Monday, April 5, 2010

Visit to La Metairie Neuve

In early February, I was in the South of France for a few days. My cousin Jean Marc suggested that we drive to La Metairie Neuve, the small family farm near Viane in the Tarn region in Southern France to say "bonjour", hello to the aunts and uncles.

During the winter months, the aunts and uncles don't venture out of their houses very much because of the snow and cold and slippery roads. So visits from family members are always welcomed and its great way for the nieces and nephews to check on the aging family members.

Saturday morning, we set off early so we would arrive at La Metairie Neuve by lunch time. It was not a very nice day; it was very overcast and we heard wet snow was falling at the higher elevations.

We made a small detour enroute to see the Millau Viaduct up close. The Millau Viaduct is a cable bridge which spans the Tarn River; it is the tallest vehicular structure in the world. I had seen the Viaduct off in the distance on previous trips to Viane but never seen it close up or driven across it.

We made it to La Metairie Neuve without any problems; Jean Marc is a fearless driver. As we drove up the drive, really a dirt path into the courtyard, I was struck by the fact that although there are modern structures not far away like the Millau Viaduct, time seems to stand still at the Metairie Neuve.

The walkway down to tonton René's and tata Ida's house. It used to also be the access for the sheep to get to their barn.

The walkway up close. If you look around the stables, you can find harnesses, cattle yolks, and old tools that were used in an earlier era.

After "la bise", kisses on both cheeks all around, we followed the mouth-watering aromas into tata Alice's kitchen. We got the updates about everyone's pains and associated ailments, surprisingly few for people of their ages and watched tata Alice and tata Ida finish cooking "déjeuner", lunch for us. We are always happy to see the aunts.

We gathered around the table in the kitchen for a delicious lunch consisting of a simple green salad, oven roasted lamb chops, lentils, and a pumpkin gratin. We finish with several cheeses from the region and a cake. Our aunts and uncles don't drink wine so we had apple juice pressed from apples on the farm in October.

Everything was absolutely wonderful, made more so by the company and our cozy surroundings. The highlight for me was a gratin de potiron, a pumpkin or squash gratin. I guess it was unusual for me because I have only had pumpkin or squash in soups, ravioli, or mashed like potatoes.

Since pumpkin or squash prepared in almost any way is a favorite of our family, especially my youngest daughter Stephanie, I told tata Alice I had to have "la recette", the recipe so I could make it at home.

I don't know if you have tried to get a recipe that is not written down from someone who has been making it for many of their nearly 80 years. Well if you haven't, it is really quite amusing.

After lots of back and forth and pulling pots and other containers out of the cupboards to illustrate measurements for ingredients, I thought I had a recipe that I could replicate at home.

I tried to make the gratin about a month ago and while it was very good and close to the one prepared by tata Alice, I thought I could improve it on a second go around. I think chefs and foodies always think they can improve someone else's dish or recipe. Is it our egos, who knows?

Here is the gratin de potiron I made yesterday for Easter lunch. It was delicious. Recipe follows.


4 cups cubed (3/4 inch) Butternut squash or Sugar Pie pumpkin
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced.
2 1/2 cups Béchamel sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup grated Comté cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the cubed Butternut squash or Sugar Pie pumpkin together with the sliced yellow onion, olive oil and salt.

Spread mixture on roasting pan or cookie sheet and roast in oven for 30 minutes until fork tender. Should be starting to carmelize.

Mix together roasted Butternut squash or Sugar Pie pumpkin and sliced onions mixture, Béchamel sauce, Comté cheese, salt, pepper and grated nutmeg.

Pour into buttered baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes or until starts to bubble. Serve immediately.

Béchamel Sauce

Warm 2 1/2 cups whole milk

Make a roux:

Melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a medium size sauce pan, add 1/4 cup flour, stir together until flour is totally incorporated and smooth. Continue stirring for about 2 minutes until roux is light brown; flour needs to be cooked.

Make Bechamel sauce:

When roux is finished, start adding 3/4 to 1 cup of warm milk at a time to medium sauce pan containing roux. Stir until milk is fully incorporated and sauce is smooth. Continue adding milk and stirring until smooth until all the milk has been added. Cook for about two minutes until it bubbles lightly.


  1. Sounds like an excellent lunch! I love pumpkin/winter squash in just about any form, but this looks delicious!

  2. Thank you for this interesting foray into the French countryside!
    I visited France for the first time a few weeks ago, only Evian and Lyon, but enough to know that I want, no, I need to return there.

    I wonder how long the small farm you visited will stay a working farm, once the younger generation takes over.

  3. Sadly, none of the younger generation want to take over the farm. So the ageing aunts and uncles live there and the younger generation have built second homes on the farm or nearby to use when they come up for holidays or August vacation. I am sure the Metarie Neuve will always be a very special place but it will lose the tie to the land when the aunts and uncles are gone.