This time of year, when the gardens and grounds at Langdon Hall begin to waken from their winter slumber, executive chef Jason Bangerter and his kitchen staff pull on their rubber boots and head outdoors to take stock of the new life sprouting up all around them.
At the century-old Relais & Chateaux luxury hotel and spa near Cambridge, Ont., spring is a time of great excitement. It’s when the ancient trees of the Carolinian forest begin to bud; new shoots of indigenous plants (wild leeks, morel mushrooms, ginger and watercress) magically appear, and the vegetable garden – with its bounty of traditional and heirloom plants – shows the first signs of green.
“Every spring feels like a reinvention,” says Bangerter, who has worked at Langdon Hall for nine years, and during that time, become intimately familiar with the rhythm of the land through the seasons. “It is the time we all love most. It’s when we get inspired by what we discover in the orchards, the forest and the gardens. And it is when we plan our new menus and try to figure out how we’re going to do things even better this year.”
Flipping through Bangerter’s just-published Langdon Hall: A Cookbook, which he co-authored with food author/critic Chris Johns, it’s obvious that the rich terroir of Langdon Hall, and its rural environs, is the spark behind the hotel’s dishes which, when photographed, look like edible works of art.
Take, for instance, the Lilac Blossom Panna Cotta (the heady blossoms grow all over the property and are infused into the Italian cream dessert); the Well-Dressed PeeWee Hen Eggs, a playful creation inspired by farmer Murray Thunberg, whose heritage hens lay mini-eggs when they are adolescent chicks, and decorated with flowers from Langdon Hall’s greenhouse; or the recipe for White Asparagus (available for only a short time from a local farmer who hand-washes each stem) which is garnished with wild leek pickles and sweet woodruff leaves and flowers foraged from the grounds.
“I don’t think people realize how special this side of the [Niagara] Escarpment is,” says Bangerter, a Toronto chef who started on his culinary journey with John Higgins at the King Edward Hotel and went on to study in some of Europe’s finest kitchens, working with legends such as Pierre Koffmann, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Anton Mosimann. “I was shocked at the organic, heirloom vegetables and eggs I could get here as well as the pasture-raised heritage breeds of pork, poultry, lamb and longhorn cattle. My joke is the only thing I haven’t found in the grounds of Langdon Hall, or nearby, is Smurfs.”
Every day, Bangerter walks the gardens and the trails of the 75-acre property and takes notes. The natural beauty inspires all of his recipes, which pay homage to the sights, sounds and smells of this very special place.
“The philosophy at Langdon Hall has always been to cook something that is not being cooked anywhere else,” Bangerter says. “The cuisine at Langdon Hall is very personal and intimately connected to the land. My hope is that people will open this book and be reminded of special moments they’ve had here – or for those who have never been – to be inspired to book a visit.”
Golden Vegetable Soup with Olive Oil and Basil Blossoms
½ cup olive oil
1 cup roughly sliced shallots
1 tbsp. roughly sliced garlic
½ tsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
1 cup roughly chopped orange bell pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
½ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup dry white wine
4 cups roughly chopped orange tomatoes
2 cups roughly chopped peeled English cucumber
Green jalapeno Tabasco sauce
6 boiled and peeled new potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
3 boiled and peeled golden beets, cut into bite-size pieces
6 blanched pattypan squash, cut into bite-size pieces
6 ground cherries, pitted
12 blanched and peeled golden cherry tomatoes *
Basil flowers or leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle
In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger and bell pepper and gently cook without browning, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper. Tie the basil and parsley into a sachet using cheesecloth and butcher’s twine. Add the white wine and herb sachet to the saucepan and reduce the wine by two-thirds. Stir in the tomatoes and cucumber and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Remove the herb sachet and squeeze as much liquid as possible back into the saucepan. Discard the herb sachet. Strain the liquid into another container, reserving it for adjusting the consistency of the soup.
In a high-speed blender, puree the vegetables, adding enough of the liquid in a slow, steady stream while blending to achieve a smooth, velvety consistency. When processed, adjust the seasoning with a splash of jalapeno Tabasco sauce and more salt, if required. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl and chill over ice. The soup can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Pour the soup into chilled soup bowls. Gently place the prepared potatoes, beets, squash, ground cherries and golden cherry tomatoes into the soup. Finish with basil flowers or leaves, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.
*For the peeled cherry tomatoes
Fill a medium bowl with ice water. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Using a paring knife, carefully score the cherry tomatoes at the stem. Group the tomatoes according to size and blanch in batches. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 seconds, or until you see the skin split, and start to peel away where you scored. Using a slotted spoon or spider, immediately remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water to cool rapidly. When cool, remove the tomatoes from the ice water and peel away the skin. Reserve the skins. In a small bowl, toss the peeled cherry tomatoes with 1 tbsp. of the tomato water.
Excerpted from Langdon Hall by Jason Bangerter and Chris Johns. Copyright © 2022 by Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa. Photography © 2022 Colin Faulkner. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
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