Monday, 21 June 2010

French fries

All present and correct

Well the sun came out and, in the fickle way of holiday makers everywhere, I’m grateful for the house’s fortress-like basalt walls which keep the rooms shady and cool. Even on the brightest days, inside you need to turn on a light to read.

June is one of the happiest and most delicious of months in Adge. The market is full of peas and peaches, melons, tomatoes and cherries, everything du region. At one of my favourite stalls, a young man was selling courgette flowers. I bought all he had, about twenty or so, and from another stall enough soft goat’s cheese to stuff them.

Stuffed courgette flowers

Golden and ready to eat

Forgive me, TS Eliot, for saying that I measure out my life in measuring spoons. Quarter of a teaspoon, half a teaspoon, a teaspoon; half a tablespoon, a tablespoon. When I’m developing recipes, accuracy is everything. Measure and measure again. So when I’m on holiday, one of the purest of pleasures for me is to scatter, toss, fling ingredients around with a recklessness that would get me fired in my real life. Here, it just gets me fired up. So you need to forgive me, too, for having no proper measurements in this recipe. But hey, you’re a clever sort, you can figure it out.

Courgette flowers
Soft goat’s cheese
A cup of plain flour
Sparkling mineral water, chilled
An ice cube
Sunflower or groundnut oil for frying

Carefully peel back the petals of the courgette flowers and remove the stamens. Take a bit of soft goat’s cheese (I was going to say about a teaspoonful, but we’re doing this freestyle, no measuring aren’t we?) and tuck it inside each flower, twisting the petals to close around the cheese.

Stuff carefully

Pour about 10cm of oil into a heavy-bottomed, deep pan. It shouldn’t come more than a third of the way up the sides. Heat up the oil until it measures 180˚C on a thermometer, or, as we’re on holiday, a cube of bread turns golden in just less than a minute.

While it’s heating up, make the batter. In a bowl, mix the flour with a good pinch of salt and enough mineral water to give it the consistency of double cream. I like to throw in an ice cube too, to ensure it’s extra cold. When the fat is hot enough, dip the flowers by their stems into the batter and then carefully drop them into the oil. Don’t crowd the pan – in mine, I can cook about four at a time – and cook until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Scoop the cooked flowers out of the oil with tongs or a spider and leave to drain on kitchen paper while you cook the rest. Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little salt.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Silver linings

Pork with apricots
In June, you don’t expect the sky over Agde to be as dark as the sombre basalt slabs that form its pathways and quayside. The grey stones undulate like ripples on the Hérault river, worn smooth by centuries of footsteps and pockmarked with ancient volcanic bubbles.
No matter. We’re holed up behind the heavy wooden door of our rented house with books and food and cheap rosé and coffee. Beyond the courtyard door, I can hear the clip clip clip of the gypsy women’s heels and the chatter of their clouds of children as they walk from the rue Haute to the rue du Quatre Septembre. Inside, I’m lost in Bury Me Standing, Isabel Fonseca’s dazzling history of European gypsies.
One of the good things about stormy weather (If you have spent more than five minutes on this blog, you may have noticed I am the Queen of the Silver Lining) is that it gives me a chance to make the kinds of warming, cosy dishes I rarely cook during our summers here, when we live on salads and grilled fish and fruit.
The other day it was cold. Windows and doors rattled and strained against the wind. Shutters creaked. The air filled with the shrieks of seagulls, their wings the only bright flashes in the basalt sky as they circled overhead. It was also my lovely dad’s birthday, so I asked him what he would like for dinner, even though I knew he would say pork. When asked he always says pork, even though he greets everything I put in front of him as though it’s exactly what he wants to eat at that very moment. Sometimes even the least demanding souls should have exactly what they want, especially on their birthdays.
Pork with apricots

I found a great recipe for rôti de porc aux groseilles in the May-June edition of Elle à Table, but I didn’t have redcurrants, or several other ingredients listed in the recipe. So I made my own version, using apricots, and then, a second time, cherries, both of which worked well. At least the birthday boy didn’t complain. But then, he wouldn’t.
1 boneless, rolled pork loin or shoulder
2 tablespoons olive oil
A couple of bay leaves
A sprig or two of thyme
250g apricots (halved and stoned), cherries (stoned) or redcurrants
10 sage leaves, roughly chopped
2 onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 biggish glass of rosé, white wine or cider
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Season the pork well with salt and pepper. Warm the olive oil over a medium high heat in a large casserole and brown the meat all over, then remove it from the pan and set it aside. Reduce the heat, add the onions with the bay leaves and thyme and sauté until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another couple of minutes, then add the sage, honey, soy sauce, balsamic and wine or cider. Give it all a good stir, then tip in the fruit and return the pork to the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover with a tightly fitting lid and cook gently over a low heat for about an hour and a quarter. Keep an eye on it. You might need to splash in a little more booze or water halfway through, though I didn’t. Serve the pork cut in thin slices with the sauce spooned over. The pork is also excellent the next day, cold, and sliced into salads or sandwiches.
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