This book, with its hardback cover, glossy pages dense with information, and solid heft, feels like a textbook, but all textbooks should be this fun.
The “cookery lessons” recorded here take place at Cour de Ferme, the bistrot at her family’s Provencal inn, Auberge La Feniere. The pages are filled with glistening food, smiling students wrapped in aprons, and recipes sorted by lessons. Lesson 1—asparagus, begins with a creamy veloute soup with methods to peel off the stringy bits and tips to keep the spears fresh. As dry as that may sound, the directions are chatty and sometimes charmingly vague. The veloute is served over “royales,” eggy custards studded with bits of poached asparagus and baked in a bain marie.
The course continues with octopus and squid, courgettes, spices, tomatoes, entertaining, and desserts. The recipes can be a bit daunting—there’s nothing inherently difficult about a cream soup served over egg custards (unless you’re feeding cardiologists), but it’s not exactly the simple, go-to dish you can cook without thinking. Though, if you follow Reine’s lessons, it certainly could be.
The dishes are also daunting because they rely on fresh and particular ingredients, hunting up fresh sardines and brousse cheese will take some doing. I was leary of making the Courgette “Spaghetti”—a salad of julienned zucchini dressed with oil, lemon, and parmesan—with winter, supermarket zucchini. Surely a recipe so simple would fall flat without market fresh vegetables. But the quick salad felt like a beach vacation in the middle of winter—a bright harbinger of warm times to come.
And who’s to say you can’t make reasonable substitutes. I didn’t want to commit to a slab of Roquefort and a tub of mascarpone for the Potato and Roquefort Pie, so I swapped in some herbed cream cheese and a strong Danish cheese that I had in the fridge. It was so good, I made it later in the week, adding a bit of spinach, with the rest of the frozen puff pastry.
Reine married into the Auberge, and learned her mother-in-law’s classic Provencal recipes with enthusiasm then adapted them with a great deal of style—pesto but also basil ice cream, bouillabaisse but topped with crusted monkfish, artichokes a la barigoule but also tempura. And that’s where the real lessons lie, once you’ve got your techniques down and are familiar with the ingredients, you start to make your own interpretations, perhaps, with Reine’s elegance.