Usually, when I travel, I have good food and not such good food. On my recent trip to Provence, I'd have to say that sister Susan, friend Renate, and I ate quite well at each meal. No complaints. No negative critiquing by me or the others. And three of our meals were exceptional. At the beginning of our trip, we stayed in the town of Carpentras and ate at restaurant Chez Serge. Before a previous trip to France, I had read about Chez Serge in the New York Times and then ate lunch there. On this trip, we booked a reservation for dinner.
The night we ate at Chez Serge, there was an abundance of black truffles...
We were served an Amuse Bouche of sliced black truffles and olive oil along with a basket of French bread.
Susan and Renate ordered the black truffle risotto as their main course.
Our next exceptional meal was at Chateau de Mazan's Restaurant l'Ingénue. (more on that in a future post). It turned out to be our favorite -- partly due to the magical setting, but mostly because of the incredible meal. There we again had truffles in our amuse bouche; a small bowl of chilled, puréed Cavaillon melon with several thinly-shaved slices of black truffle on top.
At one of the Provençal weekly markets we visited, there was a young man selling black truffles. He had a small table set up with just a handful of truffles for sale. He could tell I was interested and held his largest truffle under my nose. I knew I couldn't risk having it confiscated at the airport so I reluctantly thanked him and walked away. I think of that truffle often...
The second half of our trip we moved to Le Moulin des Sources in Les Gros, Gordes. Anyone planning a trip to Provence should check out this Bed & Breakfast's website. It is charming beyond belief and a good location for the places we like to visit when there. Before this trip we had never been to Ménerbes, but this time drove to the village 15 minutes from our B&B to dine at La Verandah. And this is where I had the Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Truffle Oil, Croutons, and Chives for the first time. The three of us had this soup for our first course and I think we agree that we would have been happy with nothing but that soup as our dinner. It was amazing. Amazing enough for me to come back home and immediately make it for a dinner party I was hosting the following week. On my last visit to Paris in 2011, I also had a cream of cauliflower soup that was so good I needed to recreate it when I returned home (recipe HERE). I use the same recipe for both soups. The differences between the two (besides the temperature) are the oils and the toppings that are used to finish off the soup.
• 2 heads cauliflower
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 leeks, white part only, finely sliced and well-washed (about 5 ounces)
• 3 ounces unbleached, all-purpose flour
• 2 quarts plus 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
• 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon heavy cream
• 2 large egg yolks
• Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• Truffle oil
• Croutons (recipe follows)
• Fresh chives, finely chopped
1. Wash, core, and chop the cauliflower. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a stockpot over medium heat. When hot, add the leek and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon for several minutes, or until the leek has sweated its liquid but has not taken on color.
3. While stirring, sift the flour into the leek-butter mixture, and fully incorporate. Remove from the heat and set aside about 10 minutes, or until cooled slightly.
4. Place the stock in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, skimming off any foam or particles with a metal spoon. Remove from the heat and, whisking constantly, add the hot liquid to the leek mixture.
5. When well blended, return the stockpot to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Immediately add the reserved cauliflower and return to a bare simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spatula to ensure that the bottom does not stick or burn, for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. If at any point the cauliflower sticks or scalds, remove the cauliflower from the heat, transfer the soup to a clean pot without scraping the burned portion into the new pot, and return it to the stove. Do not allow the soup to continue cooking once it sticks or burns.
6. Remove the pot from the heat and either pass the soup through a food mill or purée it in a blender. You want this soup to be silky-smooth. If necessary, after blending the soup, press through a fine mesh colander. (I purchased a Vitamix blender just for this soup!).
7. Place a saucepan with the cauliflower soup over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the heavy cream and bring to a simmer.
8. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons cream and the 2 egg yolks. Whisk in some of the hot soup to temper the mixture before whisking it into the simmering soup. Taste, and if necessary, season with salt and pepper.
9. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with truffle oil. Garnish with croutons and chopped chives.
No cutting corners on these croutons. The amount of butter and oil seem excessive, but don't cut back on those ingredients!
• 3 tablespoons butter
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 6 slices of a good, white loaf bread (I use a sourdough loaf from Whole Foods), crusts trimmed and bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
1. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the skillet.
2. Add the bread cubes and over medium-low heat use a thin metal spatula to turn the bread cubes. You want all of the croutons to be evenly covered in butter-oil. Add a little more oil if necessary. Keep turning the bread cubes, almost constantly. Your goal is to have them perfectly golden on all sides, but not burnt! When golden, remove from the pan to a small plate or bowl and set aside.
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