Another late work night. I'm too tired to cook and it's too easy to hop in the car to make the 5-minute drive to grab a bite alongside the Pacific. As I stroll across the open terrace with a full view of the sea, only the occasional white caps of waves are visible on the dark expanse. The air is sweet and damp as I enter the restaurant but once I'm in, the warm and savory aromas from the open grill and sizzling pans atop the massive stove tops.
I take my regular seat at the dining bar and receive a warm welcome from familiar faces - one of them, the tall and handsome server, sets a glass of perfectly chilled pinot grigio in front of me with a smile and asks how I'm doing. "Great. Hungry!" I reply.
No menu. I know exactly what I want - and so do they. And it's not on the menu.
A few minutes later, I see a toque and a white apron moving towards me. The chef himself is headed in my direction - a sure sign that dinner is near. He's the one who turned me on to this comfort food and it is he who delivers it to me each time I'm in his place. "Bella," he says, "Buon appetito!" as he sets the oval gratin dish in front of me.
"Grazi," I say (when in rome...), "but you say that to everybody," I tease. Always one to deflect a compliment.
"Ah, no," he says, pursing his lips and wagging a finger to demonstrate a false disapproval. He continues, "The men are 'bello'!" A smile and a wink - as always.
He leans an elbow on the edge of the bar for a moment and chats with me, the server and another patron a few seats down from me. With a wave of his hand, he encourages me to eat while it's hot. I follow his invitation - and his strict instruction from the first time he brought this dish to me: hit it with a drizzle of fresh lemon.
This combination is inspired. Perfectly crisped roasted potatoes, a bed of steamed spinach and a mound of tooth-tender white beans, slowly cooked in an herb-y stock. I giggle to myself remembering how I loved my father's pan-fried potatoes served with pillow-soft white bread. All things evolve.
I'm grateful for those evenings of warm welcome and comfort food. Even now, in the south of France, I can close my eyes and smell the Pacific Ocean, feel the cool air, hear the mellow chatter going on around me as I dine in my own sphere of quiet. Life really is lived in little moments.
The white beans have just come into the marché recently and I invite them in as often as I can while they are in town.
Once popped out of their shells, they get a quick rinse and are then added to the chopped garlic - already softened in olive oil and mingling with a toss of herbs de provence - that is awaiting their arrival in the pan. An introduction, then a bit of mixing it up followed by a bath of warm chicken stock (preferably home-made). Heat it up to a boil to get things cooking then turn the heat down to a simmer for as long as it takes to soften the beans as they absorb the stock.
Served with steamed spinach and roasted potatoes, this is my kind of comfort food - when I'm not craving meatloaf, that is.
(These beans are also delicious served with roasted chicken and a dollop of fresh pesto...see what I mean? 'As often as I can' - all summer long!)
Don't forget the drizzle of lemon. The chef would not be pleased.
Hope your week includes a multitude of precious moments.
ps: I'll be in Paris this week and depending on my internet connection, I'll post at least a photo or two through the week to stay in touch. Check back. If no posts, you can be assured, there was a little "French hiccup" that got in the way. I'll be back on the weekend to catch up. a+