See that dessert? It’s a Peach Galette, a “galette” being similar to a French fruit tart in that it’s made with puff pastry and, in this case, filled with sliced peaches that have carmelized in the oven, but it’s less structured than a tart, more homey and rustic in a simple country way – and it’s probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, especially because it was served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The galette was the crowning menu item of my full day of researching cooking classes for a new novel I’m writing – not a bad job, right? Over the years I’ve had a lot of fun doing research for my novels. I’ve taken a Caribbean cruise (Princess Charming), had my aura cleansed in Sedona, AZ (Crystal Clear) and observed preschoolers in a classroom (Name Dropping), among other immersions, but learning about food and how to buy and cook it might be the most pleasurable yet, judging by this weekend’s outing.
I spent Saturday with a professional French cook named Laurence Hauben, whose brainchild is Market Forays, which she defines as “cooking classes and culinary adventures.” She takes groups on a full-day tour, not only of the bounty that can be found in Santa Barbara but of the food that can be prepared simply and elegantly in her home kitchen.
We began at 8am at the Santa Barbara harbor where local fishermen just off their boats sell their wares.
Those are copper rockfish and we bought a whole one as well as two huge rock crabs.
Then it was on to the Farmer’s Market, an institution here in town that I only infrequently avail myself of (lazy! lazy!). Talk about a gorgeous array of straight-from-the-farm produce! Here’s a tiny sample of what we saw, smelled, touched and purchased for our meal.
Lettuces for our Salade de Mesclun aux Fraises Strawberry Merlot Vinaigrette…
Fresh strawberries for the aforementioned salad….
Cling peaches for the galette….
Next up was a short walk to C’est Cheese, another local institution, where the finest cheeses are sampled and sold – just a gorgeous store that now has a cafe next door.
We selected three cheeses for our Artisan Cheese Course with homemade preserves, a course that would come after the entree and before the galette. (I’m still full as I write this.)
And finally our group drove to Laurence’s charming home in the San Roque neighborhood of Santa Barbara – a 1940s cottage-style house decorated with antiques and family treasures (like her late husband’s Academy Award statuette for Best Screenplay for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”). The first thing we did upon arrival was put on the white aprons she gave us. Then we spread out our purchases and drew up a “mis-en-place,” as in putting everything in its place to prioritize what needed to be cooked when.
The crab was alive – and kicking! – so it had to go into the pot first. Laurence showed us how to hold it by the legs so as not to lose a finger.:)
Once the crab was steamed, the galette needed to get into the oven, so Laurence showed us how to roll out the pastry dough, slice the peaches, line them up on the sheet pan and sprinkle them with sugar.
The dough was trimmed, its sides crimped, and the pan was popped into the oven and baked. After that, another sheet pan was used to roast the vegetables we bought (asparagus, green beans, cherry tomatoes).
The big project was the fish. It was whole, as I said, so Laurence showed us how to make slits in it, stuff it with herb butter, shallots and other goodies and roast it on another sheet pan.
It came out of the oven looking like this, and the aroma was to die for.
While the fish and veggies were roasting, we sat at Laurence’s table and enjoyed the crab first course with a chilled rose wine and a crusty baguette with herb butter.
The crab was snowy white and so fresh and sweet it needed no accompaniment.
Next came the salad with the beautiful greens and strawberries we’d bought, tossed in Laurence’s superb strawberry vinaigrette. The roasted fish was extraordinary; there’s such a difference between eating it in a restaurant and cooking it just off the boat. Did we need a cheese course after all that? Of course not, but it was sheer bliss with Laurence’s homemade pear and fig preserves. Did I mention that there was more wine with these courses? A white and a red?
The galette was so good I’m going to try to make one of my own – and I don’t even like peaches! It was that good.
By 4:30 we were more than satiated and said goodbye and thank you to our host.
She was a delight – so warm and welcoming. Not only did she give everybody a first-class course in cooking and prepping (lots of hands on instruction in knife work, mincing herbs and such, making pastry dough, de-boning a fish, hacking hard crab shells), but she explained that cooking should be about hospitality above all, not ego or competition. If you’re ever in Santa Barbara, I encourage you to sign up for one of her Market Forays. It’s an experience to savor, research or not.