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At Home with May and Axel Vervoordt: Recipes for Every Season

May Vervoordt

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Sep 05, 2012
Category: Food and Wine

So I get this beautiful — no, make that gorgeous — cookbook. With the most spectacular photographs I’ve seen in ages. But when I flipped through it, I felt like a rube.

Who are May and Axel Vervoordt? Do you know? I surely didn’t.

It turns out they are Major.

The Vervoordts live in a 50 room castle near Antwerp. (It’s open to the public twice each year.) Axel is an art and antiques dealer and a decorator whose clients include Sting, Pierre Bergé, Henry Kravis and Bill Gates. He has a staff of 85.

His wife, May, heads the textile and fabric division. But her greater skill may be in the domestic arts. “When May prepares a table,” Axel writes, “the result is like a still-life painting.” And the visuals are the least of it. “May believes food is energy and has the power to make people feel better, spiritually as well as physically,” Axel writes. “Cooking can be a great pleasure, and just as for the potter who sculpts clay, the skill is a craft and the creation is a work of art.” [To buy the book from Amazon, click here.

Easy art, it turns out. Simple art. Quick art. Most of May’s recipes require just 20-30 minutes to prepare. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients — they’re mostly herbs. May has done her ayurvedic homework; you’ll often see turmeric, black pepper and cinnamon in her recipes. No surprise that, after dinner, she serves herbal tea, not coffee.

What you won’t find: dinners with meat in the starring role. There are a few chicken and fish recipes, one for a lamb casserole, one for veal. Mostly this is book that showcases vegetables in unusual combinations. Carrot, ginger and coriander salad. Green salad with mango and grilled sweet potato. Avocado salad with zucchini and red chili pepper. Butternut squash marinated in tarragon.

And the fruit recipes! Rhubarb compote with star anise and red berry juice, a refreshing dessert or breakfast treat. Pineapple with saffron and lemon.

May quotes Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” I long to be her dinner guest. So, I think, would you.


Serves 4

Preparation Time 20 minutes

1 butternut squash
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
leaves from one tarragon sprig
4-5 TBS extra virgin olive oil
3 TBS hazelnut oil
juice of one lemon
½ tsp wholegrain mustard
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped.
1 tsp sunflower seeds
1 tsp pumpkin seeds
1 tsp pine nuts
2 dried sage leaves

Peel the squash, cut it in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut the flesh into 1/8 inch thick slices.

Blanch squash for 2 minutes in boiling salted water, then drain. Pat dry. Place in a serving dish, season with salt and pepper.

Chop tarragon. In a bowl, mix olive and hazelnut oils, lemon juice, mustard, shallot, garlic and the chopped tarragon leaves. Pour over the squash.

In a small skillet, dry-fry the sunflower and pumpkin seeds and pine nuts. Chop them finely with the sage. Sprinkle this mixture over the squash. Serve cold.


serves 4

Preparation Time   30 minutes

4 small pears
1 orange
1 lemon
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 TBS chopped fresh ginger root
1 pinch of saffron powder
½ cup agave syrup

Peel the pears and cut them in half lengthwise. Cut the orange and lemon into ¼ inch strips, retaining the skin.

To make the syrup, boil 2 cups water. Add the cinnamon stick, ginger, saffron, lemon and orange strips, and let infuse for 10 minutes. Poach the pears in this liquid, heated to 175-195 degrees, for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the pears to cool in the pan.

Remove the pears from the pan. Strain the juice. Pour the juice over the pears and serve.

These pears are good complements with a chocolate dessert, or with muesli for breakfast.