I have a French-Portuguese friend named Elizabeth. Well, she’s not actually French. Or Portuguese. But she lives as if she were both. With her two cats, Milo and Luther, and a dog named Lucy, she lives in Santa Fe atop a hill worthy of the French Alps. She sleeps in a nook big enough only for her bed. Her cottage has two doors; one for the bathroom and one for the front entrance, which she often keeps open. She wears black linen and entertains everyone from her mechanic to artist friends with five-course, four-hour meals. In her kitchen, Elizabeth displays fresh tomatoes and colorful potatoes bought at the farmers market in hand carved wooden bowls. Beside the sink resides her French cooking bibles, including a loved copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Louise Bertholle’s French Cuisine for All.
She starts dinner soirées with the apéritif. At Elizabeth’s, I fell in love with Lillet, a sweet French orange liqueur and Bordeaux blend, that she poured in to little glasses furnished with a curling lemon rind.
Elizabeth balances Lillet’s honeyed citrus flavor with the bloomy rind of a Triple Crème cheese, salty grape-like capers, red peppers, and olives. For the main course, she serves light Château de Flaugergues with a stunningly complex mélange of beef bourginon, smashed baby gold potatoes, and haricots verts. Elizabeth finishes her evenings with a sliver of decadent, flourless chocolate cake dusted with Vietnamese cinnamon and drizzled in crème fraîche. She constantly tops off wine glasses so they never seem to become empty. Conversations around her table are as full as her wine glasses; hours at Elizabeth’s house melt away like fleur de sel truffles.
As any good French-Portugese woman, Elizabeth makes a mean vinaigrette. Through her salad creations, she reveals to me the powers of caramelized vinegar vinaigrette and its deep, sweet, aromatic flavor. Instead of olive oil, she uses drippings from a special smoked bacon she can only find in the small town where she grew up in New Hampshire. After a recent trip, she brought five pounds back to Santa Fa in her carry-on bag. Airport security was skeptical at first. But once they heard that her ball of questionable, frozen meat wrapped in paper bags was bacon, the TSA enthusiastically waived their misgivings.
2 or 3 shallots, finely chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup Balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
————– Optional, but delicious additions:
1 tsp anchovy paste
Handful of chopped, fresh herbs like thyme, basil, or rosemary
Heat olive oil in heavy saucepan. When the oil is so hot that it will make a bit of shallot sizzle, add the rest of your shallots and let them caramelize pink. Turn to low heat and add garlic and vinegar. Let the mixture simmer for 3 minutes (add more vinegar if vinegar evaporates too quickly.) When caramelized, turn off heat and add mustard, salt, pepper and optional items if desired. Let cool and serve over something like Elizabeth’s Salade Lyonnaise or with raw vegetables (I love fresh zucchini rounds.) Vinaigrette stores well in fridge for up to 5 days.