We weren’t even sure that we were in the right place yet alone what the protocol would be once we’d entered. Someone had told us about a remarkable restaurant in the small town of Le Buisson-de-Cadouin deep in the heart of the Dordogne and, when we expressed interest, they had kindly booked it for us. So there we were in the mellow dusk of a high summer evening knocking on the door of an unpretentious double fronted cottage around which curved the most beautiful vegetable garden filled with ancient trees bearing golden apricots, green figs and walnuts, vine after vine of tomatoes and several varieties of beans, all manner of alums and tangles of courgettes with their buttercup yellow blossoms. A giant of a man pulled open the door and brusquely invited us in to his modest front room within which sat a single scrubbed pine table with just two chairs. A row of vintage cutlery was laid out before us followed by layers of crackled plates, pressed white linen napkins and glasses of various shapes and sizes. Then nothing. Absolutely nothing happened until a small aproned woman scuttled out of the kitchen a gleam of perspiration across her brow. In one of work worn hands was a basket of ripped baguette and, in the other, a carafe of water. The host returned with a litre bottle of home-distilled eau de vie, two bottles of local a white wine and a two-litre bottle of red. The door was locked – we nearly ran for it then – and the theatre began. Over the following three hours we were presented with dish upon dish of simple seasonal food from a steaming bowl of pungent garlic soup to a fricassée of wild ceps gently cooked with cream, armagnac and tarragon via a roast tomato tarte paysanne served with a lemon-dressed frisée salad topped with a creamy white cheese and wet walnuts. A platter of local cheese and fresh figs followed as the precursor to a calvados-soaked apple cake served with a battered pewter bowl filled to the brim with sour crème fraîche. Plates cleared, our host – now red-faced with effort and wine – and his jolly little wife pulled up seats to our table with the sole purpose of pouring us all – themselves included – a generous glass of his crystal clear fiery water. Communicating via some kind of drunken Franglais, we somehow became his best friends for the evening and were invited into the simple incredibly dishevelled kitchen to wait whilst his wife wrote down her recipes for me. More wine followed. Miraculously, I can still remember staggering back at some bonkers hour of the morning our arms laden with packages of leftovers wrapped in brown paper, a bunch of lavender, a bag of tomatoes and even more wine. Unsurprisingly that evening turned out to be one of the most memorable meals of my life so much so that I still think about it all these years later. I’ve still got the flimsy papers of recipes they gave me including this one for the tart that I have adapted to save our poor hearts. This is perfect served at room temperature alongside a lemony salad and a glass of ice cold Chenin blanc. Just the one.
For the pastry:
100g unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten
For the filling:
300g half fat crème fraîche
4-6 tbsp Dijon grain mustard, adjust according to your taste
4 large plum tomatoes, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
1 tsp Herbes de Provence (seek out the variety containing lavender or add your own)
100g Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (you can also use Gruyère)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Heritage cherry tomatoes, for garnishing (optional)
Spring of young thyme, for garnishing
How I make it
To make the pastry, place the flour into a medium bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Gently incorporate the beaten egg and knead the whole lot into a right ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Roll out the pastry and use it line a 25cm tart tin with a removable bottom. Place the tin on a baking tray and place it the fridge for half an hour. Heat an oven to 180C.
Meanwhile mix the crème fraîche with the mustard and slice the tomatoes lengthways.
Remove the baking tray from the fridge, trim off the excess pastry and spread the mustard mixture over the pastry base. Arrange the tomato slices over the filling, season and scatter with the herbs and grated cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until the tomatoes are roasted and the pastry is a light golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the tart to cool in the tin.
To serve, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with the sprigs of thyme.