A winter flower on New Year’s Day

1-winter flower

It was only when I was arranging these mozzarella salads, with pickled peppers from our summer garden, for our first course at lunchtime today that I realised it looked a bit like a flower, which is appropriate since we have a botany blog in the family.

For the main course of our new year’s day lunch we had griddled duck breast with roast vegetables and a very good bottle of Emoción red wine from Domaine Monplezy (with its reminder of summer in the hoopoe on the label).


The wine went very well with some sheep’s cheese from the Larzac too. And then we had preserved kumqats (grown by a friend, bottled by me) with a glass of muscat wine.


A good start to the year!

Bona annada!

Blwyddyn newydd dda!

Bonne année!

Happy new year!

Nine-day wonders


It always seems nothing short of a miracle when tomato seeds saved from last summer germinate like this, and a further miracle (I hope) when they go on to produce this summer’s crop.  All nine varieties are growing well nine days after sowing.  And now the pepper seeds, sown a week ago, have started to germinate too.  The new season is on its way.


And the last of last summer – we started eating the last of our Chilean ‘smashing pumpkins’ today, roasting part of it to eat with cuisse de canard confit.  I cheated a bit with the duck confit, starting with fresh duck legs and slow-roasting them in their own fat with olive oil and herbs added, covered with foil for about 3 hours and then uncovered and drained from their fat to brown.  Just like the real thing!


Of course, it’s essential to have a glass of red wine with this dish, following the rules of what is known as the French paradox: that people in the south-west of France eat a lot of duck fat but still have long healthy lives because they drink red wine with it.  I’m not going to argue with that.


Our cheese course was very local – Mas Rolland demi-sec and cendré (coated in wood ash) goats’ cheeses, which also go well with the local red Faugères.

Late flowering

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw these flowers on our courgette plants this morning.  This is the first year we’ve managed to keep the plants alive beyond the beginning of August because usually here they die as soon as the weather gets too hot and dry for them towards the end of July.  This year we didn’t have many courgettes but the plants did survive the summer to produce during the autumn.  We didn’t expect flowers just three days before the shortest day, though!  I picked them all, including the female one with a tiny courgette, because they won’t grow at this time of year and they are so delicious stuffed.

From the garden

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to the kitchen….

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to the table….

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I stuffed them with grated cheese and chopped oregano (not easy since they were so small) and Lo Jardinièr dipped them in batter he’d made with chickpea flour, olive oil and water, and then fried them.  They made a nice amuse bouche for lunch.  The main course was easy: before we went to the garden to do a morning’s work I put two duck legs on a layer of sliced onion, pumpkin, garlic and juniper berries with a glass of white wine in an earthenware dish in the oven.  When we got home they were ready to eat after about 3 hours of slow cooking, covered for the first 2 1/2 hours, then uncovered for the last half hour to crisp the skin.



Over the past three or four days in our département and its surrounding area of Languedoc-Roussillon between 100 and 400 mm of rain has fallen, depending on location.  Although we’re used to long dry periods followed by downpours, the storms are normally quite short and this is as much rain as we usually have in six months.  The worst is over now and the storm has now moved eastwards into Provence and the Côte d’Azur and south-westwards to the Pyrenees, but it is still raining.

For our first autumnal Sunday lunch of the season I roasted the remaining quarter of the pumpkin we made soup with the other day….


peeled it and cut it into chunks, put it in an oven-proof dish with olive oil, salt and pepper, a couple of sprigs of rosemary and some bay leaves, and some unpeeled cloves of garlic.


I put it in the oven at 180 C for about an hour, until the pieces of pumpkin were nicely browned at the edges.


There’s something very warming about the sight of an earthenware dish filled with roast pumpkin!  It went very well with some pot-roasted duck legs – recipe on the Food from the Mediterranean blog.


The wine we drank with it was a red Mont Lequio from Domaine des Pascales in the village.  There they also sell cheeses from the Aveyron, brought back from the farm where they are made when they deliver wine to that area.  We followed our main course with this St Nectaire fermier, perfectly aged with a full flavour and a still-creamy tasting centre.


Somehow, the weather didn’t seem so bad after lunch!

Very garlicky duck

We had some duck legs, bought in the village shop this morning, and our last oignon de Lézignan (sweet onion) of the season.  The ducks that reach us here from the south-west of France have had (I hope) a happy life, but that does mean that they’re quite mature and their legs need slower cooking. On the other hand I do like duck skin to be crispy.  So I have devised a way of cooking them that combines these two requirements.  This was tonight’s version:


It was sad to see the last of these onions go, but it was all in a good cause.  I quartered the onion and sliced it finely, then sautéed it in a little olive oil in heavy cast-iron pan , with a sprinkle of salt to bring out the sweetness.  I sliced the cloves of a whole bulb of garlic and put some of the pieces underneath the skin of the duck legs.  When the onion had softened I added the rest of the garlic, a few bay leaves, some freshly ground black pepper and a glass of white wine.  I put the duck legs on this ‘bed’ of onion, garlic and herbs, put the lid on the pan and simmered, or pot-roasted, for about 45 minutes.   By this time the onion slices had melted together into a delicious garlic-, duck- and bay-scented purée in a wine sauce.  I put the duck legs under the grill while the sauce reduced a little on the hob and then they were ready to serve.


And this evening, with clearer skies, there was just enough daylight to photograph the finished dish.

Beginnings and a very good ending

Everything is growing so fast in the garden after all the rain we’ve had and this morning there were some exciting signs: the first tiny olives developing on our trees, a couple of small aubergines and some cucumbers.


These olives will be ready to harvest, we hope, green in October or ripe and black in November or December.


One of our first cucumbers of the season….


…and a tiny aubergine.

Once again we were invited to pick cherries from our friends’ tree and this time we decided to preserve some of them in eau de vie, brandy made from the grape skins after wine-making, as we did with some of the wild cherries we picked the other day.  It’s very simple: just pack the cherries into sterilised jars, adding a tablespoonful of sugar to each layer and then cover the cherries with eau de vie, Armagnac or some other brandy.  Close the jars and leave for at least 4 months, turning occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves.  By Christmas these will make a very good digestif.


And an excellent ending to our trip to the Gers in March, which I described here.  In March we made confit with the duck legs we bought in the market in Samatan, by covering the pieces of duck with duck fat in a pan and simmering them for 2 hours then storing them in the fat – they will keep for months like this.  Today we took the legs out of the fat and put them in a hot oven (200 C) to heat through and crisp the skin – about 25 minutes – and we ate them with potatoes and sweet onions roasted in duck fat and haricot beans straight from the garden.


The duck legs as they came out of the fat in which they were stored…..


…and after they’d been in the oven – ready to eat and absolutely delicious!

>Foire au gras and the last day of March in the garden


At the weekend we went on a trip to the Gers in south-west France, guided by friends who used to live in that area and know it well. The highlight of the visit was the Monday morning foire au gras in Samatan, devoted to the sale of foie gras and fattened ducks for making confit de canard and other south-western delights. I know that some people find the production of foie gras distasteful – if you are one of these then you should fast forward to the spring flowers at the end of this post. I’ve written about this subject before on my blog a couple of years ago. I believe that properly raised ducks and foie gras represent sustainable local food in an area which is well-suited to raising them. The life of a duck on the farm of a small producer in the Gers is so much better than that of an industrially kept chicken or duck that they cannot really be compared, so I make no apology for being a supporter of the traditional foie gras farmers.

The marché au gras at Samatan

Every Monday morning throughout the winter and until the end of March this market has two sessions – the first from 9.30 to 10.30 a.m. when producers sell duck carcases and a huge hall is filled with tables where people display anything from 20 to a hundred or so of their ducks for sale at very reasonable prices (around 2 euros per kilo this week). This session of the market then closes and another opens to sell foie gras. Again small local producers bring small numbers of foies gras for around 30 euros per kilo (this week). During spring and summer, from next week onwards the two markets are combined and the market is usually smaller although, apparently, the Easter Monday market is very popular and busy.

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You choose your duck (above left) and then it is taken to be weighed at central scales before you pay for it. The foie gras is weighed by each stall holder. For 1 euro per bird you can take it to a cutting room where two men were working non-stop to joint the ducks. Some people had trolleys filled with twenty or so birds, for restaurants perhaps, others like us had just one.

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These ducks are specially reared to have plenty of fat for preserving them and are not meant for roasting. Our duck was cut into: 2 legs and 2 wings for making confit de canard, 2 magrets or breasts which can be grilled, the neck to be used to make cou farci – the skin stuffed with pork meat to make a kind of sausage, the giblets for preserving in fat, and the carcass which was delicious grilled so that we could eat the tender slivers of meat that were left on it. I’ll write another post in the next day or so about how we have made confit, cou farci and preserved the foie gras.

In another market hall next door there was a live poultry and vegetable market, with farmers selling baskets of fresh eggs by the door.

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The chickens in cages looked a bit cramped, but were heading for a life in the open air as free range layers – nothing like the life of a battery hen!

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Above left, the part of the market hall which is unused at this time of year, but would be used in winter when the market would be bigger, showing the size of this south-western phenomenon. On the right, one of the streets of the town where the usual market was taking place.

And the garden….

We came home with some oignons de Trébons, similar to our local Lézignan onions but with smaller bulbs. There’s some more about them in French here. Natives of the south-west, they may not do so well in our dry climate, but it’s worth a try.

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Above left, some of the new onions next to the second sowing of broad beans; right, the artichoke plants are doing well and we’re hoping for artichokes next month.

The tulips are out.
One of the cherry trees given to us by our neighbour a couple of years ago is flowering for the first time.
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and bay.

>Weekend food


We haven’t done much gardening this weekend, even though the weather has been sunny and mild, but we have eaten some very good food. As always on Saturday morning, the coquillage (shellfish) van came to the village from Bouzigues and I bought a kilo of mussels for our lunch.

Saturday lunch

We started with celery soup that Lo Jardinièr had made with celery from the garden, garnished with cream and parsley.


Then we cooked the mussels, breadcrumbed them and fried them in olive oil:


Mussels are so beautiful that I always want to take too many photos of them:

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Duck… twice

Last night we ate with the rest of the Cercle Occitan members in the village bar and the main course was duck legs in mushroom sauce. It was very good but Lo Jardinièr and I laughed when we saw them because we had bought duck legs for our Sunday lunch. I cooked them in a very different way, though, and the recipe for duck legs with apricots is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog.


We usually eat whatever vegetables are available in the garden, according to the season, and a lot of the tomatoes that we bottle during the summer, but sometimes in winter I long for my real favourites, the summer Mediterranean vegetables – aubergines, peppers, courgettes. So I bought an aubergine and some courgettes to make our first course for lunch today – cooked in olive oil with onions, garlic and rosemary and served garnished with chopped green olives and croutons.