Results tagged Gascony from David Lebovitz

Simple Polenta

polenta

I’ve been a busy boy the last few weeks, hunkering down finishing a project that’s I’m working on night-and-day. And unfortunately, it’s not even allowed me time to go to the market to do much food shopping. Quelle horreur! So I’ve been raiding my freezer (which is actually a good thing…) and rummaging through my cabinets in search of things that I can sustain myself on.

red corn polenta

I had a couple of bags of beautiful stone-ground polenta that I got in Gascony last fall and decided that I’d cook up a big batch to keep on hand. When I lived in California, I ate a lot of polenta because I am a major fan of anything and everything with cornmeal. It’s not as common here and while you can find it in most supermarkets, it’s often the instant variety. And while some people say it’s pretty good, I tried it once and it’s like comparing mashed potatoes made with those powdery dried flakes that come in a box with mashed potatoes made from real, honest-to-goodness potatoes. To me, there’s just no comparison.

fresh herbs for polenta

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rose and strawberries

One of the things about the French that’s pretty well-known is that they certainly enjoy their wine. While statistics point to declining sales and consumption, I’d still dare to say that wine plays a very important role in French culture, as well as an integral part of its cuisine. And for that second one, I’m especially grateful.

I like wine, and being from California – and working in restaurants all of my life – I’m certainly no stranger to the pleasures of “the grape.” But even though wine has been simplified in America to boost consumption, such as wines with fruit-flavorings (I guess ‘grape-flavored’ wine isn’t enticing enough), there still is a bit of elitism associated with le vin. Yet in France, wine is no big deal and the wine aisle at the supermarket is just as big, if not bigger, than the mustard, coffee, paper towel, vinegar, sterilized milk, pasta, cereal, baby food, jam, and rice cake aisles – combined. It even threatens the yogurt selection in terms of scope, variety, and flavors.

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Fête de Charcuterie

basque charcuterie plate

Someone recently asked me if people in Paris have started raising chickens in their backyard. I had to pause for a minute, and wanted to remind folks that Paris wasn’t Brooklyn, nor does anyone have – at least in my circles – a backyard in Paris. And if they did, they could afford a country house and would raise their chickens out there. But French people also don’t celebrate “the pig” with the same enthusiasm as the current craze in America, England, and other anglophone cultures.

There’s no overpraising meat, fat, or pork products; things like pâté, rosette (salami), saucisson sec, and even museau (head cheese) because in France, they’re all extremely common. Although things have changed a bit and nowadays, I would venture to say that many young folks would wrinkle their noses up at a plate of head cheese or tête de veau, and I was recently at a dinner party with a mix of French, Swiss, and Italian friends and everyone squirmed when the subject of consuming rabbit came up; I was the only one who said that I sometimes do eat it.

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French Tomato Tart

kate's tart

This week I saw the first promise of tomato season. A few brightly colored cherry specimens were brought home from the local market, as well as the more standard varieties. I was down in Gascony visiting my friend Kate Hill, and her photographer friend Tim Clinch was there preparing to lead a photography workshop. Looking for something tempting and colorful, tomatoes seemed the obvious choice as willing subjects.

cherry tomatoes erika

In addition to the profusion of flowers plucked from the lush garden by the canal du Midi, the tomatoes had their moment in front of the camera. But once the participants stopped clicking, we grabbed them and put them where they rightfully belong: In the kitchen.

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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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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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