Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer in the South of France

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A while back, I was once again the guest of my friends Reed Malkin and Diane Benson for a small dinner party. Well, actually small refers only to the guest list, because when you’ve been to their house for dinner, you never go home hungry.

The dinner was inspired by the cuisine of Provence, in the South of France. Our apéritif was served outside, and was a perfect way to start a Southern French dinner: vin d’orange and gougères, a sort of savory cheese puff filled with black olives, anchovies and sundried tomatoes.

They had brought the wine back from a trip to Provence, but I remembered that the mother of one of my French friends used to make her own and had given me her recipe. And it occurs to me that if you start now, you can have a wonderful beverage to bestow upon special friends during the holiday season!

Recipes for the wine vary widely but most call for “bitter oranges,” which, to my knowledge, are not available locally. You can remedy this by adding the peel of one lime. Use the thin-skinned oranges, not the thick-skinned navel oranges. Wash them well before proceeding.

Some recipes call for a dry rose instead of the white. Some call for a stick of cinnamon to be added to the mixture. It’s your call on both.

The cheese puffs can be made a bit ahead and reheated, so they are a perfect way to start a meal that might require a lot of your attention.


Peels from 10 oranges, left overnight to dry slightly
Peels from one lime, left overnight to dry slightly
8 cups dry fruity white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon works nicely)
2 cups sugar
2 cups vodka
1 vanilla bean

Mix everything in a large glass or ceramic container. Cover and store in a dark cool place for about a month, stirring every day for the first week, then occasionally thereafter. At the end of the month, strain the wine through several thicknesses of cheesecloth. Fill small bottles and cork or cap them. Let set in a cool spot for at least another month before opening. Serve well chilled. Makes about six 375 ml. (about 8 ounce) bottles.


1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup water
5 tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks
1 generous pinch of salt
4 eggs

1/4 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
4 anchovy filets, drained and finely minced
1 tbsp finely minced black olives
3 oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained and finely minced
1 clove garlic, very finely minced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift the flour and set aside. In a deep saucepan, place the water, butter and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour all at once, stirring quickly to avoid lumps. Continue stirring until the mixture forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan, scraping into the corners of the pan. Transfer to a bowl and let cool for 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, stirring briskly to blend completely before adding the next. Fold in the remaining ingredients. Using a spoon to help form them, make balls about 1” in diameter and space them 2” apart on the baking sheets.

Bake in the center of the oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the oven door and let the puffs remain in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

If preparing a bit ahead, cool on racks, then place back on parchment covered baking sheet to reheat. Makes about 30 puffs.

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