Wednesday 26 March 2008

Some recipes

Wednesday is market day in Gabian, as it has been since 1171. At the charcuterie van, which comes from Lacaune in the mountains north-west of here, we bought Spanish morcilla for lunch. These spicey blood sausages are tastier than the local boudin noir, I think, although both are good. They tasted as though they were flavoured with cinnamon, and we found pine nuts in them. I dressed chunks of still-warm boiled potatoes with a dressing made from olive oil, salt, pepper and wine vinegar in which I've steeped bay, rosemary and thyme from the garden since last July. I added some chopped garlic, parsley and sweet fresh onion, sautéed slices of the morcilla and arranged them around the potatoes. With a glass of red wine from Le Moulin de Lène, just the other side of the hill from here, it made a delicious quickly prepared meal.

The fish stall arrives each Wednesday from Valras-plage, the stallholder selling the fish caught the night before on the family boat. She only sells fish which they have caught, and when it's too rough to fish she just doesn't come, so it's all as fresh as possible. Today the muge - grey mullet - were still alive. I bought a large one, weighing over 1.5 kg to make a fish stew based on a recipe which Nigel Slater gave in his column in the Observer a few weeks ago. You can see his recipe here

I made some changes, as I usually do since I rarely follow a recipe exactly.

Fish stew - marmite de poisson - for 4 people

1 onion

1 red pepper

3 large cloves of garlic

6 anchovy fillets

3 bay leaves

3 sprigs of thyme

3 twists of lemon peel

olive oil

a large glass of white wine

1 large grey mullet (the stallholder descaled it and cut it into portions for me)

1 jar of preserved tomato passata with green peppers (bottled last July)

1/2 litre fish stock, made with the head and other bits of the fish

2 dozen mussels

I sautéed the sliced onion and red pepper in olive oil until soft and just beginning to brown, then removed them from the pan. As Nigel Slater suggests I sliced the garlic and fried them gently in olive oil with the anchovy fillets and the herbs. When the anchovies disintegrated I added a large glass of white wine, the fish stock and the jar of tomato and green pepper and let it all simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I added the pieces of fish until they were cooked - about 10 minutes. I then leave it until Thursday, when the van from Bouzigues arrives with mussels and oysters. On Thursday evening I cooked about 1/2 kilo of large mussels in a mixture of half white wine and half water with a bay leaf, for about five minutes until they were all open. I shelled these mussels and added them to the stew. When our friends arrived for dinner I heated the stew and when it was simmering added the other half-kilo of mussels in their shells and cooked it all until these mussels were all open. I served it with Camargue rice.

Nigel Slater suggests garnishing it with toasted slices of bread spread with a mix of coriander leaves and chopped fresh red chillies. I didn't have any chillies so I used a clove of garlic and some smoked paprika and some olive oil with the coriander leaves.

I think it all worked well - the colours looked good and the fish stayed firm - something to remember if you're using other kinds of fish, as it has to be something that won't disintegrate while cooking.

Tuesday 25 March 2008


Not really anything to do with gardening, or food or wine, but this was a first for me. We were driving back at 11 p.m. on the day of the full moon last Friday. The moon was low behind us, lighting up that half of the sky, while ahead of us there were dark rain clouds over the hills. It had just rained, so everything was glistening in the moonlight. Ahead of us, arching over a village a couple of kilometres away, was a wide low silvery bow, which moved away from us as we approached, but stayed visible in the distance as we drove home. I wasn't even sure that such a thing was possible, but I said 'Is it a moonbow?' I've since had this confirmed by an Internet search - apparently moonbows are rare, except in some areas of the world near large waterfalls, like Cumberland Falls, Kentucky, USA. They depend on certain conditions: a full moon that is low in the sky and rain the other side of the sky from the moon. Slow-shutter speed photos show that they have all the colours of a daytime rainbow, it's just that the human eye can't see colours in the dark. It was a very special sight, and one which I don't suppose I'll ever see again. You can see a photo of one at

Sunday 23 March 2008

Seedsavers - Kokopelli's work at risk

The French seedsaver organisation Kokopelli, based at Alès, is dedicated to preserving biodiversity in seed varieties and to helping sustainable agriculture in developing countries. They've lost a case against a commercial seed producer with the result that they will have to pay a huge fine based on the number of varieties which they stock. Anyone who appreciates the value of traditional varieties of plants and can see the benefit of biodiversity and preserving the ecosystem from destruction by big business, as far as we can at this late stage, should support Kokopelli. To sign their petition 'Libérons les semences' [Free the seeds] go to

The English-language website about their work is:

Thursday 20 March 2008

New broom

Wild broom growing on rough ground near the garden

Wild orchid

The first vine leaves

Reservoir at the top of the hill, full for the first time this year
but swimming not allowed

Gabian, from the hill near the gardens

Potato update : 4 weeks since we planted the potatoes, the day after the last full moon, and it looks as though they are coming up more quickly than last year, with most of them now good-sized plants. Is it the influence of the moon? There are other variables - we've had more damp days this spring, more rain and these days have been interspersed with days of hot sunshine, making ideal growing conditions. But I'm willing to believe the moon has had some effect.

Monday 17 March 2008

Rocket soup and a swallowtail

All through the winter we have some kind of warming soup for lunch almost every day, but this one seems more springlike. Most soups are easy to make, but this one is especially quick and easy. I cut, wash and roughly chop a panful of rocket (it shrinks a lot when it's cooked). You can use the quite thick stems that grow when the rocket is bolting and going to flower, as ours is at the moment, as well as the leaves. Add a chopped sweet onion, a little water and some salt. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Liquidise, reheat and mix in a couple of tablespoons of crème fraiche. Once you've added the crème fraiche it's best not to let it boil again as it may curdle. It has a beautiful dark green colour and a good flavour. Serve with a swirl of extra crème fraiche.

Swallowtail butterfly

Yet another sign of spring yesterday when this butterfly was attracted to a bright patch of aubretia on our wall. Whenever we approached it flew off, but it always came back to the purple flowers until Lo Jardinièr managed to get this photo of it.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Chemical strawberries

Yesterday I discovered a blog - La Vie Verte - with a horrifying post and video link about the chemical industry and pollution in Huelva in southern Spain.

I haven't seen many locally grown strawberries in the markets and shops yet. It will be a couple of weeks before the stalls are piled up with punnets and crates of the delicious garriguettes. Strawberries from Spain have started appearing. They're not very tasty at this time of year, but a couple of weeks ago I gave in and bought some to stew with sugar and eat with icecream. This morning they were there again, with their origin marked as Huelva, España, but I wasn't tempted. I shan't be buying anything grown in Huelva again!

Bay trees grow like weeds in our garden. We have one we planted, but also several others which have just established themselves in uncultivated bits of ground. A favourite way of using them we've discovered is to thread them onto skewers with quartered onions, brush with olive oil and barbecue them. The bay flavour seems to go particularly well with onion. We'll be doing this a lot over the coming weeks as the weather gets better and we'll be eating in the garden more and more.

There were good things on the market stalls as well as the polluted strawberries this morning. We bought some very good mackerel and some local asparagus. We ate the asparagus with a stir-fry of slices of entrecôte steak and spring onions (in the pan for just a few minutes as both were very tender), deglazed with Banyuls vinegar. Banyuls is the naturally sweet wine which comes from around Banyuls and Collioure, south of Perpignan.

Friday 7 March 2008

New plants and oysters

The plants in our spring kitchen window - a jumble of daffodils, cyclamen and pansies which have brightened the view for weeks - are coming to an end now, so in yesterday's cold north tramontane wind and bright sunshine we went to buy plants to put in pots by the front door. We're lucky to be near Mèze where Pépinière Filippi specialises in plants for a dry climate. Unlike some garden centres which tempt us with plants which need too much water and would grow better in a more northern climate, Filippi suggests that we fill our gardens with plants which thrive here. If you can't get to Mèze, their website gives a lot of very useful information if you understand French. Even if you don't, the plant names are in Latin and the pictures are excellent. We bought a Gazania rigens, a Lantana montevedensis and a Rosmarinus officinalis var. repens, all recommended for growing in containers. On the way back we stopped at De la Terre à la Terre in Montagnac - another good place for Mediterranean gardeners, although it concentrates more on trees, olives, citrus and palms. We bought this unlabelled shrub with pretty pink flowers:

Does anyone know what it is?

Oyster beds near Bouzigues

We made a detour to Bouzigues for lunch. Bouzigues is an oyster village - the whole place is devoted to producing and selling oysters, with a few other shell fish - clams, sea urchins and mussels. There's a line of cafés and restaurants along the shore of the Bassin de Thau, a salt water lagoon separated from the sea by a thin strip of land. We went to our favourite, Chez la Tchèpe.

You sit at plastic tables in the sun, choose your oysters from crates on the counter and eat them with a glass of Picpoul while you look out at the beds where the oysters grew, only a couple of hundred metres away. Picpoul is the white wine made from grapes grown in this small area between Pézenas, Bouzigues and the sea, whose slight piquancy makes it the perfect accompaniment for sea food.

Choose your lunch . . .

Thursday 6 March 2008

Mediterranean links - a virtual network

Bougainvillea in Cadaqués, July 2007

Colin and Carol, who garden just the other side of the Pyrenees from here near Figueres, kindly asked me to write a guest post on their blog. You can see their colourful and informative blog at

In our friend JM's blog - - you can read another view of life in Gabian (in French), with excellent photos.

I'm discovering a new community . . . thanks to all!