A cookbook to curl up with

Karl Wells
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Someone thinking of a novel, or maybe a biography probably invented the phrase, "a good book to curl up with." Not many would think of a cookbook as filling the bill. Some foodies would, of course, but the cookbook would have to be very special.

"A Year at Les Fougeres" by Charles Part and Jennifer Warren-Part is a cookbook that I enjoy curling up with when I want to have my mental senses tweaked and wallow in something warm, rich and soulful.

Halibut steaks ready to be topped with poached egg and garnish. Photo by Karl Wells/The Telegram

Someone thinking of a novel, or maybe a biography probably invented the phrase, "a good book to curl up with." Not many would think of a cookbook as filling the bill. Some foodies would, of course, but the cookbook would have to be very special.

"A Year at Les Fougeres" by Charles Part and Jennifer Warren-Part is a cookbook that I enjoy curling up with when I want to have my mental senses tweaked and wallow in something warm, rich and soulful.

"A Year at Les Fougeres" is a cookbook, but it's also the story of a year in the life of a restaurant - Les Fougeres - with emphasis on how it embraces and celebrates each unfolding season. Les Fougeres borders the Gatineau Hills of Quebec. The seasons there are well-defined and spectacularly beautiful, as seen in the few hundred photographs taken for the book by Ottawa-Gatineau photographer, Andrew Van Beek.

In her introductory note Jennifer Warren-Part gives the rationale for "A Year at Les Fougeres."

"We decided to collect recipes and observations about what happened at Les Fougeres over the course of a year in an effort to capture the way the land and seasons shape our lives and work."

Beginnings

Jennifer Warren met Englishman, Charles Part, after he'd moved to Canada in the early '80s. They married and opened a restaurant called Loons in the Beaches area of Toronto. Eight years later they packed up and moved their young family to Chelsea, Que., where they purchased a defunct gas station. That gas station was subsequently transformed into Les Fougeres (meaning ferns) the restaurant, shop and cooking school, which has become an important part of the Outaouais community.

Each chapter of "A Year at Les Fougeres" comprises approximately 14 pages and represents a different month from January to December. Chapters begin with a beautifully written passage describing the natural setting outside the restaurant at that month of year, as well as timely activities happening inside Les Fougeres. An annual project in January, for example, is the making of marmalade.

"Something we always associate with January and which begins to call us back to action is the fleeting availability of bitter Seville oranges. For a few weeks in January we are all thrown into a frenzy of marmalade making. We make about 800 jars every year in our store kitchen and the gorgeous, sharp, astringent smell of Seville orange is emblematic of the January air at Les Fougeres as the marmalade gently simmers day and night."

Recipes

Of the approximately 60 carefully selected recipes in the book, each fits its corresponding month well. There's Hare Ragout with Seville Orange and Rosemary Gnocchi in January, Pan-Seared Quebec Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Rhubarb and Rosemary Compote in March and Grainfed Chicken Breast from La Ferme aux Saveurs des Monts with Mi-Careme, Chanterelles, Raspberries and Lemon Thyme for July.

Van Beek's photographs are as evocative as the text and recipes. The lands around Les Fougeres are shown in their various stages of seasonal change, from white coated in winter to bare forest and blooming daffodils in spring, to ladyslippers and maidenhair ferns along the woodland path behind Les Fougeres in summer. Remaining photos feature the restaurant's food - delicious finished dishes, process shots of sausage making and foie gras deveining - and people photos of the Les Fougeres staff, customers and suppliers.

It's almost impossible to spend time curled up with this delightful book and not want to spring up and make one of the recipes. I've done it many times. Most recently I decided to try the Parmesan-Crusted Halibut with Soft Poached Egg. Fresh halibut is crusted with shredded Parmesan and breadcrumbs, then baked and served with a delicate soft poached egg on top. A drizzle of good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar combine with luxurious yellow yoke, released from the egg as it's cut, to sauce the Parmesan crust and halibut. The result is a delicious combination of halibut, strong cheese, textures, salt, tart and sweet.

Captivating section

At the conclusion of "A Year at Les Fougeres" is a resources section. For me this section was almost as captivating as the rest of the book. It gives a comprehensive list of the purveyors who supply Les Fougeres with its food. There is a certain degree of satisfaction to be drawn from the knowledge that Les Fougeres acquires its supplies from small "quality" vendors, farms and importers. Their nuts come from the Shiraz Grocery Store in Ottawa, mustard from Brasserie McAuslan of Montreal, wild caribou from the First Nations in Nunavik (distributed through Les Gibiers Canabec), and their Arctic char comes from Pangnirtung Fisheries of Nunavut.

"A Year at Les Fougeres" has been recognized as a first rate cookbook by Cuisine Canada and by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, both well deserved accolades. Consider the kudos as more evidence that "A Year at Les Fougeres" is "a good book to curl up with."

Parmesan-Crusted Halibut with Softly Poached Egg

(Courtesy of "A Year at Les Fougeres")

Ingredients:

6 boneless fresh halibut steaks (5 ounces each)

1 half loaf of white bread

2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Zest of 1 lemon

3/4 cup melted butter

salt and pepper to taste

6 eggs

lemon zest, olive oil

shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

balsamic vinegar as garnish

sprinkle of fleur de sel

ground black pepper

Method:

Pulse fresh bread slices in processor. Place in a large bowl and add grated Parmigiano, lemon zest, butter, salt and pepper and mix gently.

Pat crust mixture liberally onto halibut portions and place on a buttered baking sheet. Place in 400F oven for 10 minutes or until crust is golden and fish is cooked.

Break eggs into boiling water which has quarter cup white vinegar added to it. When the water returns to the boil, remove the pot from the heat and let the eggs sit in the water for another two minutes.

To serve:

Place cooked, crusted halibut on a warm plate. Remove the softly cooked egg from the water with a slotted spoon. Place carefully on the halibut crust.

Garnish the fish with shaves of Parmigiano Reggiano, lemon zest, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fleur de sel and freshly cracked black peppercorns.

Organizations: Shiraz Grocery Store, First Nations

Geographic location: Quebec, Ottawa, Canada Beaches Toronto Chelsea Montreal Arctic Nunavut

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Recent comments

  • George
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Sounds scrump-deli-ishus even sans the eggs. Gotta try it.

  • George
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    Sounds scrump-deli-ishus even sans the eggs. Gotta try it.