Cold weather comfort

The temperature has dropped by 10 to 15 degrees over the past two days and there’s a cold wind blowing from the mountains to the north. It seemed like a good day to turn to winter food and a substantial warming soup for lunch. This is loosely based on the Welsh dish cawl. The Ceredigion version of cawl, as enjoyed by past generations of my family on subsistence smallholdings where they kept a pig and grew their own potatoes, leeks and carrots in the field, is made with a bacon or lamb joint (in richer, lowland areas of Wales beef is used too), leeks, onions, carrots and potatoes. I used what I found in the kitchen cupboard and the village shop this morning:

I cooked a sliced onion in olive oil until it softened, then added 300 grams of sautée de veau (braising veal), a thick slice of poitrine salée (you could use a couple of thick slices of salty bacon), a sliced leek, a few potatoes cut into chunks, a cupful of green lentils (like Puy lentils, but these are grown locally), four cloves of garlic, roughly chopped, a few bay leaves and sprigs of thyme, and a chopped piment d’Espelette. I covered them all with a cupful of white wine and some water, added a little salt and simmered for about an hour. I didn’t add very much salt because I didn’t know how salty the poitrine would be – it’s best to add salt to taste once it’s cooked.

It was very warming! And, of course, some of the warmth came from the accompanying glass of red wine which wouldn’t be found with the traditional Ceredigion version!

Two dishes in one

When I was in the butcher’s buying the lamb chops we had for Sunday lunch I saw a kind of sausage I hadn’t seen there before: saucisson à cuire pistaché Lyonnais à l’ancienne.  Well, I can never resist anything new, especially if it has pistachios in it and especially if it’s a traditional recipe, à l’ancienne, so I asked Mme Perez how she would cook it.  First, she said it should be boiled in water.  Could you add vegetables to make a soup at the same time, I asked.  Oh, yes, she said, that’s what I’d do.  So that’s what I did yesterday.

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I chopped some carrots, half a fennel bulb, some garlic and a large potato and put them all in a pan with some herbs and the sausage, brought it to the boil and simmered for 35 minutes.  I took the sausage out but continued cooking the vegetables for a little longer as they weren’t quite soft enough for soup.  If you were going to eat them as a vegetable they would have been fine with the same cooking time as the sausage.  Then I left it all overnight in the fridge, although it could have been eaten straight away.

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We decided to liquidise the soup and eat it with croutons as a first course – it was a lovely tasty soup, fennel flavoured, thick and smooth.  The sausage was cold, of course, so I sliced it, peeled it and we ate it with potatoes roasted in duck fat as our second course.

Lyonnais sausage

Lyonnais sausage with potatoes

While we were eating it we remembered that we’d had a similar Lyonnais sausage cooked in brioche as a first course at Le Train Bleu, the ornately decorated restaurant in the Gare de Lyon in Paris.  This restaurant was built in 1900, in elaborate art nouveau style, with painted ceilings by three different painters, ‘Paris’ by Flameng, ‘Lyon’ by Debufe and ‘Marseille’ by Saint-Pierre, representing the main cities served by the station from which ‘le train bleu’ travelled to the Mediterranean.  It’s a rather over-the-top style for me and Lo Jardinièr, and it’s hardly a station café, with the tasting menu costing 98 euros per person, but once, a few years ago when we were coming home from Paris, we did treat ourselves to the ‘quick’ menu which I think cost about 50 euros then.  It was a memorable experience!  But we enjoyed our Lyonnais sausage today, too, in rather more relaxed surroundings.

It’s worth having a look at the restaurant’s website – here – if you haven’t been there.

>Cold harvest and warming onion soup


There isn’t much to harvest in the garden at the moment.  There will be more cauliflowers soon, and there are red and green cabbage leaves, but the chard and spinach seem to be waiting for longer days to produce new leaves.  All through the winter, though, we have lettuces and we picked one today:


This will make a couple of good salads for us, with grilled goats’ cheese on toast, une salade de chèvre chaud, or with charcuterie.

Today we felt like something more warming, and Lo Jardinièr made this onion soup, cooking the onions in olive oil for over an hour so that they tasted really sweet and adding home-made chicken stock.

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With a garnish of chopped parsley and garlic and accompanied by Aveyronnais bread and rustic paté with mushrooms, it made a delicious lunch on a cold, grey day.

>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.


>Winter fruit and winter soup


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Left, above, oranges on a tree in the car park next to the village bar.  Right, a delicious soup Lo Jardinièr made from pumpkin, carrots, onions, haricot beans, pasta and chunks of chorizo sausage, flavoured with a little chopped chilli pepper, thyme and bay and garnished with chopped garlic and basil.  Very warming on a cold November day!





The chorizo peppers on the balcony are still ripening in the sun, although we bring the plant indoors at night now and the plant has suffered a bit from cold winds during the day.

>Second anniversary


DSC01682 It’s two years this weekend since I started this blog. As I said last year, on the first anniversary, we’ve learnt a lot from becoming part of the community of gardening bloggers and have made many friends and even met some of them – Ian at Kitchen Garden in France and Kate at Hills and Plains Seedsavers and Vegetable Vagabond in Australia, who have both visited us here and who invited us to join their Kitchen Garden International weekend last September in south-western France. We’ve exchanged seeds with Ian and Kate and also with Laura at Mas du Diable, quite near us in the Cévennes, and with Michelle at From Seed to Table in California, where the climate is also Mediterranean. The blogs I read and from which I get enjoyment and inspiration are listed in the side bar, and there too many to mention here, but two which I read most often because they are by fellow Mediterranean gardeners, in a similar climate to ours, are Jan’s in Catalunya and Heiko’s in Italy. So, as well as our gardening neighbours here in Gabian who are a wonderful source of useful advice, we are benefiting from the knowledge and experience of gardeners and cooks all over the world. Thank you all!

Mid-February in the garden

It’s a quiet time in the garden, a time for planning the next year, but not for harvesting very much. Apart from herbs – thyme, rosemary, mint and bay especially – which we use daily, we’re picking only leeks and cabbages at the moment, with the chard and lettuces just recovering from the cold weather we’ve had.

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It seems to be a late spring – there is no sign yet of almond or apricot blossom and their buds are only just beginning to swell.

DSC01654 DSC01657 Left, the still-bare branches of our apricot tree, and above, canes and flower of bamboo, battered by the north wind, but beautiful against the clear sky on a cold day.

DSC01672 After a cold walk back from the garden we warmed ourselves with a bowl of Lo Jardinièr’s flageolet bean and vegetable soup, with goats’ cheese and cured pork on toast and some red wine from Montesquieu.


Spring will come, though, and today we’ve sowed our tomato seeds and put them on the seed starter box which Lo Jardinièr made last year. We put the new mini-greenhouse on the balcony in the sun today to try it out and, although it was a cold day – about 6 degrees C – the temperature inside reached 22 degrees! So it will be good for the tomato and pepper plants once they germinate and before we take them to the garden to put in the more rustic-looking cold frames we have there.

>Cold, cold, cold …


Snow fell here yesterday – a rare occurrence, just light showers of snowflakes drifting down on the freezing north wind.

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In the garden this morning we found a few little pockets of snow remaining amongst the straw we put around the broad beans to protect them. The broad bean plants look a bit sad. They were all doing so well, but they’ve been badly affected by the cold nights we’ve had. If these leaves don’t recover the plants will probably grow up again from the base… I hope.

Some cold garden images …

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Fallen passiflora leaves frozen to the table and our neighbour’s almond tree silhouetted against the clouds. It’s hard to believe that within about a month this tree should be blossoming.

A warming soup


It’s hard to believe, too, that we often eat lunch in the garden, in sunshine, in January. Today we came home as soon as we could to this warming velouté of mushroom and squash (the recipe is on this French/Greek blog). It was delicious with Aveyronnais bread from our local boulangerie.

The work that needs doing in the garden – mostly clearing ground so that we can put goat manure on it – will have to wait until the weather gets warmer. It was still minus 2 C at 11.30 a.m. today – that’s much too cold to garden!

>A cold market and garlic soup / un marché froid et la soupe à l’ail


It’s cold and grey today.  The woman on the fish stall, where we bought a squid, said she has got used to being outside all morning and not wearing gloves but she was shivering behind her display of cold, wet fish.  The charcutier told us there was snow in his home village of Lacaune, in the mountains to the north-west.  We bought some warming produce – poitrine salée to use in split-pea soup, fresh and cured sausage, garlic and some beautiful lemons.

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Aujourd’hui il fait froid et gris.  La poissonière duquelle nous avons acheté un encornet a dit qu’elle s’est habituée au temps, mais elle grelottait derrière son étalage de poissons froids et muoillées.  Le charcutier nous a dit qu’il y a de la neige chez lui à Lacaune, dans les montagnes au nord-ouest d’ici.  Nous avons acheté des produits qui vont nous chauffer – de la poitrine salée pour la soupe de pois cassés, de la saucisse fraîche, du saucisson sec, de l’ail et des beaux citrons.

Garlic and thyme soup / la soupe à l’ail et au thym

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I used the recipe in one of my favourite cookery books, André Soulier’s La Cuisine Secrète du Languedoc-Roussillon.  He gives several recipes for garlic soup and this is the simplest.  He says that it is eaten in Nîmes as a morning-after remedy for those who have over-indulged at the ferias.  I can’t give any guarantees about this, but it certainly tastes as though it will keep the winter germs at bay!

J’ai utilisé la recette d’André Soulier dans La Cuisine Secrète du Languedoc-Roussillon.  C”est la plus simple de ses plusiers recettes.  Il dit qu’elle se mange à Nîmes le landemain des courses des férias quand "la soupe au thym apaise les maux de tête et les aigreurs d’estomac".  Je ne peux pas offrir une guarantie, mais je suis sûre que les saveurs offrent la protection contre les microbes d’hiver!

To a litre of boiling salted water add the peeled cloves from 1 head of garlic (M. Soulier uses 6 cloves, but I like garlic so I added more), a bunch of thyme, 3 bay leaves, 1 onion studded with cloves.  Let it cook for 1 hour.  Put it through a chinois or a mouli légumes and reheat.  Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

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Squid rings in batter / calamares à la romaine

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We bought a lovely fresh squid in the market so that Lo Jardinièr could make one of his specialities.  The recipe will be on the Mediterranean food blog.

Nous avons acheté un joli encornet pour une des specialités del Jardinièr.  La recette sera sur le blog La cuisine mediterranéenne

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>Rocket soup and a swallowtail


All through the winter we have some kind of warming soup for lunch almost every day, but this one seems more springlike. Most soups are easy to make, but this one is especially quick and easy. I cut, wash and roughly chop a panful of rocket (it shrinks a lot when its cooked). You can use the quite thick stems that grow when the rocket is bolting and going to flower, as ours is at the moment, as well as the leaves. Add a chopped sweet onion, a little water and some salt. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Liquidise, reheat and mix in a couple of tablespoons of crème fraiche. Once youve added the crème fraiche its best not to let it boil again as it may curdle. It has a beautiful dark green colour and a good flavour. Serve with a swirl of extra crème fraiche.

Swallowtail butterfly

Yet another sign of spring yesterday when this butterfly was attracted to a bright patch of aubretia on our wall. Whenever we approached it flew off, but it always came back to the purple flowers until Lo Jardinièr managed to get this photo of it.