Valencia market

While we were in Valencia we stayed in an apartment just 50 metres from the mercat central, the main market hall for the city. It was a fantastic place to wander around and to buy food.

Some of the stalls where I couldn’t resist buying included this wonderful one selling olives and pickled vegetables.

Notice the almagro aubergines just right of centre above? There’ll be more about these at the end of this post.  There were huge sacks of paprika from Murcia:

beautiful tomatoes (we saved some seeds from this variety so we hope to grow them next year)

There were snails – I didn’t buy any of these.

and herbs

and a few cured hams:

A lot of pumpkins, raw and already roasted – more about these in a later post.

We bought a lot of ready made charcuterie, olives and pickled vegetables to take back to our apartment for supper (on the nights when we weren’t going out to some of the many tapas bars nearby), but I only actually cooked one dish while we were there and that was with almagro aubergines. I’d seen them at the pickled vegetable stall but then a few minutes later saw a stall holder arranging fresh ones from a sack to display on her stall. I just had to buy some – they looked so beautiful.

I invented a dish based on what I’d seen on the stall and a quick internet search, leaving the aubergines with their stalks as they are here, cutting a slit in the ‘fat’ end and putting half a clove of garlic and a piece of red pepper into it. I then laid them all on a bed of sliced tomato in an oven-proof dish, added salt and pepper and poured a lot of olive oil over them. I put them in a slow oven for about an hour and a half while we went out for drinks in a nearby bar. I had Agua de Valencia, a mix of fresh orange juice, Cava and vodka – tasty and quite potent!

When we came back the aubergines were cooked and they were ready to eat.  The ones we didn’t eat straight away tasted even better cold the next day.

A few olives (and some more immediate delights)

Last year we lost nearly all of our olive crop from both our trees to olive fly attack. This year I contemplated treating the trees for the first time with toxic chemicals which are apparently necessary to prevent these attacks, but I decided against it because our trees are just too near our vegetables and I wouldn’t want our other crops to be contaminated. So we thought we would risk it. The crop is very small this year, especially on our Lucque tree, because of a strange occurrence of small fruits dropping shortly after setting in the spring, something which has happened to other people’s olives in this area too. Because of this, today I picked a total of 26 olives from our Lucque tree. Such a small crop, but at least they are all undamaged.

This is the first time I’ve picked them when they’re still green – in previous years they’ve been left on the tree to ripen – but this variety seem to go a bit mushy when they are cured as black olives. They are used for oil when they’re black, but for table olives I think it’s better to pick them when they’re green.  I’ve packed these into a jar with a lot of sea salt to draw out the bitterness.

The Lucque variety originated in Lucca in Italy but has become one of the most popular varieties in this area of the Languedoc. Unlike other olives they have almost crunchy flesh, a delicate crisp flavour and a distinctive pointed shape to the fruits.

Our other tree, of unknown (or forgotten) variety, has a lot more olives on it, and I picked a few of these today. The rest can stay on the tree to ripen, even at risk of being attacked by the olive fly, although I think the time for that has now passed.


We’ve been picking more figs, too, and making another eight jars of jam.

We’ve also been lucky enough to be given a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s delicious new book, Jerusalem, and for lunch today Lo Jardinièr made some stuffed vegetables inspired by their recipes.

The peppers and aubergines, picked from the garden this morning, were stuffed with a mixture of minced veal, bulghur, chopped almonds and sun dried tomatoes. The aubergines were baked in the oven while the peppers were cooked in tomato sauce. They were as tasty as they were colourful. We’re off on a short holiday in a couple of days’ time but when we get back I’m looking forward to cooking some of the recipes from this book.

Still summer, or nearly autumn?

After a violent thunderstorm the night before last the hot, muggy weather that everyone was complaining about has been replaced by cooler nights, fresher air and a strong wind….that we’re now complaining about! In the garden the tomato plants are nearly over and the remaining fruit are being attacked by bugs of all colours and strips….and spots as well. We’ll pull them up and burn them soon – we have plenty of preserved tomato purée to keep us in sauces until next summer. The peppers plants continue to thrive and are laden with ripening fruit, so that almost every meal we eat contains some delicious variation on a pepper theme – today’s lunch was a stir fry of chicken pieces, peppers and red onions – and some of the red peppers are in the freezer waiting to brighten up a cold winter day.

The aubergine plants seemed exhausted a week or so ago, but now are starting on a second crop, with flowers and nice fat aubergines on the same plants:

Ready to eat – the autumn crop of figs

This morning we picked figs from a friend’s tree and one or two more from wild trees we passed while we were out. They’re perfect for eating as they are.

And I hardly dare hope for the olives – although last year’s crop was badly attacked by olive fly, we haven’t treated our trees with preventive chemicals as they are too close to the vegetable plots to be sure to avoid contamination. So we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that these olives will survive and ripen:

Back to the garden

I realise it’s been a while since I’ve posted much about the garden. That’s not because nothing is happening there and not because we haven’t been there much. Everything is growing well in the slightly damper than usual, but still warm, weather we’ve been having this month and on dry days we’ve watered, still using the good supply of free water from the stream that runs down the hill from the source – La Resclauze, or La Resclausa in Occitan – and usually keeps running until at least the end of June.  Yesterday evening we spent a couple of hours in the garden, watering, weeding and tying tomato and cucumber plants to their supports, and I took some photos of what’s happening there now:

The sweetcorn plants have grown incredibly quickly – some of them are as tall as I am now – and the male flowers are starting to appear at the tops of the plants.  These should soon be followed by female flowers.

The aubergine plants are flowering – they’re such pretty flowers that if these plants weren’t useful suppliers of vegetables I think they would still be grown just for their decorative qualities – and one tiny aubergine is beginning to grow.

The snails are enjoying some of the aubergine leaves, but so long as they don’t eat too much I don’t mind.

One of our apricots is beginning to ripen and we still have a good crop on the tree despite the rain and strong winds last month having knocked a lot to the ground.  This Roussillon variety is a late-ripening apricot and we usually harvest the fruits at the beginning of July – of course, they’re the tastiest apricots I’ve ever eaten!

Oleanders are flowering everywhere, especially in villages where they have been planted in public spaces, and in our garden.  There are several variations of colour in the flowers, from white to apricot pink to dark red, but this pink is my favourite as it reminds me of the oleanders outside our house in Libya when I was a child. (They’re pretty, but beware: every part of this plant is extremely poisonous.)

Today we took some time off to go to the sea and found it surprisingly rough and the beach almost deserted.  Not tempted to swim, we had coffee and rose-water flavoured pastries at a new Tunisian café next to the beach.


The uncultivated hillsides around the village are covered with the bright yellow flowers of Spanish broom, the plant from which we get our word ‘broom’ because the long flower stems were dried and used to make brooms.

Spanish broom

The first flowers are appearing on our aubergine plants:


I won’t have much time for posting or commenting over the next few days, with my family staying for the long weekend and the opening of my exhibition of photos.  I’ll be back as usual next week!


Hard graft

In the warm spring weather we’ve had this week we’ve worked hard to plant out most of our tomato plants and the aubergines.  All our tomato plants are grown from seed that we saved from last year’s tomatoes.  However, we usually buy grafted aubergine plants because they are so much more productive and give us a lot of aubergines in a relatively small space.  These plants are aubergine seedlings which have been grafted on to a variety of tomato that has very vigorous roots – the resulting plants produce up to 50 aubergines each, rather than an ungrafted plant’s 6 to 10 at most.

aubergine plants

When we buy them the plants are about 20 to 25 cm tall with big leaves, and they look as though they will grow strongly once planted out.


The graft shows clearly on the stem of the plant and it’s important to make sure it’s not covered with soil when replanting, otherwise a tomato plant will start to grow from the root.


All five plants in the ground, with strong stakes to support them once they start to branch and bear fruit and a deep watering channel running alongside the row.

Market day

Wednesday has been market day in our village since 1180 and for all this time it has been a meeting and trading place for people from the sea, the coastal plains and the mountains.  Although it’s a small market now, the tradition continues with the regular stalls including fish from the Mediterranean and shell fish from Bouzigues, vegetables, some local and some from Provence and Spain, and charcuterie from Lacaune in the mountains to the north-west of here.  Stalls selling clothes and household goods also visit from time to time, but the three food stalls are a constant. 




I used to have a rule that I wouldn’t buy vegetables we grow in the garden when they are not available in the garden, but I frequently break this rule with aubergines.  Although we have frozen and bottled ratatouille and other aubergine dishes, I like them too much simply sliced and fried in olive oil to wait until June when we hope to have our home-grown ones again.  Our local goat farm at Mas Rolland has stopped selling cheese for the winter and will start again in February.  Their cheeses are the best I’ve ever tasted, but luckily the village shop sells other, more commercially produced but still fairly local, goats’ cheeses, so I was able to make this salad with my contraband aubergine:

aubergine salad

Fried slices of aubergine and red pepper, slices of goats’ cheese, chopped paprika, parsley and garlic, with toasted paillasse bread.  Oh, and a glass of Domaine d’Estève wine we bought there this morning – the bag in box of AOC Faugères red that we always have in the kitchen.  We also bought some of their best wine, Plo des Figues, but that’s for les fêtes when our family will be here.


Last of the summer crops?

We uprooted the remains of the tomato plants before we went away and they’re waiting now to be burnt.  There are still a few aubergines and peppers on the plants, but otherwise this is the last of summer for this year:


We’ll make fritters with some of these aubergines and courgettes this evening to eat with mussels.


These mixed peppers, the last of several varieties, will be good in sauces or pickled to store for the winter.


These are the last tiny Kandil dolma peppers – I think I’ll stuff them with a mixture of breadcrumbs, feta cheese and sweet onion.

It’s good to be home

Some of the ingredients I miss most when I’m away from home are good olive oil, aubergines and garlic (although I did take a bulb of garlic with me and surreptitiously added it to some of the food I ate while we were travelling – not in people’s homes, I hasten to add).


Luckily there were a lot of aubergines waiting to be picked in the garden when we got home.  We had a long day’s journey yesterday, by very comfortable high-speed train because we don’t fly, but we were too tired to spend much time cooking so I simply sliced this aubergine and fried it in olive oil, adding chopped garlic, salt and thyme leaves after cooking.  The scent of the fresh thyme leaves told me I was home. We ate this with some delicious tender pieces of corn-fed chicken.


Summer or autumn?

Daytime temperatures are in the 30s, and the aubergine plants are flowering again:


and there are small aubergines growing:


But we’ve picked the first of the pumpkins to store for the winter, five that we thought would be butternut squashes but which seem to be a hybrid:


and we’re making the first batch of membrillo with windfall quinces (more on this when it’s finished bubbling away on the hob):