Jan 262019
 

Today is the birthday (1908) of Stéphane Grappelli, French jazz violin legend who founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1934.

Grappelli was born at Hôpital Lariboisière in Paris and christened with the name Stéfano. His father, an Italian marchese, Ernesto Grappelli, was born in Alatri in Italy, and his French mother, Anna Emilie Hanoque, was from St-Omer. His father was a scholar who taught Italian, sold translations, and wrote articles for local journals. His mother died when he was five, leaving his father to care for him. Though living in France when World War I began, his father was still an Italian citizen and was drafted to fight for Italy in 1914. Because Ernesto was familiar with the dancer Isadora Duncan, who was living in Paris, he appealed to her to care for his son whilst he was away in army. Stéphane was enrolled in Duncan’s dance school at age six, where he learned about French Impressionist music, but with the war encroaching, Duncan, as a US citizen, left the country. She turned over her château to be used as a military hospital, and Ernesto Grappelli entrusted his son to a Catholic orphanage. Grappelli said of this time:

I look back at it as an abominable memory… The Place was supposed to be under the eye of the government, but the government looked elsewhere. We slept on the floor, and often were without food. There were many times when I had to fight for a crust of bread.

Grappelli compared his early life to a Dickens novel and said that he once tried to eat flies to ease his hunger. He stayed at the orphanage until his father returned from the war in 1918, settling them in an apartment in Barbès. Having been sickened by his experiences with the Italian military, his father took him to city hall, pulled two witnesses off the street, and had his son nationalized as a Frenchman on July 28th, 1919. His first name “Stéfano” was Gallicized to “Stéphane”. He began playing the violin at age 12 on a three-quarter sized violin that his father bought after pawning a suit. Although he was sent to violin lessons, he preferred learning on his own:

My first lessons were in the streets, watching how other violinists played…The first violinist that I saw play was at the Barbès métro station, sheltered under the overhead metro tracks. When I asked how one should play, he exploded in laughter. I left, completely humiliated with my violin under my arm.

After a brief period of independent learning, he was enrolled at the Conservatoire de Paris on December 31st, 1920, which his father hoped would give him a chance to learn music theory, ear-training, and solfege. In 1923 Grappelli graduated with a second-tier medal. His father married Anna Fuchs and moved to Strasbourg. Grappelli remained in Paris because he disliked Fuchs.

At age 15, Grappelli began busking full-time to support himself. His playing caught the attention of an elderly violinist who invited him to accompany silent films in the pit orchestra at the Théâtre Gaumont. He played there for six hours daily over a two-year period. During orchestra breaks, he visited Le Boudon, a brasserie, where he listened to songs from a US proto-jukebox. Here he was introduced to jazz. He was playing in the orchestra at the Ambassador in 1928 when Paul Whiteman was performing with Joe Venuti. Jazz violinists were rare, and though Venuti played mainly commercial jazz themes and seldom improvised, Grappelli was struck by his bowing when he played “Dinah”. He began developing a jazz-influenced style.

Grappelli lived with Michel Warlop, a classically trained violinist. Warlop admired Grappelli’s jazzy playing, and Grappelli was jealous of Warlop’s income. After experimenting with piano, Grappelli stopped playing violin, choosing simplicity, new sound, and paid performances over familiarity. He began playing piano in a big band led by a musician called Grégor. After a night of drinking in 1929, Grégor learned that Grappelli played violin. Grégor borrowed a violin and asked Grappelli to improvise over “Dinah”. Delighted, Grégor urged Grappelli to return to violin.

In 1930, Grégor ran into financial trouble. He was involved in an automobile accident that resulted in deaths, fleeing to South America to avoid arrest. Grégor’s band reunited as a jazz ensemble under the leadership of pianist Alain Romans and saxophonist André Ekyan. While playing with this band, Grappelli met Django Reinhardt in 1931. Looking for a violinist interested in jazz, he invited Grappelli to play with him at his caravan. Although the two played for hours that afternoon, their commitments to their respective bands prevented them from pursuing a career together. In 1934 they met again at Claridge’s in London, and they began a musical partnership. Pierre Nourry, the secretary of the Hot Club de France, invited Reinhardt and Grappelli to form the Quintette du Hot Club de France with Louis Vola on bass and Joseph Reinhardt and Roger Chaput on guitar.

In 1937, American jazz singer Adelaide Hall and her husband Bert Hicks opened the nightclub La Grosse Pomme in Montmartre. She entertained nightly and hired the Quintette as one of the house bands. Also in the neighborhood was the artistic salon of R-26, at which Grappelli and Reinhardt performed regularly. The Quintette du Hot Club de France disbanded in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II.  Grappelli was in London and stayed there during the war. In 1940, jazz pianist George Shearing made his debut as a sideman in Grappelli’s band.

In 1949, Reinhardt and Grappelli reunited for a brief tour of Italy, and made a series of recordings with an Italian group. The two recorded roughly 50 tracks during this time.  Grappelli played on hundreds of recordings, including sessions with Duke Ellington, jazz pianists Oscar Peterson, Michel Petrucciani and Claude Bolling, jazz violinists Svend Asmussen, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stuff Smith, Indian classical violinist L. Subramaniam, vibraphonist Gary Burton, pop singer Paul Simon, mandolin player David Grisman, classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, orchestral conductor André Previn, guitar player Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar player Joe Pass, cello player Yo Yo Ma, harmonica and jazz guitar player Toots Thielemans, jazz guitarist Henri Crolla, bassist Jon Burr and fiddler Mark O’Connor.

Grappelli collaborated extensively with British guitarist Diz Disley, recording thirteen albums with him and his trio (which included Denny Wright in its early years), and with British guitarist Martin Taylor. His Parisian trio of many years included guitarist Marc Fosset and bassist Patrice Carratini.

Grappelli made a cameo appearance in the 1978 film King of the Gypsies with mandolinist David Grisman. Three years later they performed in concert. In the 1980s he gave several concerts with British cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. In 1997, Grappelli received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is an inductee of the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. He died in Paris at the end of 1997 after undergoing a hernia operation. He is buried in the city’s Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Grappelli was a regular in clubs in Montmartre in the 1930s and a favorite dessert in the clubs was tarte au citron – simple and elegant. An after dinner drink, a piece of tarte, and jazz seems like a perfect late night.

Tarte au Citron

Ingredients

1 recipe sweet pastry (see HINTS)

4 eggs
2 egg yolks
285 g caster sugar
185ml heavy cream
250ml lemon juice
finely grated zest of 3 lemons

powdered sugar

Instructions

Preheat oven to 190°C /375°F.

Roll the pastry to line a greased 23cm round tart tin. Chill pastry for 20 minutes.

In a stand mixer, beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together. Add the cream with the beaters on, and then add the lemon juice and zest.

Blind bake the pastry for 10 minutes with greaseproof paper and baking beads, then for a further 3-5 minutes without. The pastry should be barely cooked and pale. Remove from the oven.

Reduce the oven to 150°C/300°F.

Put the tin on a baking tray and pour the filling into the pastry case. Return to the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until set.

Leave to cool and dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

May 212017
 

Today is the birthday (1844) of Henri Julien Félix Rousseau, French post-impressionist painter, sometimes  known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a slightly off-hand joke concerning his day job as an import tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties but was ridiculed during his lifetime by critics. He was not fully recognized as a self-taught genius until after his death when his work exerted an enormous influence on several generations of artists.

Rousseau was born in Laval (in northwest France near Brittany), in 1844, son of plumber. He attended secondary school in Laval first as a day student, and then as a boarder after his father became a debtor and his parents had to leave the town upon the seizure of their house. After school, he worked for a lawyer and studied law, but after a short stint tired of the work and joined the army. He served for 4 years, starting in 1863, but on his father’s death, he moved to Paris to support his widowed mother as a government employee. In 1868, he married Clémence Boitard, his landlord’s 15-year-old daughter, with whom he had six children (only one survived). In 1871, he was appointed as a collector of the octroi of Paris, collecting taxes on goods entering Paris. His wife died in 1888 and he married Josephine Noury in 1898.

From 1886, he exhibited regularly in the Salon des Indépendants, and, although his work was not placed prominently, it drew an increasing following over the years. Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) was exhibited in 1891, and Rousseau received his first serious review when the young artist Félix Vallotton wrote: “His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed; it’s the alpha and omega of painting.” In 1893, Rousseau moved to a studio in Montparnasse where he lived and worked until his death in 1910. In 1897, he produced one of his most famous paintings, La Bohémienne endormie (The Sleeping Gypsy).

In 1905, Rousseau’s large jungle scene The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants near works by younger leading avant-garde artists such as Henri Matisse, and by a group now generally known as Les Fauves.

After Rousseau’s retirement in 1893, he supplemented his small pension with part-time jobs and casual work such as playing a violin in the streets. He also worked briefly at Le petit journal, where he produced a number of its covers. Rousseau exhibited his final painting, The Dream, in March 1910, at the Salon des Independants.

In the same month Rousseau cut his leg and the wound became infected, which he ignored. In August he was admitted to the Necker Hospital in Paris, where his son had died, and was found to have gangrene in his leg. After an operation, he died from a blood clot on September 2, 1910.

At his funeral, seven friends stood at his grave: the painters Paul Signac and Manuel Ortiz de Zárate, the artist couple Robert Delaunay and Sonia Terk, the sculptor Brâncuși, Rousseau’s landlord Armand Queval, and poet Guillaume Apollinaire who wrote the epitaph Brâncuși put on the tombstone (translated here):

We salute you
Gentile Rousseau you can hear us
Delaunay his wife Monsieur Queval and myself
Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates
of heaven
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the
light of truth
Painting as you once did my portrait
Facing the stars

Here is a small gallery of some of my favorites.  I’m not particularly taken with his usual flat representation of the human figure, but I do like his portrayal of foliage, his colors, and his general composition. De gustibus . . .  I am not (nor want to be) an art historian.

Figuring out a recipe du jour is dead simple because of a famous event towards the end of Rousseau’s life. In 1908 Pablo Picasso, at the time an up and coming star, came across a painting by Rousseau (Portrait of a Woman) being sold in a junk shop cheaply as a canvas to be painted over. He was moved by the artistry, bought the painting, sought out the artist, and held a half serious, half burlesque banquet in his studio at Le Bateau-Lavoir in Rousseau’s honor. “Le Banquet Rousseau,” as it has come to be known is now legendary. US poet and literary critic John Malcolm Brinnin, wrote that it “was neither an orgiastic occasion nor even an opulent one. Its subsequent fame grew from the fact that it was a colorful happening within a revolutionary art movement at a point of that movement’s earliest success, and from the fact that it was attended by individuals whose separate influences radiated like spokes of creative light across the art world for generations.” Guests at the banquet included, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Metzinger, Constantin Brâncuși, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, André Salmon, Maurice Raynal, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, and Leo and Gertrude Stein.

The banquet was designed to be in two stages: first a formal dinner for 30 special guests, and second a general party for anyone who wanted to attend. Unfortunately, Picasso mixed up his dates and had ordered catered food (from a cheap local bistro) for the formal dinner for the wrong night. Consequently there was a scramble to provide dinner, and French artist’s model Fernande Olivier who shared the apartment with Picasso, made a big batch of riz à la valencienne — i.e. the French idea of paella — while Gertrude Stein raced around Montmatre in search of cheeses, sardines, bread and so forth as hors d’ouevres.

You can read all about the events of the banquet elsewhere. There are numerous stories and vignettes recounted by those present. Rousseau arrived at 8 pm when the guests (who had been drinking since 5 pm) were, let’s say, in jovial spirits. He was wearing his artist’s beret with a cane in one hand and his violin in the other. An odd sight: the short, white-haired, 64 year old painter greeted by 20-something artists and poets living in the heart of Bohemia, who would all go on to be world famous, but at the time were just beginning to be noticed. All of them ultimately drew inspiration, in one way or another, from Rousseau’s work.  Opinion is sharply divided as to whether the attendees (and Picasso himself) were truly honoring Rousseau or mocking him. Probably a bit of both at the time. But in death Rousseau had the last laugh: the painting that Picasso bought for 5 francs and displayed that night is now valued at $100 million.

Paella varies considerably around the world and is rarely cooked as they make it in Valencia. You’ll find one traditional recipe of mine here, https://www.bookofdaystales.com/cesare-borgia/  Throughout Spain, France, and Italy people prepare a variety of dishes of saffron rice with fish, meat, and vegetables which they think of as “Spanish rice”, and, of course, I have no idea what actually went into the dish at Rousseau’s banquet. But the typical Parisian riz à la valenciennes, calls for chicken, mussels, chorizo, and shrimp, with bell peppers and onions; a far cry from the rabbit, beans, and snails in Valencian paella. It is essential to have a wide, deep skillet to prepare this dish, preferably a paella pan.  A wood fire won’t hurt either, but a gas stove will do.

Riz à la Valenciennes

Ingredients

1 small chicken, cut in 12 pieces
olive oil
½ L/1 pint unshelled fresh mussels, fully scrubbed and debearded
160 ml/⅔ cup dry white wine
6-8 large shrimp, raw
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
100 g/3½ oz. chorizo, finely sliced
250 gm/2 cups short-grain rice
800 ml/ 3½ cups chicken broth
½ tsp powdered saffron
salt and freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and sauté the chicken pieces until they are golden on all sides. Because they are small, this process will ensure that they are almost, but not entirely, cooked through. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl with their juices and set aside.

Heat half the white wine in a large pot. Add the mussels, cover and cook over high heat until the mussels are just open. Discard any mussels that do not open, and transfer the mussels to a bowl with their juices (strained through muslin) and set aside.

Sauté the shrimp in a little olive oil until they turn pink. Set aside.

Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons olive over medium heat in a large skillet or paella pan. Add the onions and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Add the chorizo slices and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the rice and sauté an additional 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the remaining white wine and allow it to evaporate completely. Add the broth and saffron, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring the broth to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down as low as possible. Let the rice to cook for about 15 minutes, undisturbed. Remove the cover and check the rice. It should be barely cooked. If need be cook a little longer. When the rice is almost ready, arrange the chicken pieces, mussels and shrimp on top of the rice. Add their juices to the skillet. Cover and allow to cook over low heat for 5 minutes more.

Uncover, garnish with the fresh parsley, and serve in the skillet.

Serves 4

Nov 242015
 

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Today is the birthday (1864) of Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa usually known as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator whose immersion in the colorful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century yielded a collection of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern and sometimes decadent life of those times. He is among the best-known painters of the Post-Impressionist period, much of his work instantly recognizable.

Toulouse-Lautrec was born at the Hotel du Bosc in Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse Charles de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1838–1913) and wife Adèle Zoë Tapié de Celeyran (1841–1930). His aristocratic family were descendants of the Counts of Toulouse and Lautrec and the Viscounts of Montfat. A younger brother was born in 1867, but died the following year. After the death of his brother, his parents separated and a nanny ended up taking care of him. At the age of eight, Henri went to live with his mother in Paris where he drew sketches and caricatures in his exercise workbooks. The family quickly realized that Henri’s talents lay in drawing and painting.

At the age of 13, Toulouse-Lautrec fractured his right thigh bone and, at 14, the left. The breaks did not heal properly and his legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was extremely short – he stood 4 ft 8 in (1.42 m) – with an adult-sized trunk and child-sized legs. Because he was physically unable to participate in many activities typically enjoyed by men of his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in art. He became an important Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator, and lithographer, and recorded in his works many details of the late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine Le Rire during the mid-1890s.

After initially failing college entrance exams, he passed at his second attempt and completed his studies. During a stay in Nice his progress in painting and drawing impressed Princeteau, who persuaded his parents to let him return to Paris and study under the acclaimed portrait painter Léon Bonnat. Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother had high ambitions and, with the aim of her son becoming a fashionable and respected painter, used the family influence to get him into Bonnat’s studio.

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Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, the area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. Studying with Bonnat placed him in the heart of Montmartre, an area he rarely left over the next 20 years. After Bonnat took a new job, Henri moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon in 1882 and studied for a further five years and established the group of friends he kept for the rest of his life. At this time he met Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. Cormon, whose instruction was more relaxed than Bonnat’s, allowed his pupils to roam Paris, looking for subjects to paint. In this period Toulouse-Lautrec had his first encounter with a prostitute (reputedly sponsored by his friends), which led him to paint his first painting of prostitutes in Montmartre, a woman rumored to be called Marie-Charlet. During this time, he discovered the intimate relations many of these sex workers had with one another. Depictions of these relationships become a focus of his work for a brief period.

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With his studies finished, in 1887 he participated in an exposition in Toulouse using the pseudonym “Tréclau”, the verlan of the family name ‘Lautrec’. He later exhibited in Paris with Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin. The Belgian critic Octave Maus invited him to present eleven pieces at the Vingt (the Twenties) exhibition in Brussels in February. Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, bought ‘Poudre de Riz’ (Rice Powder) for 150 francs for the Goupil & Cie gallery.

From 1889 until 1894, Toulouse-Lautrec took part in the “Independent Artists’ Salon” on a regular basis. He made several landscapes of Montmartre. At this time the ‘Moulin Rouge’ opened. Tucked deep into Montmartre was the garden of Monsieur Pere Foret, where Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of plein-air paintings of Carmen Gaudin, the same red-headed model who appears in The Laundress (1888). When the Moulin Rouge cabaret opened, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. His mother had left Paris and, though he had a regular income from his family, making posters offered him a living of his own. Other artists looked down on the work, but Toulouse-Lautrec ignored them. The cabaret reserved a seat for him and displayed his paintings. Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singer Yvette Guilbert; the dancer Louise Weber, known as the outrageous La Goulue (“The Glutton”), who created the “French Can-Can”; and the much more subtle dancer Jane Avril.

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Toulouse-Lautrec’s family were Anglophiles and although not as fluent as he pretended to be, he spoke English well enough to travel to London. While there, he was commissioned by the J.& E. Bella company to make a poster advertising their confetti, (which was later banned after the 1892 Mardi Gras) and the bicycle advert ‘La Chaîne Simpson’. While in London he met and befriended Oscar Wilde. When Wilde faced imprisonment in Britain, Toulouse-Lautrec became a very vocal supporter of his. Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of Wilde was painted the same year as Wilde’s trial.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Le chaîne Simpson, 1896 Litografi, affisch 87,6 x 124,7 cm   Kunstindustrimuseet, Köpenhamn

He is reputed to have started drinking heavily because of mockery over his physical appearance, eventually becoming addicted to absinthe. The cocktail “Earthquake” or Tremblement de Terre is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec: a potent mixture containing half absinthe and half cognac (in a wine goblet, three parts absinthe and three parts cognac, sometimes served with ice cubes or shaken in a cocktail shaker filled with ice). To ensure he was never without alcohol, Toulouse-Lautrec hollowed out his cane (which he needed to walk due to his underdeveloped legs) which he filled with liquor.

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By February 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec’s alcoholism began to take its toll, and he collapsed due to exhaustion and the effects of alcoholism. His family had him committed to Folie Saint-James, a sanatorium in Neuilly for three months. While he was committed, Toulouse-Lautrec drew 39 circus portraits. After his release, Toulouse-Lautrec returned to Paris studio for a time and then traveled throughout France. His physical and mental health began to decline rapidly due to alcoholism and syphilis which he reportedly contracted from Rosa La Rouge, a prostitute who was the subject of several of his paintings.

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On 9 September 1901, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate, Château Malromé, in Saint-André-du-Bois at the age of 36. He is buried in Cimetière de Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometres from his family’s estate. Toulouse-Lautrec’s last words reportedly were: “Le vieux con!” (“The old fool!”). This was his goodbye to his father. Although in another version he used the word “hallali”, a term used by huntsmen for the moment the hounds kill their prey, “I knew, papa, that you wouldn’t miss the death.” (“Je savais, papa, que vous ne manqueriez pas l’hallali”).

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Besides being a renowned artist Toulouse-Lautrec was noted for his adventurous cooking and lavish dinner parties. You can find many of his recipes collected in The Art of Cuisine. Poet Paul Leclercq wrote, “He was a great gourmand… He loved to talk about cooking and knew of many rare recipes for making the most standard dishes… Cooking a leg of lamb for seven hours or preparing a lobster à l’Américaine held no secrets for him.” He enjoyed both outlandish cooking techniques and unusual ingredients. For example, one recipe calls for three sirloin steaks which you slather with Dijon mustard, pile one on top of the other on a grill heated by a vine wood fire, and cook until the outsides are blackened. Then throw away the top and bottom steaks and eat the one in the middle. His recipes call for heron, squirrel, kangaroo, and the like.

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This is perhaps his most famous recipe:

Stewed Marmots

 Having killed some marmots sunning themselves belly up in the sun with their noses in the air one sunrise in September, skin them and carefully put aside the mass of fat which is excellent for rubbing into the bellies of pregnant women, into the knees, ankles, and painful joints of sprains, and into the leather of shoes.

Cut up the marmot and treat it like stewed hare which has a perfume that is unique and wild.

For the less adventurous, here is his sole with white wine.

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500g/1lb whole Dover sole
knob of butter
500g/8oz mushrooms, sliced
500g/8oz shelled shrimp
6-8 cockles
12-16 mussels
120ml/4fl oz white wine
breadcrumbs
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

In a well-buttered, enameled earthenware dish lay out a handsome sole, belly upwards. Dot with butter. Garnish with mushrooms sautéed in butter, half a pound of shelled shrimp, a litre of mussels, half a litre of cockles – previously well washed, cooked and removed from their shells.

Reserve the liquid from the mussels to boil with the shrimp shells and some water to create a stock. Pour a good glass of white wine over the sole and then cover with the strained stock. Put it on the fire and let it simmer uncovered for 20 to 40 minutes, according to the size of the sole, and let the sauce reduce. At the last moment, dot the sole with butter, sprinkle with breadcrumbs worked with parsley, salt, pepper; use very little salt because of the salted liquid of the mussels.