Seasonal produce is a moving target in spring. At first, there’s little difference with winter, except for the asparagus. But then other treats start to appear: fava, peas.
The weather is unstable, too. It can be warm enough for a dip in the pool in March, but the heat kicks on during the Ice Saints in May. Those rainy days are perfect for soup, especially a soup that celebrates the lively new flavors of the season: soupe au pistou. It was on a dark and chilly day that I decided we needed soup, one that used the big bunch of basil I’d bought–the first of the season.
There is no “recipe” for pistou. There are a few key ingredients that make it pistou and not, say, minestrone or bouillabaise or bisque. Any pistou soup needs pistou–a mix of basil, olive oil and garlic, like pesto without the nuts. And beans. And pasta. After that, you can add what’s in season at that moment. Because pistou soup is garden soup.I recently heard an excellent interview with the cookbook author Julia Turshen, who says she “never, ever follows recipes.” Her new book, “Small Victories,” aims to get people more at ease with cooking from scratch and reassuring them that they don’t have to follow recipes to the letter.
So here is one recipe for soupe au pistou. You can add/subtract depending on your tastes and what you find at the market.
Cocos, or flat beans, with green beans above.
Fresh sweet peas
Mange-tout–eat the whole thing–aka snow peas.
Soupe au Pistou
First the pistou:
A huge bunch of basil—imagine the leaves pressed into balls the size of each fist.
1 clove of garlic (I often imitate Guy Fieri and up the amount, but when I used two it got complaints for being too strong)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
The soup (all the vegetables are diced into bite size):
1 onion (but if you have leftover greens of leeks, this is a good place to use them)
2 tomatoes (we used canned because it’s too early for garden tomatoes)
A large can of white beans (the cans here are 400 g, or 14 oz.)
1 cup peas (frozen are OK)
1 cup green beans (frozen are OK—it’s what I used. Lazy, I didn’t cut them up and regretted it)
1/2 cup elbow macaroni, called coquillettes
salt and pepper
olive oil for cooking
Also worth considering:
cocos (broad, flat beans very popular here)
fresh fava beans
thyme or herbes de Provence
You can start with dried beans, of course. We tend not to plan far enough ahead and are grateful for cans.
You can use a mix of beans—white, red, striped, whatever.
You can leave out the pasta; the beans are hearty enough
In a Dutch oven, sauté the onion/leek in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot. Throw in the other vegetables, the beans (if you are using dried beans, cook them ahead), then add enough water to cover everything. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. You can make it ahead to this point and heat it up later. Remember to stir in the pasta so it has long enough to cook, but not so long that it disintegrates; check the cooking time on the package.
While the soup simmers, make the pistou. Traditionalists use a mortar and pestle to turn it into a pungent green slurry. I tried that, chopping the leaves down first, but mine was too minuscule; I tried a bigger bowl but that wasn’t better. I transferred it all to a blender, which wasn’t much of an improvement. I don’t have a food processor; that might have worked. But who cares? The basil and garlic were reduced enough to make a kind of paste anyway. On the side, I sliced a baguette and topped it with grated Parmesan (fresh–not the powder in a can!). Two minutes under the broiler, and voilà. It probably seemed balanced because we had left out the pasta. Pasta + beans + bread seems like overkill. But to each his own.
From what I’ve read, for some people even an IRS audit would be less stressful than ordering a meal from a French waiter.
Yet one of the Top Things to Do While Traveling in France is eating. It doesn’t have to be stressful. Here’s how.
First of all, get the restaurant right. If you go to the big place right on the waterfront or whatever the main tourist draw of your destination is, then you can almost be sure that it isn’t going to be good, and the waiters aren’t going to care. This is true worldwide.
But if you’re in France, it’s doubly a crime, because France is a place where you can have absolutely heavenly food, from the finest of haute cuisine to humble yet delicious dives. Bad food is practically criminal here.
The French diner uses the power of the purse to punish restaurants for bad cooking, or to help them succeed for good cooking. That is, away from the most obvious tourist spots, where the restaurants don’t have to care about the French diner. In order to get the best of French cuisine, you have to eat where the French do.
Things to look for:
Multilingual menus–they are often a clue to a high level of tourist trade.
This is not a fail safe measure. Even for establishments without personal translators, it takes minimal effort to get the job done online. (Sometimes with comic results; however, bad translations don’t mean bad food–they mean bad translators.) So on the one hand, let’s give restaurants credit for being welcoming to tourists by providing translations, since it really shouldn’t be a big deal.
On the other hand, the tough judges aren’t the tourists but the locals. You want to eat where they do. And if a restaurant is good enough, it will have so much business with the locals that it won’t need the tourists. This is the ideal restaurant. Reservation cards on tables are one hint that a place is good. Locals don’t walk in; they reserve.
Let’s say you’re walking around, looking for a place to eat. How can you tell whether a restaurant will be satisfying? One tip: look for chalk.
Pre-printed menus, like translations in many languages, aren’t a huge effort or expense anymore. But they can (as in sometimes) indicate that the menu doesn’t change with seasons. And that the menu is too big. There’s a risk they’re out of this and that, especially if you’re not traveling in high season, or you’re going to be served pre-cooked or industrial stuff, not freshly homemade.
Instead, look for a chalkboard with the day’s menu written in chalk. That means it changes, possibly daily.
A small menu means the chef pays attention to each dish and each ingredient.
Another key to your dining satisfaction is to know that an entrée is a starter/appetizer (not the main course). Entrée means entry, after all. The main dish may be called a plat (plate, or dish) or else you’ll just see viandes/poissons (meats/fish) in a separate category. I have noticed more vegetarian choices lately, but that’s a new trend. Even salads tend to have meat. Salade gourmande usually includes foie gras, gizzards and slices of dried duck breast. Just so you know. Usually these kinds of big salads are considered a meal and aren’t in any “prix fixe” or set-price menu. A “salade composée” is just a lot of ingredients laid on a bed of lettuce, not tossed. The French are not big on tossing. They like each item to be distinct. Just so you aren’t surprised.
Often, the menu will have separate dishes in their separate categories–five or six starters, then five or six main courses–and then a variety of “menu” choices, where you can get a good deal. It might be choose among entrées, plats, desserts for one price. Or it could be entrée + plat or plat + dessert for one price, and entrée + plat + dessert for another price.
Cheese, at least a nice wedge or round with a bit of bread, usually is included in a menu. Sometimes also a small pitcher of wine, especially at lunch.
Seriously. This IS France!
On to the waiters. They are professionals. The tension is not really about them and their alleged rudeness but about diners’ expectations. What French diners expect from waiters is not at all what Americans expect.
The French waiter is not supposed to be your friend. He (and it very often is a man) is supposed to serve you. This is not rude; he’s supposed to leave you alone. He will not tell you his name; he may describe the day’s specials, but not to the extent that is fashionable in the U.S. He won’t stop by to see whether everything is OK.
But if your water pitcher is low, it probably will be whisked off the table and refilled without you asking. If you drop your napkin, a new one will appear next to your plate as if by magic. The French waiter is not a participant in your meal but an invisible guardian angel ensuring that your meal goes flawlessly.
This continues right up to the end. Because in France, especially outside big cities like Paris, your table is yours and yours only for the entire evening. You can reserve for 8, but if you show up at 7:45, they won’t say it isn’t ready yet. If you show up at 8:30, you won’t be scolded and then rushed through your meal, because another party is scheduled to take over the table at 10.
Since the French love to linger at the table, there will be a pause between courses. This is expected; the service isn’t slow because the French don’t want their dishes to arrive one right after the other. When diners finish eating, their plates stay on the table until everybody in their party has finished, so that the slow eaters don’t feel pressure to rush. And, if they don’t see anything awry at your table, the waiters won’t come unless called. This is because you have every right to stay at the table and yak with your friends until the restaurant closes, without being pressured to continue to order drinks or coffees or whatever. So when you do want to leave and pay, you have to get their attention. The easiest way is to start to leave; they’ll come quickly with the check.
I have been to restaurants in France with visitors, and they have judged the service as bad, because it didn’t meet their American expectations: the waiter didn’t chat, the waiter ignored the table (though we never needed him), dirty dishes weren’t whisked away upon the last bite, the check took forever to arrive.
The other thing is if you order something that’s not “done.” Two possibilities might ensue: First, in France and much of Europe, the customer is not always right. Sometimes the customer is sadly mistaken (not the same as wrong). Take the menu above; the last item is veal sweetbreads with a morel cream sauce and risotto. But the waiter might have seen several non-francophone diners confronted with ris when they were expecting riz, having misread the menu. And he might try to see whether you know that ris isn’t rice, even though it’s pronounced exactly the same way as riz. And you might easily take it as the waiter being rude.
Or the waiter just can’t comprehend what you want. On a family trip to Italy years ago, my brothers routinely ordered coffee with their meals. Coffee lovers, they couldn’t wait to taste a vaunted Italian venti. The waiters would nod, “sì, sì, signore,” but the coffee wouldn’t come, despite frequent pleas by my brothers. The waiters would reply something in Italian that probably meant “we didn’t forget your coffee.” Eventually, the toddlers in the group had enough of sitting still and we would rush to get the check and leave before tantrums began. And my brothers never got their coffee. Because in Italy, nobody drinks coffee with dinner; it’s for after dessert. (They finally went to a café expressly to have an espresso. “There was a little cup, about the size of a thimble,” one brother recounted. “The bottom of it was barely covered with some brown foam. But I tell, you, it was enough!”)
When we lived in New York, the Carnivore suffered grievously every time we went out to eat. It was the same problem of clashing expectations, but in reverse. Why are these waiters telling us their names? Look, here they come again! Can’t they leave us in peace? Why do they bring the main dish so quickly? They don’t give us a minute to breathe! They give us the check before we’ve even had coffee!
He would send the main course back and tell them to wait until he had finished with the appetizer (or worse, the aperitif). And he would completely lose it when we would be told we needed to finish up and get out because the next party was waiting for our table. Once, he hadn’t finished the appetizer when the main course arrived, and the waitress grabbed the appetizer plate as he was still stabbing food with his fork. He pointed out that he hadn’t finished, so she just dumped the remaining food onto the main course dish.
But what do you expect? In New York, waiters are actors or singers or some flavor of Future-Successes for whom waiting tables is unworthy of their Greatness. They play the obsequious role only up to a point, then rebel as soon as it looks like they might not get a maximum tip. In France, waiting tables is an honorable métier, paid a living wage (with health coverage and retirement, of course), worth doing for an entire career.
Also, forget about the 20% tips over here. Usually service is included, but one is polite to leave a little extra–10% would be generous.
So those French waiters aren’t ignoring you. They will know if you drop your fork before it even hits the floor and will slip you a new one before you think to ask. Their job is to work magically, without you noticing. They aren’t being slow or inefficient; they are letting you take your time.
Last week, the news was full of about how bad weather in Spain and Italy had hurt vegetable crops, sending prices skyrocketing.
I have to admit that I had picked up a few courgettes (zucchini) at the market and then dropped them as if stung by a bee when the vendor informed me the price was €7.50 a kilo. In summer, courgettes sell for €1 a kilo. My fault for wanting something out of season.
Because we live in an area where frost is rare and the ground doesn’t freeze in winter, fresh local produce is available year-round. But it means forgetting about zucchini and tomatoes.
At the Saturday market I gathered photos from my favorite maraîchers, or vendors, who also grow all their own produce. There’s plenty of variety, even in the dead of winter.
Take radishes. There are the red variety, like the first photo. But also black or blue.
What do you do with these giants? You can dice them up in a soup or slice or grate them to eat raw in a salad. Speaking of salad, there are many kinds of lettuce and such, including piles of single leaves of roquette (rocket or arugula), cresson (watercress), chicorée (chicory) frisée (curly endive) or escarole but not iceberg. No loss there.
I don’t count lettuce as a vegetable. It’s like a condiment, a nice thing to eat on the side, a crisp break between the main course and the cheese course, but you still need a vegetable, or you need to eat a truckload of lettuce. The Carnivore argues that a few tired* leaves of laitue are all you need, and that fish, poultry, eggs and dairy could possibly count as vegetables because they aren’t meat. Logical.
We even have kale in Carcassonne. Moving up in the world.
Kale may be new and trendy in France, but cabbage comes in many varieties and is cheap.
Did you know that calling somebody a cabbage is a term of endearment? Mon chou and p’tit chou are like saying “honey.” (Don’t call anybody miel in French!) The teacher’s pet is the chouchou. And a petit bout de chou is a small child.
Topinambour, or sunchoke, can substitute for potatoes, and are prepared the same way.
Alain and Juliette Fumanel‘s stand is another favorite. M. Fumanel is known to all as “Fufu,” and usually is in highly amusing conversation with his many friends and clients. And Mme. Fumanel is always very elegant. I go directly to their farm near Pont Rouge in summer for tomatoes and the other vegetables I put in my tomato sauce.
Check back on Friday for a special recipe using a purchase from the market: Swiss chard.
*Re “tired” lettuce: some people like to “fatigue” the salad by dressing it a few hours before the meal, so it isn’t as crisp. They actually do it on purpose.
Takeout isn’t a thing in France, at least not in the New York-millions-of-menus-under-the-door sense.
Aside from pizza and Chinese food, and of course McDonald’s, restaurants don’t usually do dishes à emporter–to take away.
The French have their own forms of takeout. You just have to know where to look.
This can be especially useful if you’re renting an apartment for your vacation and you have a kitchen at your disposal. After all, it can get to be a bit much–for the budget and the waistline–to eat all one’s meals in restaurants. Not to mention that doggy bags aren’t done in France. You can’t just eat half and take the rest home for the next day.
The top place for takeout is la boucherie, or the butcher. France still has lots of small butcher shops, which often have homemade dishes on offer as well as raw meat. I counted 24 mom-and-pop boucheries in the yellow pages for Carcassonne. And if the butcher has volaille–poultry–there’s a good chance they also sell roasted chickens.
Similarly, un traiteur, or caterer, might have dishes to go, though some only do banquets. You’ll immediately see by looking in the window whether takeout is a possibility.
The supermarket usually has a wide selection of prepared dishes as well as salads. Not a salad bar kind of salads–no lettuce is involved–but grated carrots with a white vinaigrette, grated celery root, taboulé, etc. In fact, I’ve never seen a deli-style salad bar in France, though maybe they exist in bigger cities.
The outdoor markets have stands, more akin to food trucks without the truck, selling prepared dishes from couscous to paella to Chinese dishes to traditional French specialities like cassoulet and aligot–yet another form of cheesy potatoes. There are trucks whose sides open up to show rows of rotisserie chickens, with the grease dripping onto a bed of potatoes at the bottom. Good enough to make you cry!
Food trucks make the rounds, especially of villages and roundabouts, selling pizzas, quiches, crêpes, and sometimes other things. One that used to come to our village had specialties of Sète, a town on the coast.
You can get a jar of homemade cassoulet from a market vendor or, at the butcher or the indoor market, called les Halles, a bowl of homemade cassoulet big enough for three or four people, ready to pop into the oven.
The day I decided to shoot at les Halles, I arrived late–around 11:30–and many of the offerings were nearly sold out. Proof they were good!
Living in France has overturned some of my long-held principles, including but not limited to a strong opposition to mushrooms.
Growing up, mushrooms were those rubbery bits that came out of a can, often in a thick, white “cream” sauce. They squeaked when you bit them. Irredeemably revolting.
I eventually made peace with raw mushrooms, and then opened up to others. (Chanterelles? YES. Truffles? Double YES.) The variety of mushrooms here is just amazing. According to the Société Mycologique de France, the country has 1,384 edible mushroom varieties out of about 16,000 species; 514 are toxic or deadly. The society has a semi-useful chart that matches the scientific name with the common French name.
We play it safe and buy our mushrooms at the market. Our No. 1 favorite, shown in the top photo, are thelactaires, also known as roussillous or russulacées, or, more specifically, the lactaire délicieux. Yup. The Latin name is Lactarius deliciosus, so it’s official.
If you think the name sounds related to milk, you are right–they emit a milky substance when the cap or spores are broken. Since the name of the Milky Way in French is la voie lactée, somehow my mind puts these mushrooms amid the stars, which I find fitting, because they are heaven on a plate.
There are a couple of ways to cook lactaires: straight up in butter or in a persillade of chopped parsley, garlic and butter. Here’s how:
Step 1: Clean them. You might notice that the wild mushrooms pictured above have pine needles and grass and dirt on them. Wipe off the tops with a damp paper towel and gently brush the underneath. Be gentle! Set them out to dry.
Step 2: cut off the bottoms of the stems. You can chop up the rest of the steps to cook.
Step 3.: Make your persillade, if you’re going that route: Finely chop a small bunch of parsley and a couple of garlic cloves.
Step 4: Melt some butter (don’t be stingy) in a frying pan over medium heat. Prepare yourself for amazing fragrance. They smell a little like a white cake baking. They don’t taste sweet, but the flavor is delicate. Cook stem-side up. Don’t turn.
They’re done when they’re hot and have browned ever so slightly. We had them with pan-fried steak, roasted tomatoes (we still get garden tomatoes!) and little grenaille potatoes.
What you see in the pan above set us back about €4 (they were €13 per kilo, down from €14 the week before).
And now for a few beautiful, but not-for-humans, mushroom marvels:
The next one looked for all the world like a Thumbelina version of a chopped-down tree:
This one was also very flat, but the top glowed translucent, like polished stone:
While these might not be comestible, it looked like somebody had been nibbling:
This is likely to be a recurring theme, because I constantly spy odd little details that make me smile. Like the “51” pastis-flavored macarons from Pâtisserie Greg, who’s at the corner of the market near the Halles on Saturdays.
I can walk past something hundreds of times, and then one day it jumps out at me: this wouldn’t be found in America. Sometimes it wouldn’t be found in Paris, even. Quirks, quoi.
Like the raw milk fountain on Saturdays. I love that it’s BYOB. Raw milk is unpasteurized, FYI. Night and day as far as taste. Of course, pasteurization (invented in France!) cut deaths from germs that had contaminated milk. But that was in the 1800s, before refrigeration and vaccines were a thing. Healthy people can drink raw milk without fear.
Le (B) sandwich shop boasts bagels; it’s new–and there’s another new bagel place on the same street a couple of blocks away. Carcassonne has discovered bagels! While it might be a little oasis of NYC in the south of France, some details are resolutely French. Like closing early when you’ve run out of fresh, homemade goods.
Sometimes walking down the street, I nearly trip over these, because the sidewalk is barely two feet wide, and some places just a foot across, and I think, this would never happen in the U.S.:
And actually, when I start to look down, I realize how incredible the foundations are. Huge stones, little fillers. Yikes.
And then, there’s Place de Lattre de Tassigny, named after a World War I commander, just around the corner from our apartments. It used to be a parking lot, and now it’s an outdoor living room. I love it.
Which quirks do you find endearing in your home? In France?
How do you say “whipping cream” or “heavy cream” in French?
I had tried with crème fraîche épaisse, but that didn’t work. I forget what the recipe was, but my cream didn’t rise no matter how hard I whipped. In fact, we ended up with butter (and it was delicious).
Crème fraîche épaisse (thick fresh cream)is similar to sour cream, though not quite as sour. And it comes in full fat–entière–or light–légère. Sometimes even lighter than light. Usually it’s in a tub, but we recently saw it in these soft packages.
Then there’s crème fraîche liquide (liquid fresh cream), but it can have a wide variety of fat content, even when it’s entière. The one for whipping is labeled fleurette.
I cannot believe it took me this long to discover but there is actually a star system for crème fraîche.
Is it good for a sauce in a poêle (saucepan), or is it better in the four (oven)? Or for chantilly (whipped cream)? Four stars for whipped cream–bingo.
The dairy products section of a French supermarket is vast. There’s an entire aisle for yogurt, and sometimes two for cheese. Milk, however, tends to be sold in UHT (ultra-high temperature) packages that don’t need to be refrigerated. Crème fraîche also is available in UHT packages. The fresh crème fraîche section usually is near the butter.
There’s a sweet song about whipped cream that’s usually sung as a round (canon in French). While anglophone kids grow up singing “row, row, row the boat,” French kids sing an ode to whipped cream. That kind of sums things up. Here’s an adorable video of three teachers trying to herd cats direct a choir of little ones. Maybe you can detect the melody.
Battez la crème, Battez la crème, Battez la crème, Battez la crème De la crème fraîche que l’on fouette gaiement Parfum vanille, un peu de sucre blanc On l’aime à la folie, la crème chantilly
Beat the cream, beat the cream, beat the cream, beat the cream Some fresh cream that we whip gaily Vanilla flavor, a little white sugar We love it crazily, the whipped cream
Part two of Ferme en Ferme fall: our postprandial yet still gastronomic promenade through the Black Mountains.
Picarel le Haut, run by Catherine Souef near Saissac, has 120 cerfs (deer), biches (does) and daguets (brocket deer–a small species), as well as 30 Arab pure-breed horses. (Saissac is a great day trip from Carcassonne, with ruins of a Cathar castle in a very pretty village perched on a mountainside.)
Tastings included deer pâté and morsels of grilled doe steak. I’ve never been a fan of deer meat, despite having grown up in a family of hunters, but here biche is a classic for Christmas dinner. And now we know where it comes from.
The shy animals were well behind the trees of their large enclosure, and it wasn’t easy to get a picture. Did you know that stags shed their antlers every year?Another stop was at the Ferme du Villemagnol, just west of Saissac, where Nadège and Corine Guinebault raise free-range pigs and sheep.Wine-fueled singing wafted out from the tent for diners; clearly the customers were content. We were keen to pick up some saucisson, or hard sausage. The line stretched around the tent housing the butcher counter, even though the staff worked quickly to slice ham to order and wrap up sausages and other goodies.
Our charcuterie experts decided, upon tasting, that it was worth the wait. “It’s nothing like what you get in the supermarket,” the Carnivore declared. “It’s nice to chew, it has no gristle or lumps of fat.” Yes, food gets analyzed in the same way wine does.We also visited the Chevrerie du Colombier, near Fontiers Carbardès, where Cécile and Thomas Hollard raise goats to produce several kinds of cheese.There were the softest cushions of snowy white fresh cheese to heart-shaped cheeses covered with gray mold to great rounds of hard cheese, with thick crusts. The names include petit colombier, tomme, cabrichon and cabribert. Cabri is a kid–a baby goat.We were disappointed not to happen on any goat-milk ice cream, which is a real treat. I suppose they didn’t expect the weather to be so warm.
By the time we got home, it was clear what we would have for dinner: cheese, sausages and fresh baguettes. Just perfect.
Sunday was another round of Ferme en Ferme, or Farm to Farm, this time winding through the Black Mountains north of Carcassonne.
It was much more crowded than the one we did in the spring. And strangely, the license plates of the cars we saw were mostly from the region, compared with lots from far afield in the spring. A cloudy morning turned into a gloriously warm and sunny autumn afternoon, perfect for a jaunt in the countryside, and maybe everybody had the same idea.
We examined the map carefully, knowing we could hit only four or five of the 17 participating farms, which stretched from Argeliers, well east of Carcassonne (with a snail farm), to Revel in the west (with a farm raising angora goats for mohair).
We decided, what the heck, to start off with La Calmilhe, about halfway between Cuxac-Cabardès and Mazamet. The road is impeccable, but so winding that it took us 45 minutes. The scenery was stunning–black forests (hence the name of the mountains!), distant vistas, lush pastures.
La Calmilhe, run by the Régis family, raises cows and taurillons (bullocks) of the limousine breed. We had been there before, only to discover that they had planned for 700 meals, had already served 900 and were turning away everybody else. We tried again over the years when they were on the program, calling to reserve, but always too late to get a spot. This time we went to buy their produce and didn’t expect to get in on the meal. We anticipated a roadside picnic, picking up baguettes to eat with cheeses and hard sausages bought at the farms.
To our amazement, there were only two cars in the pasture that served as parking lot (if you do Ferme en Ferme, make sure you don’t have a low-riding car or you’ll never get out–all the parking areas are in fields!). Even more surprising, when we admitted we hadn’t reserved, they said they could squeeze us in. Luckily we had brought our own flatware. Lesson: as soon as you get out of airport security, keep a pocket knife with you at all times so you are never at a loss when confronted with sausage, cheese or a bottle of wine that needs opening.
La Calmilhe runs a well-oiled machine: the lines were set up to pay (€14 for the meal including wine), get a ticket for either daube (beef stew) or bull steak, then get a tray with a salad, apple and choice of cheese/flan/rice pudding.
Those choosing steak got theirs on the spot.
After having the salad, the daube eaters could go to the daube stand to be served, while the steak eaters had to go outside to grill their own. Brilliant move–you can cook it how you like it.
Having arrived so early, we were the first in. It soon filled up, and people scouted for places to sit. The Carnivore found it funny that we were eating in a manger–and manger of course comes from manger–the French verb “to eat.”
The steak was judged tender and juicy by the Carnivore, who despite extensive research has had trouble finding bull meat that works on the grill.
As for the daube, it was delicious. They just opened cans of their own product (smart move–they could easily open more or less as needed), making the case for buying a few cans to take home. If you can’t get here to buy some, try this link to 15 traditional recipes.
September is when the market is full of big, ugly tomatoes. The best kind. The inside is solid flesh. They have flavors, each variety contributing a different perfume.
September is also when the weather cools down so that indoor cooking again becomes possible. We don’t have air conditioning nor do we want it. But when it’s 95 degrees outside and 75 inside because of careful juggling of shutters and opening of windows at night, you don’t want to mess up your hard-won coolness. With day temperatures in the upper 70s and nights in the 60s, the stove can be used again.
The abundance of tomatoes at the season’s lowest prices (about €1 per kilo) coincides with ideal conditions for cooking. We have a number of gardens where fresh produce is sold out of a barn or hangar daily—no need to wait for the market. This is sometimes a good option, but then, we don’t go to the market just for vegetables but also for the social aspect.
However, the market involves a long walk back to the car, dragging the shopping cart. If 10 kg of tomatoes were in the cart, they’d be sauce before arriving at the car. So for the large quantities we head to the garden source.
Once you have homemade tomato sauce, the industrial version tastes strangely…industrial. I haven’t canned—you need to maintain a certain level of acidity to prevent botulism, and my resistance to following instructions makes me leery of risking food poisoning. Instead, I put the sauce in zipper bags and freeze them.
Also, I put a lot more than tomatoes in my sauce. It’s an opportunity to toss in extra nutrients from other vegetables. So besides lots of onions and garlic, I add carrots, red peppers, beets, butternut squash—whatever’s on offer at the garden. Squash and beets make the sauce sweet without added sugar.
An aside here about stoves. We had gas but a few years ago got rid of our propane tank and switched to induction. What a dream! The first time we used it, to make pasta, we turned it on and off like kids, amazed at how it went from not boiling to a rolling boil to not boiling in a second.
I raved about it to French friends, who informed me they had induction for years. Count on the French to be on top of the best cooking technology. Induction is as quick and versatile as gas, but with advantages: it works via magnets, so anything nonmagnetic on the stovetop doesn’t heat up, even if the stove is turned on.
I did have to replace my nonmagnetic copper pans with new ones. They are Cristel, a French brand, whose ads say “buy once for life.” There’s a removable handle so they stack very compactly, yet the lips for the handle are big enough that I often don’t even need the longer handle. An excellent investment.
Here’s a recipe of sorts:
10 kg of tomatoes (about 22 pounds). Go for real ones: UGLY. Not the perfect, tasteless hybrids that are raised on chemicals.
10 cloves of garlic
A nice handful of fresh herbs (I cut some from my garden: mostly thyme that I rip off the stems, but also parsley, basil and oregano).
4 red peppers
1 butternut squash
1-2 big beets
Cut out the core of the tomatoes and chop them roughly. Some people peel them but that is just too much work!
Chop up everything else into about half-inch pieces. You want them to cook through.
Brown the onion and garlic in a tiny big of olive oil. Then dump everything else into a gigantic pot (I have to use two), cover and bring to a boil. I don’t add water—the tomatoes will let out plenty of liquid.
Reduce the heat to a simmer. This is where induction shines. You can put a pot on at the lowest temperature to simmer and it won’t burn on the bottom. Love it. Stir a few times per hour.
Let it cook for several hours, until the volume has reduced by at least half. Cook longer if you like thicker sauce.
Use an immersion blender to purée it, or else let it cool completely before running it in batches through the blender or food processor. Anyway, you need the sauce to be cool before it goes into the freezer.
To put it in bags: put your bag in a plastic container that’s about the right size. This will keep the bag from flopping over as you’re trying to fill it. Use a measuring cup to ladle the sauce so you have an idea of how much is in each bag. Ideally, enough for a dinner.