Spring Sunday

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This butterfly was drying out its wings in the sunshine this morning, before we went home to lunch. A few very tasty wild asparagus spears with bread made with flax seeds:

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and pot-roasted chicken legs with leeks (the last of this winter’s from the garden) and jambon cru. I cooked the leeks with an onion and a few sliced garlic cloves in olive oil until they were soft, put a layer of slices of cured ham some sprigs of wild thyme and then the chicken legs and a thinly sliced carrot on top, and added a good glassful of white wine, salt and pepper.After simmering it for about an hour we ate it with orzo, a rice-shaped pasta that went very well with the winey, chicken sauce.

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Another sign of spring is the appearance of borage flowers on the edges of vineyards and on walls. In the past I’ve made a kind of Turkish börek, filo pastry parcels stuffed with cheese and lightly cooked borage leaves. Don’t eat them raw as they’re very prickly. This year I want to make a version of the borage and walnut ravioli we bought a couple of weeks ago at an Italian stall in Clermont-l’Hérault market. If it works, I’ll post the recipe!

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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!

Winter warming

 

On one of the first evenings when it’s really felt as though winter was on its way, with the shutters closed against a howling wind (and gusts of 100 kilometres per hour forecast), I was glad that I’d made this chicken and vegetable casserole.

Chicken and vegetable casserole (for four)

600 grams chicken breast meat, cut into chunks

1 large onion, sliced

half a large bulb of fennel, or 1 small one, sliced

300 grams of carrots, peeled and cut into smallish chunks

6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks

200 grams mushrooms, halved (or quartered if large)

3 large cloves of garlic, chopped

2 bay leaves

enough white wine to cover the ingredients in the casserole

olive oil, salt, pepper, a tablespoon of chopped parsley

Slowly cook the onions, fennel and carrots in a little olive oil in a cast-iron casserole dish until the onions are soft. I find that adding a little salt at this stage helps to make the onions sweeter. Add the chicken pieces and lightly colour in the hot oil. Add the chopped garlic and stir for a minute or two. Add the potatoes, wine, salt and pepper and cover all the ingredients with white wine. Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour. Towards the end of the cooking time lightly fry the mushrooms in olive oil and add them, with the parsley, to the casserole for the last five minutes or so.

(I was making this mostly for a friend who was coming home from hospital today, keeping just enough for me and Lo Jardinièr to have for supper. If I’d been making it just for us I probably would have added a chopped piment d’Espelette or some dried paprika for extra flavour, but it was very good without it.)

Serve on a cold night with a thick slice of fresh bread.

Pot-roasted lemony chicken

Yesterday I bought a poulet fermier (farm-reared chicken) from the excellent butcher’s shop in Roujan.  It was a large bird – 2.4 kilos – and it had lived.  Its flesh was firm, the leg meat dark and tasty, nothing like the chickens available in supermarkets.  I chopped some pickled lemons and garlic and marinaded the chicken for a few hours with these and some olive oil.

I added a glass of white wine and a little salt, brought it to the boil, put a lid on it and simmered for about an hour and a quarter.  While the chicken was simmering I made a relish with two more chopped pickled lemons, a tablespoon of chopped pitted green olives, a little chopped parsley and two chopped garlic cloves.

Lo Jardinièr prepared some rice to which he added sliced onion sautéed in olive oil, a handful of raisins, and a dozen green apricots previously cooked in syrup, stones removed and chopped.  He used half a cupful of the syrup from the apricots with the cooking water for the rice.

When the chicken was almost cooked I removed it from the liquid (wine now turned into a delicious sauce) and put it in a roasting dish in a hot oven for half an hour until the skin was browned.

The chicken, apricot rice and lemon relish all went very well together, and with a glass of Faugères red wine from the domaine d’Estève at Roquessels.

Lo Jardinièr has now posted the piece about jachère that I trailed the other day on his blog – here

Between seasons

Yesterday in bright sunshine Lo Jardinièr lit the barbecue in the place at lunchtime to cook chicken and red peppers on skewers.

chicken skewers

Today we had rain, great for the garden but not so good for our spirits.  The market was grey and wet, with the sun awnings being used to shelter customers from the rain rather than the heat.

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And the lunch menu was equally delicious but almost wintry: pumpkin soup with chopped garlic and croutons, and two fromages fermiers, one sheeps’ milk cheese from Lacaune and a cows’ milk one from the Aveyron.

pumpkin soup

fromages fermiers

And flags….

When I saw Chica Andaluza’s new flag counter I couldn’t resist trying to add one to my blog and inadvertently added it as a post at first.  It’s now in its proper place at the foot of my blog, showing the different countries of origin of its readers.  Thanks for the idea, Chica!

An easy chicken tagine

Perhaps not authentic, but yesterday I wanted to make something that would cook while I was working, so I slow-cooked chicken pieces in an earthenware dish in the oven with a tagine spice mix of cinnamon, turmeric, paprika and cumin.  It took about 5 minutes to prepare and a couple of hours later it was ready to eat.

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I put the chicken pieces with olive oil in an earthenware dish, added three quartered echalottes, three large chopped cloves of garlic, two sliced carrots, half a lemon cut in quarters, some sprigs of rosemary, a little salt and a large spoonful of the tagine spices.  I poured over the juice of the other half of the lemon and a cup of water, covered the dish with aluminium foil (a proper tagine pot would be ideal, but I haven’t got one) and put it in the oven at 150 C for a couple of hours.  Half way through the cooking I added some pruneaux.  We ate the tagine with basmati rice, although bulgur, couscous or flatbread would be more traditional.

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Perfect for a winter evening!

It looks as though the weather is going to turn cold again, with freezing nights, grey cloud and snow forecast for the mountains.  Snow here in the village is very rare – we had some a couple of years ago and it was the first time for fifty years – but we feel it in the wind when it falls on the mountains to the north.  The signs of spring continue to appear, though, and today I noticed this almond tree starting to flower, a lot more buds about to open, and from high up in the tree came the sound of many bees already out and attracted by the blossom.

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almond blossom

A day off

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The water at Marseillan-plage was the nicest it’s been all summer – perfect temperature for swimming (I like it Mediterranean-warm), a few small waves and not many other bathers.  Soon the beaches will be even less crowded.  September is our favourite time of year for swimming in the sea as the tourists have all gone but the water is still warm.

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Then a coffee at one of the enjoyably tacky cafés near the beach – I thought this one had nice cups.

Back at home, Lo Jardinièr made chicken in white wine and cream sauce with red peppers and sautéed potatoes.  He said it was very simple to make although he spent more time standing over a hot griddle than I would have wanted.

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