Reading Elizabeth David’s thousands of recipes you sometimes wish for nine lives so you could cook and eat the whole oeuvre, so to speak. This one, slightly altered, is a great favorite, its rather murky contents not for every day but certainly very amusing two or three times a year. It is, she says, Very Old French — but life, of course, is cyclical and beef vinaigrette seems trendy as can be as the millennium arrives.
The valley of this recipe’s title! It summons me down a ladder of lovely francophilic memories, meridional rung by rung — and forgive me for missing the exact spot at which ace aesthete Cyril Connolly proclaims the seductive South begins. I see the Pagnol types playing cards in a little bar in Les Roches-de-Condrieu, their all-day-sucker cigarettes puffed toward some nicotinal nirvana. There was, of course, our creamy lunch at La Pyramide, sacred place! And I’m feeling again the serenity of an elegant lunch at Avignon’s silvery Hiély on a very cold winter’s day, twenty hours after running my Austin-Healy (no relation!) into a snowbank and having to spend a night in St-Etienne, an improbable second-rate city with clanky trams suitable for a creepy Expressionistic film and the quenelles at dinner were tough, too.
More recently I’ve enjoyed zooming down the valley toward the Mediterranean in the arms of a whooshing TGV, which is rather like being shot through a pneumatic tube with wonderful picture windows.
In a casserole tuck 3/4 of a pound of round steak between blankets of chopped onion — 2 medium-sized onions should be sufficient — and dot all with several little beurre manié balls: the math here works out to about 2 tablespoons of butter blended with 1 tablespoon of flour.
Cover and bake this concoction at 300° for 1-3/4 hours, after which you should drain off a good half of the broth if the pot looks quite liquid, as it doubtless will.
Pour over the meat/onions/juice a simple salsa verde made of about 4 tablespoons olive oil to 2 or more of red wine vinegar along with lots of minced parsley and some large capers, then bake another 45 minutes.
Serve this “grillade” (well, it’s really a piquanted pot roast such as you might eat at Pierre’s Beaujolais Diner) over mashed potatoes or long-simmered white beans. If you can find those large Greek limas called gigantes they’ll fill the bill admirably.
And bring a pot of mustard to the table.
*** See the new serving suggestion and recipe options in Arthur’s ongoing blog, Places and Tables! ***