Cold weather comfort

The temperature has dropped by 10 to 15 degrees over the past two days and there’s a cold wind blowing from the mountains to the north. It seemed like a good day to turn to winter food and a substantial warming soup for lunch. This is loosely based on the Welsh dish cawl. The Ceredigion version of cawl, as enjoyed by past generations of my family on subsistence smallholdings where they kept a pig and grew their own potatoes, leeks and carrots in the field, is made with a bacon or lamb joint (in richer, lowland areas of Wales beef is used too), leeks, onions, carrots and potatoes. I used what I found in the kitchen cupboard and the village shop this morning:

I cooked a sliced onion in olive oil until it softened, then added 300 grams of sautée de veau (braising veal), a thick slice of poitrine salée (you could use a couple of thick slices of salty bacon), a sliced leek, a few potatoes cut into chunks, a cupful of green lentils (like Puy lentils, but these are grown locally), four cloves of garlic, roughly chopped, a few bay leaves and sprigs of thyme, and a chopped piment d’Espelette. I covered them all with a cupful of white wine and some water, added a little salt and simmered for about an hour. I didn’t add very much salt because I didn’t know how salty the poitrine would be – it’s best to add salt to taste once it’s cooked.

It was very warming! And, of course, some of the warmth came from the accompanying glass of red wine which wouldn’t be found with the traditional Ceredigion version!



As promised, the recipe for this traditional Welsh stew/soup.  This is a country dish, made in Welsh farmhouse kitchens with the ingredients that are available, so quantities are approximate, but the important ingredients are meat and leeks.  Like other similar dishes in other countries – pot au feu, ragout d’escoubille, and so on – when times were hard the meat was eaten at one meal, the stock and vegetables at another.  Where I come from in west Wales, cawl is usually made with lamb or with a ham joint, but in the more fertile areas of south Wales it is made with beef too.  For me, though, it’s not the real thing unless it’s made with lamb.

serves 4 to 5:

1 kilo lamb shoulder on the bone (you can use other cuts, like breast of lamb, but the meat would need longer cooking and you would probably need a bit more per person)

100 grams bacon or salted pork, thickly sliced  (optional, but I think it adds an extra flavour to the broth)

250 grams carrots

250 grams leeks

150 grams onions

250 grams potatoes, roughly cut into chunks

a bunch of parsley, stalks chopped and leaves finely chopped

3 bay leaves

salt, pepper

water to cover

Peel and roughly chop the vegetables into chunks.  Cut the lamb shoulder into large pieces, but don’t take the meat of the bone yet.  Put all the ingredients except the leeks and the parsley leaves in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for about an hour.  Remove the lamb pieces, take the meat off the bone and cut into bite-sized chunks.  Return the meat to the pan and add the leeks.  Cook for a further 30 to 45 minutes.  Serve garnished with the chopped parsley leaves and slices of rustic bread.  You can also serve pieces of cheese with it.

We were catering for larger numbers today – at least 35 people and maybe 40 will be there tonight for the meal.  So we had to cook our cawl in a large preserving pan on a gas burner in the garage, but it’s only a difference of scale.




Discoveries, old and new

I made another trip this morning into the countryside around the village to take a few more photos for the geology lecture next week.  The features we were concentrating on were olistoliths – rocks which stand up from the flatter ground around them, the result of movement of a block of limestone over another layer of rock and its collision (underwater as it was 300 million years ago) with a coral reef, which broke up the limestone into these distinctive features.  The same formations occur in the Guilin area of China and around Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

There are three of them in this first photo, a large one on the left, a smaller one on the right and a very small one in the centre.  The view also shows how dry it is here now – in the season when we should have had most of the year’s rain over the past couple of months, we have had no proper rain since November.  The garrigue on the hills looks as it always does, because it’s evergreen and adapted to drought, but I hope we’ll have enough rain for the spring wild flowers.

We followed this tiny road through some very dry vineyards towards Vailhan and past the gap between an olistolith and its original limestone block.

At Vailhan, the church and presbytery (the latter is now a very good restaurant) stand on another olistolith.

It will be an interesting talk next week, just as it was fascinating to travel through familiar landscape with someone who knows so much about the geology of the area.  The vinegrowers are very lucky in this small area around our village because there is an unusual variety of different kinds of rock, due to forces on the different formations 300 million years ago, and resulting in a terroir (an untranslatable word meaning the geological and meteorological elements that make up the character of a wine) where different varieties can be grown very close to each other in suitable conditions for each one.

The Cercle Occitan is a group in the village which I belong to and which promotes Occitan language and culture, Occitan being the indigenous language of much of southern France from the Alps to the Pyrenees (and including some small areas in both Italy and Catalunya).  It is still spoken by many, in spite of the discouragement of the French state and its centralised educational policies.  As well as language classes, our group organises  a programme of cultural events, not all directly related to Occitan issues, like this lecture on geology.  After each lecture or meeting about 40 or 50 of us eat together and continue the discussion.  Next week’s lecture will take place the day after St David’s Day, the Welsh national day, when we usually make a Welsh meal in our house for 15 or 16 friends.  This time Lo Jardinièr and I have offered to make cawl (Welsh lamb stew/soup) for 40 people.  Others will make the first and last courses.  I’ll post the recipe, as promised!

The village shop has recently been taken over by a very enthusiastic young couple who are willing to carry on as before, but still to try out new things.  This morning I found that they were offering chicken livers confit (cooked in duck fat), so I couldn’t resist trying them.  I made a salad with sliced endive, grated carrot and a few slices of fennel and added a dressing made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I cooked the livers in the duck fat (if I’d had fresh ones I would have fried them quickly in olive oil), added them to the salad and deglazed the pan with a bit more balsamic vinegar to pour over them.  Served with bruschetta and a glass of local red wine, it made a nice lunch for this in-between season when spring is clearly on its way at last.