Tag Archives: Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France

TAPENADE and cauliflower-Travelling in the South West of France

This cauliflower is ceramic. I remembered I had this photo and chose to use it instead of one of a real cauliflower.  It was one of the many beautiful decorative objects in Le Pont De L’Ouysse Restaurant in the countryside of Lacave, not far from Rocamadour, in the Lot, South West of France.

The restaurant is recommended in Stephanie Alexander’s Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.  I stayed with my partner and two friends in the same converted barn – La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol , a small hamlet in the South West of France.

And all this to tell you about olive Tapenade which I love to eat with steamed cauliflower.

Tapenade made from black olives, mustard, anchovies, capers (some use brandy) comes from Languedoc, further south than the Lot, but the olive tapenade I prefer is from Provence. It is fresh and light and very summery. In the Occitan region in the south of France (Occitan –romance language spoken in southern France), the word for capers is tapéno, hence the name for this popular spread.

I present it with bread but sometimes I accompany it with some vegetable crudities. Raw or steamed cauliflower flowerets are a pleasant addition.

But Tapenade also comes in very handy as a sauce or condiment for simply cooked fish or vegetables, especially steamed cauliflower.

Tapenade is a pesto and traditionally made with a mortar and pestle. I cut my herbs by hand (otherwise they can taste grassy) and then add them to the olives that I have chopped in the food processor.

I also need to give credit to y friend Liz who introduced me to Tapenade as made in Provence, many years ago.

I do not weigh/measure ingredients when I make this but the following works.

INGREDIENTS
pitted olives, 2 cups (I use Kalamata because I like their strong taste)
capers, 2 tablespoons
garlic, 2 cloves crushed
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
lemon juice, 1 lemon
freshly ground pepper, to taste
fresh herbs, cut by hand, 1 cup of each: Italian parsley, thyme, basil (sometimes, I have added marjoram or fresh oregano)
PROCESSES
Place olives crushed garlic in a food processor and chop to a medium grind (I do not like it too smooth).
Cut all the herbs and add them to the olives, add oil lemon and pepper.
Blend again for 5 seconds to mix the ingredients.

Place the tapenade in a sterile jar and cover it with a thin layer of olive oil – keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

It comes in very handy!!

River Ouysse
Bridge destroyed in 1966 (can see this from restaurant)

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RADISH (RAVANELLO OR RAPANELLO)

This photo of this bunch of radishes was taken in France.

I was in France with friends and stayed in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.

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My friends and I sampled much of the local cuisine, but we also enjoyed shopping in the local markets in the various nearby towns and villages and cooked some fabulous dishes together.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this variety of radish for sale at one of my favourite vegetable stalls at the market. Carmel, one of the stall’s proprietors proudly announced that a couple of her customers had said that they had seen this variety in France. She was pleased to hear that I verified this and had a photo of them.

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The following is a section from the vegetable chapter from my manuscript to be published in 2011.

Radish (ravanello or rapanello) is another vegetable that is probably over-looked in Australia – they are available all year round but are sweeter in spring. Radishes should be crisp, juicy, and peppery with sparkling white flesh.

My father grew them in his small garden in Adelaide because they reminded him of the times when he was a boy growing up in Sicily and he would help himself to the radish patch. When in Sicily, if in spring, it is quite common in people’s homes to be presented with small, firm radishes with fresh, unblemished tops at the beginning of a meal. Serve with a separate small bowl of salt, or extra virgin olive oil and salt, for dipping. Other tender vegetables such as broad beans, fennel or peas are also commonly placed on the table in the same way – it is a celebration of the vegetable and the season.

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Last week, my friend The Old Foodie wrote about radish.

When I select bunches of radish or kohlrabi, baby turnips or beetroot I partly select them for the quality of their leaves. In fact I cooked the leaves from the bunch of radish and baby turnips the night before you posted your blog – I sauté them in extra virgin olive oil and garlic.My father used to grow radishes in his garden and used to collect the young leaves for salads – not to be eaten alone, but as part of a mixed salad. He also grew rocket and radicchio and chicory and collected ‘salad ‘ leaf by leaf. And I support the theory that radish was used to stimulate appetite. My father used to talk about Sicilians just presenting a bowl of radishes (in season and fresh) with salt (to dip the radish into) before a meal.

Antipasto (or nibbles) before a meal is still not a common practice in Sicily, it is a modern invention, stimulated by tourists and their expectations. Because Sicilians to always begin a meal with a primo (first course), which for the majority of the time is pasta; they do not wish to spoil their appetite. The primo is followed by a secondo (main) and then fruit, and dessert for special occasions. A few nibbles, for example olives, a few cubes of marinaded pecorino could be the ‘nibbles’ for special occasions or part of an extended meal.

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SALAD GREEN: matovilc, also called lamb’s lettuce and mâche

My father used to grow matovilc in his garden in Adelaide.  Some may know this salad green as lamb’s lettuce or mâche as it is known in France. I have also found references to it being called corn salad, apparently because it grows wild in cultivated fields in temperate climates.

I know this salad green well and ate it regularly in Trieste where I lived as a child. You are probably thinking that matovilc does not sound very much like an Italian word, and you are correct – it is Sloveniac/Croatian where it is more commonly known as matovilac.

Those of you who have travelled to France may recognise it, but unless you have been to Trieste you are unlikely to find it anywhere else in Italy. One of my father’s acquaintances smuggled a few seeds out from Trieste to Adelaide; you no longer have to break the law, seeds can be found.

The top photo is what I bought in Brisbane from the Powerhouse Farmers’ Market. I was there last weekend and it was sold as whole heads in the form of rosettes. In Trieste we also purchased it in the market, the leaves were sold loose by the handful and were very small.

I always get excited when I see this salad green, it is not easily found for sale in the state where I live and is generally cultivated at home. My father picked the matovilc growing in his garden leaf by leaf (as he did all his salad greens); it is very easy to grow and is at its best in spring. It goes to seed quickly in warm climates.

As a simple salad (dressed with a wine vinegar, salt pepper and extra virgin olive oil) it is particularly appreciated in Trieste when accompanied with fried sardines (first dipped in a little flour and salt and the fried in very hot extra virgin olive oil). The contrasts of the almost sweet, delicate taste of the leaves and the strong taste of the sardines works well together.

In France, I ate a lot of mâche as part of the numerous salade composée, which seem very much part of café food offered at lunchtime. It seems to be an excellent way to present smallgoods or use up left-overs. In fact in Brisbane my friend and I used the left over pancetta (cooked it), pecans, a dressing made with raspberry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and some brie that were all left over from the meal from the night before. This also tasted excellent and gave both of us much pleasure in using up left over ingredients creatively.

This photo is Salade de Pigeon Landaise, vinaigrette de son jus. It was taken in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire and was one of the dishes cooked by Monsieur Le Chef (as the students seem to refer to him respectfully).
I watched the chef cook and sampled the following:
CUISINE LE SUD-OUEST, LES LANDES / THE SOUTH-WEST, LANDES
·      Salade de pigeon landaise, vinaigrette de son jus / Roasted squab salad, squab jus vinaigrette
·      Salmis de canard en cabouillade / Roasted duck “salmis”
·      Biscuit roulé fourré à la ricotta et mandarines / Swiss roll filled with ricotta and mandarins.
 
 

This photo is of the simple salad my friend and I prepared when we stayed in the converted barn at La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France. We travelled to many open air markets and bought local produce – that particular morning we found some mâche, beautiful radishes and local fresh trout, come home and had a good time preparing lunch – the mushrooms were sautéed in local extra virgin olive oil with parsley and garlic. The local bread, pate, sausisson (sausage) and cheeses which we also ate at the same repast are missing from the photo.

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SALADE COMPOSÉE (A French mixed salad)

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The French seem to enjoy salade composée either as an entrée as a light meal. I know I am stereopyping and I hate it when others discuss food preferred by the Italians or the Sicilians, so I will begin again.

When I was in Paris in September and while in the South West of France I ate my way through many servings of salade composée. This refers to a salad in which an assortment of ingredients with a balance of colours, flavours and textures arranged aesthetically on a plate and drizzled with a tasty vinaigrette. It is likely to be composed of a variety of seasonal fresh and cooked vegetables and one or a combination of meats, fish, eggs, nuts or cheese.

In the history of French cuisine, I know that presenting salads is fairly recent, but everywhere I went there seemed to be salade composée.

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I stayed with my partner and two friends in La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.

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The cooking of South West of France is rooted in historical tradition, seasonal produce and nothing is wasted. Apart from a good selection of salad leaves there were other vegetables: potatoes and tiny green beans. Some had cured pork products as well, and of course many had walnuts. So important was the vinaigrette, perhaps made with a combination of walnut oil, olive oil and wine vinegar.

In that location of France I sampled much of the local food and there were plenty of duck’s gizzards, but these were often mixed with other duck meat: pan-fried breasts, smoked or air dried breasts, stuffed necks, confit, terrines, fois products and whole livers. Pan-fried duck livers are so good when cooked properly. (I soak the whole, cleaned livers in milk for about four hours before frying them in a little duck fat, then deglaze them with a little Armagnac, wine or vinegar and then add them and any caremelised juices from the pan to the vinaigrette).

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I was very fortunate to attend a class at Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire in Paris and even there, Le Chef cooked Salade de Pigeon Landase, vinaigrette de son jus as an entrée. The main component was squab breast cooked rare in goose fat. The rest of the squab was braised with shallots, carrots and bouquet garni and then drained. The meat was presented on lambs lettuce, watercress, raw mushrooms and toasted pine nuts. The vinaigrette was the squab jus mixed with red wine vinegar, hazelnut oil and a little mustard. We were presented with what Le Chef cooked, and it was superb.

I always add seasonal vegetables to my salade composée. Because it is spring, I add vegetables such as broad beans, asparagus, peas, zucchini. I also add fresh herbs and a mixture of leaves, sweet, bitter and pungent (eg watercress, rocket, lambs lettuce).

Eating a salad (such as a salade composée) at the start to a meal would be very unusual in Sicily, but they may eat a caponata on its own accompanied by some very good bread.