Blau / bleu / blue / glas

Whichever language you choose – Occitan, French, English, Welsh to name just four – the Mediterranean was blue today, as Food, Photography and France found the Atlantic over on his side of the land the other day. In the port at Marseillan-plage this morning there was only one working fishing boat (alongside some pleasure boats and a shoal of horrible jet skis being prepared for the tourist season). The nets, the flies and the dead crabs’ legs on the quay were evidence that this boat is useful, and I love nets anyway, so I took a few photos.

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As I said, the sea was blue, and a few intrepid tourists seemed to have decided it was summer:

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We took shelter from the sun and the wind on a restaurant terrace with a view of the port and had a good lunch – soupe de poisson with nice garlicky rouille, seiche a la plancha with persillade, a pichet of local rosé…..and only the rosé was photographed.

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Another warming casserole

The temperature hovered around 0°C last night. I know that isn’t cold in some places but it is here. But the days are bright and the cold wind has dropped. The small plants from our first sowing of broad beans are doing well although those from the second sowing haven’t appeared yet. Everything else in the garden seems dormant apart from the herbs: bay, rosemary, thyme and parsley. I picked a large bunch of each for a casserole today. I love making casseroles because they seem to combine fresh ingredients in a magical way that creates something more than the sum of them all. And you can go out for a Sunday morning stroll in the sun, leaving it all to cook gently, and return to the appetising smell that fills the kitchen, as we did at lunchtime today.

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Beef and red wine casserole – for 4

600 grams stewing beef (I used jarret or shin), cut in chunks; 1 onion, finely chopped; 3 carrots, finely chopped; 6 cloves of garlic, chopped; sprigs of rosemary and thyme; 2 tablespoons chopped parsley; 3 large bay leaves; 2 tablespoons juniper berries and 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar; 2 dozen black olives; 500 ml red wine; 1 large glass Cartagène or brandy (optional); 1 tablespoon flour; olive oil; salt.

Cook the onion and carrot in a little olive oil in a cast-iron pan until the onion has softened. Add the pieces of beef, stir and allow to brown slightly. Add the garlic, juniper berries, peppercorns and Cartagène and stir again. Cover the meat with the red wine and add the herbs and salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 hours, checking occasionally that there is enough liquid and adding the olives after about 2 hours. 10 minutes before serving mix the flour with a little of the liquid from the casserole then add the paste back to the pan to thicken it.  Serve garnished with the chopped parsley, with rice or, as we ate it for lunch today, with potatoes mashed with olives and garlic.  Guaranteed to warm on a winter’s day!

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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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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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Route barrée

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Going up the hill to the garden for the first time since we’ve been home, we found this.  Work has stopped for the weekend, but the project is to lay a water pipe all the way down the hill, closing the narrow road to traffic and forcing us to postpone plans to collect some more goat manure as it will be impossible to take the car and trailer near enough to the garden.  There were some good surprises, though.  The broad beans have survived very well, with help from the covering we gave them, during nights when the temperature reportedly sank as low as minus 10 C, and the parsley is also still green and growing.

We consoled ourselves with the thought that a lot of the work of gardening over the next couple of months will be in the house and on the balconies, sowing tomato and pepper seeds and keeping them warm in the mini-greenhouses until they are big enough and the danger of frost has passed so that we can plant them out.   We also consoled ourselves with a very good lunch.

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Rosé wine from the Domaine de Cadablès on one side of the village and bread dipped in olive oil from the mill at the other side of the village, Moulin de Casso.

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Some of the foie gras we conserved last March after our trip to the Gers, served simply with large-grain sea salt and pink peppercorns.

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Guinea fowl legs pot-roasted in a glass of local white wine with onion, garlic and smoked bacon, then put in the oven for the last 10 minutes to brown the skin, served with potatoes roasted in duck fat.

Sanglier – wild boar

A week or so ago a friend who has family members who go hunting in the hills around the village said she’d give us some wild boar to eat while our family were here.  This is a rare treat for those of us who don’t hunt, so of course we accepted eagerly and were delighted to find that the ‘piece’ turned out to be a whole leg weighing 2.2 kilos.  Yesterday evening, with all the family having arrived, it made a wonderful main course for supper.

It was the first time we’ve cooked a whole joint of boar like this and I knew it would need quite slow cooking, so I put it on a bed of rosemary branches and garlic cloves in the biggest roasting dish I could find and poured half a litre of white wine over it.

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I covered the meat with greaseproof paper and then the whole pan with aluminium foil and put it into the oven at 150 C for a couple of hours, then another couple of hours at 160 C and then, finally, uncovered for an hour at 180 C.  By this time it was perfectly cooked, tender and tasty and ready to rest while my son deglazed the dish with red wine to make a delicious jus that is one of his specialities…..

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and for Lo Jardinièr to carve it into nice rustic chunks and slices.

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With this very local meat we drank a very local red wine, a new discovery for us from the Domaine de Cadablès where we went to taste the other day, the perfect accompaniment, full of the flavours of the garrigue which had nourished the boar.

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:

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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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Autumnal

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….

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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.

>Beginning a new year, and a wine update

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Some of the tomato plants weren’t looking very happy, so we picked the green tomatoes to ripen in the house and cleared the bed ready to sow peas and broad beans next week.  I always feel very excited when we plant out the tomatoes as it seems like the beginning of summer.  Today, then, may be the beginning of winter but it’s equally exciting because we’re already planning next spring’s crops.  That’s the great thing about gardening – there’s always the next season to look forward to.

Wine making

Looking even further ahead, the wine being made by our friends is progressing well.  The grapes we picked a few weeks ago have been fermenting in the vats in the cave.  Yesterday some of the wine was ready to be removed from the grape skins and then returned to the vat.  We were asked to go over to watch, take photographs and in Lo Jardinièr’s case to help.  I’m going to be writing much more about the whole process of making this wine in the future, but for the moment here are a few photos:

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Looking into the wine vat (left) and the press (right)

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(left) running the wine off the marc or skins, (centre) Lo Jardinièr working the press which removes the wine left in the skins, and (right) the wine running out of the press.  The wine was then returned to the vats.

and the Guardian blog…

Apparently, I had misunderstood a rule preventing links to ‘commercial’ sites and this is why my comment was deleted.  Very strange because my blog is certainly not commercial in any way and I have made relevant links to it before.  You can’t argue with the moderator, but I have suggested that the Guardian should make the wording of the rules clearer.