Posts in Summer Food
Le Fete de St. Jean & Vin De Noix- Green Walnut Wine

No Summer arrives without the bonfire madness, the distant drumming from another century, and the making of a year’s worth of foraged aperitifs. When i first moved here we drank Vin de Noix to start all our meals. gradually the habit of a slightly sweet, slightly bitter aperitif has disappeared. The days of aperitifs made with bitter branches and fruit leaves seems to have been eclipsed by Aperol and Campari spritzes, gin cocktails served with floral tonics, and gallons of cheap rosé.

Home made aperitifs are infused with the feast of St. John follies. Pick those green walnuts and create a little magic. Think mid-summer madness minus the fairies and Shakespeare; add sugar, spices and moonshine to the unripened walnuts. ‘Unripened’ means that under the thick green outer husk, the nut meat and shell are still unformed, a juicy white tannic miracle growing on heavy laden branches.

For me, noix verts herald the long days of looking at Camont’s fruit and nut trees, gardens and potagers as a living larder. White peaches for ice cream, summer pears for jam, blackberries and raspberries for liqueurs. But it is this very first recipe I learned to make at the hands of Claude and Vetou Pompele some 25 years ago that reminds me of my most important job here at the Gascon Kitchen– hands-on teacher of artisan culinary traditions. So I am resuming my role this year as Chief Aperitif Influencer.

The walnut tree has been growing for over the 30 years I have lived at Camont. It was a leggy 12-foot sapling when I first spared its life. Now it reaches up over 40 feet and spreads a deep shade for the lambs, chickens and us. More squirrel-planted trees have sprouted and have added to the bounty. I once used the bottle of eau de vie made by old man Dupuy over 40 years ago. A gift from his daughter, Monique,  I had tucked it away in the back of the boat cellar a few years back. Antique moonshine. Now I look for small batch eau de vie when at country markets, but a bottle of any clear alcohol will work as well.

This recipe was taught to me by Claude Pompele. I published it in “A Culinary Journey in Gascony”. There is a new story somewhere but for now this has been a story in the making for a long time.

Vin de Noix

Traditionally made on June 24, the Feast of St. Jean

  • 24 green walnuts plus a handful of walnut leaves.

  • 24 sugar cubes

  • 750ml eau de vie

  • 3 liters of inexpensive rosé wine

  • a handful of lemon rinds

  • Nutmeg shards, cloves and cardamon to taste

Smash the green walnuts with a rock. Work outside on an old board. Wear aprons and gloves.

Place all the ingredients in an earthen ware crock, glass jar, or stainless steel bucket.

Cover with an old plate. It will turn very dark from the tannins in the green husks.

Let sit 24 days.

Filter, bottle and drink at your leisure in the cold short winter days. Aging the aperitif longer results in a more dense and flavorful apertif.

Serve in small glasses as guests arrive. Don’t ask them. Just serve it. They will find it strange and scary. Insist they take small sips and think of Mid-summer in France. Maybe play a little medieval music in the background. Let a walnut tree grow. Take some time to think about the seasons. I make this for my Summer born friends- Elaine, Bill, Julie, Woody, Randy, and all the other Cancers in my Sagittarius life.

Make that Tomato Tart now! + All Butter Pastry
Kate’s famous Tomato Tart means Summer season has started!

Kate’s famous Tomato Tart means Summer season has started!

This is my very simple, everyday, anyonecanmakethis Pâte Brisée or a Short Crust- my go to All-Butter Pastry. I teach this to all students who come through Camont’s kitchen doors. It breaks the usual prissy pastry rules about chilling flour, butter and water. It is a forgiving sort of crust, a classic French pâte brisée perfect for everything from summery fruit tarts to the savory tarte a la tomates that we shared with good friend David Lebovitz.

It’s easy. Be not afraid of pastry. It will be delicious and your friends will love you and your French tartes.

Kate’s Easy Tart Pastry

200 g or 1 1/2 cups all purpose or pastry flour
100 g or 4  ounces unsalted butter straight from the refrigerator. Cut into cubes
a pinch of salt
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water as needed.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC or 400ºF . The oven should be very hot to seize the pastry to hold its shape.
1. Make the dough by mixing the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter cubes and use your hands to break in the butter by smashing the butter with your fingers into the flour. Continue until the mixture has a crumbly, cornmeal-like texture. This can be very uneven; leave some bits of butter still visible.
2. Make a well in the center of the flour/butter mix and break the whole egg into the center. Add 1 tablespoon of the water. Beaten the egg and water a bit in the well then mix all together stirring the mixture until the dough holds together. If it’s not coming together easily, add additional water.
3. Gather the dough into a ball and roll the dough on a generously floured surface, adding additional flour only as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter. This is a soft dough, so handle lightly.
4. Roll out. Once the dough is large enough so that it will cover the bottom of the pan and go up the sides, roll the dough around the rolling pin then unroll it over the tart pan. Prick the bottom of the pastry with your fingertips a few times, pressing in to make indentations. Who needs a fork?

You can then brush the pastry base with an egg if you like, sprinkle with sugar or just fill and bake. How long? Depending on the filling about 25-35 minutes.

Tomato Tart Filling

  • Tomatoes enough to fill your tart pan

  • one egg

  • Dijon mustard

  • olive oil

  • fresh herbs chopped finely

  • salt & pepper

  1. After rolling out the pastry, brush it with a beaten egg mixed with mustard and set aside to dry. This is a little secret to avoid a soggy bottom.

  2. Then cut very good ripe tasty tomatoes into thick slices.

  3. Lay the slices over the mustardy bottom fitting them tightly across the tart.

  4. Drizzle with some olive oil and then sprinkle with fresh herbs (chives, thyme, basil, lovage, oregano, whatever). Salt and pepper to taste.

  5. Bake in a hot oven 200’C or 400’F for 30-45 minutes, until the bottom of the pastry is well browned.