As the canal barge Savannah winds through the tree-lined Canal du Midi, the boat’s French chef climbs from her compact galley kitchen to tiny garden she tends in the stern of the boat. “I pick what I need when I’m ready to cook,” explained Véronique Lafitte, “because you cannot make this cuisine without fresh herbs.” Thyme, basil, and parsley thrive in the intense sun of southern France, but for a signature strawberry tart Lafitte plucks a handful of lemon verbena.
After years at the helm of a Toulouse restaurant, Lafitte’s learned to adapt her cooking to a Canal du Midi péniche—the traditional French barge is one of just a handful of old-fashioned boats that still travel the 17th-century waterway. As welcome as a dinner party dessert as it is on board the Savannah, this simple recipe is the perfect way to use the last, sweet strawberries of the season, and it’s elevated to an unforgettably French treat when paired with a sweet Languedoc wine.
Tarte aux Fraises Savannah
Serves 8 people
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
Fresh lemon verbena (one handful)
Sugar to taste
Gently heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan, remove from the heat and add the lemon verbena. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours.
250 grams flour
125 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
20 grams sugar
Pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl, stirring just until combined. Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
When the dough is chilled, roll out on a floured surface and line a buttered tart pan. Prick the crust with a fork, fill with dried beans or other pie weights, and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until the dough is set. Remove the pie weights and continue baking until the shell is a light, golden brown.
2 ¼ cups milk
30 grams flour
80 grams sugar
½ tsp vanilla
Combine the milk and vanilla in a medium-sized pot and bring just to a boil while stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and sugar until well combined in a sturdy heat-proof bowl; whisk in the flour.
Still whisking, pour the hot milk into the egg mixture in a thin stream. When fully combined, return the mixture to the saucepan over low heat. Cook, while stirring constantly, for five to ten minutes, until the cream is thickened and the first bubbles begin to appear. Pour into the pre-baked crust and refrigerate.
Thinly slice strawberries and arrange in a spiral pattern on top of the pastry cream-filled tart shell.
Strain the cream mixture to remove the lemon verbena, and whisk until it begins to thicken. Keep whisking as you add sugar a little at a time, tasting frequently—the cream should be lightly sweet. Whisk just until the whipped cream forms soft peaks. Serve the tart in small slices alongside the lemon verbena cream and a glass of dessert wine.
Captain Adrien’s Wine Pairings
With years of experience guiding guests through the vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon, péniche Captain Adrien Bramoullé has learned the nuances of a region where an ambitious generation of young winemakers are taking on ancient terroir. When choosing wines to match the Lafitte’s refreshing strawberry tart, he selected a range that reflects both Languedoc’s deep roots and fresh energy: a late-harvest chardonnay comes from a historic chateau with hundreds of years of wine-making experience, while a Botrytis-style chenin blanc is crafted on a brand-new vineyard at the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Sélection Chenin Blanc, Domaine Gayda.Only a pattern of chilly, humid mornings and warm afternoons can produce the Botrytis — that’s ‘Noble Rot’ — required for this sweet, golden wine. The honeyed results have enough acid to balance the sugar, and spending a year in oak barrels lend the wine a complex aroma that’s perfect with this tart.
Le Rêve de Pennautier, Chateau Pennautier. Lilting flavors of honey and candied fruit make this late-harvest Chardonnay an aromatic companion for a light dessert.
AOC Maury Vintage, Mas Amiel. Made from 100% Grenache Noir grapes, this richly fruity wine is refreshing and versatile enough to pair with dark chocolate or a red fruit dessert.
Jen Rose Smith is a freelance writer and award-winning guidebook author whose work explores travel, adventure and food. She’s currently living on the road, with a mountainous 2018 itinerary that goes from the Andes of South America to the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. Read more of her work at jenrosesmith.com.