Sunday, 9 September 2012

Market Lunches in France, Olivade & Baked Victoria Plums.

Sorry, I haven't posted for a couple of weeks. I had internet connection problems in France and I have been crazy busy since our return last Sunday, it feels good to be back blogging with two recipes inspired by my travels. 

I have had a lovely couple of weeks catching up with family and slowing down the pace of life. The first week of our trip was spent in the Monts d'Or on the banks of the Saône near Lyon. For the last thirteen years my husband's parents have made this beautiful part of France their home.

The sandstone villages of the Monts d'Or, golden in the morning sun.

The week passed with us quickly slipping into a routine of lazing in the sun punctuated only by lingering family meals and the odd trip to a food market or brocante to pick up delicious fresh ingredients and vintage kitchenalia. My mother-in-law is a prolific bargain hunter and she knows the brocantes and dépôts-vente of the Rhône-Alpes intimately. Luckily for me, she always seems eager to show me where the best bargains are to be had. So, after busy mornings scouring for pots, pans, peaches and plums we were ready for a bite to eat.

My favourite Saint Marcellin and Saint Félicien cheeses from the Rhône-Alpes region.

The Friday morning market at Neuville-sur-Saône.

And when you have got a plethora of markets with such beautiful and abundant ingredients on your doorstep, lunch becomes a very laid-back and utterly indulgent affair: there wasn't much cooking to be done. Back in Wales we Smiths don't need much of an excuse for a picnic but when you are surrounded by freshly baked bread, hundreds of cheeses and luscious fruits, simple alfresco dining really seems to be the only way to eat.

Lac de Sainte Croix from the beach at Salles sur Verdon.

The epicurean tone was set for our second week. We headed further south to Lac de Sainte Croix in northern Provence, a stone's throw from the breathtaking Gorges du Verdon. We had decided to take Genevieve camping as she had never slept under canvas before and she was bursting with excitement. She too embraced grazing on delicious fresh produce from her first nibble of bread on the walk back from the boulangerie and her daily pain au chocolat to lunching on her newly discovered love of French cheeses, cornichons, olives and saucisson.

Aromatic Fleur de Sel from the Carmargue on sale at Aups market.

One of my rediscoveries during our trip was the beautiful simplicity of the Jambon-Beurre; I lived on these sandwiches when I studied in France. The freshest baguette slathered with sweet, creamy butter and adorned with thinly sliced ham: tout simple, tout délicieux. The French are particularly adept at allowing each ingredient to shine and making butter one of the stars of the show can only be a good thing in my eyes. Another simple French classic that lets butter take centre stage is radishes served quite simply with butter and fleur de sel (crunchy sea salt). A lovely addition to any picnic lunch.

My favourite Jambon-Beurre sandwich; fresh bread, Isigny butter and rosemary encrusted ham.

Now, time for some recipes inspired by this lazy eating. Today's first recipe was inspired by the olive pastes that were omnipresent on apéritif stalls in the many markets I visited. There were some that were very similar to my chilli pesto. They also included blends of olives with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, aubergines and other delicious Mediterranean produce, flavoured with garlic and aromatic herbs and spices. One of my favourites was a blend of green olives and lemon. It had a clean, fresh, summery taste and inspired this recipe.

Olivade au Citron

Leftover baguette 
100g green olives, pitted.
1 clove of garlic 
The zest & juice of 1/2 a lemon
Olive oil
A pinch of sea salt  & pepper

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Thinly slice the baguette and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sea salt, pepper and maybe a few herbs of your choice. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until golden and crisp. These make the perfect apéritif carriers for olivade, tapenade, pesto or pâté.

For the olivade, I employed a low-tech method that reflects the slower pace of holiday life. Also, after a busy week back in the classroom I was very grateful for some soothing, rhythmic chopping this weekend. If time is of the essence though you could just throw everything in the food processor. I started by slicing my garlic clove and then sprinkling with sea salt. With my knife I then used the coarseness of the salt to crush the garlic by sweeping the flat edge of the blade back and forth over the garlic.

I put the garlic into a bowl and add the lemon zest before squeezing in the juice. Give this a little stir, the lemon juice will mellow the taste of the garlic. Next, finely chop the olives then stir them into the lemon and garlic dressing. Add a glug of olive oil and season to taste. Serve with the crispy bread, a selection of charcuterie and cheese as part of a perfect picnic lunch or it would make a welcome guest at a gathering of pre-dinner nibbles.

Baked Victoria Plums with Vanilla Yoghurt

My second recipe is inspired by the desserts prepared by my mother-in-law, Helen. Most of our lazy market lunches were rounded off with delicious stewed fruit, usually rhubarb or peaches from her friend Jenny's garden. We would pair these syrupy fruits with delicious faisselle, a creamy fromage frais made from unpasteurised milk and named after the mould that it is made in. Here, I give a nod to the changing seasons with autumnal Victoria plums baked with boozy blackberry liqueur and served with creamy vanilla- infused yoghurt.

200g Greek yoghurt
1 vanilla pod
2-3 teaspoons of icing sugar
8-10 Victoria Plums 
A splash of crème de mûres (optional)
A knob of butter
A couple of tablespoons of light muscovado sugar.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Slice the plums in half, longways, slicing around the stone. Give them a twist to separate the halves and then remove the stone. Place in a baking dish, sliced side up. Splash on a little crème de mûres. Dab a little butter into the plum halves, then sprinkle over the sugar. 

Slice the vanilla pod in two, vertically and run your knife along the inside of the halves to remove the seeds, saving the seeds in a bowl. Place the pod halves in amongst the plums and place the dish in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes until the plums are soft, golden and oozing syrupy juices.

Add the yoghurt and icing sugar to the vanilla seeds and stir together until the yoghurt is speckled and sweetened.

Remove the plums from the oven and serve warm with a dollop of yoghurt and a drizzle of the syrupy, boozy, blackberry juices. I hope you enjoy.

Victoria x

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