Results tagged Agen from David Lebovitz

Agen

I recently had lunch with someone who’d just moved to Paris. I gave her some places to check out and a few tips about living in her newly adopted city, including navigating some of the ups and downs, and what to do when city life became overwhelming.

paris train station poilane

But shortly after we parted, I realized that I’d forgotten to tell her my most important piece of advice for living in Paris: Whenever you see an available bathroom, use it.

my favorite thing in the world

Another vital piece of advice that I give to folks who arrive in Paris to live is that it’s important to get out of the city and see the rest of the country. Cities are great places but when you visit the smaller cities and towns in France, you see life that hasn’t changed so quickly. Paris is not France, it’s part of it – and there’s a huge, diverse country once you wheel yourself out of the city.

pears and peaches

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The Lot

french cafe drinks

I’m sitting in a charming trailer, my makeshift room for a few days, parked alongside a serene canal surrounded by chickens and a few baby lambs roaming about here and there. So yes, I have to watch where I step. But it’s here that I’m unwinding after a rather curious weekend of wine tasting, which I’m slowly recovering from. Sure, there was a lot of wine, but as the temperature shot up to 38ºC (100ºF), and many of the events involved standing for a few hours in the blazing French sunshine, unprotected, it was hard to stay focused on task at hand.

french lot river

I’d been to Cahors before, which is in the region called the Lot, when I went truffle hunting, and to the amazing truffle market in Lalbenque.

chateau tower french banquet

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Poached Prunes and Kumquats

prunes and kumquats

Prunes are serious business in France and unlike Americans, it doesn’t take any name-changing to get the French to eat them. Prune fans, like me, are partial to those from Agen, in Gascony, which are mi-cuit; partially-dried. Their flavor is as beguiling and complex as a square of the finest chocolate.

kumquats prunes in pot

Interestingly, the prunes cultivated in California are grafted from the same prunes grown in the southwest of France.

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Plum Kernel Ice Cream Recipe

Ice cream

Last month, I received an invitation to visit the French Sénat. Like most of the government buildings here in Paris, this is one fabulous. Think wildly-ornate with lots of gilding and chandeliers and gardens that are plucked and shaved within an inch of their life. (‘Nature’ in Paris is meant to be looked at…ne touchez pas!) Plus there was a gorgeous dining room where les Sénateurs dine.

(Well, I should say, the real Sénateurs, since they didn’t seem to have my name on that list.)

I don’t know why the exhibition of foods and wines from the Lot-et-Garonne, was being held there, but I felt pretty special all the same. And who doesn’t like feeling special?

Jardin

There was a decent selection of foods to try. Lots of foie gras, some nice Gascon cheeses, and of course, pruneaux d’Agen. And lots of ‘em. Since they were free, I ate as many as I could, especially the ones stuffed with chocolate-flavored prune filling. I was in prune heaven!

Except the next day—I was in prune hell.
Like Armagnac (take it from me); it’s worth knowing your limits.

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Didn’t Someone Out There Say They Wanted A Cassoulet Bowl?

When I posted a few weeks ago about going to Camp Cassoulet, there was a frenzy of messages and comments from people; “I must have one! Where can I get one of those gorgeous cassoulet bowls?”

cassoulet.jpg

Well, good things come to those who wait. And since you’ve waited, here’s your big chance to get an authentic cassole shipped right to your front door, along with a sack of the famed Haricot Tarbais, the essential bean for making this Gascon specialty.

Go, check it out at Kate’s site, then head over to First Giving to enter your bid for item EU25.

Cassoulet

Just think—those could be your hands wrapped around that steaming casserole.

Read the latest Dispatch From Lesotho, and see the world of good you can do by bidding now…For just 10 bucks a pop!

Duck with Prunes Recipe

This past weekend I went to the Marché des Producteurs de Pays, a lively little outdoor event where people come from across France to sell their edible wares here in Paris. Naturally there were lots of mountain cheeses, specialty honeys, and regional wines. But I was on a mission to stock up on les pruneaux d’Agen since I knew les producteurs would be there from Agen who cultivated and dried their own prunes

duckleg.jpg

In America, duck always seems like a special occasion thing, perhaps because it’s not so easily available. But in France, it’s hard not to find duck and braising the meat tenderizes and assures the skin will be dropping off-the-bone succulent. The prunes add a melting sweetness and you can use an inexpensive red wine as the cooking liquid.

duckleg1.jpg

Duck with Prunes in Red Wine

Serves 4 to 6

Some folks use a mixture of red wine and stock or water, so you can do whatever suits your taste. Since it’s Beaujolais Nouveau season right now, you can that. I like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Brouilly, or a similar wine.

To begin, cut 4 duck thighs in half, separating the legs and upper thighs. If you have time, rub them all over with about a teaspoon of salt and refrigerate for 1-3 days. If not, that’s okay. Just pat the duck legs dry and rub them with salt.

Heat a large Dutch oven or roasting pan on the stovetop.

When very hot, add in the duck pieces in a single layer, skin side down and cook, disturbing them as little as possible until the skin is very brown. Flip them over and brown the other side for a few minutes too. If they didn’t all fit in a single layer, brown the remaining pieces of duck the same way after you remove the first batch.

Once they’re all cooked off, pour off any extra duck fat (reserve it for another use, like sautéed potatoes) and pour one bottle of red wine into the pan, scraping the bottom with a wooden spatula to unleash all those delicious brown bits.

Add the duck pieces back to the pan along with any or all of the following:

  • freshly-ground pepper
  • a few strips of wide bacon or pancetta, cut into generous bâtons
  • springs of thyme
  • a strip or two of orange zest
  • one onion, peeled and sliced
  • a couple of whole cloves
  • a head of garlic cloves, separated from the head, but not peeled
  • 2-3 bay leaves


The liquid should be covering the duck up to about the 3/4′s mark. If not, add some water or chicken stock.

Cover the pot and braise in a low oven, 300-325F (150-165C) and cook leisurely for 2-3 hours. The duck is done when the meat is relaxed and comes easily away from the bone. Exact cooking time isn’t important; just check after an hour or so for when the meat slumps and begins to feel tender.

Check and make sure the liquid isn’t boiling while cooking. It should be just steaming and barely simmering every-so-gently. If it’s too hot, turn the oven down.

Flip the duck pieces once or twice during braising. During the last 30 minutes, drop in about 20 prunes. Cover, and let cook until the prunes are tender.

Serving: You can serve with rice, green lentils, beans, or wide noodles. The duck can be made a day or two ahead, refrigerated, then re-warmed for serving.

Camp Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Most people when they think of France, they think of only two places: Paris and Provence. While I’ll admit both are lovely spots for a visit (or in the case of Paris, to live in), there’s a lot more to this country than those two destinations. I suppose the romance of lavender in everything and hoards of tourists does have its appeal, but to me, Gascony is one of my favorite destinations in France.

Boat

And during my recent trip to Kate’s kitchen, near Agen, we spent last weekend cooking up cassoulet of all sorts, tasting local products, and drinking Armagnac with great restraint (that stuff is st-rong!) There was lots of choose from, but to keep our wits about us, our primary fuel was the darkest vin rouge in France: Cahors, often called ‘black wine’, made from just up to the north of us, from the canal and boat I called home for the weekend.

(Note: This post contains photos of animals used for cooking, some resembling their natural state. It’s part of life in the French countryside where that’s part of their way of life. Just a mention in case you’re sensitive to seeing things like that.)

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Camp Cassoulet Weekend

cassoulet.jpg
I’m at Camp Cassoulet this weekend!
saucisson.jpg
(More pictures on my Flickr page.)