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.
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.
And the food? A delicious and inventive four-course supper:
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.
Mutton sausage with vegetables and aioli made with wild garlic.
Goats’ cheese from a farm near the village, served on a vine leaf and with rosemary syrup.
And chocolate gateau decorated with a mallow flower, just before midnight as the full moon rose above the plane trees.
I’ve often wondered which variety these vines were as I pass them on my way to Roujan. After the torrential rain we’ve had recently, including another storm last night, they are past their best autumn colour now but they are still a much deeper red than the other varieties we see in the vineyards around the village. Last night I asked a vine-growing, wine-making friend and he told me they are Alicante Bouschet. This is a teinturier variety whose dark red grapes deepen the colour of red wine when mixed with other, paler varieties. It was created by Henri Bouschet in 1866 when he crossed Petit Bouschet (a variety created by his father) with Grenache. It’s grown in many wine-growing areas around the world, especially in France, Portugal, Italy, California and in south-eastern Spain where it is called garnacha tintorera.
Being so busy while our daughter was visiting, I forgot to post the delicious chocolate tart she made for us:
I don’t make desserts very often but this one was so good I’ll be making it again. And, best of all, it doesn’t need cooking, just time to set in the fridge. She made the base by mixing 150 grams of biscuits (Breton short-cake type biscuits from our village shop, but you can use digestive biscuits) made into crumbs with 60 grams of ground hazelnuts and 80 grams of melted butter, then pressing the mixture into a loose-bottomed cake tin lined with a circle of grease-proof paper. Then she melted 200 grams of dark chocolate, mixed in 25 cl of crème fraïche (in Wales she uses whipping cream but that’s not available here) and spread this mixture on the biscuit base. After a few hours in the fridge it was ready to eat.