Little France in Our Kitchen

June 25, 2024

Rabbit in a Mustard and Tarragon Sauce


Ten years ago we made a decision, we would leave London. Why and where?
Along with the Dègustatuer I had shared the same feelings and we mutually arrived to the same conclusions. We also wanted a change in our lives, for many reasons.

Where? We had become infatuated by the Luberon in the heart of Provence, to the point that we had started searching for a place for us there.

I had even enrolled myself on a short but intensive French language course, a) because my philosophy in life is to be able to speak the language of my potential future home, and b) because I had some spare time on my hands and on top of that I’ve always wanted to demystify the known fact that it is so difficult to learn the French language, or at least familiarise myself with the basics.

Well, the part a) has always been a firm stand out point in my approach to life and is still going strong, the b) part on the other hand, got slightly changed, as we simply changed our minds. We went to live in Italy Instead. To Rome.
You see, it all began with a wedding in Portofino which cleared all our doubts and any confusion. I also think that we perhaps had tried to persuade or convince ourselves into following the footsteps of most of the British people. The most common answer to the question (at the French language course) why are you studying the language was: I’d like to live in Provence and buy a house there.

Portofino is a stunning picturesque fishing village, with a small port and brightly colour-washed houses. It’s also a little concentration of the most stylish and elegant villas, a forever loved destination of the rich and famous. The views are breathtaking and you simply fall in love with the allure of the Italian riviera. And that was it for us. Three days in paradise and we knew that our hearts and souls were raising their sails to navigate in a different direction, Italy.

Daube de Boeuf à la Provencale

Remoulade – Style Potato Salad

Far Breton

Just to be clear and fully honest, France still casts its spell and charm over us and we visit whenever we can. We have driven from Italy to Bordeaux, Dordogne (I loved it there during winter), Alsace, Languedoc-Roussillon and very recently to Normandy. Also, our very favourite restaurant in London is “Joséphine”, a fairly recent opening. It’s a classic French and Lyonnaise speciality bistro that happened to be in our neighbourhood- so glad, with immaculate crisp white table clothes, half linen curtains at the windows, amber hued tulip chandeliers, elegant wood panelling paired with vintage posters. It’s so special (yet simple) that even the best critics admit: “A seriously wonderful restaurant”, “… it for the next available evening, then come back and read my whiffle if you can be bothered”, Giles Coren, The Sunday Times. Having mentioned “Josephine”, let me suggest another great French restaurant in London, an institution by now, “La Poule Au Pot”. It has a very alluring interior, with its intimate nooks and festoons of dried flowers, lots of candles and bric-à-brac. It has remained unchanged since the 60s, and we had had many long and cosy meals there in the past. You can find it in Belgravia, tucked in a corner of a romantic square among a handful of prestigious designer and antique shops, with lots of windows and a few outdoor tables, to watch the world go by.

When we moved into our little mews house in London – a temporary living situation, I found it hard to detach myself from Italian food and cooking. I had imagined the time here in London to be full of oriental and spicy cooking, a lot of cold water seafood (white crab meat we buy ever week), maybe some Spanish food, but above all – French. I must admit that it took me a long while to make the transition, perhaps I was cooking what I’m familiar with most, and when I found the right ingredients, they tasted like home to us. With time one can get used to almost anything, and in the same way I’ve opened myself to new cooking adventures. An excursion to Normandy has helped me enormously and enabled me to reacquaint myself with the produce, flavours, wine, with the delicious use of butter- mainly in baking, and with the “paysan” France.

Beef Bourguignon and Coq Au Vin, beef and chicken cooked in red wine respectively, had appeared on my blog many moons ago, and these recipes are perhaps best kept for the cooler days to come. Although the recent weather in England has been rather autumnal I refrained from cooking these dishes hoping for some summer warmth. But how much waiting is enough? How many cold days in May and June can make me feel angry? Not to mention about having to wear a jacket again. It is what it is however, and instead of getting annoyed, I made peace with the weather, which turned out to be a very productive and delicious period in our London kitchen. Every cloud has a silver lining!

I’ve made us A Provencal Style Beef Stew, with the flavours of the South of France: capers, anchovies, garlic and parsley. It pairs so well with a simple fresh ripe tomato salad, or a crisp green leaf salad. I’ve also baked us a Comte Cheese Soufflé on several occasions. I had found it daunting in the past, but as it turns out, for no reason whatsoever. I had been putting it away or simply forgetting about trying to bake it, and I’m a little annoyed with myself now for not doing it earlier. Somehow a sweet, chocolate or fruit soufflé is not that much of my cup of tea, The Dégustaur is not keen on them either, but a savoury soufflé is a revelation. I really like baking a generous – one pot soufflé, so everyone can help themselves when at the table, making it a very convivial meal.

Comté Cheese Soufflé

In both of the French restaurants mentioned above I’ve tried Rabbit in a Mustard and Tarragon Sauce. I had made an attempt at cooking rabbit that way myself, which at that time wasn’t a great success. A few years later, with some experience and by trial and error my culinary skills have improved, and I’ve just cooked us the best rabbit dish I can remember. It’s a simple dish to make, but there a few tricks and ingredients that make it superb. I’m also very happy at the moment because I can buy at my local butcher just the legs rather than the entire rabbit to be jointed, which is more fiddly to eat and to cook with. A little luxury I have here in London (the choice), but once we return to Italy I’ll be buying the whole rabbit again and cooking all the parts. I like my mustard-tarragon sauce to be slightly creamier than the traditional recipes indicate, just enough to pour it over boiled potatoes or to give a lovely coating to the cooked rabbit parts, enhancing their flavour and making them more appealing visually.

A Remoulade – Style Potato Salad has appeared on our table twice in one week. A trusted indication that it’s a good recipe, the one to keep. This potato salad is a wonderful addition to any summery, outdoor meal or a picnic. It pairs extremely well with pan fried or grilled fish, or with cold cuts of meat.

Since we came back from Normandy I’ve been baking a lot, more than I can remember. Butter, eggs and flour are on my shopping list almost daily and a loaf of brioche has become a weekly staple by now. I’ve tried and tested a recipe that works every time, I love the texture, flavour and we particularly enjoy a thick slice of it toasted, smothered with some melting butter and then topped with a bitter orange marmalade. Paris-Brest, not a full success yet but the flavours are wonderful, especially the filling made of vanilla crème patisserie whisked with a high quality hazelnut spread. I have to work on the pastry part, and make the filling slightly thicker (which means more butter or gelatine), a work in progress and I’ll only share the recipe once I’m fully happy with it.

Far Breton

What made us very happy recently was my “newer” version of Far Breton (the first recipe is still on the blog), I changed the proportions of the ingredients ever so slightly, added some vanilla and soaked the prunes in a generous amount or rum for far longer. Another step which helps with the batter is to warm up the milk before whisking it with all other ingredients. It’s a custard-like cake made of eggs, milk, flour and some beurre noisette. You just layer the prepared dish with the rum soaked prunes, gently pour the batter all over and bake until golden. Savouring it whilst still slightly warm is just heaven to eat.

As I write this post the weather has turned and it feels like summer again. There are cherries, strawberries, raspberries and apricots ladened on the kitchen table. When the fruit is ripe and at its best I like it on its own, just as it is, fresh and ripe, to savour it properly, especially when the season is so short. I follow the same philosophy with all the fruit, something we had discussed with Leo, “my” fruit vendor in Florence. We had talked about figs then and so when you are lucky to find at a market proper figs: ripe, sweet, soft and juicy, you don’t cook with them, you have them raw and enjoy every mouthful. Otherwise, of course, have fun baking and perhaps a clafoutis is the right answer to a lovely summer pudding, with figs or any other summer fruit.

Bon appétit