Cooking pots on the street

 

Spotted outside a shop in Pézenas today: a traditional Provençal daubière and some Moroccan-inspired tagines, a couple of bowls and some jam funnels.  The daubière is used for making the slow-cooked dish of beef, vegetables, red wine, garlic and herbs known as la daube.

In literature, this dish is associated for me with Mrs Ramsay and her dinner party in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, although of course Mrs Ramsay didn’t prepare it herself. “The cook had spent three days over that dish”, we’re told, while Mrs Ramsay takes the credit for the fact that it is “a triumph”. “It is a French recipe of my grandmother’s”, she says. And sure enough, when I googled boeuf en daube others too had published la recette de ma grandmère.

Elizabeth David gives a good, if rather complicated recipe in Mediterranean Food for those of us whose grandmothers didn’t make it (my maternal grandmother was a vegetarian so she certainly didn’t).  She cooks the marinade first before adding it to the meat the day before cooking.  I would just add red wine, bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, peppercorns and garlic to the meat and leave it overnight. Next day add sliced carrots and onions and some more wine and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. As Elizabeth David says, “This dish has a really beautiful southern smell and appearance.”

There are as many recipes for tagine as there are pots to cook them in, but my version of lamb and olive tagine is on the Food from the Mediterranean blog – here.

Party

Lo Jardinièr and I have both turned 60 this year so we thought it was time for a party.  We’ve been planning it for months and inviting friends and family from the village and around and from Wales, London and the Basque country too. Finally on Saturday night everything and everyone came together and with a lot of help from a lot of people we had a fantastic evening that went on into the small hours in the garden belonging to some very good friends. A threatened thunderstorm turned up 24 hours early so we didn’t have to find shelter for the fire and all the guests after all – everything went to plan. I’ve long wanted to have a meshwi – a whole lamb roast – although I’d never done this before, but fortunately our friends B. and M-J have done this many times and they took charge of the cooking, starting the fire at about 3 in the afternoon, stuffing and sewing up the lamb with couscous, putting it all on the spit and feeding the fire with the vine wood we’d collected, basting the meat and then carving it – the latter with a lot of interested help and in the dark too by the time it was cooked!

 

 

This was the main course for 40 people, that followed entrées we’d made – rice salad, felafel, tomato salad, ratatouille, charcuterie. The lamb, specially ordered direct from a farm in the Aveyron by a wonderful arrangement with the caveau at the Domaine des Pascales, where we buy wine and where I exhibited my photos earlier in the summer, was perfect – tender, tasty, perfectly cooked.  We followed it with Roquefort and goats’ cheeses from Mas Rolland and then Turkish pastries I’d made and local peaches and nectarines.  We also had our friend Ray and his excellent jazz band to entertain us before and after the meal. It was a night to remember!

A tourist experience

We’ve just spent a few days away in the Minervois, not far from home but far enough to be a little different and to give us a break.  But it also gave us a rare insight into the way tourists experience our area and I’m not sure they’re always offered the best of it, especially when it comes to food.  Is it that restaurants in tourist areas give their clients what they want, or is it what the restaurant owners think they want?  We ate very well, and have no complaints about the food we ate or the service we found, but I was disappointed that chances to show strangers the real Languedoc are being missed.

On our first evening we ate our supper at La Peniche at Homps on the Canal du Midi – a gathering place for holidaymakers because it’s a centre for the canal boats that can be hired by the week and a stopping place for others who are cruising up and down the lovely plane-tree-lined waterway.  Although the restaurant has café tables next to the canal its restaurant tables are in a courtyard behind the main building so there’s no view of the water from your table, but the courtyard is a pleasant place to eat and given the number of people there it seemed quite relaxing.  And the service is excellent, from the friendly owners and their staff, even while they’re very busy.  I don’t want to complain about the restaurant, just to point out where they might have given their visitors an even better experience.

I always look first at the menu du terroir, which to me suggests that the food is typical of the immediate are around the restaurant.  Here, the menu du terroir seemed to cover a much wider area: yes, it had cassoulet as one of the main course dishes and that is a speciality of this area around Carcassonne, but soupe de poissons (as a first course) and seiche à la Sétoise (as a main course) were also included – about forty kilometres from the sea, more than a hundred kilometres from Sète and in a different département.  I chose the menu régional (a vaguer term) and very much enjoyed the entrée, an assiette occitane, and the main course, osso bucco de souris d’agneau (lamb shank with osso bucco sauce), although lamb is not common in much of the region.

l’assiette occitane

lamb shank with osso bucco sauce

The real disappointment and failure to show the tourists the best of our area came with the cheese course: a slice of Brie (from northern France), a piece of unidentified cows’ milk hard cheese and a piece of blue cheese, probably fourme d’Ambert which comes from the Auvergne region of central France.  How sad that visitors to Homps are not given the chance to taste some of  the excellent goats’ milk and sheep’s milk cheeses that are made in the region.

If you’re in Homps I would recommend La Peniche as a place to eat a reasonably priced (for a tourist area) menu accompanied by good local wine in pichets – rare in restaurants, where usually the owners try to make money from selling over-priced bottles.  But it’s a shame that a popular restaurant like this cannot introduce visitors to more local delights in its menus.

Because we’re lucky enough to be invited by friends to their homes to eat the traditional dishes of this area, like ragout d’escoubille and civet de sanglier (wild boar), for instance, we know what visitors are missing when they eat in the tourist hotspots. The best food we ate while we were away was in small unpretentious cafés offering a menu du jour for a reasonable price.  In Montolieu, a village of bookshops and a marvellous museum of the history of printing, under the welcome dark shade of plane trees in a small place next to the church, the colours of the place settings and the salads shone:

And in Cessenon-sur-Orb, on our way home, the shade once more came from plane trees (so much cooler than parasols when it’s 35 C) and the plat du jour was a delicious sauté de porc with red pesto sauce that had been made by the woman who served us. In the cafés in small villages like this the food approaches the best of home cooking that we know is there.

Cawl

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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.

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Wine, vistas and lunch

This morning we hoped to have coffee in the café at Faugères whose terrace has a view of the Pyrenees.  In spite of the sunshine and temperature of 15C the wind was a bit chilly for sitting outside and the Pyrenees were not visible because of cloud. I couldn’t blur the difference in sky colour from east to west so the panorama didn’t stitch together very well and I’m posting three of the shots I took from the same spot. The clouds in the distance mark the mountains – it is often possible to see the clouds on the Pyrenees rather than the mountains themselves.  From the sea in the east,

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south towards Mont Canigou and the rest of the Pyreneean range,

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and west towards the nearer hills with their stone walls and goatherds’ shelters.

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It was a nice surprise to find that the caveau was open on Sundays, so we bought wine – some white Domaine de Coudougno and some red Les Fonts de Caussiniojouls – and found this old piece of wine-making machinery on the terrace outside.  I think it was used for separating the grapes from the stalks and leaves.

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And then it was time to go home and light the barbecue out in the place to cook lamb chops, onions and peppers.

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barbecue

It was warm enough to leave the door open next to the table where we eat:

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and the lamb chops, from one of the two excellent butchers in Roujan, were tender and delicious, served with the grilled vegetables, rice and yogurt mixed with chopped garlic and paprika.

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Burning the old season

At last our pile of tomato plants, olive tree prunings and other unwanted vegetation had dried out enough to make a bonfire, so we had a good Sunday morning’s work in the garden. Lo Jardinièr managed the fire, and watched it carefully because even after rain there’s always a danger of wild fire here, and planted out some Garriguette strawberry plants our neighbour had given us, while I did a bit more pruning of olives and roses.

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It was warm in the sun when we were working in the garden, and the rosemary is still flowering:

We came home at lunchtime hungry and very glad that I’d prepared a lamb tagine yesterday. The recipe is on the Food from the Mediterranean blog – click on the link in the sidebar.

Winter lamb

We eat a lot of pork and chicken  – falling in with the local customs and with what is available in the local shops.  And we enjoy both.  But I love lamb, so every so often we treat ourselves to it, sometimes ordering a half-lamb from the Domaine des Pascales, the wine producer in the village with family connections on a sheep farm in the Aveyron, and sometimes buying it in smaller quantities.  In summer we cook it simply, grilling chops or pieces on skewers on the barbecue, but as the weather gets colder the need for winter comfort food increases.  Yesterday I bought a whole shoulder and as soon as I saw it I had a vision of it stewed with chick peas.  We cut some of it into chunks to put in the freezer for a sunny day (which I hope comes soon), leaving the knuckle half of the shoulder for stewing, and I put some dried chick peas in water to soak overnight.

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Today, I browned the meat and some onions in olive oil, added six roughly chopped cloves of garlic, four of our last tomatoes, peeled and chopped, four carrots, peeled and chopped, a chopped paprika pepper, some bay leaves, the drained chickpeas and enough water to cover.  I brought it to the boil and then simmered it for an hour and a half.  I removed the joint from the sauce and cut the meat off the bone and into small chunks, added salt to the sauce and reheated it.  I didn’t have any parsley for a garnish so I used slices of a small green pepper.  We ate it with paillasse bread, crustier and tastier than the standard baguette.

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Of course, it isn’t really winter yet, it just feels like it because we haven’t seen the sun for so long.  The days are still quite mild and we haven’t had any really cold nights.  We still have pepper plants on the balconies, with peppers turning red (slowly) and even some flowers.

Vendange

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Friends of ours in the village whose family have been vine-growers for generations and have taken their grapes to cooperatives last year began to make their own small-quantity, high-quality red wine.  Unlike their other grapes which are picked by machine, grapes for this wine are hand picked from two small vineyards.  We helped them pick the grapes last year, and they have now done the assemblage (the mixing of the wine resulting from the different varieties of grapes) of last year’s vintage.  It will be several months before that is ready to be bottled.  It’s a long process!  But it’s one that we feel privileged to be a small part of and to follow. 

Today a dozen of us picked the Syrah grapes for this year’s vintage.  Luckily the weather was much cooler than it has been for the last few days, cloudy with a cool breeze which made it much easier to work.

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This is a small parcelle of vines and took just a morning’s work, but it was tiring.  Years ago, in the youthful memories of some of our friends, the vendange would go on for weeks, with hand-picking day after day, morning and afternoon.  I don’t know how they managed to do it, but for four hours today it was fun, chatting and joking in French and Occitan as we all moved up and down the rows of vines.

When we got home we were certainly ready for lunch, so I was glad I’d prepared it yesterday: lamb with tomatoes and capers – the recipe is on my Food from the Mediterranean blog.

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PS you can see the machines that are used in the bigger vineyards on my last year’s grape-picking post.

Swallowtail butterfly

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At this time every year there’s always a day when I take a ridiculous number of photos of one of these beautiful butterflies on our lavender flowers. Today was that day.  Sorry, the lamb chops etc. seem to have found their way onto the butterfly slideshow.

Thanks to Chica Andaluza for pointing me in the direction of A Dash of Domestic’s post and thanks to her for her post on how to make a slideshow.

And then lunch ….

Lamb chops on the barbecue

Earlier in the year we bought half a lamb from the Domaine des Pascales where we buy our rosé and white wine.  One of the family lives on a sheep farm in the Aveyron and brings the lambs from their small flock to sell.  These were some of the chops from that purchase.  They were delicious with yogurt mixed with chopped garlic and mint, lemon, and barbecued aubergine and small green peppers straight from the garden.  And a glass of red wine, of course.

Lamb, aubergine and green peppers

And to follow, some farmhouse St Nectaire cheese, also from the Aveyron and also bought from Domaine des Pascales, bought from one of the places where they sell their wine – a good trade!

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>Tomatoes germinated

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DSC05919 The tomato seeds we sowed last weekend had all germinated by Friday (except for the Marmande) and were ready to go in one of the mini-greenhouses that Lo Jardinièr made last year. In the mornings we keep them inside but next to a window that has sun, in the afternoons they go out on the balcony. The seedlings seem to be growing very quickly! Now that they no longer need seed-starter box we have sowed the pepper seeds.

Varieties of peppers sown from seed we have saved or been given by friends:

Kandil dolma – a Turkish bell pepper with a very distinctive flavour. Only one germinated last year so we’re hoping for more this year.

Red marconi

Corno di toro

Spanish long pepper – seeds given to us by our neighbour.

Long pepper – seeds given to us by our garden neighbours.

Nardello

Piment d’Espelette – seed from paprika peppers bought in the village of Espelette in the French Basque country. As there is an appélation controlée for peppers grown in the area of that village I’m not sure whether the ones we grow here can be called Espelette.

Chorizo – another paprika variety. Seeds saved from peppers we grew last year from seed given to us by a friend in Navarra.

In the garden

The broad beans we sowed in autumn are flowering now and the second row we sowed a few weeks ago are coming up well, along with a few of the mangetout peas which always seem to be slower to germinate.

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And two good meals from the weekend…

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Above left, the cawl (Welsh stew or soup made with lamb, leeks, potatoes and carrots) we served for our soirée galloise on Friday, when we invited 14 French/Occitan friends to celebrate St David’s Day with us, and right, the paella I made for Sunday lunch with pork, rabbit and chorizo.