“Claude Monet was much more than an artist. Although he claimed to be good at only two of life’s endeavors– painting and gardening– he lived a life that included entertaining leaders in art and politics in the large dining room of his beautiful home in the bucolic Normandy countryside.” — Meryl Streep
At Giverny, Claude Monet surrounded himself with beautiful flower, fruit and vegetable gardens, and developed a gourmet palate, supplying his table with the best of ingredients, and even raising his own free-range chickens, turkeys and ducks. All of this provided motifs for his work and inspiration for his table. His desire for fresh garden vegetables and herbs extended beyond the flavour and health benefits that they could provide. His need to cultivate a kitchen garden, plant seeds and work the soil with his fingers allowed him to connect with nature in a spiritual way, feed his soul and see beauty oblivious to others.
Monet grew a selection of vegetables to one side of the flower garden when he first settled into the ‘Pink House’. These were in a small square plot enclosed by cordoned apple trees next to his poultry pens. As his paintings continued to sell well, Monet acquired a second property at the opposite end of the village. He painted the house blue and named it ‘La Maison Bleue’ (the Blue House). There he could grow a much bigger selection of vegetables than he had room for at the Pink House. It was walled against intruders and had its own gardener, a young man known only as Florimond, who could borrow gardeners from the flower garden whenever he needed extra help.
Florimond took direction from Monet not only concerning what to plant but also as to what vegetables to supply for the family’s meals each day–particularly for the pot au feu, a type of hearty vegetable stew that was easy to prepare and serve in the evenings for such a large household, especially on Sunday. Monet always delighted at the arrival of the new season’s vegetable seed catalogues. He would study the new varieties and decide what to order, notably selections from the Paris seed house of Vilmorin and also from foreign sources, such as Thompson & Morgan in England (a company that sold seeds to Charles Darwin). He would often order new varieties to evaluate against his traditional selections and invite comments from his family and friends.
The kitchen garden was divided into plots for each family of vegetables: the cabbage family, which included hardy radishes, kale and turnips, in one area; legumes such as peas and beans in another; and tender vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant in another. This arrangement allowed Florimond to practise crop rotation so that a plant family never occupied the same space two seasons in succession.
Florimond also used rows of glass-covered cold frames along the sunny side of the stone-walled enclosure, to grow and harvest vegetables that required only frost exclusion, such as salad greens, eg, Merveille de Quatre Saisons lettuce with red-tinted leaves and a buttery heart and Paresseux de Castillon spinach. Cold frames extended the growing season for other hardy crops, such as endive, beets, parsnips and carrots.
Florimond had access to Monet’s large greenhouse at the Pink House in which to start seeds. He also used the cold frames at the Pink House to harden off seedlings before placing them in their permanent positions. These included cucumbers for trellising and other summer treasures.
Since fruit trees can take up a lot of space, these were espaliered along the boundary wall, including Reine des Reinettes russet apples (required for the famous Normandy apple Tarte Tatin), Comice pears and several varieties of peaches, plums and cherries. Trenches were dug and filled with sifted soil to accommodate carrots and asparagus roots. The asparagus were covered with a thick layer of shredded leaves in order to whiten the new stems and sweeten them as they emerged from winter dormancy. Stalks of celery were also blanched with shredded leaves piled up against the stems in order to tenderize and sweeten them. Rhubarb had a special bed to grow extra thick– Florimond delighted in forcing the succulent red stalks to the surface in early spring, using special urn-shaped terracotta pots. Perennial Vert de Provence artichokes also had a special plot to themselves, the bushy thistle-like plants bearing round, succulent chokes by late summer.
Florimond grew an assortment of melons in the cold frames, while rows of other warm-season crops, such as tomatoes, needed covering with glass bell jars until all danger of frost had passed. Lines of glass cloches also protected tender seedlings such as cucumbers and bush snap beans, although he was always sure to grow ever-bearing pole beans, which were later to bear, for their superior flavour. Many members of the onion family were grown from seed, including erect leeks with creamy white stalks, globe onions, white pearl onions (which made Monet’s favourite pickles), garlic and shallots – to add a piquant flavour to malt vinegar. In summer, when the vegetable garden was at its peak, the whole area had the appearance of a patchwork quilt composed of feathery light green from carrots, yellow-green from endive, the dark-green of spinach, blue-green from spiky onion leaves, bronze-green from beet leaves and blocks of purple from red cabbages grown shoulder-to-shoulder.
At the end of June, Florimond would start to scratch the soil away from the roots of Irish potatoes in order to find small, golf ball-size ‘new’ potatoes to delight Monet ahead of the main late-summer harvest. Monet was among the first in the region to grow Chinese artichokes, a clover-like plant with small, nutty-flavored tubers, and he grew several varieties of white, black and red dessert grapes along wooden trellises. Florimond would wait until the first frost of autumn to harvest Brussels sprouts and parsnips, for the cold improves their flavour.
Not an inch of space was wasted. The paths were just wide enough to accommodate a wheelbarrow. Hedges of perennial herbaceous peonies separating the plots supplied the house with fragrant arrangements in spring, supplementing those grown in the flower garden.
Even during trips away from Giverny, Monet expressed concerns about his kitchen garden, and he worried when Alice [his second wife] did not keep him informed. One particular letter, written on March 9, 1900, from the Savoy Hotel in London begins: “My good darling, still no letter from you this morning. I hope that you found the house and garden as well as the greenhouse in good shape. It would be good that you keep an eye on it from time to time so that Pascal gets used to being watched a little; just the same it would be good to know what is going on at Florimond’s garden; see if the vegetables are in good shape, know what is planted. Eugene is supposed to go twice a week. It would be necessary to find out and go the day that he is there…” The letter was signed, “Your old man, Claude.”
Camembert Fritters with Apple and Raisin Chutney
8 appetizer servings
Apple and Raisin Chutney
1/2 cup (160g) apple jelly
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups (350ml) water
2 cups (200g) peeled, cored & diced Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup (75g) raisins
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Camembert is the king of cheese in Normandy, and the makers who produce some of the best are a short distance from Giverny. The apple is Normandy’s queen of fruit and the trees that produce the crisp orb for eating, cooking and baking are abundant. Their marriage is, therefore, inevitable. Here the two ingredients are joined in a standout starter that’s modern and elegant. Pour a dry alcoholic cider or a buttery chardonnay.
1. For chutney: Place apple jelly, sugar, curry powder, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a large heavy saucepan. Add water and stir to blend. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, add apples and simmer 10 minutes. Add raisins and red pepper flakes and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. (Can be prepared a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
3 ounces (85g) panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for serving
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
1 (1lb / 450g) round, barely ripe Camembert cheese,
cut into 8 wedges
1. For fritters: Combine panko, 2 tablespoons parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Place the flour in another shallow bowl or pie plate, and the eggs in a third. Using fork, beat eggs to blend. Dredge the cheese wedge in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Roll in panko. Place on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining cheese wedges
2. Heat 1/4 inch (1/2cm) of vegetable oil in the bottom of a large heavy frying pan. When bubbles appear, add the cheese wedges (in batches if necessary; do not crowd) and fry until golden brown, about a minute per side. Remove using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
3. To serve: Place each wedge on a plate. Top with chutney. Sprinkle with remaining parsley.
Boeuf Bourguignon with Rosemary Puff Pastry Crust
6 main course servings
3 pounds (1.35kg) beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 ounces (170g) white button mushrooms, quartered
1 cup (150g) diced onion
1 cup (150g) diced peeled carrot
1 cup (100g) diced celery
1?2 cup (75g) diced peeled turnip
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bottle (750ml) good dry red wine, such as pinot noir or zinfandel
1 bouquet garni (2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, 1 sprig fresh thyme, 1 sprig fresh rosemary and 1 bay leaf tied together)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning beef
1?2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more for seasoning beef
4 tablespoons (60ml) canola or other vegetable oil, divided
8 ounces (225g) unsliced smoked bacon, diced
4 tablespoons (1?2 stick / 60g) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1?4 cup (60ml) sweet port
2 cups (500ml) beef broth or stock
1 tablespoon (15g) tomato paste
2 tablespoons (15g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed but still cold
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
This classic beef stew hails from Burgundy but is beloved throughout France. It makes use of a number of vegetables and herbs that Monet grew in his garden. In a modern twist, we top it with puff pastry – dough made with layers of butter – which is extremely popular in Normandy, where butter is king.
This really is a one-pot meal, but to up the Normandy quotient you could follow with a salad and one or more cheeses from the region: Camembert and Pont-l’Evêque are just two luscious examples. Or you could round things out with baked apples or an apple tart.
Pour the same wine you use for the meat marinade: a pinot noir or a zinfandel.
Since the meat needs to marinate overnight for this recipe, you need to start preparation one day before you plan to serve it. Also, if you want to make a vegetarian version, use Portobello mushrooms instead of beef, vegetable stock instead of beef broth, and forget the bacon.
1. Combine beef, mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, turnip and garlic in large non-aluminum bowl. Pour wine over and stir well. Add bouquet garni. Cover and refrigerate mixture overnight.
2. Drain beef mixture, reserving liquid. Pour liquid into a medium-size heavy, non-aluminum saucepan and bring to boil. Continue boiling until reduced by half. Set aside until ready to use.
3. Meanwhile, separate beef and vegetables and place in separate bowls. Discard bouquet garni. Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil in a large Dutch oven or other large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add half of the beef and brown well on all sides. Transfer to platter.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil to pot and brown remaining beef. Transfer to platter. Reduce heat to medium low. Add bacon and cook until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Melt 2 tablespoons (30g) butter in same pot.
Add reserved vegetables and sauté until slightly browned. Use slotted spoon to transfer vegetables to platter. Pour the port into the pot, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up browned bits. Add reserved wine marinade, broth, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt and 1?2 teaspoon pepper into pot and stir well. Increase heat to medium high and bring to boil. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
4. Preheat the oven to 300F (150C). Blend the remaining 2 tablespoons (30g) butter and flour in small bowl until a paste forms. Add to the liquid in the pot and whisk until thickened, about 3 minutes. Return beef, vegetables and bacon to pot. Transfer pot to oven and cook for 2 1/2 hours until fork tender but not falling apart. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer to a 9 x 13-inch (23cm x 33cm) baking dish. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Heat through before topping with pastry and continuing with recipe.)
6. Lightly flour the work surface. Roll out the puff pastry sheet to at least a 10 x 14-inch (25cm x 35cm) rectangle. Drape the pastry over the beef filling and pinch to seal the edges with the dish. Using a sharp knife, cut several vents in the pastry to release steam. Sprinkle with dried rosemary. Bake until the crust is golden brown – 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest several minutes before serving.
Normandy French Apple Tart
4 dessert servings
4 squares or sheets of prepared puff pastry
4 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored
& thinly sliced
Calvados or Applejack
6 tablespoons (40g) powdered sugar
Given Normandy’s proliferation of apples, it isn’t surprising that some variation of an apple tart is the region’s signature dessert. And, bien sûr, it was also a favourite of Monet and his family. He and his wife, Alice, brought back the recipe for Tarte Tatin, the renowned upside-down caramelised apple tart, from their stays at Hôtel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, about 100 miles south of Paris.
Monet painted a seductive version of an apple tart in a famous canvas titled Les Galettes (The Cakes). In the documentary film Monet’s Palate (Steven Schechter, 2004), Chef Maurice Amiot prepares the following simple yet sophisticated recipe. He recommends serving these individual tarts with crème fraîche, but vanilla ice cream or whipped cream would also be superb!
1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Cut each square puff pastry into an 8- to 9-inch (20cm to 23cm) circle and set it on a non-stick baking sheet – discard the scraps or reserve them for another use. Sprinkle the apple slices with a little Calvados and toss to coat. Arrange the apple slices on each pastry circle in concentric circles, from the outside edge of the pastry to the centre. Bake for 10 minutes. Dust each tart with 1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar and continue baking until the apples are tender and gently browned – 10 to 15 minutes. Increase the heat to broil, and broil until the apples are caramelised – 2 to 3 minutes – but do not burn. Drizzle each tart with a little Calvados.
2. Serve the tart immediately, accompanied by a dollop of crème fraîche.
As seen in France Today magazine. Excerpt with publisher’s permission from Monet’s Palate Cookbook: The Artist & His Kitchen Garden at Giverny by Aileen Bordman and Derek Fell. Photographs by Derek Fell & Steven Rothfield. Published by Gibbs Smith, RRP. List price: £19.99. For further details, please visit www.monetspalate.com