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

Mussels again

mussels

 

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!

Weekend harvest

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog and during this time spring carried on its one step forwards, two steps backwards progress, still feeling cold at times but with enough sun – and plenty of rain – to keep the plants growing well. In the garrigue some of the wild flowers are already passing their best. Wild garlic:

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and wild salsify – I think I’ve posted a photo of this beautiful star-shaped flower before but I’m doing so again because this is probably the last one I’ll see this year.

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In the garden, our big purple iris is almost embarrasingly big and purple:

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and the white cistus – my favourite of the cultivated cistuses – is flowering, its delicate flowers lasting only a day at a time before being replaced by others waiting to burst out of their buds:

4-cistus

 

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We’re thinking ahead from spring to summer crops now and this morning we planted out six peppers that have been nurtured up till now in mini-greenhouses on the balconies. These first six plants are of a variety that we call A and A Spanish as the seeds originally came from our friends A and A who had brought an especially tasty red pepper home from Spain a few years ago.

6-pepper plant

 

I’m very glad that I sowed two double rows of broad beans last autumn, one in October and another in November, because the second row is now producing huge pods while the first hasn’t finished yet either. In past years I’ve sown one double row in the autumn and then another in February, but I’ve found that the February-sown row never does very well, perhaps because there isn’t enough water for them at crucial times. Autumn-sown broad beans do much better here, as shown by the 4.5 kilos we picked today.

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These (most of which will be frozen), another small artichoke, some wild thyme from the garrigue and some wild flowers Lo Jardinièr had brought home to identify made the kitchen table look full of possibilities:

8-kitchen table

 

I cooked some of the broad beans straight away for lunch, in an earthenware dish over a low heat in olive oil, adding chopped garlic and oregano leaves and some tomato concentrate, then, once they were cooked which took only 5 minutes, some chopped leftover cooked artichoke hearts.

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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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artichoke-1artichoke-3

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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Birthday flowers

Lo Jardinièr’s blog, An entangled bank, celebrates its first birthday today. Do go over and see what he’s doing, and I think their are some party presents too. Lo Jardinièr is the wild flower expert so I thought I’d give him a bunch of flowers from the garden, cultivated rather than wild, today:

rose banksiae-1

climbing Banksiae rose

rosebudanother climbing rose nearby on the shelter where we eat in the garden

salviaa Salvia that’s almost too bright for the camera

californian poppyCalifornian poppy

coronellaCoronella

geranium

Geranium

cistus

Cistus

and a wild one on the path to the garden, a flower that was open for just a few hours,

wild salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius

salsify

Many happy returns to the entangled bank!

Pork liver paté

I think I surprised Mme Perez in the butcher’s shop in Roujan when I said I wanted to make paté. You see, her husband makes wonderful patés and no one here would think of making it themselves. But I wanted to try it again, for the first time for several decades. I used to make a lot of patés when I lived in Oxford and then in rural Wales at a time when ‘exotic’ foods weren’t so widely available. A rather nice cast iron dish with a lid that had been my mother-in-law’s reminded me of those times. And the result was very tasty and less fatty than bought patés.

ingredients:

250 grams pork liver

250 grams belly pork, skin and odd bits of gristle and bone removed

4 cloves garlic

a bunch of fennel leaves (I’d just picked some that was growing wild in the garrigue, but you could use other fresh herbs)

a bunch of parsley

salt, pepper

25 ml Armagnac (or white wine)

Mince the pork belly and liver. I used the food processor for this, but still miss my mother’s hand mincer that I used to use and that has got mislaid somewhere during our moves over the past years. Finely chop the garlic and herbs. I did this in the food processor too. Mix the minced meat, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and Armagnac and put the mix into an oven-proof, cast-iron or earthenware, dish with a lid, greased with olive oil.

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Put the dish, covered with its lid, in a bain-marie – a roasting dish with a couple of centimetres of water in it works fine. Put bain-marie and paté dish in the oven and cook for  one and a half hours at 180°C.

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Take it out of the oven, remove the lid and allow the paté to cool.

Serve with bread and green salad and a glass of wine – red, rosé or white.

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Borage and walnut ravioli

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As promised, here’s the recipe for my version of ravioli that I bought a few weeks ago on the Italian food stall in Clermont-l’Hérault market. As with all foraged food, the amount of borage is approximate and can be varied according to what you have.

ingredients for 18 ravioli – serves 2-3:

for the pasta: 200 grams very fine flour (I was unable to find the special pasta flour, so I used patisserie flour which seemed fine enough); a pinch of salt; 2 eggs.

for the filling: a large bunch of borage leaves and flowers too if you like (enough to half-fill a large saucepan – they reduce a lot when cooked, like spinach); 75 grams shelled walnuts; 1 tablespoon olive oil; salt and black pepper.

First make the pasta by mixing the beaten eggs and salt into the flour. Knead it well, or use a pasta machine, as we did. Passing pieces of the pasta dough through gradually narrowing rollers until it is fine and thin – but not too thin, we found the finest setting made the sheets of past too delicate and apt to split. It takes about six rollings at least.

Cook the borage leaves in a little water until wilted and the stems soft. Borage leaves MUST be cooked – when you pick them you’ll know why, because they’re very prickly when raw. The flowers can be added raw to salads and drinks, though.

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Put the walnuts in a food processor and whizz until finely chopped. Add the cooked borage leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper and whizz again until you have a fairly fine, green purée.

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Some pasta machines have ravioli makers attached. Mine doesn’t, but I have a useful cutter that makes rounds about 3 cm across and closes them when the filling has been added to make half-moons. Or you can make squares, triangles of half-moons by hand.

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Once you have made and filled each shape, brush half of the edge with water so that the two edges close and stick together.

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When the ravioli are all ready, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the ravioli and cook for 6 to 7 minutes. Drain and serve with olive oil and shaved parmesan cheese. You can add chopped parsley and garlic too.

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We ate them for lunch today and were very pleased with the result. Apart from the delicious flavours of borage and walnut, fresh pasta always tastes so much better than dried so it definitely seemed worth the work!