I love eating out in France (who wouldn’t?!), especially at lunchtime and preferably at a modest brasserie in a very typical French village, somewhere deep, deep in the French countryside. I do not really enjoy eating at stiff, fancy restaurants where plates are made to resemble works of art. Keep the art for the museums and bring on the real, honest food prepared with love! Though to be perfectly honest, I feel there is much more artistry in a well-made, simple meal than there is in a snobby chef’s masterly food arrangement skills. In fact, I have been moved to tears by a perfectly cooked steak — just as I have by a Rembrandt! And, I have been bored and aggravated to tears while sitting at a pretentious restaurant that served decorative food in tiny portions and where stark faces looked at every move I made, literally following each forkful to my lips. Ugghh…
I recently ate at a restaurant most tourists would pass by (except for coffee or a drink on market day). It’s a hangout for locals run by people some (and, no, I am not one of them) would call ‘arrogant’. Though the restaurant has recently changed management and adopted a new name, not much has really changed. You still have to do your best to get their attention if you want a drink, the locals are still sitting in the exact same spot (God forbid you happen to forget that and take their table — the looks!), and the only thing served from 12-2 p.m. is a straightforward menu du jour consisting of a starter buffet, two main choices and a few dessert options. Don’t even bother asking for a menu. This is it. Take it or leave it.
Never, not once, have I been disappointed. It’s home cooking served with carafes of good local wine, to the sound of French conversation and — sorry — the smell of Gitanes. Because after all, when I go to France, I want to be right in the middle of French culture, trying to blend in as much as possible.
One day, I walked over to the starter buffet and helped myself to a flavorful terrine (with chorizo!), some cold vegetables, grilled aubergine and a verrine of thick, ice cold beet gazpacho. You can see the photo here. Oh the taste in that little glass of soup! It was fragrant, peppery, tangy and just beautiful! I have made beet gazpacho in the past, but it wasn’t as good as the one I had that day. So I took note of what I was tasting and vowed to recreate that recipe when I got home. It’s been gloriously HOT here in the Netherlands — no better time to make it than now! Here’s the recipe, which yes, tastes just like the one I had at that perfect and utterly French restaurant. Enjoy!
Peppery Beet & Tomato Gazpacho
- 3 tomatoes
- 500g cooked, vacuum packed beets (with juice)
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, bruised
- 1 tsp pink peppercorns. bruised
- 1 tsp dried coriander
- 4 tbsps rosé vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp piment d’Espelette
- 320 ml water (or more, if you like a thinner soup)
- fleur de sel
- freshly-cracked pepper
- good olive oil, to serve
Make a small X with a sharp knife on the bottom of each tomato, and plunge them in boiling water for 3 minutes. Rinse with cold water, and remove their skins. Chop the tomatoes roughly, and put them in a food processor or blender together with the rest of the ingredients. Blend well but make sure the mixture is still nice and thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning or add extra water if you like. Leave in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and an extra grinding of pepper.