February 16, 2008

a little giverny

Playing in Claude Monet's garden at Giverny outside Paris - is being in a painting - the lily ponds, the arched bridges, the willow trees are famous - and the controlled gardens outside the house itself are beautiful, even in the rain.

We were there last July, a quick visit, a beautiful diversion, before my journey to the riverbank.

We fled into the house itself to escape the rain - and I found myself in a kitchen and dining room that are, well, quite something.

I had no idea that Monet was such a food freak.

When I got home our landlady lent me a book called Monet's Table - The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet by Claire Joyes.

She wrote, "It was only at Giverny, which he discovered in 1883, that Monet was able to establish the lifestyle that really suited him..."

Monet had shared another house with a couple who had once been his patrons but who had lost all their money. Monet's first wife, Camille was dying. The other couple had separated and Alice Hoschede and her six children moved in with the Monet's, "living as one" once Camille had died in 1879...by 1892 when Alice's estranged husband had died, she and Monet married.

"Their sole culinary ambition," Joyes wrote, "was to serve beautifully prepared dishes using whatever the kitchen-garden or the farmyard could supply. This was their food, homemade but often making use of recipes invented by the great restaurants they patronized, or even dishes created by their friends, who included writers, art collectors, painters and actors."

And I'm sure they knew a few of those.

At the back is a raft of recipes, including the salt cod bouillabaisse, which comes from Paul Cezanne. And Tarte Tatin, which they managed to convince the actual Tatin sisters to give to them.

Here is the salt cod soup, in the interest of interesting history:

1lb large piece of salt cod
2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup flour
6 potatoes, sliced
4 leeks, white parts only, sliced crosswise
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1/8 tsp saffron
1 bayleaf

Soak the salt cod for 24 hours. Use a colander, put the fish skin side up and change the water occasionally. (This part takes me back to Portugal and Portuguese Christmas)...Drain well and pat dry. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. When it's smoking, dust the salt cod with some of the flour and fry it until it's cooked through, but not brown. Remove, drain and put it aside. Use the same skillet to saute the potatoes for about 10 minutes, until almost cooked through.

Pour a little of the frying old into a deep cast-iron pot. Add the leeks and saute tem on low heat. Slowly add the pepper, cloves, garlic, parsley, saffron, bayleaf, and the rest of the flour, which will brown in the oil. Add 6 cups hot water, and boil, covered, over high heat for 10-15 minutes. Slide the cod and potatoes into the pot.

Serves 6.

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