On the Côte d'Azur, we escape to our secret beach before the cicadas begin to hum. Morning shadows still long, cedars on the hill protect the little harbor from the sun. The sun is piercing through in spots along the shore and we settle down. The water is so crystal clear we can see the fish swimming among the rocks.
Back at the house, Brigitte is rolling out veal escalopes in her cool Mediterranean tiled kitchen, lights off, shade down. She’s got some poutargue. She’s working her way along each flattened escalope with a sharp knife, slicing each one into smaller strips, getting ready to sear them. “Elle est bonne” we hear, from the early morning regulars, arriving with their papers, their bamboo mats, silently moving their summer browned bodies into the flat sea, sliding gently in until their heads are the only thing left on the surface of the water. They hover and meditate, some swim to the buoy. There is no further discussion. “Elle est bonne”.
She’s begun mincing shallots on her mother Mamy Durandeau’s old wood board, the one she salvaged when the house was put up for sale. So many memories sliced and minced into an old wood board. We look up to the hill, shading our eyes, and see Mamy’s empty house hovering in a perfumed cloud of sun toasted cedars and flowering trees. In her kitchen, Brigitte simmers the minced shallots with sour things, reducing it down, tossing the pan now and then, humming something.The first sound of the cicadas strikes like a lullaby in full swing, tempering the sharp joyous cries of the first arriving children. The baby rests his head on my salty chest, nestling his goose pimpled legs into the crook of my arm. It is time to go. He floated on his back today, he dunked under. The waves make a rhythm, the cicadas call in harmony with the rising temperature, their fervor beginning a story of a marathon day to come. Loic closes the parasol.
The shallots are sizzling now. The liquid has reduced. Brigitte has scraped the zest from a lemon, she has curled the clean leaves of a bouquet of basil and sliced it into fine chiffonade. Tart simmered shallots, slivered lemon zest, basil, and plump raisins are tossed together in a bowl and she puts it away. She unwraps the hard waxed poutargue to let it breathe. She will use it all. A breeze enters the kitchen. We are soothed by the cool tile in the house again when we leave our shoes at the door. Barefoot, we join the group that has assembled at the table, glasses of local rosé all around.A Cool Piccata de Veau à la Poutargue
For 4 people. This recipe can be fully prepared in advance as its three elements and assembled quickly for guests. It is delicious as a summer cold dish. Prepare each element separately and refrigerate until your guests arrive, then let it warm up slightly to allow the flavors to all come through before assembling the plates or the whole on a pretty platter.
4 veal escalopes, sliced thin.
50 grams of poutargue, aka bottargo or bottarga
1 organic lemon
50 grams yellow raisins
2 good sized shallots
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup rosé wine
1 small bouquet of basil, about 15 large leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons of walnut oil
1/4 cup beef stock, reduced to 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Salt and white pepper
200 grams of arugula, washed and dried for final serving
Pound the veal escalopes thin. Cut them across the grain into strips, about 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches. Reserve in the refrigerator.
Peel and mince the shallots, and heat them in a pan with the white wine vinegar and wine, bringing to a boil. Reduce slowly over medium heat until the liquid is fully reduced. Reserve.
Remove the lemon zest and sliver it into thin strips with a sharp knife. Remove the basil leaves from the plant, wash them, roll them into a cigar shape and slice crosswise very thinly, to produce a thin chiffonade. Mix the cooked shallots, lemon zest, basil, yellow raisins, and white pepper together in a bowl. Remove the wax from the outside of the part of the poutargue you plan to use. Slice thinly.
Prepare the sauce: in a bowl, whisk the sherry vinegar, walnut oil, reduced veal or beef stock, and season with salt and white pepper. (this dish can be prepared in advance to this point, and cooked and assembled 5 minutes before serving.)
Heat up a cast iron grill or a plancha. Brush the veal pieces with olive oil, and season lightly with salt. Grill quickly on the hot grill, turning the piccatas after a few seconds to brown each side. Plate them directly on the serving plates on a bed of fresh arugula, sprinkling the shallot basil raisin and lemon condiment, a generous topping of slices of poutargue, and finally the sauce.
The wine you choose for this dish should not only go well with the warm meaty flavor of the veal, but also stand up to the counterpoint from the acidic condiment and briny poutargue. A fruity Chenin blanc or a red wine dominated more by its vivacity rather than tannins would do nicely.
Lucy's Kitchen Notebook
(Images: Lucy Vanel of Lucy's Kitchen Notebook)