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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Weekend harvest

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog and during this time spring carried on its one step forwards, two steps backwards progress, still feeling cold at times but with enough sun – and plenty of rain – to keep the plants growing well. In the garrigue some of the wild flowers are already passing their best. Wild garlic:

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and wild salsify – I think I’ve posted a photo of this beautiful star-shaped flower before but I’m doing so again because this is probably the last one I’ll see this year.

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In the garden, our big purple iris is almost embarrasingly big and purple:

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and the white cistus – my favourite of the cultivated cistuses – is flowering, its delicate flowers lasting only a day at a time before being replaced by others waiting to burst out of their buds:

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We’re thinking ahead from spring to summer crops now and this morning we planted out six peppers that have been nurtured up till now in mini-greenhouses on the balconies. These first six plants are of a variety that we call A and A Spanish as the seeds originally came from our friends A and A who had brought an especially tasty red pepper home from Spain a few years ago.

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I’m very glad that I sowed two double rows of broad beans last autumn, one in October and another in November, because the second row is now producing huge pods while the first hasn’t finished yet either. In past years I’ve sown one double row in the autumn and then another in February, but I’ve found that the February-sown row never does very well, perhaps because there isn’t enough water for them at crucial times. Autumn-sown broad beans do much better here, as shown by the 4.5 kilos we picked today.

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These (most of which will be frozen), another small artichoke, some wild thyme from the garrigue and some wild flowers Lo Jardinièr had brought home to identify made the kitchen table look full of possibilities:

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I cooked some of the broad beans straight away for lunch, in an earthenware dish over a low heat in olive oil, adding chopped garlic and oregano leaves and some tomato concentrate, then, once they were cooked which took only 5 minutes, some chopped leftover cooked artichoke hearts.

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Signs of spring

It was hot in the sun in the garden today, the bees were buzzing around the rosemary flowers and the blossom, the carpenter bees were trying to find nesting places in holes in pieces of wood – spring seems to have arrived!

The broad bean plants sown in October are beginning to flower and the plants from the second sowing in November are not far behind them.

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The apricot blossom is about to open

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and the wild plum tree that appeared in our garden, like a weed only a fruitful one, is flowering too:

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Even the aubretia – not a plant that really belongs in a Mediterranean garden, but one that seems to have settled well here – is starting to flower:

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The robin in the apple tree has been around all winter, of course, but it’s the first time I’ve managed to get a reasonable photo of it.

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And then home to another bird – a roast chicken. It was a large (over 2 kilos) farmyard chicken so I left it in a medium oven (170°C) for a couple of hours while we were out, covered with a paste made from half a preserved lemon (salted and left in a jar of olive oil for at least a month), two large cloves of garlic, two teaspoons of paprika, some sea salt and two tablespoons of olive oil, whizzed into a paste in the food processor. I put the chicken in a large cast-iron casserole with a lid and added a glass of white wine. When we came home it was ready to eat with rice cooked with dried orange peel. It was a very good chicken – one that had lived rather than a pale tasteless supermarket one – and it did taste very good.

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There’s plenty left for a couple more meals too. In the shop the bird still had its feet, head and neck, which the butcher removed for us. But we asked to keep the neck, which made a nice stock for Lo Jardinièr to use when he made risotto yesterday. I haven’t dared ask for the feet yet – I’m not sure what I would do with them!

Up in flames

It felt like spring in the garden today – hot in the sun, especially when we were working, and warm enough too just to sit and enjoy what feels like a new season. It was time to burn some of the weeds and trimmings that won’t compost, before the rain that is forecast – at last – for the next few days.

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While Lo Jardinièr made sure that the fire didn’t spread, because everything is very dry at the moment and he had the hose pipe ready to put out any stray flames, I sowed a row of mangetout peas next to the two double rows of broad beans, sown in the autumn and doing well now, almost ready to flower.

Before we went out to the garden I put 450 grams of sautée de porc (a cut of pork that best for stewing or braising) in an earthenware dish with the vegetables we happened to have – a sliced onion, bulb of fennel and parsnip, some pieces of chorizo, some peeled cloves of garlic and some bay leaves. I poured a glass of white wine over them, covered the dish with aluminium foil and left it in the oven (not too hot – 180°C in our not very efficient oven) with some large potatoes baking on the shelf next to it. When we got home a couple of hours later lunch was ready!

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Pickled

 

This morning almost felt wintry, so cold in the garden that it seemed unlikely that any more peppers would ripen, the plants drooping and slightly frosted looking. I picked all the green and half-red ones I could find, brought them home, saved the bigger ones to cook over the next few days and pickled the rest using a recipe that worked well last year: I mixed half quantities of white wine vinegar and water – how much depends on how many peppers you have but I made about 500 ml in all, adding two cups of sugar, a couple of bay leaves and some sprigs of rosemary. Once the liquid was boiling I added the peppers and let them simmer for about 10 minutes then packed them into sterilised jars. I wedged the bay leaves and rosemary sprigs on top to stop the peppers rising to the surface when I added the cooking liquid to the jars. The peppers will keep for months like this and, drained with a little olive oil added to them, make a good addition to tapas during the winter.

I sowed broad beans this morning for a spring crop – it’s always good to have started the next year in the garden.

Artichoke – singular?

I’m wondering whether I’ll have to change the name of my blog.  The artichoke plants, which had been doing well throughout the winter, suffered badly in the cold weather we had in February and are only just beginning to recover, too late for a good crop this year, I fear.  This is the only artichoke I can see developing on any of the surviving plants.

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On the other hand, we have plenty of broad beans and I’ll be putting some in the freezer for later in the year, when they’ll be an even greater treat than they are now.

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The tomato plants have grown well since they’ve been planted out – they always seem to stretch out their roots and just grow once they have the space to do so.  The lettuce plants between the rows benefit from the watering and will all have been eaten by the time the tomatoes grow big enough to cover them.

tomato plants

Do have a look at Lo Jardinèr’s post today where he links this morning’s inauguration of the new French president with asphodels, Ancient Greece and a beautiful piece of music.

Broad beans and artichokes

Our broad beans may have been late this year but now they’ve started we can hardly keep up with them – which is a nice problem to have!

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I picked a large bag full this morning and used about half of them to make an old favourite of mine, adding them to artichoke hearts cooked in olive oil and white wine with fresh oregano.  Sadly, the artichokes had to be bought in the market this morning.  Our plants suffered so badly in the cold weather in February that, although some of them are recovering now, I don’t think we’ll get much of a crop – if any – this year.

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I quartered the artichoke hearts, rubbing the cut sides with lemon and removing the choke. Put them in a pan with a deep layer of olive oil, a glass of white wine, some salt and some chopped garlic and fresh oregano leaves and simmered for 35 minutes.  Then I added the podded (but not peeled – I never peel the individual broad beans!) beans and simmered for another five minutes.  Allow to cool and serve at room temperature with crusty bread as a first course or tapa.

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As I was about to post this I noticed that Chica Andaluza, who also has a good crop of broad beans at the moment, had posted a delicious-sounding recipe for asparagus with broad beans and mushrooms – so that’s another dish I’m going to try as our glut continues.

Broad beans, a hoopoe and an impromptu cake

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They’re a little later than usual this year because of the cold spring we’ve had, but our first broad beans, picked today, were delicious eaten simply, simmered for four minutes in salted water, drained and served with olive oil, chopped garlic and fresh mint.  I ate some of them raw and they were good like that as well since they were so young and tender.

On the way back from the garden on a detour through the vineyards to the north of the village I saw a pair of hoopoes on the ground among the vines.  They’re very difficult to photograph, I’ve found, because they’re very shy.  As they flew away I grabbed my camera and did what I could.  This was the best of a blurry lot, showing the beautiful markings across the wings:

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I don’t make many cakes and puddings, usually preferring fresh fruit for dessert, but sometimes all the ingredients come together to make one irresistible suggestion and this is what happened this morning.  I’d bought some very good-value ground almonds (in the supermarket, too, where I don’t usually buy much food) that had been ground with the skins left on them so they looked nicely natural and speckled with dark brown flecks.  At the market this morning the fruit grower from Fouzilhon, the tiny village just up the hill from here, was there setting out his punnets of strawberries at half the price of the other market stall and locally grown.  And we had some cut pieces of pear that had proved unripe in the fridge.  So I made a cake base with 100 grams of flour, 100 grams of ground almonds, 75 grams of sugar, a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, two eggs and two tablespoons of olive oil, whizzed up in the food processor and put into a cake tin, then baked for 20 minutes in the oven at 200 C.  While it was cooking I poached the peeled slices of pear in white wine and sugar to make a syrup and cut some of the strawberries in half.  Once the cake was ready and had cooled a little, I assembled it all and poured over the syrup.

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Suddenly it’s spring

The rain we had last week has made a big difference to everything in the garden.  The broad beans are growing, the second sowing of these and the mangetout peas are emerging from the earth, the ground is soft enough to dig.

The bay trees are flowering

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A brimstone butterfly was fluttering from flower to flower on the aubretia, folding its lovely leaf-shaped wings as it hovered over each one.

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I found enough wild rocket to add some extra flavour to the sandwiches we ate in the sun:

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And we picked enough wild asparagus to make a first course at supper this evening:

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With the lighter evenings since the weekend, I even managed to catch just enough daylight to photograph them once they were cooked and served with a little salt and some olive oil milled in the village:

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La Sainte-Catherine

One of the many sayings and planting rules often quoted to us by gardeners here applies to today: À la SainteCatherine, tout bois prend racine – on St Catherine’s day (25 November) all wood takes root, in other words, it’s the day for planting trees.  One of our friends and gardening neighbours has promised us an off-shoot from his hazelnut tree but by the time I got to the garden, rather late in the morning after having to spend a few hours at my desk first, he had already dug the hole for the apricot tree he was going to plant and had gone home.  I dug the hole for our hazel tree so that it will be ready next time we see him, probably over the weekend, when we can transfer the sapling from his garden to ours.

Now that the clouds have gone and we have some real autumn sunlight, it’s not too late to see some of the colours of the different varieties of vine leaves in their small parcelles, forming a sea in the wide valley just north of the village.  This morning the air was wonderfully clear and the remaining colours bright:

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nov vines 1

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I took these photos from almost exactly the same position as I took those on my post on 8 October so you can see the difference in the vineyards from six weeks ago when the vines were still green.

In the garden, the broad beans that I sowed two weeks ago have all germinated so there is a nice double row of small plants coming up.  It’s a good feeling, to have the first crop of spring on its way.  It suggests that winter will pass, and the sunshine in the garden today was so warm I could almost have believed it was spring.  We cut bamboo leaves from the high plants bordering the garden to protect the beans from possible frost over the next couple of months.

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There are broad bean plants under there, somewhere!

Another hopeful sign for next spring is the healthy new growth on the artichoke plants.  They always die down completely during summer when it’s so dry and it’s always encouraging to see the strong leaves coming up again after the rain in the autumn.

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We got home at lunchtime, very hungry and with nothing prepared so I made a very quick pasta alla carbonara, with fusilli rather than spaghetti because it has a shorter cooking time.  I fried some lardons (small pieces of bacon), beat an egg into the remains of a pot of crème fraïche, added some grated Cantal cheese, chopped garlic and a lot of ground black pepper and stirred it all into the cooked pasta.  Then garnished it with some parsley I’d just picked in the garden.  It was all ready within about 15 minutes and, of course, it was just what we needed after a morning’s work!

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