Whenever I found out anything remarkable,
I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper,
so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.
- Antonie van Leeuwenhoek
I am in the middle of so many projects: articles and submissions to be written, compiled and sent; next year’s workshops and events to organize, proposals to be put together and my series on Writing to work on so this week is dedicated to these. And as I work, husband cooks, only calling me into the kitchen so as to make my béchamel for his gratin. Happy am I to have a man who not only loves to cook, but is so good at it.
This was lunch, rather frugal, very seasonal and much too delicious and satisfying not to share. As neither son was around to dine with us, we enjoyed Veal and Gratin three meals in a row, the second and third even better than the first, if that is at all possible.
Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act
that should not be indulged in lightly.
– M.F.K. Fisher
I will mention the wine. We have been on a voyage of discovery these last several years, discovering and learning about the wines of our region. We visit local wine fairs and tastings, we drive out into Muscadet, Anjou and Saumur to visit domaines, taste, learn and buy. As I get to know the winemakers in my region, I also connect with them on Facebook so as to get to know the people behind the wines a little better, thus understanding the dynamic between the vigneron and the terroir which produces these wines. A few months ago, husband and son went out to walk Marty in the vineyards outside of Nantes and decided to visit le Fay d'Homme near Monnières. They returned home with a case of “La Part du Colibri” Côt, a wine we were served at that first memorable meal at one of our favorite local restaurants Lulu Rouget. A wine, a grape that for a long time was a table wine reserved for the winemakers themselves, considered (somewhat like Muscadet, in fact) not good enough to sell or serve to clients. Caillé decided that the fruity wine, rich and spicy with cherry, plums, hints of pepper and anise would be appreciated by those who love wine and decided to commercialize it as Côt.
Vincent Caillé, a fifth generation wine grower, is one of the few of this region to produce organic Muscadet and is stoutly committed to tradition in his farming and his winemaking, both of which are completely natural. He is an active member of Les Vignes de Nantes, an association whose aim is to familiarize the nantais with the fabulous wines coming from their own region through events, tastings and fairs as well as bringing their wines into the local restaurants, wine bars and wine shops that for much too long were ignoring what treasures were being produced in their own region.
One bottle of Côt from the selection La Part du Calibri from le Fay d'Homme domaine was hidden in the back of a cupboard and when JP found it realized how perfect it would be with his meal.
The veal is cooked blanquette style yet without the final step of stirring in cream and egg, the cooking liquid from the vegetables adding and heightening the flavor, leaving the veal fork tender and delicious. Paired with the creamy vegetables, this is the perfect seasonal meal. It may not look fancy, but it is definitely worth the effort, comforting, rich and flavorful.
CHARD, ZUCCHINI AND POTATO GRATIN with STEWED VEAL
The veal and the gratin are so perfect together and balance each other out so well that I have given instructions for both together in steps as JP prepared the entire meal. The veal, once pre-boiled and drained, is then placed in the vegetable liquid that the chard and zucchini were cooked in which infuses the meat with wonderful flavor. If you only want to make the gratin, read through the recipe carefully and eliminate anything to do with preparing the veal.
1 lb (500 g) small or fingerling potatoes – or any firm potato, cleaned, peeled and cubed into bite-sized chunks
4 small zucchini, trimmed, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
One bunch Swiss chard, white stems only, trimmed, cleaned and cut into more or less 1-inch pieces
1 small yellow onion, trimmed, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, trimmed, peeled and chopped
water + 1 vegetable bouillon cube or vegetable broth to cover
Béchamel (recipe follows)
2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese
Butter a large (9 x 13-inch approximately) baking dish.
Prepare the vegetables:
Place the cubes of potatoes in a large pot with a large pinch salt and cover with water. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes or as needed. Drain.
Sautée the onion in a large frying or sautée pan in about 2 tablespoons olive oil until tender and just beginning to turn golden around the edges. Add the chopped garlic and continue cooking for about two minutes until the garlic is tender. Add the small cubes of zucchini and the small pieces of white chard stems and cook, stirring for a few minutes until starting to soften. Barely cover with broth or water (adding a small bouillon cube to the water) and simmer until the stems and the zucchini are very tender, almost melting in the mouth. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked cubes of potatoes.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop the zucchini, chard stems and potatoes into the baking dish, leaving the vegetable liquid broth in the pan for the veal.
Prepare the veal:
28 oz (800 g) veal shoulder or about 21 oz (600 g) + 7 oz (200 g) veal tendron or tendon with the bone in, cut into large chunks (2 – 3-inch chunks)
1 small onion with 1 or 2 cloves stuck in it
1 glass dry white wine, optional
The veal will be cooked like a classic blanquette before the usual addition of cream and egg to the sauce. Prepare the vegetables above and then make the veal once the cooked vegetables are in the baking dish awaiting the béchamel.
Place the chunks of veal in a large pot and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and drain. Scrape or rinse off any scum or impurities.
Place the pre-boiled veal in the pot with the vegetable liquid, add the small onion with the cloves then just cover with water. Salt and pepper. Add the glass of wine if using. Bring to the boil then lower to a simmer and cover. Simmer for one hour until the veal is very tender, skimming the surface of foamy scum or impurities as needed. At the very last minute, the water should boil away leaving just a thick jus or sauce. Remove and discard the onion and cloves.
While the veal is simmering:
Prepare the Béchamel:
Prepare the béchamel once the veal is on its way.
3 Tbs (45 g) butter
3 Tbs flour
3 cups (700 ml) whole milk (you can use lowfat but it will not thicken as much)
¼ tsp or more adobo chili powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Large pinch nutmeg
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until bubbly. Add the flour all at once and stir or whisk until the flour is well blended into the butter. Cook, stirring or whisking briskly, for 2 to 3 minutes.
Begin adding the milk, a little at a time, whisking constantly, and allow the milk to thicken after each addition. As it thickens, add more milk and repeat until all the milk has been added and the sauce is fairly thick (it should at least coat a spoon). Add the chili, salt and pepper generously and allow to simmer very gently, stirring continuously, for about 10 - 15 minutes. Stir in a pinch of nutmeg. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Pour the hot béchamel over the prepared chard, zucchini and potatoes in the baking dish and gently stir until the sauce is evenly distributed. Sprinkle generously with the Parmesan all the way to the edge of the dish.
Bake in the hot oven for about 20 to 30 minutes or until bubbly and the cheese is golden and browned as you like.
Time the two dishes so the gratin and the veal are finished at the same time. Serve immediately topped with chopped fresh chives and enjoy! Both are great even reheated the next day.