Full moon sorcery

The place behind the church in Neffiès was transformed from its everyday use as a playground and pétanque ground, and from the night before too, when it had been the scene of a fantastic lively concert by Occitan musicians Du Bartas. Last night it was filled with small low tables surrounded by cushions and long tables covered with pretty cloths, laid with wine glasses glinting in the light, netting floated from the trees and candelabras hung from the branches.

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A group of eight or nine women, all dressed in white, had prepared a supper for eighty people to follow a tasting of local wines. Las Mascas – female sorcerers in Occitan – had conjured all this from the space and the food made entirely from local ingredients. And in between cooking and serving they toured the tables singing Occitan songs too. It was a memorable evening.

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And the food? A delicious and inventive four-course supper:

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A tortilla-like concoction of egg and nettle leaves, tapenade made with olives from the village, and salad made from locally grown chick peas with tomatoes, onions and wild herbs from the garrigue.

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Mutton sausage with vegetables and aioli made with wild garlic.

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Goats’ cheese from a farm near the village, served on a vine leaf and with rosemary syrup.

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And chocolate gateau decorated with a mallow flower, just before midnight as the full moon rose above the plane trees.

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Mussels, again, and the last broad beans

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Having mussel-loving family staying over the past few days meant buying them in quantity on Thursday and Saturday, both times the van calls in the village each week. One cooking method was simple, a brasucade de moules cooked over a vine wood fire in the garden. Just clean the mussels and put them in a large wide pan with garlic cloves, bay leaves, rosemary sprigs or any other herbs you have. Cook them until they have all opened and then serve them in the pan for everyone to help themselves.

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For another meal, indoors this time, I adapted my already adapted version of Colman Andrews’s recipe (the one where I used chard leaves instead of spinach). Having cooked the mussels in a glass of white wine until all the shells had opened, I made some aioli and chopped a large bunch of oregano, fresh from the garden. I put a small spoonful of chopped herbs in each half mussel shell, followed by a spoonful of aioli.

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I put them under the grill for a few minutes until the aioli puffed up a bit and browned slightly then served the mussels with lemon wedges.

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And a simple broad bean purée

We picked the last of our broad beans a few days ago. We’ve had an excellent crop this year – broad bean plants seem to be one of the few vegetables that have done well in our wet late spring – and we’ve frozen a lot of them for the winter. They do freeze very well. I saved some of this last picking to make a purée for spreading on toasts as an accompaniment to apéritifs. When the beans were cooked I removed the skins from the beans – this is something I rarely do, but it was necessary for making a purée. Then I whizzed them up with a clove of garlic, a few fresh mint leaves and some olive oil. It was a lovely spring green colour and tasted nice and fresh.

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Mussels again

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Yesterday was the second anniversary of my moving this blog here and what could be better to celebrate than a big red bowl full of mussels, bought from the coquillage van from Bouzigues on its Saturday morning visit to the village? After cooking them all in a glass of white wine until the shells had opened, we made two different dishes with them. The first was an adaptation of a recipe in Colman Andrews’s Catalan Cuisine: I cooked some chard leaves, chopped them and added them to the mussels in their half-shells. I made some aioli and added a spoonful of this to each mussel, then put them under the grill until the aioli was bubbling and slightly browned. I wasn’t sure it would work but it did! Colman Andrews uses spinach, adds cream and makes the aioli with roasted garlic. I did try this but it curdled, so I reverted to my usual method with raw garlic crushed with sea salt. I’ll have to make this again, as we ate them so quickly I forgot to photograph them!  I did, however, photograph the delicious mussel fritters that Lo Jardinièr made with the rest of the mussels.

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He chopped the cooked mussels with a bunch of oregano, then mixed them into a stiff flour and water batter. Then he folded all of that into beaten egg white and fried spoonfuls of the mixture in hot olive oil. Very tasty!

>A late St David’s day and a return to the Mediterranean

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Last night we invited our Occitan friends in the village to a meal to celebrate (a few days late) St David’s day, as we usually do around 1st March.

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We served toast with laver bread and bacon with apéritifs (laver bread is seaweed boiled for hours into a sort of purée, a south Wales delicacy which you either love or you hate – fortunately our friends here love it).  For the first course we had leeks (from our garden) with salmon baked in the oven with white sauce and grated cheese.  The main course was a lamb stew (which I couldn’t resist putting some very Mediterranean thyme into) with stiwnts (mashed carrots and parsnips).   Parsnips have only recently appeared in the shops here and it was the first time our friends had tasted them.  We grew a few tiny ones last year, but it wasn’t a success as it’s too dry for them.  For dessert we had apple tart and cream.  And then a wonderful Italian cake which one of our friends had brought as a contribution to the meal.  So it was a variation on a Welsh meal and we left Wales altogether with the coffee (Italian) and digestifs from Catalunya (Ratafia, a wonderful liqueur made with herbs from the garrigue) and Navarra (Pacharan, sloe liqueur, also wonderful).  Everyone enjoyed it all very much.

Today, though, I had a strong craving for our more usual Mediterranean style of food, so for lunch we had mussels with aioli (garlic mayonnaise –my recipe is here).  The mussels in the Bassin de Thau aren’t at their best at this time of the year – after the winter (when we usually have very little rain and this year have had even less than usual) they need the spring rains to dilute the salinity of the lagoon so they can fatten up a bit.  So we bought some of the larger size (sold for cooking moules farcies).  While I made the aioli Lo Jardinièr cooked the mussels in a little white wine then removed the mussels from their shells, dipped them in beaten egg white and then in breadcrumbs and fried them in olive oil.  They were really good with a squeeze of lemon and the aioli.

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We’ve had some more cold nights, although not freezing, but the days are sunny and warm.  Walking around the village this afternoon we spotted this beautiful mimosa still in flower.

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>Sunday lunch in the garden / le diner de dimanche au jardin

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For the past few weeks it’s been too hot to do much work in the garden, just watering (a lot), tying up the tomato plants and harvesting the produce. In a couple of weeks’ time we’ll have to start sowing the autumn and winter vegetables – lettuce, turnips, carrots – but it’s too hot now.

Depuis quelques semaines il fait trop chaud pour faire beaucoup de travail au jardin – on ne fait que l’arrosage (beaucoup) et la récolte de légumes. Dans deux ou trois semaines on commencera à semer les légumes d’automne et d’hiver – les salades, les carrots, les navets – mais en ce moment il fait trop chaud.

The garden is still a good place to entertain friends for a meal, though, as we did yesterday. / Le jardin est toujours un bon endroit pour inviter des amis pour manger, comme on a fait hier.

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plenty of shade and a paddling pool borrowed from a neighbour / beaucoup d’ombre et une piscine qu’un voisin nous a preté.

We started the meal with prawns and aioli (I posted the recipe for this when I made it last summer – here). The only difference is that now I make it with an electric whisk – much easier!

Nous avons commencé par des crevettes accompagnées d’un aioli – voir la recette ici.

Grilled quail / les cailles grillées

For the main course we cooked something I’ve wanted to try for a long time: quails wrapped in vine leaves and cooked on the barbecue.

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I put a garlic clove and a sprig of time inside each one, rolled them in olive oil, salt and pepper, wrapped them in vine leaves and tied the parcels with thread. Lo Jardinièr cooked them for about 20 minutes over a wood and charcoal fire. The vine leaves blackened, as you can see, but inside the quail were tender and delicious.

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With the quail we had baked vegetables – aubergines, courgettes, peppers, onions and tomatoes – garnished with basil and a squeeze of lemon juice and served cold, and Marseillette rice with coriander, cumin, onion, raisins and pine nuts.

We had a Roquefort and St Nectaire cheese and then a mirabelle (small plum) tart made with our neighbours’ fruit and recipe. The recipe will be on the Mediterranean cuisine blog.

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At the end of the afternoon, after a long lunch, we visited our friends’ garden where there is a beautiful old mill building which has been converted into a garden shed. And back in our garden to clear up, I noticed this butterfly on the dahlia. Another perfect Sunday!

>More tomatoes / encore de tomates

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Another way of bottling tomatoes /

Une nouvelle façon de conserver les tomates

Halve 1 kilo of Roma tomatoes and put them on a baking tray with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bake in the oven at 170°C for 45 – 60 minutes. Put the tomatoes in a sterilised jar and cover with olive oil.


Coupez en deux 1 kilo de tomates Roma et mettez-les sur un plaque de four avec du sel, de lhuile dolive et du vinaigre balsamique. Faites-les cuire au four à 170°C pour 45 – 60 minutes. Mettez les tomates dans un bocal sterilisé et couvrez-les de lhuile dolive.

We had a few tomatoes left over that wouldnt fit in the jar. I arranged them on plates with little goats cheeses, added some oregano leaves, salt an pepper and a little olive oil. It made a delicious first course.


Il y avait quelques tomates qui restaient. Je les ai mis sur des plats avec des petits pelardons de chèvre, des feuilles dorigan, sel et poivre et un peu de lhuile dolive. Cétait une entrée delicieuse.

It was market day today and as usual we went to the fish stall. We bought pageot (pink bream) for Lo Jardinièr and squid (encornet) for me. I made aïoli (garlic mayonnaise) to go with them.


Mercredi, cest le jour du marché à Gabian et nous sommes allés comme dhabitude au marchand de poisson. Nous avons acheté des petits pageots (dorades roses) pour Lo Jardinièr et des petits encornets pour moi. Jai préparé laïoli pour les accompagner.


Aïoli

1 egg yolk / 1 jaune dœuf

2 large cloves garlic, peeled / 2 grosses gousses dail épluchées

salt and pepper / sel et poivre

a squeeze of lemon juice / un peu de jus de citron

300 ml olive oil / huile dolive

Crush the garlic with the salt. Add the egg yolk and lemon juice. Pour the olive oil very slowly onto it while whisking until it has all emulsified.


Pilez lail avec le sel. Ajoutez le jaune dœuf et le jus de citron. Versez lhuile dolive peu à peu, très doucement, en le battant au fouet pour émulsionner lœuf et lhuile.

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And some friends had given us some lovely fresh figs –

Et des amis nous ont donné des belles figues fraîches –