Monday, September 5, 2011

Spring with a touch of Burgundy ~ by Chantal Prunier


In May we celebrated spring with a touch of Burgundy. My childhood home cooking from the celebrated French wine region, applied to our fresh farmer’s market ingredients, made for a crescendo of flavors starting with snappy radishes served on buttered tartines, graduating to a hearty Boeuf Bourguignon, and ending with just the most delicate individual lemon mousse cakes.

Spring is flavorful and fresh, and this was reflected in the menu. So the Boeuf Bourguignon, the staple main course of a Burgundy table, was framed by light, sometimes new, combinations of young local produce.

We started in the late afternoon on a beautiful Sunday, enjoying views of the Pacific, Champagne in hand, and snacking on a prelude of home-made chicken liver pate and par-boiled crudités. Then came the first surprise for most of us: crunchy radishes paired with soft butter spread on baguettes and topped with rock salt, which delivered flavors, textures and colors with a bang and left us wondering about the next step…

We set out to mix and bake. A traditional teaser for the appetite in the Burgundy region is the gougère. It is not so hard to make, as it’s essentially a savory choux pastry with a touch of Swiss cheese. Taken step by step, we found that we were able to produce the tastiest, fluffiest delicacy. We learned that in America it is difficult to find good Swiss cheese.  We used aged Parmesan cheese instead. We made the dough on the stove top and stood watching to see if it would fold away from the sides of the pan. It did. We played a game of agile teaspoons as we used one and then the other to drop the right mounds of our preparation on Silpat sheets. And we used the few minutes they took to rise in the oven to open our 10-year-old bottle of Meursault.

Ah! Were we rewarded for our hard work and piqued curiosity! The gougères tricked our taste buds with their intense flavor as they popped against our palates. They asserted themselves as the perfect match to the smooth white wine.

Preparing the rest of the meal was a breeze. The Boeuf Bourguignon had been simmering in a pinot noir reduction for a while already. We added carrots and pearl onions some minutes before serving. The broccoli, steamed almost to a mush, was creamed in the blender with a splash of milk and… would you guess? a hint of nutmeg. As for the potatoes, it would have been enough to mash up a few russets in their skin, but we opted instead for briefly sautéing fingerlings in Le Président butter. A lid finished the cooking over low heat.

We spent a few minutes beating egg whites to whip up a dessert said to rival the gougères as the surprise of the meal. Two Meyer lemons from my backyard gave us enough juice and zest to blend with two egg yolks and a mere quarter cup of flour.  A thimbleful of sugar, another splash of milk and we were sliding seven ramekins into a bain-marie for 22 minutes. This dessert did give us the joy of superb flavor and the near-absence of calories that the seven of us, gourmet girlfriends with flair and panache, strive for.

And so, we sat down for dinner. The cubes of Boeuf Bourguignon were served surrounded by a string of potatoes, scoops of broccoli puree and, of course, the red-wine sauce. The food dissipated rather quickly, accompanied by a 2003 Auxey-Duresses Clos-du-Val made by my father and my brother, Roger and Philippe Prunier. My father, now 80 years old, has since retired from making wine but I have no doubt that his health and energy can be traced to his love for and long-standing involvement in his work. To this day, he and my mother keep fit and trim working outdoors in their orchard and vegetable garden. My family has had vineyards in this part of the Cote-de-Beaune of Burgundy for many generations dating back to the 1600’s. My brother is now the chief grape-grower and wine-maker of the vineyard. In 2009 his daughter, Justine, joined him and she will in time take over from him.

We lingered over a small cheese course continuing to praise the merits of good wine and good food, and we at last got to the lemon mousse cakes. I am happy to say that they provided the intended pleasurable closure on the meal. Almost weightless, creamy and flavorful, and so low in calories, several Gourmet Girlfriends have already served them to friends and family with the same success. Lemon is, after all, a year-round delight enjoyed way beyond Burgundy!

About Chantal:
Chantal grew up on a vineyard in Burgundy, France. After graduating from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce of Dijon, she left the nest and moved to Melbourne, Australia to work in marketing. She came to the United States to attend Harvard Business School and has lived and worked in New York and Los Angeles ever since. Her interests include her family, photography, real estate and all her friends and Gourmet Girlfriends with whom she shares a love of cooking, travelling and telling stories.