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Our neighbor and friend, Joan, dropped by this week with a bag of broad beans (also known as fava beans)–a big bag.

The chore with broad beans is that they have to be shelled before you cook them.

And often de-podded too.

As they mature the outer skin becomes tough and the true delicate taste is missed.

Handy to have guests around in the broad bean season.

“Anything I can do?”

“Well funny you should mention it…”

If you are lucky and have a generous neighbor with green fingers, you could, like us, be gifted with beans so fresh and young that they only require shelling not de-podding too.

Joan is doubly generous; the beans she gave us were picked that day, fully-shelled and ready to cook.

Joan and Meredith went walking round the lake this morning and the beans came up–so to speak.

How was I proposing to cook them?

Joan is eating vegan at the moment, so a favorite way chez nous–broad beans with shallot and bacon–is not possible chez elle.

For lunch today I forgot about the bacon and gently softened a shallot in a tablespoon of olive oil.

Then added 8oz of the ready-to-cook beans*, two tablespoons of water, some fresh mint leaves and salt. I covered the pan and cooked the beans to just tender–about 10 minutes**. I added a little more water along the way, but not too much–as the delicate taste risks being dissipated.

You could–if you are not eating vegan–crumble some feta over the cooking beans, which melts nicely into the water to form a little sauce.

But watch out that the feta doesn’t make the bean too salty.

Thank you, Joan!

Our doubly seasonal lunch included these asparagus roasted with flakes of pecorino and olive oil

 

*I cooked the beans from the freezer where I had stored them in 8oz baggies, immediately on receiving them. Straight into the pan on a gentle heat.

** Since the beans today were coming from the freezer, they took a bit longer to cook. If you’re working with fresh, it’s more like 7-8 minutes–but you need to watch over them and test.

 

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I am sitting in the courtyard and two turtle doves are–well–courting–in morse code.

It is perfectly still with a suggestion of a spring breeze–quite sharp.

Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out…

DOT DOT DOT (OVERHEAD)Dot dot dot (is the answer a little futher off).

Now the dots are fading–a meeting perhaps, behind the church!

I’ve been waiting for the “cuckoo morse”–longer and softer as a call.

At last–yesterday afternoon–there it was–a brief, but unmistakeable COO-coooo.

A sign that things are moving on.

There are others.

Our neighbor–farmer Pierre, passed earlier on his tractor.

He’s been busy.

Some of his fields are showing garlic, looking proud–about six weeks to harvest.

Others are pale green with wheat and barley–shifting in the breeze.

Into this patchwork of greens and looking out of place are empty fields of brown–finely tilled–waiting to show….

My guess is sunflowers.

Last week the markets were struggling to offer anything new–but today, it changed.

Small artichokes tightly packed and bunched in fours, peas and broad beans have joined the upstanding green and white asparagus.

It is a relief to see some action.

Dill, tarragon and chives joining the parsley this week and large spring onions.

I have been busy too; making Vignarole–a vegetarian spring speciality in Roman trattorias.

The same artichokes, peas, broad beans and spring onions with a shredded lettuce.

The preparation is labour intensive–but the cooking is the simplest imaginable.

The eating as I remember is sublime.

We’ll see if it gets the DING from Meredith ce soir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A report came out recently–another report, I know!

It said a more effective way to keep our weight stable is by taking care with the way we eat–not be stuck counting the calories.

The recipe below is an example of how one can eat simply, healthily, deliciously and inexpensively.

Each to his/her own, of course, but for me, the dish would be COLD before I’d finished counting calories–and that’s assuming I could figure out HOW to count them.

Caulis are looking handsome at the moment with their big, open faces urging you to take them home.

When I checked the price, I didn’t need any persuading and bought a large organic one for just under three euros.

It stretched over two nights.

A simple gratin with juicy black olives one night…

Not much left!

and this equally simple soup with leeks, the next.

I had steamed the florets for the gratin–but hadn’t used them all. So I only had to soften the leeks before adding the cauliflower and the stock. (If you’re starting the soup from scratch, just add the raw cauliflower florets.)

Meredith was on a long internet conference call, so this made a perfect light supper for her in front of the computer.

She grew up thinking that cauliflower was the biggest DUD vegetable of all. Fortunately, she has had a conversion!

Cauliflower happens to be good for us–like its close relatives, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage.

According to Mr. Google, one serving contains 77 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. It’s also a good source of vitamin Kproteinthiamin, riboflavinniacin, magnesiumphosphorusfiber, vitamin B6, folatepantothenic acidpotassium and manganese.

So there!

We eat it because we LIKE it!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cauliflower–florets separated into medium sized bits
  • 3 leeks–outer parts removed, cleared of dirt and sliced thinly
  • 1 oz butter
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 liter organic vegetable stock (I use stock cubes.)
  • salt & pepper

Melt the butter and oil in a large saucepan.

Add the leeks and sweat them gently, covered, until soft.

Add the cauliflower and bay leaves and mix well.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then turn the temperature down.

Simmer until cauliflower is tender–not much more than ten minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Lift out a few small florets and liquidize the rest.

Drop a few of the whole florets in each bowl when you serve the soup.

 

 

 

 

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First question–before I even sit down in my doctor’s office to discuss my annual comprehensive test results:

“What did you do with that turnip?”

Shows where my priorities lie!

Flashback: We’d bumped into each other at the vegetable stall in Lautrec a few days earlier.

I’d not seen Michel there before. Usually he’s on the road doing his rounds at that hour, making house calls.

He had bought a single medium size turnip–the beautiful purple and cream variety.

It was the singularity of the purchase that intrigued.

And turnips were on my mind.

The day after the Lautrec meeting, a stall-holder in Castres market had tucked two black turnips into the brown paper bag holding my other purchases from him.

Cadeau!” he’d said [Gift!]–a generous gesture, as I hadn’t spent more than five euros.

Ungenerously, I could speculate that this variety is be more difficult to sell on its looks.

Nonetheless, an encouragement to return the following week to his excellent stall.


Michel, the GP–bucked by the way our rendezvous had kicked off–and delighted by the diversion from yet another routine examination, launches into a detailed account of what he did with his beautiful cousin of my navet noire [black turnip].

The test results are shoved firmly onto the back burner–while he regales me with how he made his ravishing poisson au sauce de navet” [fish with turnip sauce]. (!!!)

A pause, while we both metaphorically digest this delicacy.

We then both get up– as a gesture to getting on with the real purpose of the visit–and edge towards the examination couch.

The turnips will not lie down though.

Happy for further delay, I ask Michel about what to do with my navet noire.

The upshot being not too different from what to do with his purple-cheeked cousin.

As he finally gets to listen to the interior workings of my chest through his stethoscope, I mention that to describe someone as a turnip in England is not polite.

Oui, it has other less-than-complimentary meanings in French too,” he says.

Then he chuckles as he indicates the weighing machine.

“Natalie [his wife] will be amused when she hears about our meeting–be sure to tell Meredith, too!”

We resume our seats at his desk and he writes out my quarterly prescription; leafing through my results, he gives me the thumbs up.

Just before I leave he says:

“You bought a cabbage last Friday. I love cabbage. What did you do with it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You’re invited to the Channel Island of Jersey, just off the Brittany coast–to a special charity event for Diabetes Jersey at the Merton Hotel, Oct 11 or 12, 2017 (it’s repeated Wednesday & Thursday evenings).

Recipes and Recollections–A Delicious Night with Robin Ellis

Here’s the info from the Merton Hotel’s website.


 

(My books.)

On stage with me will be Robert Hall, a senior BBC correspondent, who will pepper me with questions while I season various demonstration dishes.

We’ll talk inevitably about Poldark, cooking, diabetes, France and Fawlty Towers perhaps…

(Robert was John Cleese’s “co-star of choice” when he appeared at the Opera House for his sell-out Audience with John Cleese evenings.)

 

 

 

The one vegetable I will not be cooking sadly is a Jersey Royal potatoes.

I remember my mother preparing these jewels of the potato family back in the fifties, when we’d enjoy a feast of “Jersey Royals” with a piece of white fish from the Macfisheries shop at the entrance to the Golders Green Tube Station.

They needed little addition–white sauce would have been an insult to the delicate taste. Perhaps a knob of butter and a sprinkle of parsley. Ma used to serve them unpeeled.

Delicious–but not a goer for me now.

Potatoes are one of the “whites”  I avoid as a type 2 diabetic; their concentrated carbohydrate puts them off-limits.

Others are: white rice, white pasta, white bread and white flourrefined carbs.

Don’t lose heart though–I shall be cooking up a storm…BROWN basmati rice is fine occasionally, as is wholewheat pasta, certain whole wheat and rye breads and chick pea flour.

Cooking school in Lautrec always started with a glass of bubbly.

 

I’ll be preparing the most popular recipe in my entire repertoire:  No-potato fishcakes:

Also planning on preparing no meat, too-simple-to-believe Red Bean Chili:

A delicious black olive dip from Provence called Tapinade:

And a lovely cold summer soup–Chilled Cucumber, gifted to me by my old friend and fellow Poldark alumnus, Donald Douglas (the fiery and thoroughly untrustworthy Captain McNeil, who pursued me as Ross Poldark, up hill and down dale, with no success–so finally gave up–and settled in a house an hour north of us here.

 

 

There’s a Pork Loin roasted with red onions and balsamic vinegar, a Chicken Tagine and plein d’autres chose [much else] as they say here in France.

Stuffed peppers are also an easy favorite I’ll be demonstrating:

 

Dinner is included in the event– and the kitchens of the Merton hotel are putting on a banquet with recipes from my cookbooks–so you can try them out!

I’ll be autographing books too, of course.

Here’s further info for reservations and tickets.

I’m looking forward to my first visit to Jersey and so is Meredith, my wife.

On va se voir bientôt, j’espère!

See you there…!

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It’s the 14th July–Bastille Day.

Anniversary of the storming of the Bastille Prison in 1789–the start of the French Revolution.

In Paris, the Presidents of France and the US are also commemorating another momentous event–America’s entry into the First World War in 1917.

There’ll be military parades and firework displays all over France; there were fireworks in Lautrec last night.

It’s busy, busy–out there.

Here in a quieter corner of Southwest France, it’s simply summer and the living is easy; the mornings are cool and the cats are lying around.

The first figs–les figues fleurs–are dropping and making a mess in the courtyard.

Time to slow down and count one’s blessings.

Time to plan a lunch for the Garlic Festival–in the first week of August.

Time to consult the multitude of cookbooks on the shelves in the larder.

Cookbooks are perched on tables and chairs and falling off dressers.

Experiments are under way in the kitchen–and food is spilling out of the fridge.

Some cookery books one buys on a whim and after the initial thumb-through, sit unused, gathering dust.

Until moments of calm like this–when a glance at the shelves finds books that I had forgotten were there.

Honey from a Weed is one such.

Written in the 1980s by Patience Gray, it is one of those “old fashioned” cookbooks–no photos, just beautiful sketches telling everyday stories–discursive, setting the recipes against a backdrop of place and personal experience.

This wonderful book is the story of the artist/writer’s life in three Mediterranean locations over years living with her “mystery” partner, simply referred to as “The Sculptor“.

The locations are all in places where marble is quarried.

In Catalonia, in Spain, on the Greek island of Naxos and most famously in Carrarra in Tuscany–where Michelangelo once quarried his stone.

I am reading her cookbook with relish this summer.

For me, here’s a perfect example of how to write a recipe.

In a few lines it manages to tell us the what and the how–and finish nicely describing the natural emergence of a sauce that makes the mouth water.

(Ask the fishmonger to do the middle paragraph!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We are having Aubergine Tortino for lunch.

Grilled aubergine slices baked in a tomato sauce, parmesan cheese and egg base.

A savory cake.

A small salad would cut the richness–but alas, there is no lettuce in the fridge.

However there is an overload of parsley.

I bought a ridiculous amount last Saturday anticipating making lots of green sauce for the chicken at the Independence Day lunch party. It’s still fresh in the fridge. I have a eureka moment…!

Parsley Salad!

Check the Internet for hints–but the Internet is down–as it often is in rural France.

Check my cookbook library and–BINGO! Riverford Farm’s second cookbook delivers.

Here’s my version:

In a pretty bowl mix:

  • 50gms flat leaf parsley–roughly chopped (i.e. left a bit leafy)
  • 50gms red onion–chopped finely
  • 6 anchovy fillets–roughly chopped
  • 2 tbs capers–left whole
  • 1 tomato–skinned, seeded and chopped

 

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 tbs red wine vinegar,
  • 4tbs olive oil
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • (no salt–as I’m using the anchovies, which are already salty; try feta if you don’t like anchovies)

Just before you eat:

With two forks and a light hand mix the contents of the bowl together.

The aim is to keep the delicate salad from getting soggy.

At the last moment add three spoonfuls of the vinaigrette to the bowl and again lightly fluff up the contents of the salad.

(Should you need more dressing, you have extra to hand.)

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