If you’ve picked up a US design magazine lately, you know the biggest luxury kitchen trend of the decade is to add a second one: the outdoor kitchen. Fancy grills, sinks, even dishwashers and fridges are moving out to the back terrace, garden, or deck.
The outdoor kitchen is nothing new in France. Called the “summer kitchen” or cuisine d’été, it’s designed so the whole operation of meal prep and dining can move outside for those long, lanquid summer months of vacation.
But there is a big difference in the US and the French summer kitchen. In the states, it’s a fancy amenity for McMansions. In the French countryside, many if not most houses have one—from the grandest château to the most modest stone cottage.
French summer kitchens here are rarely slick and polished—no granite countertops and hooded stainless steel monsters for smoking multiple chickens here. The simplest ones consist of a sink, a side table, and a basic grill, under some kind of shelter. There will be a big outdoor dining table and a large parasol, and this is where the leisurely lunches of summer, which stretch well into the afternoon or evening, will be taken.
At the Château de Balleure, the indoor kitchen was small, and on the second floor (the main living space). But on the ground floor, just off the courtyard, the summer kitchen was actually the main kitchen in the château. Opening to the courtyard by an over-sized french door, it had a huge wood burning and gas stove, two sinks, a giant armoire, a big table in the center for prep, a walk-in pantry, a couple of fridges and three freezers. Many a fine meal en plein air had its origin here (see photo at right).
More typical are our French neighbors, who have the tiniest stone house, but an expansive summer kitchen and garden (shown above). Under a shed roof there's a sink,an electric stove, and a cabinet. There's a table under an awning where you can find our neighbors most any hour of the day. In fact, if our mail is late, we know where to look: our postman often takes a lengthy petit blanc with them, at their shady table. You will note there is even a makeshift outdoor shower. No reason at all to go inside.
The smallest summer kitchen I’ve ever seen is in a friend’s village (photo below). It cracks me up every time I see it. They have a narrow covered stone porch (called a galerie) across the front of their house, barely six feet wide. On one end they have installed an electric stove and a sink, on the other a table for two. A few pots of flowers round out the scene. Really, what more do you need for a perfect summer?
Photos below, and at top: Our neighbors Jean Marie and Marion have a summer kitchen of sorts where they like to entertain, tucked between their barn and a neighbor's wall. An old wooden cart topped with a plank makes a nice counter space; there's a grill, and just inside the barn is a sink. There's a free-standing firepit, too, for cool evenings and for cooking. In the last photo, Jean Marie gets a start on our dinner.
And while we're talking summer suppers, here is your perfect side dish for grilled meat, simple and delicious. It makes a nice main course too, on a week-night, served with a salad, which is exactly what we did last night.
RECIPE: Black Pepper Pasta with Lemon
Serves 6 as a side dish, 3 or 4 for dinner
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 8 oz (225 grams) linguine or spaghetti
- 1 1/2 cup grated parmesan
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Meanwhile, in a large black skillet, sauté the black pepper in the hot olive oil on low heat for about 2 minutes.
When the pasta is done, drain it and save the pasta water. Add the pasta quickly to the skillet and sauté it, stirring, for about a minute. Add half the cheese and stir in quickly, then immediately add the lemon juice and zest. Cut the heat. Stir well and add some of the pasta water by tablespoons until just moistened (I added about 1/2 cup). Place on warm plates and top with remaining cheese.
Many thanks to The Italian Dish for the inspiration for the recipe.
In the COMMENTS: Sounds like there are a lot of Croatia fans out there! And Natalia has a special Croatia story. Maribeth is going back, and ready to live there. Not a bad idea at all. Thank you all, for checking in.