Posts Tagged ‘France’

Once we have got across the channel we buy a lovely fresh stick ‘pain’ for our first picnic and then spend time poring over the wonderful offerings on the delicatessen counter.  Which cheese?  Can’t choose: OK let’s get two types …and we mustn’t forget the pâté!  Mostly we buy this from a supermarket but sometimes, if we are in a town, we buy from a Charcuterie or Pork Butcher, where it is likely to be the butcher’s shop own recipe.  Pâté, of course, comes in many different local and regional guises.  My husband loves Pâté Provençale, often slightly spicy with pieces of red and green pepper and there are no prizes for guessing what my duck loving daughter chooses … I’m just happy to try as many different ones as I can!  We all have a bit of a weakness for a good meaty (and garlicky!) French pâté.  The French seem to have a penchant for adding pistachio nuts to cooked meats and pâtés so I was very pleased to come across this recipe which made a very pretty addition to our Christmas afternoon tea (and several subsequent meals) last year.  I have been intending to share it for some time and as there is a French theme this month, here it is at last … and as promised.  Be warned, though, this is not a particularly quick recipe to make as the pressing and cooling takes at least 2 hours in addition to the making and cooking time, but it is worth it.

The recipe comes from one of my Christmas presents (a request!) last year: The French Market by Joanne Harris & Fran Warde.  I already own a copy of the companion book by the same authors: The French Kitchen.  The pâté had favourable comments from our Christmas and New Year visitors but if I was being critical I think it needs a few little tweaks when I make it again, and I will.  Firstly, I felt that the recipe needed a little more seasoning (I was probably being careful so underseasoned) and the addition of garlic for a stronger flavour.  This is down to personal preference and is a comment rather than an instruction: you will have to make up your own mind and alter as you think fit.  I used the exact amount of pistachio nuts but felt it was rather a lot and could be reduced a little next time, perhaps by a quarter or even more.  You can see from the photo just how generous the quantity is.  Other recipes include peppercorns which give a lovely spicy hit in the mouth: the quantity to add would be trial and error of course and certainly not the same in quantity as the pistachios.  I have a tub of mixed coloured peppercorns bought in France – a mixture of black, white, green and pink which I will try sometime.  Another adaptation could be a version of Pâté Provençale, adding chopped mixed peppers and Herbes de Provence.  I chose to make the mixture in two smaller loaf tins, which meant that I needed almost double the number of bacon rashers and then froze one block to extend the use by date, defrosting it overnight before cooking, though I could easily have cooked both and simply frozen one afterwards, perhaps ready sliced.

‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’ http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

French Style Country Terrine/Pâté (Terrine/Pâté de Campagne)
(Serves 6-8 as a lunch dish – more as part of a buffet)

450g streaky bacon, thinly sliced & rind free (extra for more than one block of pâté)
200g chicken livers, trimmed
500g lean pork, diced
4 shallots, finely diced
2 small white onions, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped/crushed (optional addition to original recipe)
2 eggs, beaten
bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
4 sprigs of thyme, just the leaves
1tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves, chopped
Sea salt & ground black pepper
100g pistachio nuts, or less (whole or chopped – reserved some whole to garnish) optional

1. The original recipe specified heating the oven to 160oC/Gas 3.  No Farenheit temperature was given but I think this is about 312oF.

2. Chop the chicken livers and 250g of the bacon and place together in a bowl.

3. Stir in both the chopped and the minced pork, chopped shallots or onion, chopped or crushed garlic, eggs, herbs and seasoning. Add most of the pistachio (or other nuts, peppercorns or similar) at this point, reserving a few as a garnish.  Mix well.

4. Line a 22cm x 11cm terrine dish or loaf tin with most of the remaining slices of bacon, reserving a few to go on top once it is filled. Alternatively use two (or more) smaller ovenproof containers, but as mentioned previously you will need extra bacon. The bacon can be gently stretched with a knife so it covers a larger area of the tin and should be laid side by side with no gaps. The pâté will have an attractive striped appearance.

5. Fill the dish(es) or tin(s) with the meat mixture.

6. Fold the ends of the lining bacon over the top of the meat mixture and lay the remaining slices on the top side by side.

7. Bake in the oven for 1½ hours – two separate containers should need slightly less time. Watch the surface and if the meat starts to brown too much, cover with a layer of tin foil, shiny side up to reflect away the heat.

8. Remove and leave to cool for 30 minutes before carefully draining off the collected juices. These can be kept as stock and added to another meat recipe.

9. Place sheet of tin foil and then a snug fitting weight on the top of the terrine or tin for at least 1½ hours in order to compress it. (I used some tins with some heavy bags of salt on top, but use whatever is to hand.)

10. For ease the finished terrine should be turned out while still slightly warm. It can then be eaten immediately or chilled in the refrigerator until ready to slice and serve. Scatter with the remaining pistachios or other nuts, if using, to preserve their crunchiness for as long as possible. (If adding peppercorns you do not need to reserve any.)

11. The book recommends that this will keep for up to 7 days in the refrigerator. If making more than one container or loaf the second one can be wrapped well in tin foil and frozen. It should be thoroughly defrosted (overnight in the refrigerator) before eating.

12. This can also be cut into portions or individual slices to be taken in advance from the freezer and defrosted.

13.  Serve with crusty French style or Wholegrain bread and salad.  Good for buffets and summer picnics and excellent to serve as a starter, especially as it can be made in advance.


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From time to time the supermarket has a 2 for 1 offer on bags of large prawns so I stock up.  I buy the grey uncooked ones which change colour as they cook, just like magic, before your eyes.  I discovered a bag of these large prawns sitting in the freezer waiting for a good recipe shortly after we returned from France and I remembered this recipe and thought it would help keep our recent holiday memories alive: a simple summery dish in a piquant sauce and ideal for a light quick meal.  It would also be good as a starter.  My family’s only complaint was that they would have liked more: perhaps a mixture of large and small prawns would be possible.  Certainly this recipe could just as easily be made with the small relatively inexpensive prawns.  This is also another recipe where I can use the mild flavoured Piment d’Espelette I bought in the Basque region of France.

The recipe comes from the Tesco book Mediterranean Food by Christine France, which is fast becoming one of my favourite titles.  The original recipe used Tiger Prawns, which I am sure would be wonderful, but not what I was intending to use.  In place of a 400g bag of shell on Tiger Prawns I used a 200g bag of uncooked & peeled frozen large prawns.  I added an optional 1tsp tomato purée for extra richness as I did not have plum tomatoes, having substituted ordinary round English ones which are often less sweet, plus a pinch of sugar to bring out the flavour of the fruit.  The quantity was really only enough for a light main meal for three people and if feeding more people more large prawns or some small ones should be added.  Extra tomatoes would also give a larger quantity.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Prawns with Provençal Style Tomato Salsa
(Serves 2-3 – 4 for a starter)

400g/14ozs raw tiger prawns in shells
200g/7ozs shelled tiger prawns, large or small – raw if available
2tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed
¼tsp dried crushed chillies (Piment d’Espelette if available)
3 or 4 plum tomatoes finely chopped (round English tomatoes if plum unavailable)
1tsp tomato purée
4 sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained & finely chopped
2tsp red wine vinegar
6 pitted black olives, quartered
2tbsp chopped fresh basil
Salt & black pepper

1.  If using shell on prawns remove the shells, slit open the back of each one and scrape out any black vein.  Rinse well and pat dry with kitchen towel.

2.  If using frozen prawns they should have been prepared in advance but must be defrosted before cooking.

3.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the garlic and chillies together for one minute to release their flavour.

4.  If using raw prawns, fresh or defrosted, add them now stir fry over a medium heat for 3 minutes or until the prawns have turned pink and cooked through.  Pre-cooked prawns can be cooked for a shorter time, especially the tiny ones, as they only need to be heated through thoroughly (if cooked for too long they become rubbery).

5.  Stir in the fresh and dried tomatoes (plus tomato purée if using) and simmer together with the prawns for one minute.

6.  Stir in the wine vinegar, olives and most of the basil and remove from the heat.  Season and scatter with a little more shredded basil before serving with salad and crusty bread or rice.

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I was intending to start this post by being a bit clever, quoting “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“, writing something about French Queen Marie Antoinette and mentioning the common inaccurate translation of her phrase as “Let them eat cake”…  I am so glad I checked the details before writing!  The quote is correct, but is often wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette wife of Louis XVI.  The words were said by Marie-Therese, the wife of King Louis XIV who lived around 100 years previously. So not what I had thought, but interesting nonetheless and I thought worth sharing!  Back to the subject in hand… One of our first purchases on arrival in France is a Brioche loaf. We find it so useful: it keeps well, is good for breakfast and handy for emergency use.  Brioche and Gâche Vendéenne (its cousin from the Vendée region in Western France) are soft, light, puffy and slightly sweet crosses between cake, pastry and bread.  They are made from a yeast dough enriched with butter and egg and often flavoured with rum, brandy or – our favourite – fragrant orange flower water.  Some years ago on holiday I bought recipe postcards and a bottle of orange flower water with the intention of making brioche.  I even bought a fluted Brioche tin.  Until now I had not got round to making the brioche although I have used the tin for jellies! and the orange flower water in other recipes (including Fragrant Marmalade Cake and Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Oranges & Beetroot).

Orange flower water can now easily be found in the UK and is the one ingredient we feel gives brioche that little extra something, however it was not an ingredient in my Brioche postcard recipe so I turned first to books and then the Internet for help.  I eventually found the recipe below, Brioche with Fleur d’Oranger posted by Gary at Meltingpan.com  I would have left him a note to say how successful his recipe had been, but could not see where add a comment and the site now seems to have disappeared completely (I have left the links in case it does re-appear). Gary recommended it spread with unsalted butter but never toasted, though I have to say I think it makes lovely toast!  Initially I carefully made a half quantity but will definitely be making the full amount in future.  I used the French method of dough making, where the dough is thrown and scraped which makes the initial extreme stickiness easier to manage.  Do ‘stick’ with the recipe and it will eventually come together into a smooth ball.  Once you have this it can be kneaded in the conventional English way.  Brioche, apparently, makes a delicious rich bread and butter pudding, but I am not sure we will ever have any left to make one!  The recipes for Paddington Pudding (Marmalade Bread & Butter Pudding) or Toffee Apple Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding could easily be adapted.  I shaped my loaf by dividing into three strands and plaiting them before putting into a tin, which is the usual shape of the loaves we buy.  Probably the most familiar shape is the brioche à tête (literally ‘bun with a head’) usually made in the fluted tin with a small ‘top knot’ of dough added on top, similar to a Cottage Loaf.  La Gâche Vendéenne is torpedo shaped and slashed from end to end.  The Brioche (or Couronne) des Rois, translated as King’s Brioche or King’s Crown, comes from Provence in the south of France (this linked recipe looks good but is untried) and is normally a ring shaped loaf decorated with crystallised fruits.  It is served on 6 January at Epiphany, the feast celebrating the Wise Men’s visit to the infant Christ.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com


The original recipe advised that if you have a bread machine you simply put in all the ingredients apart from the butter. Put it on the dough setting and after about 10 minutes (or whenever it alerts you to add nuts or other ingredients) add the softened butter. Although I have a bread machine I used the conventional method so cannot comment on the success or otherwise of using a machine.  The instructions were not very clear but I assume that the brioche was kneaded in the machine but cooked conventionally in the oven.

300g of white flour, sifted
2 eggs, beaten
50ml of milk
10g of dried active yeast
50g of sugar
3 tablespoons of Fleur d’Oranger (Orange Flower Water)
70g of unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1 teaspoon of salt

For the loaf pan(s):
2 tablespoons of melted butter
2 tablespoons of sugar

1.   Preheat oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 and place a pan of water on the lowest rack.

2.  Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Add the salt and sugar and then the dried yeast.

3.  Warm the milk slightly, which helps the yeast to start to grow more quickly and stir into the dry ingredients along with the beaten eggs and orange flower water.

4.  Gently mix together with one hand adding the butter little by little.  The mixture will be very sticky.  Avoid adding extra flour at any point as this makes the dough tough.

5.  Turn out onto a cleaned work surface and start to knead, bringing the edges in with a dough scraper or a palette knife.  It will come together eventually if you keep working at it and the dough will eventually form a soft ball.  Continue stretching and scraping until conventional kneading is possible.  This took at least 20 minutes.

6.  Once you have a soft ball of dough that is no longer sticky put it in a bowl, cover it with a tea-towel and let it sit in a warm place for 20 minutes to allow it to rise.

7.  Meanwhile butter the loaf pan (or pans) and shake over sugar so it is well coated.  The sugar can, of course, be omitted.

8.  When risen knock the dough back and knead well for a further 20 minutes.

9.  Make either one large or two smaller loaves.  Before placing the dough in the pan(s) the dough can be split into three strands and plaited or shaped into a long loaf with a gash cut down its length.

10.  Drop the dough into the prepared loaf pan(s), cover with a clean tea towel and leave it in a warm area for 20-30 minutes to allow it to rise again.

11.  Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes.  The finished loaf/loaves will be golden brown and doubled in size.

12.  Turn out of the pan(s) and cook on a wire rack.  Eat and enjoy!

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The Basque Country in the western Pyrenees spans the border taking in part of South-west France and Northern Spain.  The coastal part of the region, on both sides of the border, is well known for its fish.  Bacalao, or Salt Cod, is a widely used ingredient in both Basque and Spanish cookery.  Salted fish is often associated with Lent, the six and a bit weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter when, at the end of a long winter, fresh produce was at a premium.  I have recently added a post about how to salt fish at home, which is not a difficult process, however packs of ready salted fish is becoming more widely available in the UK.  I am fortunate to live in an ethnically diverse part of North-east London so usually shop for Salt fish in a local ethnic shop with mostly Caribbean produce, but the major supermarket chains are now starting to stock it too.  I usually buy salted skinless pollack, as it is a sustainable species – I am trying not to buy cod – and quite honestly I can barely tell the difference, especially when it is cooked into a stew.  This recipe, therefore, has been converted for pollack, but if you must then substitute cod – or another white round fish of your choice.

The recipe comes from a library book, The Spanish Kitchen by Pepita Aris.  As I have said previously I substituted ready Salted Pollack, soaked for twenty-four hours before use.  I am yet to try this recipe with home salted fish.  I was also a little unsure about adding the honey specified in the recipe.  Honey with fish?  It seemed  a bit strange!  However as I often add a little sugar to tomato based dishes as it cuts through the acidity I risked the honey and the flavour was not obvious.  The dish was certainly enjoyable.  I notice that there is a similar recipe from Central Spain in Keith Floyd’s book, Floyd on Spain, which includes chick peas.  I’ll have to give that a go sometime as well, perhaps using home salted fish.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Basque Style Salt Cod (Bacalao) in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Bacalao con Salsa de Tomate Picante
(Serves 4)

400g/15oz salt cod/salt fish, soaked in cold water for 24hours
(I used a 300g pack which was adequate with extra pepper)
30ml/2tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 green peppers (or one each red or orange and green)
500g/1¼ lb peeled & chopped ripe tomatoes
400g/14oz tin tomatoes
15ml/1tbsp tomato purée
15ml/1tbsp clear honey
¼tsp dried thyme
½tsp cayenne pepper
½tsp Piment d’Espelette (coarse ground dried Basque pepper)
Juice of ½ lemon
2 potatoes (medium sized)
45ml/3tbsp stale breadcrumbs (be generous – I’m sure I doubled this amount)
30ml/2tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt & ground black pepper

1.   If using shop bought salt fish it should be soaked in cold water for 24 hours, drained and rinsed before use.  If home made lightly salted fish is used then an overnight soak followed by a rinse should be adequate.

2.   Drain the salted fish, place in a pan, generously cover with water and bring to the boil.  As soon as it boils remove the pan from the heat and set aside until cold.

3.   Heat the oil in a medium sized pan.  Gently fry the onion for 5 minutes and then add the garlic.  Add the chopped peppers and tomatoes and cook over a gentle heat to make a sauce.  Stir in the tomato purée, honey, dried thyme, espelette or cayenne pepper, black pepper and a little salt.  Taste and sea son as required.  Add alittle lemon juice to make it ‘tangier’.

4.   Peel and halve the potatoes lengthways and cut them into slices about the thickness of a coin.

5.   Drain the fish and reserve the cooking water.

6.   Turn on the grill to heat up.  Cook the potato slices for about 8 minutes, with no added salt, in the reserved water.

7.   Flake the fish and remove any skin and bones.

8.   Make up the dish in layers.  First put in a third of the sauce, cover with potato slices, followed by a layer of flaked fish and the finally the remainder of the sauce.

9.   Combine the breadcrumbs and parsley together and sprinkle over the dish.

10.  Place under the grill for 10 minutes until golden brown.

11.  This is a meal in itself but if you wish it could be served with a side salad.

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LOOMIS Susan - Tarte Tatin
Tarte Tatin: More of La Belle Vie on Rue Tatin
Susan Herrmann Loomis – pub: Harper Collins

As part of our holiday to Brittany, France, we planned to spend several days in Normandy, so when I spotted Tarte Tatin on the library shelf it seemed a perfect book to take with me to get a flavour of  the region. 

This second book, I discovered, follows on from Loomis’ first book, On Rue Tatin, which I am now hoping to track down and read as well.   On Rue Tatin tells of how cook and writer Susan Loomis and her artist husband moved from the USA to Normandy and settled into an ancient property in need of renovation in the village of Louviers.  (The village is close to the cathedral city of Rouen, famed in particular for its connections with Joan of Arc.) 

This second book, Tarte Tatin, has plenty of local colour and character in its tales of village life, with tales of shopping in the local market and enjoyable meals shared with a jolly sounding group of friends. With the family, now numbering four, having settled into the community and putting down roots, the dream to open a cookery school finally becomes reality.

The book is filled with food related information with plenty of recipes to try out, most feeling French but with an American twist.  On return from holiday I made Loomis’ Raw Beetroot Salad, which I have already posted: an extremely simple recipe which was a great success. There were plenty of other recipes that caught my eye and which I hope to eventually try out.  Corn Bread, Allspice Ice Cream, Ginger Madeleines, Rosemary Baked Potatoes, Three Nut Biscotti and Winter Fruit Tarte Tatin caught my eye in particular.

Susan Loomis has also written recipe books, including Farmhouse Cookbook, French Farmhouse Cookbook and Italian Farmhouse Cookbook.

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This delicious set custard patisserie, most commonly studded with prunes, comes from the region of Brittany in North West France.   Versions of Le Far can be found throughout France however, often without any fruit, called simply ‘Flan’.  Le Far is one of our holiday favourites!

I translated this particular version from a local recipe postcard bought on holiday.  The original instructions were for double the quantity stated below.  Some recipes soak the prunes in Armanac brandy, but mine did not and I think it is fine without.  Although prunes are used in the traditional version, I have also successfully used dried apricots or Lexia (Valencia) raisins.  I have also read of an alternative using chopped apple, but I have not tried this – could be good as apple and raisin mix, possibly.

‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’ http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Le Far Breton aux Pruneaux
Breton Far with Prunes
(Serves 6-8)

125g plain flour
pinch salt
100g granulated sugar
2 eggs
1tbsp sunflower oil
500ml milk
100-150g pitted prunes

1.  Unless they are very fresh and soft, pour boiling water over the prunes or apricots, soak to soften and drain very well. Leave to dry on kitchen paper. (Raisins do not need pre-soaking.)

2.  Preheat oven to 180oC

3.  Sieve flour and salt into a large bowl. Add sugar. Gradually mix in beaten egg, oil and milk. Make sure there are no lumps. You will have a very thin batter.

4.  Pour mixture into a lightly greased shallow dish. I used a large round fluted flan dish, or two smaller ones. (To make it easier to get the Far into the oven without spilling I find it easier to reserve some mixture to pour over at the end.)  More recently I have made this in a deeper dish giving thicker slices.  I have also made it in an oblong dish, cutting it into small taster squares for an International Food event at church.

5.  Cut the prunes or apricots in half and evenly distribute the pieces into the mixture. Place the dish in the oven and pour in the remaining mixture, if necessary. It does not matter if the dish is fairly full as it does not usually overflow, but I always stand the dish on a baking sheet whilst in the oven.

6.  Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 1hr 15mins. The mixture will set with dark patches on the surface and the edges rise slightly.

7.  Cut into wedges. Far is usually eaten cold, though it can be served hot. It can be served as dessert or as a cake.

(This recipe was first posted on 31 October 2007 at my original blog Meanderings along the narrow way)

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During our holiday in the Languedoc, we managed to sample just a few of the regional specialities and I wanted to record them here. The excellent book ‘Hot Sun, Cool Shadow’ by Angela Murrills, which I have already reviewed, was a great help and without it we probably would have missed some of these treats.

map-south-france-languedoc-crop-occitaniafrance-provincenetMap of Region – occitania.france-province

One memorable meal out was at Sète on a very hot day. We found a very attractive square in deep shade just away from the Grand Canal and a restaurant which served only salads. A wonderfully cool and peaceful lunch followed. My husband enjoyed Carpaccio of Beef (thin slices of meat, usually raw) with fresh lime juice and slivers of parmesan, served with a green salad and Parmesan Ice Cream – unusual, but very tasty. My salad included Magret (sliced duck breast) and Tapenade (a paste made from olives spread on slices of French bread) – see below for further information.

Tielle Setoise (Recipe from Sète Tourist Office)
tielle-setoiseThe Tielle is a round pastry filled with a mixture of octopus and tomato, although we sometimes saw packaging where it was mixed with other seafood, notably squid or mackerel. The traditional Tielle is sized as an individual portion but are quite generous. You can also buy a larger pie for several people, though not usually called Tielle, which has more filling of the same type to less pastry. The crust is pinched together in a distinctive style and the tomato sauce seeps through giving the pastry an orange colouring. It is said that Tielles were introduced to this region by Italian immigrants who settled in Sète and similar pies can be found in parts of the Italian coast. Unsurprisingly the pies had a strong fishy flavour – if you like pilchards or mackerel in tomato sauce you would certainly like these. I had not been sure what to expect but these were tasty enough for us to eat several during our holiday, sometimes as part of a picnic lunch and at other times as part of an evening salad meal with the local wine Picpoul de Pinot (see below).

Les Petits pâtés de Pézenas/Pézenas pies (Recipe from Wikipedia)
pezenas-les-petits-pates-pezenas-pies-beziersPézenas is a interesting and well preserved medieval town. We spent a fascinating morning wandering round its old streets, looking in shops and galleries and enjoying its quiet corners. We had heard about the famous Petits pâtés de Pézenas or Pézenas pies and were eager to try them. These small pies in the shape of a bobbin or cotton reel are a speciality of the region, supposedly introduced in the mid-18th century by Robert Clive of India (who came from near Market Drayton in Shropshire) when he stopped over in the town. His Indian cook invented the pies from the available local ingredients giving the recipe to a local pastrycook called Roucairol, although the exact details vary from one account to another, some telling that Clive invented the pies himself. The Très Noble et Très Gourmande Confrérie du Petit Pâté de Pézenas have a ceremony every Ascension Day and dress in extravagant robes and control the quality of the product. The pies contain a filling of minced lamb, brown sugar, candied lemon rind and mixed spice which is rolled up in hot water crust pastry. They are available from the numerous Patisseries in town, some with informative websites, but the pies seemed quite expensive for their size. Ideally the pies should be eaten hot and served as a starter with a glass of wine (either dry or sweet) but this was impossible for us as we bought them as an extra for our picnic so just had one each as a taster. They were delicious lemony sweet mouthfuls with a sticky surface and just a hint that they might contain meat, but I am not sure I would have guessed. One pie was not really enough but sadly we didnt get a chance to try them again.

Tapenade (recipe from Guardian weekend)
tapenadeI enjoyed Tapenade spread on toasted French bread as part of the salad I ate on our visit to Sète. The classic version of this Mediterranean favourite is a grey/black paste and looks fairly uninviting but tastes great, providing you are a lover of olives. Tapenade can be purchased in the local supermarkets but is very easy to make. Variations include tapenade made with anchovies (BBC – James Martin) and Sundried Tomatoes and basil (Delia Smith online).

Squid with Setoise sauce (Rouille)
I had this local speciality as part of another favourite restaurant dinner. I was determined to try squid and was delighted with this dish of dark strips in a creamy golden sauce, served with rice and french beans. I had not been sure what to expect but the taste was quite strong, both meaty and fishy in a sauce the waiter told us was Rouille, the recipe for which varies. There are other recipes for Rouille using red peppers (capsicum), saffron or mayonnaise.

Tiny marinaded tuna stuffed peppers (Similar recipe from ‘whatdidyoueat’)
marinaded-tuna-stuffed-peppersWe tried tiny red peppers similar to these (no bigger than a horse chestnut conker) in several restaurants. They were stuffed with tuna paste and dripping in the olive oil in which they had been preserved. We found them in the supermarket as well, either pre packed in jars or on the counter which served marinaded olives to order. Does anyone have the French name for them please?

Picpoul de Pinet (map)
picpoul-de-pinet-map-bassin-de-thau-languedocThe Picpoul vineyards overlook the oyster and mussel farms of the Étang de Thau and the grapes are grown on the limestone plateau. The light, dry white wine comes from a single grape, the Piquepoul or Picpoul (also various other names), which has a fresh and fragrant smell which we felt was similar to wines we had enjoyed on previous holidays, such as Muscadet. As with Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet is recommended to be drunk with seafood but we enjoyed it with other food and brought a number of bottles home.

Sète is located at one end of the Bassin de Thau, a large inland lagoon famous for its oysters and mussels, which are raised on table type metal structures. On a circuit of the lake we enjoyed in particular the colourful restaurant lined harbour at Mèze and Marseillan, where the famous Noilly Prat Vermouth is made.

Cantal Cheese  cantal-cheeseEach year we enjoy trying the cheeses on the regions we travel through and in the past we have made some great discoveries. Not a speciality of the Languedoc about which I have mostly been writing, Cantal Cheese comes from the Departement of Cantal in the Auvergne, part of the French French Massif Central and was this year’s favourite. It is a hard cheese with a creamy slightly acidic taste and we ate rather too much at lunchtimes with our French bread. We were pleased to find that Super-U did a pre-packed own branded version though it would be interesting to try cheese brought from a specialist shop.

(Most of the information here was first posted on 11 October 2007 at my original blog Meanderings along the narrow way)

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Hot Sun, Cool Shadow: Savouring the Food, History and Mystery of the Languedoc – Angela Murrills – pub. Allison & Busby

Putting a passion into words, explaining why you are smitten with anything – a person, a job, a country – is never easy. But in the case of the Languedoc, the land speaks for itself. The appeals of its thyme-scented garrigue (the rough scrub that covers the inland hills), idyllic pastureland and sun-baked valleys are self-evident, but it’s the abrupt flashes in temperament that delight us, the distant mountain crags that suddenly encroach on a serene valley, the fertile plains that give way to flawless beaches, the eerie flat landscape of the Camargue and the coastal lagoons known as ètangs.

Food critic and writer Angela Murrills along with her husband, Peter Matthews, an artist who charmingly illustrates this fascinating book, recounts their journeys of discovery through Languedoc in the South of France, whilst searching for a French second home. We discover the people of this region with their ancient customs and language and Murrills recounts its long and sometimes troubled history. I was particuarly interested in the information she gave about us about the Cathars, persecuted for their Protestant beliefs, who held out in fortress strongholds such as Montségur in the Pyrenean foothills; about the building of the Canal du Midi, an impressive feat of engineering started in 1666, linking the Mediterranean with the River Gironde, which runs into the Atlantic Ocean; about the life of the locally born artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and about the places which caught the eye of painters such as Henri Matisse and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of whose paintings they find semi-forgotten on the wall in a small hotel. Murrills takes us through Languedoc not only area by area but dish by dish too as this is also a culinary journey and she gives information about regional wines and drink, food preparation and the varied cuisine, including some local recipes for the reader to try at home.

Just before my holiday I had wandered into our local library – in case they had any Langudoc guide books I had missed – and was fortunate to discover this newly shelved foodie travelogue. This type of book helps to bring a holiday alive and ‘Hot Sun, Cool Shadow’ certainly helped us discover, and try, the regional delights, both culinary and tourist, of the Languedoc. I had intended to just ‘dip’ into the chapters covering the area where we were staying but in the end the book was so good I read it all!  (I also gave a copy to my sister-in-law as a gift as she has friends in the Languedoc who she visits from time to time.)

(This review was first posted on 8 September 2007 at my original blog Meanderings along the narrow way)

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