Mussels, again, and the last broad beans

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Having mussel-loving family staying over the past few days meant buying them in quantity on Thursday and Saturday, both times the van calls in the village each week. One cooking method was simple, a brasucade de moules cooked over a vine wood fire in the garden. Just clean the mussels and put them in a large wide pan with garlic cloves, bay leaves, rosemary sprigs or any other herbs you have. Cook them until they have all opened and then serve them in the pan for everyone to help themselves.

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For another meal, indoors this time, I adapted my already adapted version of Colman Andrews’s recipe (the one where I used chard leaves instead of spinach). Having cooked the mussels in a glass of white wine until all the shells had opened, I made some aioli and chopped a large bunch of oregano, fresh from the garden. I put a small spoonful of chopped herbs in each half mussel shell, followed by a spoonful of aioli.

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I put them under the grill for a few minutes until the aioli puffed up a bit and browned slightly then served the mussels with lemon wedges.

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And a simple broad bean purée

We picked the last of our broad beans a few days ago. We’ve had an excellent crop this year – broad bean plants seem to be one of the few vegetables that have done well in our wet late spring – and we’ve frozen a lot of them for the winter. They do freeze very well. I saved some of this last picking to make a purée for spreading on toasts as an accompaniment to apéritifs. When the beans were cooked I removed the skins from the beans – this is something I rarely do, but it was necessary for making a purée. Then I whizzed them up with a clove of garlic, a few fresh mint leaves and some olive oil. It was a lovely spring green colour and tasted nice and fresh.

bean purée

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Mussels again

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Yesterday was the second anniversary of my moving this blog here and what could be better to celebrate than a big red bowl full of mussels, bought from the coquillage van from Bouzigues on its Saturday morning visit to the village? After cooking them all in a glass of white wine until the shells had opened, we made two different dishes with them. The first was an adaptation of a recipe in Colman Andrews’s Catalan Cuisine: I cooked some chard leaves, chopped them and added them to the mussels in their half-shells. I made some aioli and added a spoonful of this to each mussel, then put them under the grill until the aioli was bubbling and slightly browned. I wasn’t sure it would work but it did! Colman Andrews uses spinach, adds cream and makes the aioli with roasted garlic. I did try this but it curdled, so I reverted to my usual method with raw garlic crushed with sea salt. I’ll have to make this again, as we ate them so quickly I forgot to photograph them!  I did, however, photograph the delicious mussel fritters that Lo Jardinièr made with the rest of the mussels.

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He chopped the cooked mussels with a bunch of oregano, then mixed them into a stiff flour and water batter. Then he folded all of that into beaten egg white and fried spoonfuls of the mixture in hot olive oil. Very tasty!

Small harvests – sorrel and artichoke

Sometimes the tastiest harvests, the ones that make me most pleased that we grow our own food, are very small scale. Yesterday, when we were eating fried breadcrumbed mussels for lunch, I was inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s sorrel recipes to pick 6 large sorrel leaves and whizz them with a clove of garlic and 3 tablespoons of crème fraiche to make a sauce for the mussels. It was nice and sharp and made an interesting change from squeezing lemon on them.

mussels and sorrel

Today I noticed that one of the small artichokes our plants are producing was ready to pick. Not a lot between two of us, but it made a very tasty mise en bouche sliced thinly and fried in olive oil. The oil was delicious too, soaked up straight from the pan with pieces of bread!

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Unwrapping the palms + a birthday treat

pain du pecheur-1This pain du pecheur was served as an extra, a tapa or an accompaniment to the main course, at lunch at La Maison du Pecheur on the quayside at Mèze yesterday. Simple and delicious, it’s definitely something we’ll be trying at home soon: slices of rustic bread topped with a spicy garlicky mix of tomato, red pepper and anchovy. Our main course was a platter of grilled shellfish – mussels and clams with breadcrumbs, herbs and garlic, mussels with Roquefort, oysters with leeks and cream, gambas – served with a baked potate and a provençale tomato.

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It was fun, tasty, and relaxed. We were almost the last to leave our table with a view of the port, but we didn’t feel rushed and were even offered a complimentary glass of marc de muscat, a new digestif for us, produced from the must after the sweet Muscat de Frontignan is made, very aromatic and sweet smelling. It was a lovely birthday treat for me.

As we finished eating we noticed a nice sign of spring – the palm trees along the quay were being unwrapped from their winter fleeces.

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Muscles and mussels

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We can certainly keep only one of these patterns that have been revealed when we removed a kitchen cupboard in the house where we used to spend our holidays before we lived here all the time. It’s been let for a few years and now that it’s empty Lo Jardinièr and our son have been busy beginning a complete renovation – knocking down walls and an old chimney, removing the existing tiny shower room and preparing to build a new bathroom on the first floor. We knew the lovely old floor tiles were there underneath the more modern lino tiles because some had been left on the stairs and now we’re looking forward to restoring the whole floor. I don’t think we’ll be keeping this wallpaper, though! It’s odd to peel away the layers of modernisation in a very old house such as this and to think that some of the additions must have seemed wonderful in their day.

We’re still eating well in our own house, of course, while the renovations are going on in the other one. After a few hours’ hard work this supper of moules farcies followed by risotto was very restorative.

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Mussels cooked until they open in a glass of white wine, then with breadcrumbs, chopped garlic and herbs, a little olive oil and 5 minutes under a hot grill before serving.

Lo Jardinièr is the risotto expert in our house and luckily he still had enough energy left after demolishing part of an old chimney to make this one with green pepper and onions. He sautéed half the sliced green pepper with a sliced onion in a mix of olive oil and butter then added rice, white wine, salt, and water gradually, allowing the rice to cook while it was frequently stirred until cooked. Then he stirred in grated cheese and served the risotto garnished with the rest of the sliced pepper sautéed at the last moment and sliced cured ham.

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Mussels with onions and leeks

Yesterday we decided on a less Mediterranean, perhaps more wintry, recipe for our mussels. I cooked a sliced onion and leek slowly in some olive oil until they had softened, adding some lardons (small pieces of salted bacon) and chopped garlic for the last five minutes and then stirring in a couple of large spoonfuls of crème fraiche, while the mussels cooked separately in a glass of white wine until they had all opened. I added some of the cooking liquid from the mussels (a mix of wine and the water that comes out of them when they’re cooked) to the onion, leek and cream mixture and mixed it in well. Then I put the mussels in large bowls and poured the leek and onion sauce over them. Even though I’d bought the smaller mussels, they were still nice a plump for this time of year:

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As some kind people are asking about it, I am working on a book of mussels and other shell fish recipes, when the rest of life doesn’t get in the way. Readers of this blog will be the first to hear when it’s ready!

Simply mussels

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Some of the larger sized mussels sold specially for stuffing – à farcir – cooked in the usual way in a little white wine until all have opened. Add chopped garlic and parsley and some olive oil and put them in the oven for 10 minutes. Serve with a quarter of lemon to squeeze over them.

A perfect day in Bouzigues

On one of those November days when it feels like spring, with bright sunlight and 17°C temperature, we went to Bouzigues yesterday. Many of the traditional and more modern boats were moored in the small port next to the museum whose displays explain the industry and natural environment of the area around the Etang de Thau.

The wooden building on the right is a fishing hut now owned by the Association Voile Latine. The voile latine or vela latina in Catalan and Occitan is the triangular sail used along the coast from here to Catalunya on boats for sardine and anchovy fishing and for gathering clams and other shell fish in the sea-water lagoon between Bouzigues and Sète. I saw this tiled diagram of the terms used for the rigging on a wall in Sant Feliu de Guixols:

 

Because Occitan and Catalan are similar languages the same terms, with minor differences in spelling and pronunciation, are used in both regions.

 

 

 

One of the shell fish producers was leaving the port to work in the beds out in the lagoon, but in a much more modern motorised boat.

 

As we usually do when we’re in Bouzigues, we had lunch at Chez la Tchepe, a simple café where there are crates of raw shell fish, as well as cooked prawns and sea snails, at the counter. You make your choice, order bread, home-made mayonnaise and a bottle of wine and sit at tables in the sun, just across the road from the lagoon and in sight of the mussel and oyster beds, for the short wait until the shells have been opened for you.

We had oysters and mussels, a dozen of each. I’ve only recently discovered how much I like raw mussels and I’m making up for all the years when I’ve handed them over to Lo Jardinièr to enjoy!  And, below, a plate of prawns and escargots de mer, sea snails, with mayonnaise.

And, of course, a bottle of Picpoul, white wine made in a small area between the Etang de Thau and Pézenas, which goes especially well with sea food. There seems to be a magical relationship between the agricultural produce of an area and the wine made nearby, something we’ve found in many regions and which is particularly true of Picpoul and shell fish. It was lunchtime and we were driving home, so it was helpful that the café keeps the cork for you so you can take home the wine that you can’t drink.

 

As we left Bouzigues we took a detour to the more industrial area where the shell fish are brought in from the lagoon, on tracks along these jetties and then on conveyor belts into the packing area. It’s an industry, but on a small, human scale.

 

Curing olives

The black olives that I picked a week or so ago – see here – have been soaking in spring water since then and I’ve been changing the water every few days. Today it was time to salt them. Every time I cure olives I think I follow a slightly (or very) different method and this way is possible only because we have a very small crop – just over a kilo this year.

I drained the olives and cut a slit in each of them with a sharp knife.

 

Then I added a lot of coarse-grained sea salt – about 500 grams to the kilo of olives and mixed it in so that all the olives were coated with salt.

 

I added a layer of salt over them all and then covered the bowl with a large plate. I’ll leave them like this for a couple of weeks, draining off any liquid from time to time, until I taste an olive and find that it’s no longer bitter. Then they’ll be ready to cover with olive oil and store in jars until we eat them.

And mussels again

The Saturday morning visit of the coquillage van from Bouzigues gave me the chance to re-create a dish we had for lunch recently, made by our friends S & D in Montblanc, and also according to another friend available in at least one Barcelona bar. This is my version:

 

I chopped some of the last of our red and green peppers finely with two cloves of garlic and a piment d’Espelette and some basil leaves. I whizzed two small peeled tomatoes in the liquidiser with some olive oil, a pinch of salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar and mixed this dressing into the chopped vegetables.

 

Meanwhile, Lo Jardinièr was cooking the mussels with a glass of white wine until they all opened and removing the empty half of the shell. I put a spoonful of the pepper mixture into each mussel shell and we ate them with a squeeze of lemon, bread and a glass of local rosé.

A couple of shell fish days

I’ve just realised that I haven’t posted on this blog for a week and I haven’t yet posted everything I want to from my Valencia/Xativa/Barcelona trip. I will during the next few days but in the meantime here are some shell fish we’ve enjoyed over the past few days and their place of origin, the Bassin de Thau between Bouzigues and Sète. These are just a few of the hundreds of frames covering a stretch of the lagoon from Bouzigues to Marseillan, an industry that gives employment to 3,000 people in this area.

With relatives staying who love shell fish, we ate oysters and mussels and other coquillage supper at home on Saturday when Lo Jardinièr opened the oyster shells using a special knife and a wooden device to hold the shell and make it less likely that he would cut himself.

 

Yesterday lunchtime we went to the source and ate at Chez la Tchepe on the waterfront at Bouzigues. This is a wonderful, simple café with tables out on the roadside terrace and indoors next to the counter where the raw shell fish which is their speciality is displayed in plastic crates. We ordered platters of oysters, raw mussels, cooked prawns and escargots de mer (sea snails), and a species we hadn’t eaten before – violets or sea potatoes, strange creatures with a leathery skin and a sea-flavoured edible centre. Having started with tielles, the sea food pies that are a local speciality, we were served the shell fish with a basket of white and whole grain bread and a bottle of Picpoul, the white wine grown in this are which goes especially well with fruits de mer.

 

 

Above, the violets served cut in halves, and below, a few of the empty shells at the end of our lunch: