Now official here in the 'hood: Bonne Année à tous!
And just a little note about this "jour de l'an" (first day of the year):
On this day, it was the tradition to visit relatives. If, back in the day, the children waited patiently until their parents had finished their greetings of "Bonne année et prospérité," a coin (if the family was well-off) was given to the child. More often, an orange was received in place of a shiny sou (coin). Up until World War I, this fruit was rare and expensive.
(Okay. Class dismissed.)
I promised you soup last week, and soup we shall have!
This year's holiday brought with it much reflection. For instance, as I sat at the table of my friends in Grignan preparing to share in the Christmas Eve meal, I was remembering the second Christmas in my new home in the Old World. The gathering that evening, around the same table in the centuries-old mas (farmhouse), rocked the house. The wild affair involved lots of family characters, laughter and non-stop, rapid-fire French. No surprise there really, but my flabby French was in no shape for keeping up with these fast-talkers. I don't think my head was spinning around like a dreidel balanced precariously at the top of my spine, but it may as well have been.
Out of the blur and wonder of that initiation, I remember three things very clearly: lots of champagne (note to self: manage consumption when in danger of head-spinning...or when you have to string words together in another language!), what seemed like it should be illegal amounts of foie gras and my first truffles. It couldn't have been more French. And really, it couldn't have been more lovely.
A traditional holiday soup opened this year's celebration...after the champagne, that is! A skillful combination of two of those memories above: foie gras and truffles, but keeping them well within legal limits.
We were quieter this year as other family members had obligations elsewhere. (And that's really a shame because I'm ready for the brother-in-law's playful French teasing this time. I've had a couple of years to prepare my comebacks.) In fact, our Christmas Eve gathering 2009 was a bit like this soup - more subdued, but very special all the same.
Give the golden puff pastry crust a wallop with the back of your spoon to get your first steamy sniff or delicately saw through it with your Laguiole knife and allow the steam to follow the blade's path around the edge of your bowl. The crust becomes a cracker-like accompaniment as you dig in...demurely, of course...this is an elegant soup. Let's not hear any slurping.
Delicate spoonfuls of vegetables, chicken, (yes, that's a bit of veal you see in the image below...but I have this philosophical thing about veal and mindful eating and all of that...so I left it out of the recipe...you're quite welcome to add it to yours), a bit of foie gras (my internal jury is still out on the foie gras controversy...unlike the longstanding verdict against veal...all things in their own time...) and lovely chunks of black truffle blend beautifully in a clear broth. A rich mélange with a light touch.
I'm quite confident that if you close your eyes and savor, you'll be transported to a country Christmas in Provence. Make it part of your tradition.
Bonne année et prospérité,
p.s. Like the old joke: "Orange you glad...this wasn't another calendar announcement?!" But in case you missed it, you can see the new calendars available here and here.
Soupe aux truffes (adapted from Paul Bocuse)
2 1/2 oz. of fresh truffles
2 cubes chicken bouillon (or better yet, fresh chicken stock)
5 oz. chicken breast
1 celery branch
8 caps of Paris mushrooms 3 cm in diameter
4T. of dry French vermouth
2 oz. foie gras
1 sheet of prepared puff pastry
1 egg yolk
Season: Fall / Winter
Preparation time: 30 min
20 min Cooking time: 20 min
Serves: 4 people
1. Preheat oven to 400 ° F. Bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil. Add the bouillon cubes to the boiling water (or use fresh chicken stock in its place). Mix. Lightly salt chicken. Put it in the broth. Cook 6 minutes in "petits tremors" (poaching). Drain the chicken.
2.Peel the celery and carrot. Cut celery and carrot in a fine dice. Cut the mushroom caps into a fine dice.
3. Mix with celery and carrot. (This is referred to as "matignon".) Cut the truffles into thin slices. Pour 1 tbsp of dry French vermouth into each of 4 porcelain soup bowls. Add a generous spoonful of the matignon (veggies) into each bowl.
4. Dice the foie gras. Divide it evenly into the soup bowls. Cut the poached chicken into a fine dice. Divide it evenly into the soup bowls. Add the sliced truffles. Pour in the stock to fill each bowl to within an inch or just less from the top.
5. Roll out the pastry on the work surface. Using an identical empty bowl (otherwise, this is a good idea to do before you begin to fill the bowls), cut 4 x 13-14 cm in diameter...or whatever size will cover and seal over your bowls. Place a disc on the top of each filled bowl. Seal the pastry around the edge of the bowl, pressing lightly. Mix egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water and a pinch of sea salt. Brush the egg mixture over the dough. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.
6. Puff pastry should, well...errr..."puff up" and be a lovely golden brown. Serve immediately.
Serve with champagne or reisling.