Friday, 29 July 2011

Le Somail, Canal du Midi

Le Somail on the Canal du Midi is a very picturesque Hamlet which used to be a stop over place for travellers when the Canal was in full swing in recent centuries.  Now it is the hub for rented boats and barges, for peace seeking tourist enjoying a bit of relaxing boating  along the waterways. 

The Canal du Midi was the brainchild of engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet.  Opened in 1681 a year after he died.  The canal connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and is 240 km long, it connects from the river Garonne through to the Mediterranean sea.  The banks are lined with trees called Platinus Hispanica or Planes.  Sadly in the coming years 42000 of them will be felled and burnt because they have a fungal disease that is spread via the roots.  The aim is to fell 4000 a year.  The trees act as shade for the boats and help to stop with water evaporation.  The roots hold the banks together and when the leaves drop onto the water and sink to the bottom they act as a waterproof seal, helping to keep the water in the Canal.  They also give a bit of protection from the wind and boy does it blow in this region of France.  The Aude is the windiest department in France.

My preferred method of travelling and visiting places

I like to think that I have an apartment in every town which, you can say is almost true.  My van is the love of my life.  With its 26 year old Mercedes engine, it roars along the road and up and down mountains like a true gentleman.  I have to say that I always have a lot of people that seem to be following me.

Dinner at le Somail cooked and served in the Mercedes.

Tomato and cucumber salad from my garden

Pan-fried duck breast with pears (pears from garden)

I photographed this three-wheeled vesper when I saw it in le Somail because my husband told me that once he was hitch-hiking near to Granada and got a lift in one of these.  He Said that the man who was driving was very portly and so was my husband at the time.  He had the Madonna hanging from the central mirror and sang, at the top of his voice for the entire time that my husband was in the car, about 50 km.  I would have liked to have seen that.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Aubergine with Basil and Mascarpone

The vegetables are starting to change in my garden, now we're getting into the real high Summer.  I entered the kitchen with a variety of things and my hands started to prepare this dish without even thinking about it.  I didn't have any pine nuts for pesto,  so substituted it for almonds, adding a bit of parmesan and marscarpone, so this is not a pesto, just in case there are any Italians reading.  I once discussed pesto with and Italian and sort of touched on the idea of the addition of lemon.  His face changed from friendly, chatty  to a very serious one.  He looked me in the eye and told me that there is no lemon in pesto.  Point taken and I agree, pesto is pesto.  Let's leave it at that.  If you make something similar get your own name and leave pesto alone!

Serves 4 as side dish


2 aubergine's
1 bunch of basil
olive oil
2 tablespoons of parmesan
4 tablespoons of mascarpone
15 almonds, roasted
salt and pepper

How to go about it

Cut the aubergines in half, lengthwise.  Score the flesh in crisscross fashion and sprinkle with salt, leave for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile liquidise basil, parmesan, almonds, mascarpone with oil to make a sloppy sauce.  Rinse aubergines, pat dry and fry cut side down in olive oil until golden.  Turn and fry other side.  Remove from pan and let cool a little.


 A few minutes before serving,  spread the sauce over the aubergines and grill for a few minutes until golden.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Peach leaf liqueur

I'm a little bit peeved today, as normally I had planned to go and watch a stage of the Tour de France, this weekend, in the Pyrenees but due to other commitments I am unable to go.  The stage which I wanted to watch was one that I have been to before on the Plateau de Beille in the Ariege.  If you have never seen a stage of the Tour in the mountains, I suggest you go.  It is fantastique!  Surprisingly enough or maybe not in the case of the French and Basque spectator's, is the food that is cooked on the side of the road.  People will pitch their tents on the side of the mountain and start to cook the most amazing food.  Clinging on for dear life, out will come the frying pans, calor gas or BBQ and commence the feast.  To arrive at their chosen spot they will go up the mountain by whatever means is possible.  Here are some photo's of when I went in 2007. 

This man had his 2 children in the trailer and his dog in backpack. 

Local food shop
Some of the Astana boys, including Alexander Vinokourov, after his fall, 2007

Doping or not it is still an incredible sport and I hope they succeed in cleaning it up.  The atmosphere and passion that so many people, from so many different countries have, is staggering.    I have never seen anything except politeness and friendliness amongst the spectators.  The Basque are very supportive, some might say to the point of rowdiness but I have never personally had any problems and I was once camping next to 20 young lads that had a mountain of beer cans higher than their tent.

Anyway, I have to be content with watching the stage on the TV and making this Peach Leaf Liqueur but I had to just work the Tour de France somehow into the post, sorry for all those that find cycling boring. 

This is probably little known to many people.  Peach leaf aperitif is popular in the region of the Périgord.  My husband who is from a small village near to Riberac, often tells me about customs and food from there.  I know peach leaves are not accessible to everyone but maybe it is possible to make it with the leaves of other fruit trees.

The incredible thing about this was the strong smell of almonds when the leaves were macerating in the wine.  I know that peaches, apricots and almonds are of the same family but the scent was overpowering, almost to the point of having the same smell as bitter almonds and if you have ever accidentally bitten into one of those you'll know exactly what I mean.


200 peach leaves
2 litres white wine
300 ml eau de vie or other white spirits
350g sugar

How to go about it

Put the put the leaves into the wine in a bucket and let macerate for 5 days, in a cool place.  Strain and add sugar and spirit, stir to dissolve sugar and bottle.  Leave for a month before drinking.

Anyway, I've invited friends to lunch and I'll have a feast but in front of the TV, haven't told my friends yet that we'll be watching the Tour!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Courgette and Peach Chutney

Here we go again with the same ingredients but this time something for the winter.  We've had strong winds this week and it has blown loads of the peaches to the ground, they were still in good condition and totally usable.  Courgettes, well they just keep coming.

Makes about 2.5 kg


1kg courgettes
1kg peaches
3 large onions
150g sultanas
500g sugar
1 litre white wine vinegar
1 stick of cinnamon
4 star anise
1 tablespoon coriander
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon Jamaican pepper
2-3 fresh chili peppers
1 tablespoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon cardamon pods

How to go about it

Peel and chop courgettes into cubes, chop peaches.  Put in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the salt and let degorge for 30 minutes, rinse and pat dry.  Put all ingredients into large saucepan, bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.  Then turn up heat a little and cook for 1.5 hours until nearly all the liquid has evaporated.  Put into hot, sterilized jars and seal.  Leave for at least 6 months.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Peach, Swiss Chard and Cabrales Pie

I've been thinking about making this Provençal pie for a few years now but the whole idea of vegetables and fruit didn't quite do it for me.  I'm used to eating spinach with sultanas and pine nuts, a Catalan dish that I love but I needed to clinch the recipe.  I mused over different cheese and even bought two or three but in the end I decided on the cabrales.  A strong blue cheese from Asturias in northern Spain.  It can be made from unpasteurised cows milk or more traditionally made with a blend of goat's and sheep's milk.  Other blue cheeses can be used in its place, Stilton would be a good choice.

The pastry is made with a blend of plain flour and Gofio, a toasted wheatgerm from the Canary Islands.

Serves 4 - 6

Preheat oven to 180°c


For the pastry
150g plain flour
50g gofio
100g butter
1 egg yolk
1 - 2 tablespoons cold water
salt and freshly ground pepper

1 kg Swiss chard or spinach
80g pine nuts
80g sultanas
100g cabrales
2 - 3 peaches
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of sugar
salt and pepper
2 eggs
50ml single cream or milk

How to go about it

Firstly put the sultanas in half a cup of water and bring to boil and then leave to cool in liquid.  Rub the butter into the two flour, add salt and a good grinding of pepper.  Bind with egg yolk and water to form pastry.  knead for seconds and wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Take off the centres of chard an use in another recipe.  Cook green part in boiling water for 3 minutes, drain and cool and squeeze out all of liquid.  Lightly roast pine nuts, finely chop chard and mix with sultanas, pine nuts, spices, eggs, and cream, crumble the cheese and also add.  Season. 

Butter shallow pie dish and roll-out half the pastry and line pie dish.  Fill with chard mixture.  Cut peaches in half and stone and slice in medium slices, lay on top of chard and sprinkle the sugar on top.  Roll out the other half of pastry and cover the pie.  Brush with beaten egg mixed with tablespoon of water.  Bake for 45 - 55 minutes.

I wasn't disappointed, I think it was worth the two year musing before making it.  After all, you can't rush things in the Mediterranean.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Peach pavlova

I can't stop going to the fridge and eating small slices of this.  I know I shouldn't because it has a lot of calories and now the Tour de France has started, I'll watch it everyday and be so enthused to get on by bike and return to my youthful fitness. 

When it all goes 'peach shape', or I do,  I'll blame my husband for letting me eat it and not taking an active interest in my fitness but still I will return to the fridge for just one more slice.    So don't make this pavlova. 

or maybe just once


4 egg whites
200g sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
3-4 ripe peaches
500ml whipping cream
2 tablespoons of icing sugar

How to go about it

Preheat oven to 120°c

Whip egg whites until stiff, then add sugar tablespoon at a time, whip between tablespoons, it should be nice and glossy and stiff.  Add cornflour then vinegar, mix.  Line a baking tray with silicone paper and mark a large circle of 25cm diameter.  Spoon half of the egg whites on to circle, spreading out.  Place the rest of the egg whites into a piping bag with a large star nozzle and pipe a boarder, building up the sides until all used up.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes until firm.  Let cool in the oven.  When you are ready to fill meringue, whip cream and add icing sugar to taste.  Stone peaches and slice.  Fill with cream and arrange peaches on top.