooking time: an hour or so

  • 2 lbs Tomatoes peeled & seeded
  • 3 pieces (or rashers) of good quality Bacon, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 large or 2 small Leeks sliced and well cleaned
  • 2 Onions chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup sweet white Wine
  • 1 1/2 cups good quality Beef or Veal Stock
  • 1 1/2 cup Water
  • 1/2 lb. Brussels Sprouts sliced thin
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • fresh Basil (about 2 tsps chopped)
  • fresh Thyme (about 2 tsps pulled from the stem)
  • 1/3 cup Rice (I used arborio because it’s what I had, but I would recommend probably using regular white rice)
  • 1/2 cup sweet white Wine
  • 3/4 cup Water
  • 4 cloves Garlic

Begin browning the bacon in a skillet over a medium flame. Once the bacon has given up most of its fat, add a small glug of olive oil and add the onions and leeks to sweat. When they begin to brown around the edges add the tomatoes and smoosh them into the pan. Cook over medium heat about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile in a small stock pot bring the water, wine and stock to a boil. Add the Brussels sprouts and the bacon, onion, tomato mixture to the liquid. Make sure to scrape up all the brown bits from the skillet, there’s lots of flavor there! Season the soup with salt, pepper, sugar and the basil and thyme. Turn the flame down to low and simmer, covered, for half an hour.

Meanwhile cook the rice in lots of water until it is very mooshie. Drain and set aside.

In a small food processor combine 4 cloves of garlic, a healthy pinch of salt and a healthy glug of your best olive oil. Process to a mayonnaise like consistency.

After half an hour cooking turn the heat off and add the rice to the soup. Puree with an immersion blender to a coarse, yet creamy consistency. Turn the flame back on to low, add the extra wine and water to the soup, stir to incorporate, cover and allow to simmer, stirring often for another 20 minutes.

Check the seasoning on the soup and adjust if needed. If the soup is too thin allow to cook uncovered until the desired consistency is achieved.

To serve: Place the garlic paste in a bowl, spoon soup into individual bowls and allow each person to customize their level of garlickyness. We also made some Parmesan toasts flavored with a few grinds of saffron salt. This was delicious and is highly recommended!

Bon appétit!


9 Responses to “heirloom·modern: Velouté de Tomates à la Provençal”

  1. sher September 26, 2006 at 12:24 pm #

    This was such a lovely post!! I learned so many things. (The NY Times SHOULD hire you!) The recipe looks delicious.

  2. Julie September 26, 2006 at 1:27 pm #

    This soups looks very different and very tempting. Reading the description made me hungry.

  3. Julie September 26, 2006 at 1:29 pm #

    This soups looks very different and very tempting. Somehow the combination of tomatoes and cabbage in a soup sounds completely unique, and the soup as a whole sounds absolutely delicious.

  4. Tiny Banquet Committee September 27, 2006 at 11:29 am #

    The book and the soup both sound wonderful. I put Recipes From The Auberge Of The Flowering Hearth on my very very long list of books to get after reading your blueberry pasta post, and this confirms it’s a must-have. Also, the combination of parmesan + saffron salt sounds extraordinarily delicious!

  5. ann September 29, 2006 at 11:16 am #

    Sher — thanks! I’m blushing :-)

    Julie — always happy to help!

    TBC — run, don’t walk, to SOS Chefs on Ave B & 7th street (near Vasacs/Horseshoe Bar/7B) for some saffron salt, or maybe you’d prefer truffle salt? or perhaps vanilla salt? or maybe you’re a porcini salt girl
    they have them all… just don’t let them sell you any gyromitras mushrooms, they did that to me once, and they’re deadly poisonous

  6. jenblossom October 3, 2006 at 11:49 am #

    That sounds absolutely wonderful. I’m going to have to see if I can’t track down that book, as well.

  7. Michele September 5, 2007 at 9:28 am #

    could you please tell me if the auberge of the flowering hearth is still open for business and if the owners are still alive , I would love to visit there. I absolutely love the cookbook and have made many of the recipes

  8. Betsy Hall January 4, 2008 at 1:19 am #

    My mother came to visit us at Christmas this year. She’s 87 and was reminiscing about when she was young. It turns out that she and my dad were very close friends with Roy de Groot and his wife, Katherine Hynes.
    My dad and Roy shared a room in a hospital where they both had eye operations. This was when Roy’s eyes were first damaged and he was flown to the US for treatment. Over the years my parents and the de Groots spent alot of time together. The last time my mother saw Roy was right before he committed suicide. He was in Morristown NJ, where my parents were living, at the seeing eye dog institute training a new dog. They had dinner together. Shortly after returning home, he shot himself. My mom was the first person his wife called after finding him. She said he just couldn’t stand being blind any longer. Katherine continue to stay in touch with my parents over the next ten years until her death.

  9. Leesa Campbell July 2, 2008 at 12:08 am #

    This has nothing to do with the recipe, although it looks lovely. My mother-in-law was given up for adoption by Roy De Groot and Katherine Hynes in 1946. There has always been some question as to why they did this when they already had 2 daughters. She has never had contact with anyone from the family, but is interested in doing so.

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