Henri le Sidaner, Tea in the Woods at Gerberoy, 1925. Reproduced in Impressionist Picnics by Gillian Riley, 1997.
Gillian Riley’s books on painters and food have been favorites of mine for years, but I don’t think I’ve prepared any of the recipes until this week. Usually, I just look at the pictures. I am therefore grateful to Alicat and Sara, whose Weekend cookbook event challenged us this month to find and prepare a picnic recipe in a cookbook long unjustly neglected. I found that not all the recipes in the book Impressionist Picnics are items I would choose to take on a picnic (boeuf bourguignon?), but all deserve consideration; this is a wonderful book.I like that zucchini have those elegant little pointillist patterns on their skins, making most amenable to impressionist painting. I picked up two sorts from Yuno’s farm: the smooth dark zucchini, and the lighter, ridgier ones, which are a bit firmer and drier in texture.
I decided to make the courgette soufflé, which looked substantial enough to play the main course (Riley recommends it as a starter), but refreshing enough for hot weather. It also requires only 20 to 30 minutes in the oven, so you will be baking a soufflé, but not yourself [The text that follows is Riley’s. My comments are in the square brackets].Courgette Soufflé
1 lb courgettes (zucchini) grated on the cheese grater
4 eggs [actually 4 whites and 2 yolks]
2 oz (60 g) grated Gruyère cheese
1 oz (30 g) grated parmesan
1 tablespoon flour [I think you might need just a bit more than this]
1 oz butter
1 cup milk
liquid from the courgettes [I did not end up using any of this liquid]
salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
An hour before making the soufflé, grate the courgettes, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain in a colander, catching the juices in a basin. Squeeze to extract as much juice as possible. Cook for a few minutes without water in a heavy-bottomed pan until the courgettes are soft [Whoops! I neglected to cook the squash. I think the subtle bit of residual crunchiness worked very well].
Separate the yolks and whites of the eggs, reserving 2 of the whites for something else, perhaps the dessert on p. 54 [I did in fact try to make this dessert as well, but I forgot that an English pint is 20 ounces, and whether I had doubled or halved the recipe, so can’t really say yet how it would work if made properly].
Melt the butter and cook the flour in it, add enough of the courgette juices and milk to make a stiff sauce, and let it cool for ten minutes [Even though I used only the milk, the sauce was not especially stiff].
In a blender or food processor, mix the courgettes, 2 egg yolks, the sauce, the Gruyère, salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg.
Whip the egg whites until good and stiff. Add the courgette mixture quickly and deftly, slicing downwards into the bowl, sprinkling the parmesan in as you go. Tip into a soufflé dish, or ovenproof container, and stand the dish in a tin of water to prevent the sides burning. Cook in a hot oven [400 F] for 20 to 30 minutes.
More soothing greenery at Sweetnicks.
Riley, Gillian. The Dutch Table: Gastronomy in the Golden Age of the Netherlands, Painters & Food. San Francisco: Pomegranate Artbooks, 1994.
———. Impressionist Picnics. San Francisco: Pomegranate Artbooks, 1993.
———. Renaissance Recipes. San Francisco: Pomegranate Artbooks, 1993.
Riley, Gillian, and National Gallery (Great Britain). A Feast for the Eyes. London: National Gallery Publications ;Distributed by Yale University Press, 1997.