Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Supper Club

Every Tuesday night a group of friends organised by Carole, a nurse living in our town, got together and dined at our local restaurant. They were all professional women, and included male partners as well, but were collectively called “Les Filles de Mardi,” (the Tuesday Girls). As the Artist and myself often dined in the same restaurant, we gradually became absorbed into the group; we didn’t have a lot of choice, they were very noisy and you either joined in or stayed away. At the end of the evening, the restaurant’s owner, Manou, played old French tunes and everyone got up and danced; her partner, Patrice, who was also the chef, would come out from his kitchen (where he spent the minimum amount of time) with his beret and Che Guevara t-shirt and joined in, usually railing against some con politician or policy of the day. It was always a social event and introduced us to all the people we know in our town.
Sadly Manou and Patrice hung up their aprons (well Patrice anyway) and they sold the restaurant. This left the Filles without a permanent meeting place. Other alternatives were tried, other restaurants, going to each other’s houses and bringing a dish, but no permanent solution was found until finally Carole asked if I would like to host the evenings chez moi. And that’s how the Tuesday Night Supper Club began.
Everyone pays a set fee.  Its mainly the same crowd, but I have also introduced new people into the group which has resulted in a little unintended match-making! Two couples have got together so far, Francoise and Laurent, who had gone to school together and lived in neighbouring towns, but whose paths had not crossed since, and Carole and Frank, who live in the same town in adjoining streets, but hadn’t met before.
Everyone is French and includes a teacher, a nurse, a judge, a fashion researcher, a chiropractor, a kitchen designer, two dental technicians, a tax inspector, an accountant, a builder, a children’s author, a physiotherapist and B&B proprietors!
Luckily, our local market happens to fall on the same day as the supper club and so I buy most of the produce in the market. I always do a fish and a meat main course, which takes care of most people’s dietary, needs (one eats no meat, one no pork, etc). I never know how many people are going to come. Carole calls up all her friends the night before to see if they’re coming and I send out emails with a menu, but I’ve since realised that French people aren’t tied to their computers as we are and rarely check on their mail. The other week Carole told me that not very many people were coming and as I hadn’t had any replies to my emails,  I extended the invitation further a field to people who hadn’t been before. As people knocked on the door, the Artist and I looked at each other with fear, as everyone who I thought wasn’t coming arrived! We were 16 in total sitting round our table!  Luckily we have a big table and luckily I had bought a huge piece of pork that I thought would last us through the week if it wasn’t eaten; it was, every last morsel!
The first guests arrive around 8 and the last around 9; this is the apero hour when the guests chat and mingle with a drink, usually a Kir, a Ricard or a glass of wine. They help themselves to various hors d’oeuvres, usually toasts with tapenade (olive paste) and parmasan, or home-made pate. Last week I served a bowl of Tellines, which I had bought in the market, they are tiny clams, raked up in the shallows of the nearby Camargue beaches and are sweet and succulent. You cook them for one minute, or until their shells open up and then dress them with olive oil, garlic and parsley.  Unfortunately, one of the shells fell on the floor and our dog, Ralph, pounced on it, feigning starvation as he does, and one of the guests, Anna, tried to take it off him,  fearing he might choke.  I was in the kitchen at the time and I heard an angry bark and then Anna came in holding her bloody hand.  Luckily she admitted it was her own fault.  (The Artist thinks the dogs should be locked up, or made to stay in the courtyard, but they give so much entertainment value it seems a shame to me).

Once everyone has arrived and is sitting down, the first course is served. Last week this was Soupe de tomate et basilic avec des chevre toasts (tomato and basil soup with pesto and goats cheese toasts); I then served Merlan au Fenouil – (whiting with roasted fennel) and a roti du Porc, (roast pork) with beans and potatoes cooked in the oven on a bed of salt (a suggestion from the market stall holder where I bought the potatoes, guess what, they were really salty!). For pudding I served a plum crumble with homemade ginger ice cream, (the French love le crumble!) then coffee accompanied by a delicious 10-year-old rum from Martinique that one of the guests had brought.
With dinner finished, the music is turned up and everyone has a dance.  Carole is doing Salsa classes so she shows us her moves as she dances to some Latin number.   Most people leave around mid-night (they all have to get up and work the next day) and I start to load the dishwasher.
Everyone is always very complimentary about my cooking, even though it doesn’t always go quite right (I’d left the goat cheese toasts too long in the oven, and they became more like chevre brulé). They seem to find it very amusing that I am English but cook Provençal dishes and they like that all my ingredients are fresh and not swamped in heavy sauces (they’re all perpetually on diets). One of the guests even said that my cooking was une chose perdu (forgotten art). Praise indeed!
I’m not going to make a fortune, (I just about break even as the wine and aperos etc, are all included)  but it pays for my habit, which is buying and cooking food and saves the Artist from having to eat it all by himself (all be it with a little help from Ralph!)

Le Menu
Apero Kir – Vin Blanc, Ricard, Vin Rouge
Soupe de Tomates avec des Toasts de Pesto et Chêvre chaud
Rôti de Porc Florentine ou Merlan au Fenouil
Crumble aux Prunes avec Glace de Gingembre
Le Vin – Domaine de Lansac Sauvignon Blanc,  Rosé,  Rouge Classique

Roast Tomato Soupe with Pesto and Goats Cheese Toasts This is a great soup to make at the end of summer when there is a glut of tomatoes and they are practically giving them away in the market.  I have adapted this from Nigel Slater’s recipe from The Kitchen Diaries, Harper Collins (he suggests you chill it, I like it served warm with the goats cheese toasts)
1 Kg Tomatoes
1 large red Pepper or 2 smaller Peppers
2 or 3 Cloves of garlic
3 tbs. Olive oil
1.5 litres of Stock, vegetable or chicken, whatever you have to hand
Small bunch of Basil, leaves taken off the stalks
Day old Baguette bread, sliced
Pesto, bought or homemade
Goats Cheese Log
Salt and freshly ground Pepper
Set the oven at 220℃.  Cut up the tomatoes into eight pieces (or six depending on size), de-seed the pepper and chop into 2 cm pieces (approx) and put into a roasting tin.  Slice the garlic and scatter over the tomatoes and peppers with some coarse sea salt (I like to use the coarse unbleached sel de mer) and black pepper and put into the pre-heated oven.  Cook for 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft and the skin starting to blacken lightly.
Add the stock (I like to use Marigold Organic Swiss Vegetable Bouillon) to the vegetables, swish it around with a wooden spoon and then transfer the lot into a large saucepan.  Add the basil leaves and bring to the boil, lower the heat and cook for a further minute or two and then take it off the heat and liquidise (Nigel’s recipe says to leave a couple of handfulls of tomatoes and red pepper behind and chop this finely by hand  for a more textured soup).
For the toasts, lightly toast the small rounds of French bread on both sides (and I mean lightly! Turn away for a minute and they will burn) spread one side with the pesto sauce and top with a round of goats cheese, drizzle with a little olive oil and put back under the grill until the cheese just starts to melt.
Serve the soup hot with the toasts floating on top.

Rôti de Porc Florentine This is taken from Anna del Conte’s book, The Classic Food of Northern Italy (Great Cooks). In France pork generally comes without the rind, so this has no crackling, if you are cooking it with the rind, remove it, put the rosemary and garlic mixture between the meat and the rind and replace the rind (she also says to remove it from the last 10 minutes of cooking).
1.5 k Loin of Pork
4 Garlic Cloves, Sliced
3 Fresh Sprigs of Rosemary
2 Cloves
3 Tbl Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Chop the garlic and rosemary together, adding 1/2 tsp or salt and freshly ground pepper.
Make small incisions into the meat pushing in the garlic and rosemary.  Stick the meat with the two cloves and rub with half the oilve oil and the rest of the garlic and rosemary.   Leave to marinate for a couple of hours or so.
When you’re ready to cook the meat, put the other half of  the oil into the roasting tin with the meat and cook in a oven pre-heated to 180℃.  Cook for two hours, basting and turning every 20 minutes.  After two hours turn the oven up to 220℃ and brown the meat for 10 minutes.  Then take the roast out of the oven and leave it to rest on a wooden board for 10 minutes or so.  Meanwhile, pour off the fat from the cooking liquid, add 4 tbls. of hot water and boil briskly on the hob for a few minutes stirring up the bits from the bottom of the tin.
Slice the pork and serve with the cooking juices.

This is very delicious and moist, perfect for an Autumn evening and is also delicious served cold on another day.

Whiting on a bed of Fennel 

1smallish Whiting per person
2 Fennel Bulbs with tops
Knob of butter
1 Garlic Clove
I lemon Zested and Sliced
Dash of Ricard - Pastis(optional)
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper 

Cut the fennel into thick slices, keeping their tops aside.   Melt the knob of butter with a dash of olive oil in a pan and put over a low heat, add the fennel slices and leave to carmalise slowly (30 - 40 mins)
Crush the garlic and mix with the lemons zest, salt and pepper and a tabls. of olive oil.
Scale and gut the whitting (the fish monger may already have done this for you) and cut diagonal slits into the fish, not too deep, about 5cms apart. 
Push the garlic and lemon zest into the slits and put the fennel tops along with the lemon slices inside the fish. Leave to infuse for an hour or so.
When you are ready to cook the fish.  Put the fennel into a baking tray and lay the whiting on top, drizzle with olive oil and a dash of Ricard and put into an oven at 180℃ for approx 30 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.
Sprinkle with chopped parley and serve.

I'm not going to give you a recipe for Plum Crumble, as desserts are not really my forte.  In fact if you have a good one, why not send it to me in comments.  Ginger Ice cream, is made by infusing warm milk with a thumb size of grated ginger for an hour, you then strain the milk, discarding the ginger and, as Elizabeth David used to say, then make the ice cream in the usual fashion!

1 comment:

Julie Mautner said...

Ange I can't wait to come when I'm back in Provence. I love your cooking and it sounds like a great evening. xx