In My Kitchen, November 2017

Although I’m now in Italy and have a handsome little kitchen in my apartment in Pavia, there has been little time to use it, except for a quick breakfast. One of the oddities of the Italian kitchen is the lack of toaster: the typical home breakfast consists of coffee and sweet biscuits. No wonder lunch is so important to the Italians. So this month, I’m stepping back into my last kitchen of two weeks ago in France. Located in¬†P√©zenas, in¬†Languedoc- Rousillon in the south, the house was built in the 15th century and was located right inside the doors of the old city. Old buildings are initially very charming and romantic to the Australian eye but after a week or so, the lack of light became noticeable and I imagine this would be quite disheartening in winter. Despite this, I always got a thrill opening the large wooden door on the street and entering the cold stone courtyard to climb this ancient spiral staircase.

Stairway to  apartment in Pezenas, South of France.
Inside the cold courtyard, leading to my French kitchen.

The kitchen, although tiny, was very functional. I wouldn’t mind slipping this antique copper soup ladle into my handbag!

Antique copper soup ladle, Pezenas kitchen.

P√©zenas is close to the sea. Every day, the market square oyster sheds opened for business. We managed to consume a few dozen while staying there. Freshly shucked by the man in the shed, served with a squeeze of lemon and some pan complet, –¬†another speedy meal made(!) in my French kitchen.

More oysters, the best from Pézenas. An acquired taste for some.
First floor window onto little medieval lane, and oysters. Pézenas. The bells are ringing all over the town. Lunchtime.

Plenty of wine found its way into our kitchen. We developed a taste for rosé wine: so much drier than the Australian rosé and so pleasant for lunch.

Another day, another rosé

Occasionally a nice white was discovered, especially on the day I made a tray of crumbed Coquilles Saint Jacques. Scallops are also plentiful here and are always sold on the shell.

White wine and scallops

I’ve been following the trail of the Camino of Santiago ( St Jacques) as we travelled across France. A pilgrim village is easily recognised by the sign of the scallop shells on the walls of cheap hostels or embedded in brass along the footpaths. When I’m at home, I keep the shells and reuse them as fresh scallop meat is more readily available off the shell. The shells always remind me of Santiago de Compostela.

The sign of the pilgrim.

One of the other quick dishes I’ve made in all my French kitchens is so simple it’s worth noting here. Grab some perfectly ripe figs, put them in an ovenproof dish with a good amount of honey, and bake for 10 minutes or so in a hot oven. While they’re cooking, shell some fresh walnuts and toss in a pan to toast, then add them to the baked figs. Serve with cr√®me fra√ģche. The success of this instant sweet depends on the quality of the honey. Jean Pierre gave us a pot of his own honey back in Monpazier. It is aromatic and floral, similar to Tasmanian Leatherwood.

Baked figs, honey, walnuts. Voila.

The local market at Pézenas was full of treasure from the South. More Mediterranean goods were on offer than the markets in Dordogne.

Olives and capers, Pezenas market.

Thanks Sherry, once again, for hosting this series. You can find other kitchen posts at Sherry’s Pickings.

A day at the Brocante, P√©zenas, France

What is a trip to France without doing the rounds of the Brocante? These visits can be enormously frustrating for the traveller, but then if you couple your tour with their fantasy friend, ‘ the little house in the countryside’, they take on far more meaning. The fantasy starts with the ‘for sale’ sign,¬†√† vendre, hanging from the window of a sweet shuttered country house. This is followed by a slow perusal¬†of prices in the windows of the immobilier.¬†In Monsieur Tranquillo’s case, this means every real estate agent’s window in every village, and includes collecting the free glossy brochure, all in the interests of research! Oh mon dieu! And so it’s only logical that a visit to the¬†Brocantes must follow. That’s my department. I’m yet to find some vide greniers ( garage sales ) and¬†march√®¬†aux puces (¬†flea markets) in my travels, though there are¬† locality guides for these too.

Pézenas in Languedoc- Roussillon has around 20 or so Brocante, which are located on the outskirts of the town, mostly along Avenue de Verdun. On a sunny day, we managed to visit 8 or so stores. I usually head straight to the antique linen collection, knowing that I can always squeeze in a monogrammed torchon, serviette or sheet in lovely thick white linen.

A visit to the Brocante and antiquities stores makes for a well-rounded trip. This post is for Rod, hunter, collector, decorator.

White walls, scary priest, black frame, candlesticks?

French Country Markets

Village markets in France roll around once or twice a week, and if you happen to miss your local¬†march√©, there’s always another one the following day in a village nearby. I can sense pre- market excitement when I’m staying in a village but maybe it’s just my own eagerness to get there. I must confess, I’m a French market junkie, having been to around a dozen or so over the last four weeks, and I put this down to my greed and lust for good food. I’m in the right country. French markets are integral to life here. Supplies come to your village from the local district: some from the farmers, cheese makers, apiarists, some from local artisans, and of course, manufacturers of cheap clothing. Heading out the front door, with strong bags in hand, and strolling through narrow lanes and medieval arcades, with no car traffic to deal with enroute, is far more pleasurable than heading off to a supermarket by car. If only my local market back at home near Melbourne was as easy to visit, without fear of being run down by speeding tourists keen to park as close to the market as possible. In French country markets, cars are banned: they are parked on the outskirts of the village, allowing easy access for vendors’ vehicles. All shoppers must walk to the market.

Market day, Pezenas.

What treasures will turn up this week? What new seasonal vegetables will be on offer and will I show some restraint for a change? The church bells are chiming 8 am and I can hardly wait. Today’s market in Pezenas, Occitanie, will be interesting. It takes place in a nearby square, a stone’s throw from our 16th century apartment. As I write, I can hear the trolleys being wheeled in through the port below the window.

Local oysters, Pezenas. There are also two daily oyster stalls in the town. These sell at around 6 euro a kilo. ( around 15 to a kilo)
Walnut season necessitating the purchase of a walnut cracker.

The markets in the Dordogne region varied in size and style. The large and colourful Sunday market at Issigeac was a favourite. It snaked its way around the narrow and winding village streets in an unpredictable way, given that Issigeac doesn’t have a large market square. All sorts of vendors turned up: the mushroom man, selling girelles, trompe du mort and C√®pes¬†(porcini): a rugged looking duo selling oysters of every size, boxed up for buyers on beds of seaweed, a curly red headed lady with honey and bees wax for sale, who played the squeeze box and sang French folk songs when not engaged in selling, and the usual array of vegetable, cheese and saucisson stalls.

The most delicious mushrooms, Cèpes. Ne Pas Toucher, Mischa Belle.
Miel. Local honey in the Dordogne. Our honey pot, tasting of woods and flowers, was a gift from our landlord,  Jean Pierre, from his own bees.

The Thursday market at Monpazier ( it has always been held on Thursdays since the 13th century ) was much smaller, though on one occasion, a mattress seller took pride of place in the square and I did rather fancy the¬†knife sharpening man, a skill that is slowly dying. The big town market at Bergerac encircled the town’s cathedral, then radiated uphill along adjacent streets. A huge christening ceremony took place one Saturday while the market was in full swing, the shoppers and vendors forming a row of honour as the family and baby arrived.

There were little stalls selling sweet canelè in every flavour, lots of walnut stalls, chestnuts, and a substantial flower market. The Saturday market at Le Bugue, right on the Dordogne, sold the best Paella, cakess and quiches and the huge poissomiere truck did a roaring trade. I purchased a small tub of brandade to spread on croutons: this is one dish I never bother to make at home given the tedious soaking of salted cod required.

Not for sale, otherwise they would now be in my suitcase!

In each market you’ll usually find a separate area where cheap clothing, linen, shoes and handbags are sold. These stalls are appealing at first, then after a while, you recognise the same garments at every market- this season it’s oversized knitted sloppy joes, women’s tops with large stars on the back, and retro looking cotton tops with a lot of glitter and sequins.

Radish and parsnip. Bergerac market

One of the other features of the village market, and one I’m too shy and too foreign to join, is the footpath caf√© scene. Coffee and wine are¬†sipped slowly,¬† double or triple kiss greetings take place as locals gather to catch up, though you can always spot a French poseur or two, and a few expats trying very hard to appear local. I’ll head to the Caf√© des Arts¬†in the late afternoon for a Pastis. I’ve acquired a taste for this old¬†Proven√ßal drink. I’ll wave about an imaginary Gauloises and if chilly, I may even don my new fingerless gloves or perhaps a beret.¬†Bonne journ√©e.

Take away seafood paella. One metre wide paella dish.
Market day cafe scene, Pezenas

This is my list for Languedoc/ now Occitanie.