Postcards from La Pitchoune: Day 3 of The Courageous Cooking School
June 7, 2017 / Stephanie Miskew / 14 Comments
After an evening of Champagne and deliciousness (for all the deets on Day 1 or Day 2 please click the links) somehow we all managed to make it to our morning cooking class on time. Of course it helped that the kitchen was right outside our bedroom doors. And we could wear our comfy PJs and/or yoga clothes!
Day 3 began with Chocolate Fondants. You know those decadent chocolatey little cakes with the melty chocolate centers that ooze out when you greedily dig into it with your fork? Yeah, that was how we started Day 3. Chef Dominie guided us through the proper steps of combining the melted dark chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar, flour and cocoa and the subsequent dividing of the heavenly concoction between our generously greased and cocoa-ed baking tins.
Then we focused on some classic French sauces including hollandaise and aioli. Chef Sandrine demonstrated her tried and true recipe for hollandaise which was so incredibly creamy and luscious it caused a feeding frenzy among us. Ok, maybe it was mostly me who couldn’t control myself BUT it just so happened to be ready precisely when Steve and I pulled our Artichokes Confit out of the oven. Is it really MY fault if they taste so good slathered with hollandaise?
I had never even made artichokes before but I was so inspired by them at the Antibes market. And what better place to attempt uncharted culinary territory than The Courageous Cooking School? It turns out with a little guidance and some teamwork with the Hubs, it wasn’t so difficult after all.
We simply trimmed the bottoms, giving the artichokes a flat surface to rest on, popped them in a baking dish and seasoned them liberally between all of their triangular, serrated leaves with extra virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, sea salt and pepper. They emerged from the oven a burnished greenish-brown and the flesh inside each leaf was incredibly succulent and flavorful.
We were also tasked with using the ingredients on hand to come up with side dishes to serve with the evening’s meal, a very special Salt-Baked Fish prepared by Makenna. Steve and I decided on a variation of Potatoes Lyonnaise featuring thinly sliced potatoes and caramelized onions sauteed in butter and then garnished with chopped fresh herbs.
After all of our dishes were prepped, we headed out for another field trip to a very unique winery. We took the scenic route east through the undulating hills of the South of France, passing oodles of charming towns, each more inviting than the next.
Approximately 45 minutes later, we pulled into the driveway of Domaine des Hautes Collines located in Saint-Jeannet, one of the Perched Villages of the Cote d’Azur. Founded in the 12th and 13th centuries, these charming villages were founded when coastal inhabitants fled inwards to protect their families from marauders and pirates. While not so much an issue today, these hilltop villages provide dramatic views of the beautiful coastline.
Lining the driveway of the chateau were large glass vessels filled with white and red wines. Little did we know, these vessels are key to producing the winery’s unique offerings which include white, rosé, red and late harvest wines.
We were greeted by Proprietor Georges Rasse, an affable, mustachioed gentleman who, together with his brother Denis, took over the winery for their father in 1986. Rasse spoke very passionately about his wines and the region, informing us the area has been making wine since the days of the Romans.
Today, the 4 hectare estate grows a wide assortment of grapes including Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc, Semillon, Rolle, Braquet, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay.
What makes Rasse’s wines so unique, however, is how he incorporates one of wine’s supposed “enemies” in the winemaking process: namely the sun! Rasse fills the clear glass vessels with his wines and then exposes them to direct sunlight, sometimes for up to three months, before they are bottled or transferred to oak barrels. He claims this sunlight exposure helps to stabilize and purify the wines thereby reducing the need for sulfites or other preservatives.
We thoroughly enjoyed touring the winery and listening to Rasse’s interesting history making wine in this special region. We also tasted through a selection of his offerings including a white, two rosés, two red wines and a late harvest Semillon before it was time to head back to La Pitchoune (more on these wines later!).
The pièce de résistance of the evening’s meal was Makenna’s Salt-Baked Fish with Stuffed with Lemon and Herbs served with a dreamy, garlicky aioli. While it might sound (and look) quite glamorous, this is actually an ancient way of cooking and once you get the hang of it, it’s actually quite easy.
Makenna chose a beautiful fresh dorade for the recipe although snapper, sea bass or bream would work just as well. She proceeded to make the salt crust mixture out of raw eggs, fennel or coriander seeds, lemon peel, water and of course kosher or grey salt. When fully combined, the mixture had the consistency and weight of wet sand.
The cleaned fish was then stuffed with fresh, citrusy lemon slices and an assortment of fresh herbs including rosemary, thyme and parsley. The stuffed fish was then laid upon a baking sheet already covered with the salt mixture and then enveloped in the briny, citrus studded crust.
The result was a succulent fish seasoned to perfection – it didn’t taste over salted at ALL! The garlicky aioli was the perfect accompaniment as was the array of side dishes we had all made including our Potatoes Lyonnaise, a delicious Quinoa Salad, delightful Rice Pilaf with Toasted Almonds and Roasted Asparagus with a spicy, flavorful Romesco Sauce.
As I drifted off to sleep that night, I couldn’t help but think we only had one full day left at La Pitchoune. Thankfully, between my contentedly full stomach and rosé wine haze I decided to worry about that tomorrow.
June 7, 2017 / Stephanie Miskew / 14 Comments