Summertime in Burgundy is a season of abundance. The cool, rainy spring gives way to hot, sunny days and balmy evenings. The rolling farmland surrounding Beaune is lush and green, dotted with sunflower fields, and the vineyards are full of grapes awaiting harvest. The market is at its busiest, full of vendors and shoppers, and the surrounding village marchés aux puces (flea markets) are bustling.
The market overflows with fresh produce: plump eggplants, striped green zucchini and yellow pattypan squash, speckled lemon cucumbers, fennel and green onions, bunches of peppery roquette, and all different varieties of basil. There are piles of red -and yellow- stemmed Swiss chard, crisp heads of lettuce, fragrant Charentais melons, sweet peaches, and rose-tinged white nectarines.
We buy perfectly ripe berries – redcurrants, blackberries, white and red raspberries, blueberries, and wild woodland strawberries – to make into fruit tarts, and bouquets of sunflowers and daisies for the shop. We eagerly await the arrival of heirloom tomatoes, grown in every colour and shape imaginable. They are so flavourful that you need little more than a sprinkle of fleur de sel and a drizzle of good French olive oil to make them into a meal.
Summer meals aren’t cooked so much as they are assembled: composed salads, chilled soups, grilled meats, and vegetables find their place at our table. Desserts are simple and based around fresh fruit. We take advantage of the warm weather by eating outdoors as much as possible. Though Burgundy is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, in the summertime, we enjoy drinking dry, pale rosé from the South of France.
Summer is the busiest season of the year for us. When we’re not shopping at the market, teaching classes, or working in the potager, we are preserving the summer’s bounty, allowing us to savor the flavours of summer all year long.
In the height of summer, when Burgundy’s sunflower fields begin to bloom in mid-July, we all carve out one special day on a weekend to make an annual journey. We pack a lunch and a few bottles of rosé in Madeleine, our quirky, but iconic vintage Citroën 2CV and quintessential picnic car, and head out to find the perfect spot in the sunflower fields. Picnicking is the ultimate French pastime and the French take their picnics very seriously.
They’ll find any and every excuse to pack a blanket, a baguette, some cheese, and a bottle of wine to enjoy outdoors when the weather warms up and the sun is shining bright. And so, we join in, too, and have happily embraced this intentional outing. Our picnic menu is always simple, emphasizing the abundance of summer, and is easy to transport. It’s become a memorable and much-anticipated tradition.
SUPPER IN THE VINES
Living in Burgundy, everything is connected to wine, as the town of Beaune is quite literally surrounded by vines. To celebrate the long days of summer, we’ve often thought about how beautiful a dinner in the vineyards could be. So, we hatched a plan to throw a sunset barbecue in a vineyard for thirty of our closest friends. We soon realized, however, that hosting a supper amidst the vines in Burgundy is not quite that simple.
These small parcels of land are privately owned and highly prized, and the idea of throwing a dinner in one of these noble vignobles (vineyards) is not something anyone would usually think to do. But we kept envisioning this beautiful vineyard dinner in our minds, and contacted a few winemaker friends to present the idea.
After scouting the possible options, a Grand Cru vineyard co-owned by a very good friend of ours and Jean-Nicolas Méo of Domaine Méo-Camuzet, was the vineyard of choice. Somehow, we convinced both of them to let us proceed with our far-fetched plan.
Over the years, we’ve gotten comfortable with organizing and hosting large dinner parties. But it took quite a bit of planning to orchestrate a dinner of this magnitude outside the comfort of our atelier, not to mention without a kitchen. We managed to pull it off, though, with the help of a few willing friends.
We began the preparation several days before the party, and made sure to create a menu including some items that could be prepared ahead of time. The day of the event, we rented a big truck and loaded long wooden tables and Tolix chairs from the shop. We packed countless boxes of our tableware, French linens, candles, and all the necessary items we would need to prepare a dinner for thirty onsite.
There were buckets of fresh market flowers from Madame Loichet and cases and cases of wine. We set up a makeshift grill, made out of an old steel barrel, just down the vineyard road.
As the sun set, we lit the candles and the guests began to arrive. We offered them chilled glasses of bubbly and, as they mingled, we set to work preparing our simple menu. We served each course with one of Jean-Nicolas’s wines, and the main course was paired with wine from the very vineyard where the dinner party was held.
In true French fashion, the guests lingered well into the night, enjoying wine and conversation by candlelight. We look back on this very special, and probably once-in-a-lifetime summertime evening, and have to laugh. As well prepared as we were, even down to the smallest of details, neither of us took into consideration just how long the party would go on, and that we would have to pack everything up by moonlight.
Chilled Zucchini Soup
This chilled summer zucchini soup becomes light and velvety, thanks to the addition of butter and a little cream. It can be served hot or cold, but we prefer it cold with a tiny dollop of savoury whipped cream and a sprinkling of finely chopped garden chives and lemon zest to brighten the flavours. This soup is best served on the day you make it. We enjoy serving this soup as an amuse-bouche in vintage glassware..
Ingredients, serves 6-8
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2½ pounds (1.2 kg) zucchini,
cut into very thin rounds
1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, bay)
Fleur de sel and black pepper
960ml vegetable stock
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
Finely chopped fresh chives
Pinch of lemon zest
Fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and the bouquet garni, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until the zucchini starts to soften, about minutes. Add the vegetable stock, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring it to a simmer. Simmer gently, reducing the heat, as needed, until the zucchini is very tender, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.
2. Fill a bowl large enough to accommodate a 2-quart (2-L) container with ice and water. Working in batches, ladle the soup into a blender and puree it until smooth. Strain the soup through a chinois into a 2-quart (2-L) container. Stir in the lemon juice to help preserve the colour. Place the container inside the bowl of ice water and let it cool, stirring occasionally, until completely chilled. Taste and season as needed, then stir in ½ cup (120 ml) of the heavy cream. In a large bowl, use a balloon whisk to beat the remaining ½ cup (120 ml) of heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Set aside.
3. Divide the soup among six to eight bowls (or six to eight small vintage glasses) and top each with a dollop of the savoury whipped cream. Sprinkle with the chives and lemon zest, drizzle with olive oil, and serve immediately.
Niçoise Pan Bagnat
Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, Pan bagnat is made by slicing a boule (a rustic round loaf of bread common in France) in half and layering it with a green salad dressed in Anchovy Vinaigrette, boiled eggs, seared tuna, capers, and tomatoes.
Ingredients, serves 8
120ml fruity extra-virgin olive oil, preferably French, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, smashed
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper
4 (115g-140g) sushi-grade tuna steaks, 4 cm thick
Handful of green beans, ends trimmed
1 small bunch of radishes
1 cup (155 g) pitted Niçoise olives
60ml Anchovy Vinaigrette (4 salted anchovy fillets, 6 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil, preferably French and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, black pepper)
8 small or 2 large country boules, or rustic round loaves of bread
Handful of mesclun or baby lettuce
4 medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into ½-inch- (12-mm-) thick rounds
4 large hard-boiled eggs, cut into wedges
¼ cup (30 g) salt-packed capers, rinsed
Handful of fresh basil leaves
1. In a gratin dish large enough to hold the tuna steaks in a single layer, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Place the tuna steaks in the marinade and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for 1 hour.
2. Blanch and shock the green beans to preserve their colour and drain on a clean kitchen towel. Thinly slice the radishes lengthwise using a stainless-steel vegetable peeler.
3. Heat a large heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat. Remove the tuna steaks from the marinade and place them directly in the pan. Sear, flipping once, until browned on the outside but still rare on the inside, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer them to a cutting board and cut into thin slices.
4. In a large bowl, combine the green beans, radishes, and olives. Drizzle with the anchovy vinaigrette, and gently stir to evenly coat.
5. Slice the boules in half horizontally. Drizzle both insides with a little olive oil. Layer the mesclun, tomatoes, tuna, eggs, and green bean mixture on the bottom slices of bread and top with the capers and basil. Season with salt and pepper, finish with the sandwich tops, and serve.