Nine-day wonders

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Market day

Wednesday has been market day in our village since 1180 and for all this time it has been a meeting and trading place for people from the sea, the coastal plains and the mountains.  Although it’s a small market now, the tradition continues with the regular stalls including fish from the Mediterranean and shell fish from Bouzigues, vegetables, some local and some from Provence and Spain, and charcuterie from Lacaune in the mountains to the north-west of here.  Stalls selling clothes and household goods also visit from time to time, but the three food stalls are a constant. 

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I used to have a rule that I wouldn’t buy vegetables we grow in the garden when they are not available in the garden, but I frequently break this rule with aubergines.  Although we have frozen and bottled ratatouille and other aubergine dishes, I like them too much simply sliced and fried in olive oil to wait until June when we hope to have our home-grown ones again.  Our local goat farm at Mas Rolland has stopped selling cheese for the winter and will start again in February.  Their cheeses are the best I’ve ever tasted, but luckily the village shop sells other, more commercially produced but still fairly local, goats’ cheeses, so I was able to make this salad with my contraband aubergine:

aubergine salad

Fried slices of aubergine and red pepper, slices of goats’ cheese, chopped paprika, parsley and garlic, with toasted paillasse bread.  Oh, and a glass of Domaine d’Estève wine we bought there this morning – the bag in box of AOC Faugères red that we always have in the kitchen.  We also bought some of their best wine, Plo des Figues, but that’s for les fêtes when our family will be here.

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Nearly the end of the pepper harvest


We’re still picking a few piments d’Espelette for drying and grinding to make paprika, but it’s nearly the end of the season for them.

Goats' cheeses from Mas Roland

And in a few weeks’ time cheese production will stop for the winter at La Ferme du Mas Roland. These cheeses I bought today are a mix of fresh (1 day old), demi-sec (3 days old) and cendré (rolled in ash). I made salads for the first course of our supper tonight with some of our last tomatoes, chopped red and yellow peppers and the fresh goats’ cheese.

Fresh goats' cheese salad

Our main course was a foretaste of winter: pumpkin risotto garnished with crisp-fried lardons and sage leaves.

Pumpkin risotto

Going shopping

We buy most of the food that we don’t grow ourselves  in the village, at the Wednesday market, in the boulangerie, and in the épicerie, which has recently been taken over by an enthusiastic young couple, much to our delight.  Among the very few items we buy in supermarkets is the Italian espresso coffee which I can’t live without.  And one of our favourite trips out of the village is the 5-kilometre drive to Mas Rolland, the goat farm in the hills.

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From spring until November the goats spend all day grazing in the aromatic garrigue around the farm and return in the late afternoon to be milked while the cheese is sold.  People come quite long distances because the cheese is well-known.  At this time of year there are a lot of visitors as well as locals.  I’ve eaten goats’ cheese all over France, and always enjoyed it, but I think that the Mas Rolland pelardons  are the best I’ve ever eaten.

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Today I bought a couple of each of three variations – cendré (rolled in ash), in the foreground here, fresh (1 day old), on the right, and slightly more mature 3 days old, on the left.  The fresh cheese is good in dishes like the aubergine entrée I made the other day, while the others make a wonderful cheese course – as I hope they will, with a mountain Gavach cows’ milk cheese from Lacaune, tomorrow when we have friends to lunch.

There’s more about Mas Rolland (in French) on their excellent website – here.

Aubergine no. 200

One evening last week we went to the village bar in Neffiès, L’Escampette, a few kilometres away, for a wonderful supper with our daughter, her partner and some friends, and spent a very enjoyable few hours at a table in the village square outside the bar listening to funky live music by Fonky Nykon.  The food and the music, as we expected because we’ve been there many times before, were exceptionally good for a small bar and the highlight and beginning of the three-course menu was a dish of aubergines and goats’ cheese.  (The other courses were delicious and beautifully presented too:  salmon and gambas en papillote, gardiane de taureau (beef stewed in red wine) for carnivores, and creamy panacotta or tiramisu for dessert.)

I’ve attempted to create my version of the aubergine first course, even though it was rather fiddly to make – my presentation style is a bit more rustic than this usually.  I used our 200th aubergine of the season, cut into rounds and roasted in the oven, a fresh goats’ cheese from Mas Rolland, mixed with thyme, chopped garlic, chopped pine nuts, salt and pepper and a little crème fraiche to make it easier to mould and sandwich between the layers of aubergine, and a sliced orange pepper and cherry tomatoes to garnish.  At the bar they had garnished it with salad leaves but we haven’t any in the garden at this time of year as it’s too hot for them.  I think I’ll go back to arranging food more anarchically across the plates in future, rather than building upwards, but maybe this slightly leaning tower is a good way to celebrate our overproduction of aubergines!

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A simple lunch

We’d spent most of the morning making ratatouille and stuffed peppers for the freezer and then treated ourselves to an hour out in the sun taking photos, so we didn’t feel like making anything too complicated for lunch.  One of our Spanish gardening neighbours had passed on an idea for a very simple courgette salad: finely slice the courgette, using a mandolin, a sharp knife or the slicing blades of a grater, add some chopped garlic if you like it (we do) and a dressing made from red wine vinegar (home made by a friend) mixed with a little honey then whisked with olive oil, salt and pepper.   I left the salad to marinade in the fridge for a few hours before serving to deepen the flavours.  I found that a piece of crusty bread was essential to mop up the dressing.

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And socca…

Socca, like pan bagnat, is a speciality from Nice and it’s also eaten on the other side of the Italian border in Liguria and Tuscany.  It’s a pancake made with chickpea flour and can be baked in the oven, although we use a frying pan just as we would for pancakes.  To make the batter for 2 plate-sized soccas: add a tablespoonful of olive oil, salt and pepper to 5 tablespoonfuls of chickpea flour and then mix in enough water to make a fairly thick batter.  Cook it in olive oil, turning once.  It can be eaten on its own, but we often use it as an alternative to bread, piling vegetables and/or fish (anchovies are good this way) onto it rather like a pizza.  Today we put a good spoonful of the ratatouille we’d made on each one and added some chopped green olives (black would have been more authentic perhaps but we didn’t have any) and garlic.  And we had some delicious fresh goats’ cheese from Mas Rolland to accompany it – a simple and very tasty lunch.

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>Spring fair

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Today la rue de l’Eglise, the widest street in the old part of the village, and the place where the Wednesday market is usually held were lined with stalls selling goats’ cheese, sheep’s cheese, honey, wine, olive oil, flowering plants, vegetable garden plants, asparagus, strawberries, and handmade crafts.  The weather was dull in the morning but it cleared up later, and the day seemed to be a success.

IMGP9577 lemon trees, tomato plants, flowers…… IMGP9575
IMGP9578 goats’ cheeses from Mas Rolland…… IMGP9583
asparagus, churros and children’s rides…..
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our friends from le Moulin de Casso, which I wrote about when it first opened, selling their olive oil.
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We bought some Bouteillan and some Picholine olive oil, each with its own distinctive and delicious flavour.  The Picholine oil went very well first on its own with bread and then with some Mas Rolland goats’ cheeses at lunchtime, accompanied by a salad made with leaves from the garden and grated carrot and apple.

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>Planting out aubergines and finding a green lizard

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We’ve planted out about a dozen aubergine plants our neighbour gave us – six of them next to a row of peppers on the left below.  We usually grow the grafted plants, bought from a garden centre, because they produce so many more aubergines than the ordinary plants, but this year we’ll try these, as well as a few grafted ones.  The Greek maize I planted out a couple of weeks ago is doing well (on the right below).

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Sweet corn (maize) and a row of lettuce.

We also planted a row of chard, also given to us by our neighbour, next to the two rows of haricot beans which are growing quite well.  I picked the rest of last year’s chard today as it was going to seed, and we ate it this evening with pasta and cured ham.

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Our ‘big’ iris has started to flower (left below), later but more spectacularly than our white and mauve irises, and the red salvia was attracting a few bees (right).

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And the green lizard under the olive tree

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They’re much more shy than the brown wall lizards, so I was lucky to catch this one on camera!

IMGP9247 Our garlic is growing quite tall, but I don’t think it will ever be as good as the garlic I bought from this stall in Pézenas market on Saturday.  It’s very fresh and tastes wonderful chopped raw onto salads and other vegetable dishes.

And home to lunch….

IMGP9331 After working in the garden this morning we came home to a lunch of aubergine puréed with olive oil, garlic and oregano, some broad beans straight from the garden cooked with cured ham, and goats’ cheese from Roujan with thyme from the garden and olive oil that was milled in the village from olives from Servian, only about 10 kilometres away – all local, fresh and delicious!

>Definitely autumn

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Our son was staying with us this week and, while it was warm enough to have lunch in the garden a couple of times, the sea wasn’t warm enough for swimming.

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Barbecued lamb and peppers for lunch, but the sea was chilly at Portiragnes-plage.

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We’re still picking plenty of aubergines and peppers – the red ones are Kolaska, a delicious spicy variety, the green ones are Marconi and Corno di Toro which I don’t think will ripen now as it’s too late in the year. They’re very tasty when they’re green, though. The Praying Mantis seemed to be looking for somewhere to lay its eggs.

Pézenas market

On Saturday morning, before going back to London, our son wanted to buy jambon to take with him… we saw a few other stalls as well:

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denim and sunflowers…
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winter hats and scarves….
IMGP2005 olive oil and salt cod…
IMGP2007 fritters and sea food salads IMGP2009 eggs and charcuterie….
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and fish.

Sunday lunch

On our own again after our son went home, we consoled ourselves with a very good lunch:

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Aubergine slices with goats’ cheese, garlic and oregano, with honey and balsamic vinegar dressing for our first course, followed by pieces of shoulder of lamb slow-cooked with figs, shallots and white wine, served with rice.

Quinces again

We picked a basketful of quinces to make membrillo (quince paste), as we usually do at this time of year – the recipe is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog. The quinces this year are of much better quality, bigger with fewer bugs in them, so easier to cook.

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And a beautiful sunset this evening

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