home for Valentine’s Day;
cooking for the important person or people in your life:
“ la blanquette d’amour”
In honor of Saint Valentine’s Day (a little early), I share something with you beyond a great recipe, the words of author Leo Tolstoy. It is Tolstoy’s “pursuit of life” which inspired this week’s simple pleasure: la blanquette de veau (veal stew in a white wine-crème fraîche sauce with mushrooms, pearl onions, and artichoke hearts served on garlic-rubbed toasted French bread). I also call it “blanquette d’amour” because cooking is all about what you put in the cocotte, namely, a little love with hand-chosen ingredients. Read on.
Someone shared this Tolstoy quote with me and I find it so lovely that I had to share it with you:
“Remember that there is only one important time and that is Now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at your side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.” (emphasis added).
At its core, Valentine’s Day is the celebration of love; love between lovers (of course) but also between parents and children as well as the love between friends. I may be bias, but cooking is a perfect way to make the person(s) right before you happy, whomever that may be.
Tolstoy’s words are honest, grounding and sincere. They apply to every person and exclude no one. The same is true of this week’s recipe. This stew is simple, home-cooking. It is sure to make your dinner date or a group of your friends happy (stomach first, then heart).
what is la blanquette de veau ?
La blanquette de veau is a one-pot country stew served in a creamy white wine sauce. The sauce is not heavy and I eliminated the heavy cream and replaced it with a little crème fraîche. It you cannot find crème fraîche, use light sour cream.
The stew can be served on its own or on top of buttered egg noodles, rice, or as here, on toasted French bread slices rubbed with fresh garlic which soak up the sauce
In France you will only see blanquette de veau in small bistros. When I told a friend that I was thinking of doing this blanquette as a post (he grew up in the Comté region of France where the veal is of superior quality) it was a “Ratatouille” moment and he was instantly transported to his childhood: “I love la blanquette de veau, my mother made that!” he said. “You never see it anymore.” His exclamation was in French, but I will spare you all of that so we can get back to the stew at hand.
Traditionally the stew is made with veal but you can easily substitute beef, lamb, or chicken. In other words, make this stew to your Valentine’s dinner companion(s)’ taste. The recipe will be the same, just adjust your cooking times accordingly (i.e., chicken cooks quicker than veal).
has she gone mad ? this is too easy,
and she says use frozen stuff?
The vegetables in this stew vary. My friend’s mother made it with baby potatoes. I have seen the stew made with carrots and/or parsnips as well. In this recipe I use frozen pearl onions (you do not have to peel them and they maintain their shape while cooking), white mushrooms (simple, not fancy), and frozen peas (I had to include a little Americana).
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day I also include steamed artichoke hearts. The French expression “coeur d’artichaut” (artichoke heart) describes a sentimental person who falls in love. It only made sense to include the symbolic vegetable as we are cooking for Valentine’s Day and quoting Tolstoy. However beyond the symbolic sentiment, artichoke hearts add a nice depth to the stew and contrast (in texture and color) with the white mushrooms and onions. You can use the canned artichoke hearts just check to see if ascorbic or citric acid was used to preserve them. If so, rinse and dry the artichoke hearts to eliminate any tartness.
If you want to add carrots, add them at the same time you add the mushrooms. Red carrots (perfect color for the occasion) are in abundance in the Farmer’s Markets right now. If you add potatoes, add them when you add the stock.
The stew is traditionally made in a cocotte (what we generally refer to in America as a Dutch oven). Cocottes are enamel-lined cast iron large pot. Le Creuset or Staub (as shown) are my favorite lines. You can also use a heavy-bottomed large pots just make sure it has a tight-fitting lid. You can cook the stew stove top or in the oven.
Cooking with love and putting it in a cocotte is no doubt the implementation of “the pursuit of life” and can be the best Valentine’s Day gift of all. I think Tolstoy would be pleased.
et bon appétit !
food for thought
“Le secret d’une grande cuisine, on ne le dira à personne,
c’est un coeur énorme avec un petit bouquet de perversité.”
(The secret of a great cook, don’t tell anyone,
is a huge heart with a little dash of perversity.)
~Alix de Saint-André in Ma Nanie