Stage 6- Montargis to Gueugnon
Leaving Montargis, the same town they finished in yesterday, the town called the “Venice of Gatinais” for its many canals and rivers that flow through the town. With 131 road and foot bridges it is hard to go very far without realizing exactly why it is given the nickname of Venice. Montargis sits less than 70 miles from Paris, but the Tour de France cyclist still have more than 1,636 miles to complete before they can make it to the shadows of the Arc de Triomphe. So we continue on.
The French artist Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson was born in Montargis in 1767. After going to school to study architecture he decided to become a painter and became a student of the French Jacques-Louis David, a Neoclassical painter. David later was involved in painting historical moments and sketched the very famous last drawing of Marie Antoinette before she was led off to the scaffolding. Girodet was involved in the Romantic movement of the mid to late 18th century. He became well known for his painting of the Napoleon family, including the beautiful one of Hortense de Beauharnais, step-daughter of Napoleon and daughter of Josephine. Today the Musee Girodet in Montargis is dedicated to the hometown painter and has more the 25 of his pieces on view.
Just outside of Montargis and sitting on the same Canal de Briare & Canal de Loing, Chatillon-Coligny. The small medieval village was once home to a 12th century chateau that was destroyed by the English during the Hundred Year War in 1359. The chateau was rebuilt by 1376 with an addition of a large wall that would include three gates and five towers and is still standing today. The large houses dated to the 17th and 18th century reflects the height of the towns that were along the Canal’s. One of the oldest canals in France the Canal de Briare is over 35 miles long and runs from Briare to Buges. Upon its completion in 1642 it began to carry barges of wine, timber, coal and iron onto Paris. Today it is mostly used as a leisurely pleasure cruise, the perfect way to take in the region.
The Chateau de Saint-Fargeau has been a part of the town since it was built in 980. It was seized in 1411 by the English in the Hundred Year War and then in 1450 was purchased by Jacque Coeuer where he had it rebuilt in 1453. In 1652, Anne-Marie Louise d’Orléans, the Grande Mademoiselle first cousin of king Louis XIV, was exiled for five years because of her stance during “la Fronde” (cival war). She settled in the Castle of Saint Fargeau where she hired the architect Le Vau to decorate the interior. In 1713 the family of Louis-Michel Le Peletier purchased the castle. In January 1793 a vote was taken to decide what they would do with the King Louis XVI, it is said that it came down to a vote of 361 to 360 and the deciding vote was cast by Le Peletier and the King was sentenced to death by guillotine. The rumor of his vote spread quickly among the Royalist and the day before the king was to die, Louis-Michel Le Peletier was assassinated in a restaurant at the Palais Royal.
The finish town of Geugnon is seeing the caravan of the Tour de France for the first time. Sitting on the edge of the Burgundy region is more famous for its football team and its steel plant. The stainless steel plant, Les Forges, dates back to 1724 would eventually become a world leader in steel production. Passing through many hands of ownership, the plant began to thrive. Today with the updated technology it has become the world’s top producing steel company.
The Burgundy region may have the most recognizable cuisine, at least items that almost everybody can say they have at least tried one of them. Curnonsky said “there are many gastronomic paradises in France, but there is a paradise of paradises-Burgundy” Of course the most famous, may be Boeuf a la Bourguignonne which basically a beef stew with bacon, onions and mushrooms slow cooked in red wine. It is a rather inexpensive meal to make and can be made in large quantities and made in advance, as it just gets better and better as it sits. I went to the mother of all French cooking Julia Child for the recipe and altered it a bit to fit the time I needed to make it. I call it:
Boeuf Bourguignon jeuner acheminet (fast forward)
Adapted from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck (Alfred A. Knopf, 1961)
Time: About 3 hours (normally 5 to 6 hours)
One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon or 6 or 7 strips of bacon
3 ½ tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups full-bodied, young red wine (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2 ½ to 3 ½ cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
½ teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 small white onions
3 ½ tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms.
1. Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks ¼-inch thick and 1 ½ inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 ½ quarts water. Drain and dry.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
3. Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
4. Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.
5. In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust). Remove casserole and turn oven down to 375 degrees.
6. Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind and small onions. Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 2 hours. Turn up the heat to 415 degrees and continue to cook until the meat is tender and a fork pierces it easily about 45 minutes to an hour more.
7. While the beef is cooking, prepare the mushrooms. Heat 1 ½ tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet. Add mushrooms and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible8. Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms. Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.
9. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top. Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 ½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.
Another dish that is synonymous with the Burgundy region is Escargot. In French escargot literally means snail and I know some people may freak out at the thought of eating a snail, but you really must try it. Drenched in butter, garlic and parsley these little tiny morsels are fantastic. I was just a child when I first tried escargot in a small French restaurant near the a town we grew up in and then continued to love it as I was in high school where I would frequently have it at a favorite restaurant.
Escargot a La Bourguignonne
¼ c Finely chopped parsley
1 head of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 shallot, sliced
½ cup white wine
24 Canned French snails
24 Snail shells
1. In a sauté pan, combine the shallots, wine and snails and bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
2. Combine the parsley and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend well, add butter and pulse until it is a smooth green paste. Season with salt & pepper.
3.Turn on the broiler and place rack in the middle of the oven
4. Place a snail in each shell and fill the cavity with the seasoned butter. Place on a baking pan and broil until the butter is melted. Serve hot and then slop up all the butter and garlic goodness with slices of baguette.