In France, there are two meals traditionally served during the Christmas holiday. The first is dinner on Christmas Eve, the second it Christmas lunch. They are long meals starting with mis-en-bouche and foie gras and sweet wine, going on to appetizers, main courses, cheeses, desserts, coffee and then chocolate. If you really love your sweets and live in Provence, at the traditional Provençal table thirteen desserts are served representing Jesus Christ and his apostles. They’re actually not all terrifying creams and sugars. Many are simple fruits and nuts, light cookies, small slices of pain d’épice, but it’s still a daunting task to get through a four or five course meal twice in less than 24 hours.
And then at the end when you wake up on the 26th, you realized in horror that the whole thing is going to be repeated on the 31st December and 1st January.
This holiday week, I am not stuffing myself beyond capacity, thankfully. We, the husband and I, had one slow and indulgent holiday dinner on the 24th that was more than enough.
It started with cleaning the apartment. Like most Europeans, we have a small living space, the beauty of which is that it’s quick to clean. The ugly side is that it’s just a quick to make a mess of. No matter, once we cleaned, the husband decorated. Then we set down to the five hour task of preparing our dinner. Make yourself comfortable folks, because this is going to be a long, photo-filled meal.
Our menu was both traditional and non-traditional. Of course, there was foie gras. There are hundreds of various ways to serve foie gras, most of them involving some sort of sweet sauce or jelly. But we kept it simple with homemade bread and a glass of sweet and spicy hypocras.
I’ve mentioned hypocras before. It’s been around for longer than the medieval era, I believe, but it’s often branded as a medieval aperitif. As I’ve been in a medieval frame of mind lately, it was the perfect opener to dinner, and it’s complex flavors blend well with the foie gras au naturel.
Next up was the appetizer – very non-traditional. I wanted something, one course, where vegetable was the main ingredient. So I came up with roasted pumpkin, roasted shallots, roasted garlic, topped with dried cranberries and gorgonzola.
There was a pause while we waited for the main course to finish cooking and heating. Bread and butter cleaned our pallets.
A wine with a very round, acidic taste, with hints of berry. It’s strong, but not overwhelming like many of the older Bordeaux. We might have been able to let it mature for another few years, but it was good as is and went very well with our main course…
To many people, I’ve been talking about this main course all week. It was something the husband and I dreamed of since the autumn arrived and our butcher told us he’d have this particular game in stock. A dish I first tasted at Table du Vigneron, and despite always preferring vegetables to meat, I instantly fell in love.
Daube de sanglier – or boar stew.
For those of you not familiar with a daube, it’s very close to beef bourguignon. Marinated in red wine and herbs and vegetable for 24 hours then slow cooked over a low fire for at least five hours until the boar inside is close to melting.
Boar is an extremely dark meat that turns almost black after being cooked for so long in a strong red wine, but don’t let that stop you. The sheer wildness of the taste, the depth of the flavor, it has a nutty taste to it, a woodsy taste to it, that quite frankly is like nothing else I’ve ever tasted.
We served our daube de sanglier with potato gnocchi – not homemade. I was going to make fresh taglietelle but after all the baking, roasting, mixing and cleaning, I was wiped and the pre-prepared gnocchi was too tempting to pass on as a short cut.
Warm, comforting, perfect for the windy day that had descended on the Var. At the end of cooking your boar add a touch of flour to create the most perfect gravy to drizzle on top of the gnocchi. We wiped our plates clean with more bread, and then took a break, waddling over to the couch to digest a bit and relax in the evening.
Cheese followed. Langres on the left. A very strong, but soft cheese that is similar to Epoisse. Any strong cheese, as smelly as they may be is a lovely way to enjoy the last sips of a find red, and I can never resist on any occasion.
On the right is a blue cheese that I have no idea of the name of. However, when I went to the Fromagerie in Toulon and asked the man behind the counter what he had in a blue he dragged out the whole wheel of this cheese from the shelf behind him and started singing it’s praises. Made in Alsace, exclusively by women, it’s the only naturally blued cheese left in the world, according to the fromager. Most blue cheese are done naturally, but given a little bit of – help you could say – to encourage them to mold faster, therefore they are available for sale to the public faster. This cheese however, is apparently not, and you can actually see it in the color of the mold culture and the way it has grown on the slice. It’s a bit darker and in a clump rather than all over the place in long, wildly grown veins. After listening to his monologue, I couldn’t resist and this was our second cheese for the end of the evening.
This was the only semi-failure of the evening. I think I added too much water to the sorbet mixture and it tasted more like frozen apple sauce than sorbet. However along side the hardened caramel and cinnamon cookies, it was a refreshing way to finish the meal.
The next day was spent sleeping late (for me), a fabulous run where the sky was clear and the sea completely calm, the Mistral having blown itself out the night before, and of course writing. The novel has quite a ways to go yet, and I’m determined to get as much done as possible on my vacation next week.
But that’s not all. I woke up on Christmas day and my first thought was “I need to make cup cakes.” That’s a story for another day.
Hope your holiday was as filled with warmth, good cooking and fine wine as was ours!