Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

I went into this book expecting a nice, escapist type of read as I recovered from minor outpatient surgery this past weekend. It was recommended by two friends of mine as a book filled with art and food and set in France, and both of them were sure I’d love it. I minored in Art History and of course, I am a foodie par excellence and love travel, so I gave it a whirl. When you’re recuperating from any medical procedure, minor or major, you don’t really want anything too heavy or deep.

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(sigh) That being said, Lisette’s List was boring. I’m sorry, I hate to slam on books and writers because God knows, I am not an author. The author of this book, Susan Vreeland, had previously written a wonderful novel called Girl in Hyacinth Blue, which told the story of a Dutch painting and its owners starting in modern times and going back through when it was painted, in a series of interconnected short tales. It was beautifully written and moved along brilliantly. This book? Not so much.

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The basic premise is a young woman, Lisette, who moves with her husband Andre, to a small town in Provence to help care for Andre’s ailing grandfather Pascal in the late 1930s. Pascal, before he dies, gradually teaches Lisette about painting and colors and life. Sounds nice, right? It’s not. Dull. Andre goes off to fight the Nazis and of course, dies. Before he went off to fight, he hid away some family paintings worth millions. The rest of book is the tale of Lisette moving away from Provence, following her “list” that she had put together with Pascal of all the things she wanted to do with her life, including finding those family paintings before the Nazis get their nasty little hands on them.

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The book had a lot of promise, and the basic premise could have been done so much better. And of course, the lavish descriptions of rural French country towns, the art itself and the luscious food so typical of Provence and southern France were really the redeeming parts of the book. But the main character, Lisette, doesn’t ever really develop much as a character and in fact, makes some decisions which are downright annoyingly stupid. I mean, if you’re savvy enough to go off on your own throughout southern France in search of valuable family paintings, you’re surely smart enough to figure out who is your enemy. Anyhoo…..

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Like I said, the food descriptions were wonderful and in some cases, mouth-watering. There were any number of food passages I could have reenacted, but this particular dish sounded both intriguing and perfect for the current late summer bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes that are on jewel-like, glowing display at every grower’s market. I was lucky enough to have purchased a large bag of organic heirlooms last week and decided to put them to delicious use.

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Soon, Odette’s daughter, Sandrine, whose brother Michel, would come home someday, and Madame Pinatel, the mayor’s wife, came to pay their respects. Then Melanie brought two jars of canned cherries from their trees and a bag of raisins. Aloys Biron, the butcher, brought a large salami. Most unexpectedly, Madame Bonnelly, a stout woman with thick arms whom I had never met, brought a gratin d’aubergines, an eggplant-and-tomato pie garnished with breadcrumbs.

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I have a love-hate relationship with eggplant, but the idea of a tomato pie sounded luscious, so I did a little culinary research and came up with this method which is a combination of Elise Bauer’s recipe from Simply Recipes and a long-remembered recipe from Southern Living I read about a few years ago.

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INGREDIENTS:
1 and 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 tablespoons ice-cold water
1 pound heirloom tomatoes, preferably fresh and organic
4 cloves garlic
1 shallot
1 cup of mixed shredded cheeses. I used sharp cheddar, pepperjack and Gruyere
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

METHOD:
For the piecrust:

Combine the flour with a teaspoon of salt, and gradually mix in the butter one small cube at a time. Add the water a bit at a time until the dough comes together in your Kitchen Aid and forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and freeze overnight.

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For the filling:

Slice the tomatoes, lie them out on some parchment paper, and sprinkle over salt and garlic powder. Leave to drain overnight.

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Mix together all the cheeses except for the Parmesan, then mince the garlic and add it to the cheese mixture.

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Add in the mayonnaise and the Greek yogurt and stir to mix well.

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Finely mince the  shallot.

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Heat the oven to 350F and roll out your cold piecrust to roughly 12 inches diameter, then press into a pie pan.

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Blind-bake the crust for 15 minutes, remove and prick the bottom of the crust a few times, and bake another 10 minutes. Sprinkle the shallots into the bottom.

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Spoon over the cheese-mayo-yogurt mixture and spread across so that it cover the pie base and shallot-garlic mix.

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Lay the tomatoes in overlapping circles over the cheese mixture, and sprinkle the Parmesan over the top.

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Bake for 30 minutes, or until the Parm is nicely golden brown. Apply to your face.

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23 thoughts on “Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

  1. Hi Vanessa – That first photo of the multicolored tomatoes sliced, salted and laid out on parchment paper is delightful and as soon as my eyes saw it my mouth began to water! I’m sorry you found the book boring, but I liked your review, anyway😂. It’s rough when a book comes highly recommended AND you’ve previously enjoyed something else the author wrote! I was feeling skeptical about “tomato pie” just because tomatoes are so watery – I never realized that they are sliced, salted, and left to drain overnight. Now, I totally want to make one sometime this fall – I think I will surprise my family by bringing something new to one of our potlucks.

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    1. The nice thing about this recipe is that it’s so versatile. You could make a tomato and eggplant pie or you could put other vegetables into it. I think the key, as you said, is salting and draining the vegetables. I do that with squash and eggplants and it makes a huge amount of difference. Whether you’re using them in omelets or pies or pastries or anything else, salting and draining is such a great step to making sure you do not end up with a mushy recipe.

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    1. Thank you so much very for the re blog! I really appreciate it. This unfortunately was a disappointing book though the associated recipe came out lovely, but the vast majority of the books I have read and blogged about here are wonderful. I really appreciate the support!

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  2. Food looks delicious, also understand the eggplant thing, if not cooked properly its awful, but luckily I have learnt from my initial mistakes with it, now I love it, although, its always laborious, I like it Indian style, eggplant curry, they also have many other ways to cook it, and the Japanese do a lovely recipe Miso Glazed Eggplant or Nasu Dengaku as it is traditionally known, is a Japanese eggplant dish made of grilled eggplant glazed with a thick miso sauce. 🙂

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    1. I’ve had it a couple of times in my adult life where I really enjoyed it but I think you’re right that in that it has to be prepared a certain way. I still remember the first time I had it as a kid, and it was breaded, deep fried eggplant parmesan at a very bad Italian restaurant and it scarred me for life. I’ve since grown to somewhat like it but it is still not my favorite.

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  3. …heal. Then apply to face or other. (Of course, if you could do both in a lovely Provencal villa, off-season, both would likely be more pleasant.) Sorry for the nuisance and less than riveting prose (haven’t read but ‘girl,’ read… what seems a lifetime ago, already wasn’t bad at all. And sorry for the love-hate eggplant relation (I’m more the later, particularly if fried then mixed with tomato as a sauce (‘Norma’). Sort of the same idea, basically, but with salted ricotta instead of the cheese-yogurt mix as a contrast to the sweetness….

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    1. Thank you. And yes, ideally recuperating in a wonderful chateau in Provence would be the best-case scenario. If only……. Your eggplant dish method sounds lovely. Why don’t you travel here and make it for me? I think my aversion to eggplant stems from having eaten it many years ago at a mediocre Italian restaurant. It was breaded and fried until very greasy and it just looked and tasted awful. And then there was that time I had baba ganoush……yuck. However, I have also made my own eggplant parmigiana with homemade marinara sauce and enjoyed it. So perhaps I could change my mind if someone made it for me who knows what he is doing. 🙂 Also, I’ve read many times about Pasta alla Norma, in fact in a book that I previously blogged about. So maybe I will try my hand at it myself.

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    1. Thank you for the well wishes, Helen. They are very appreciated. Yes, we have wonderful tomatoes of this late summer season. I was reading somewhere that they tend to grow better in a hot and more dry climate, which we certainly are compared to Scotland. I hope all is well in your world!

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  4. Those tomatoes are beautiful and that multicolored cutting board you smashed your garlic on… I’ll send my address so you can box that right up and mail it to me! I just yelled at my tomatoes to grow faster so I can bake a tarts on puff pastry. Ship some of those too!

    Liked by 2 people

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