At home we make this recipe all summer long with vegetables from the market. Then, in early September, the magic moment arrives when every ingredient comes from our own garden. The name pesto comes from the Italian ‘pestare’, to pound, as with a mortar and pestle. Basil is the traditional choice of aromatic herb but others, such as flat leaf parsley or cilantro, are just as good. Mint is my particular favorite an underestimated herb, I think.
Kidney beans mature shortly before the wine harvest in France – an invitation for grape-pickers to consume vast casseroles of ‘haricots rouges vigneronne’ (literally wine-grower’s red beans), often in the vineyards. A cheap, fruity local red wine lends gorgeous color to the beans. The whole piece of bacon with the rind here gives a delicious flavor – you should be able to order it from your butcher. Alternatively, you can omit the bacon and stir a cup of oil-cured black olives into the beans at the end of cooking.
The Loire Valley, with its temperate climate and sandy soil, is a paradise for fine vegetables. When they reach the kitchen they are often combined, for example the green peas, lettuce and scallions in Petits Pois à la Française, or this appealing dish of asparagus and mushrooms flavored with tarragon, great as a first course or accompaniment to roast chicken or a luxury meat such as veal. This recipe does not take long and is best prepared just before serving.
I was given this recipe by a producer of goat cheese, a savvy marketeer who hands out recipe leaflets with every cheese he sells. Ironically named Monsieur Cochon (Mr. Pig), he is an idealist, raising his herd of 150 goats on herbage from his own farm, with the help of his wife, Véronique. “We are producers from start to finish, from raising the goats to making the cheese to meeting our customers, that’s what I enjoy,” says Jean-Marie Cochon. For these stuffed tomatoes, blue cheese or soft cream cheese can be substituted for the goat cheese.
Leeks are sturdy, surviving all winter through hard frost. Marinated in vinaigrette, with some chopped hard boiled egg to pick up the color, they are a popular appetizer all over France. They are best served slightly warm.
The original Tarte Tatin was made with apples, but the same concept of deeply caramelized fruit turned out on a crisp pastry base has inspired today’s versions featuring pear, quince, tomato, or even eggplant or Belgian endive. In Tarte Tatin à la Tomate, a drizzle of vinegar highlights the caramel, yielding an intense, savory tart to serve with crisp greens as a first course or light main dish. It also makes an excellent accompaniment to chicken or to game such as rabbit. Serves 4 to 6