Last weekend we escaped. Escaped Paris for the countryside surrounding R.’s grandparents’ farmhouse. They live in the Sancerre region in the center of France. It is a beautiful place and I was especially excited to get there at this time of year when the vineyards are being harvested and the light is golden. I could spend weeks exploring and taking photographs out there. “Tell me when you want to stop.” R. said as we took off in the car to climb the hills and enjoy the views. I tried not to tell him to stop every few feet. It seems I could photograph vineyards all day.
Last year we made a visit at the end of October and the leaves had burst into reds, oranges, and golds and not many grapes were left after the harvest but we were early this year and everything was wearing a vibrant green and thick clumps of grapes clung on the vines. The rolling landscape is blanketed with that green everywhere you look. No slope seems too small for planting. It is a rich landscape.
The garden and farmyard back in the grandparents’ village are rich too and we are fed abundantly from their production when we visit. “Pace yourself.” I warned my parents on their first visit. But you have to experience it to believe me. R.’s grandmother cooks traditional French meals that she prepared in years past for all the workers on the farm when it was still in operation. A starter, soup or vegetable salad, main dish, often a roast, a green salad, cheese, fruit, dessert – this is how it goes and it is all so good that it’s very hard to be sage (wise) and not take too much from each course. I often joke to R. that he’ll have to roll me home.
While he doesn’t run a farm anymore, R.’s grandfather keeps three garden plots in the backyard and spread around town. He grows tomatoes and lettuce, potatoes and chard, squashes, including some American varieties from their trips to New England, zucchini and leeks. Leeks which are left in the ground through the winter, pulled up when needed in the kitchen, and tied to a stake with string to dangle in the stream and defrost. I love that.
On this trip, we had a traditional starter with lunch on Sunday and I would have been happy with only that: Leeks Vinaigrette. It’s a perfect and simple little meal with a dressing of local walnut oil and minced shallots and parsley. Served with hard-boiled eggs, it is a filling lunch. When we got home I called R.’s grandmother and asked her, “How do you make poireau vinaigrette?” “It’s so simple,” she said “and good isn’t it? I just had some for lunch.” So here is the recipe, so you can have a taste of French country meals, the flavor of our visits to the Sancerre region, for lunch, too.
5 medium sized leeks, dark greens trimmed
1 shallot, minced
1 handful curly parsley, chopped
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 small handful chives, chopped
6 tbsp. walnut oil
6 tbsp. sunflower oil
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1. Fill a big pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Salt the water. To prepare the leeks: slice the root end off very close to the roots. If you cut too much off, the individual leaves will not stay together but will all separate. Cut each leek in half lengthwise and then each half in half again. If you have tiny leeks, you can simply cut them in half and not bother quartering them. Rinse them thoroughly under cold running water making sure to get all the grit out from between the outermost leaves.
2. Once the water has come to a boil, put the leeks in the water bending them gently to fit inside the pot. Allow to gently boil for 30 to 40 minutes until they are tender throughout. Remove them from the water and let them drain and cool throughly in a colander.
3. Slice the hard-boiled eggs in half and arrange them on a plate then sprinkle with the chopped chives.
4. To make the vinaigrette, combine the walnut and sunflower oils, the vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste in a small jar, cover with a lid, and shake well to emulsify.
5. Serve the leeks warm or at room temperature sprinkled with the shallot and parsley and with the eggs on the side. You may have leftover vinaigrette but that is never a bad thing.