Thursday, 19 July 2007

South-bound and spell-bound!

Ca y est. Saturday, Bastille Day (14/7/07) marked 6 years that I have lived in France and was also the day I got back from a 2-week break to the furthest south I've ever been in France since I arrived - Arles, home to some breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage sites and beneficiary of some serious lovely weather!

Although Vincent van Gogh only lived there for a year (1888- 1889) and a long long time ago, much has been touted in his name for the tourist dollar. Oh alright, so most of his better-known paintings were inspired by the Arlesian landscape (for very good reason!) and he lost an ear there, but if you didn't know better, some of the van Gogh "attractions" and souvenirs were clear-cut rip-offs!

My irreverence was short-lived, however, the moment I patronised the local markets! Take for example the biggest, baddest cherries money can buy, the tenderest of figs and up until now, what remained the stuff of cookbook legend to me - zucchini blossoms!


The violet-tinged Ail de Garonne (a delicate garlic variety cultivated in the region around the Garonne river), though seasonally available in the North, was something I felt the need to stock up on, and eventually abuse (if you must know what garlic abuse is, it's the violent exfoliation of all mucous membranes in my oral cavity, tastebuds included) before its possible extinction. Woe woe!!


Olives were abound as far as the eye could see - preserved, in tapenades (a spread), as a motif on tablecloths and napkins... I wasn't really looking to buy any, but was fascinated by the choice!


Tomatoes were a close second in omnipresence. These freaky-looking ones are called coeur de boeuf, meaning "ox heart". One is enough for 2 persons, so I took a yellow and a red one. It's a pity my hands were too full to take pictures of some other equally spectacular dwarf varieties!


There were many other fruits and vegetables in my basket, but let me backtrack a bit and deliver a micro geography lesson. I live in Lille (50.38N, 03.03E) and Arles (43.41N, 04.40E), without traffic jams and pee breaks, is at least 10 solid hours away by car at an average speed of 90 km southward all the way. That translates to a constant upward difference of 10°C on average in the afternoons, a main factor in the difference between wan and tan! In lingua culinaria, that also meant redder, juicier tomatoes and just-plucked fruit at a steal as well as greens too fragile to make that 10-hour trip.

Different weather, different vegetation, different accent but same language, and even different species of mosquito (their stings were baldly more vicious and insidious) - I was almost sure I'd landed in a different country! Why, even the strangers were chattier and the pigeons less meek!

Sigh... in the shade of the majestic Roman-era arena - the view from the house where we'd stayed not far from here - a mustachioed serenader with a wee little violin would not have been out of place... :)

Forgive me for not cutting to the chase (ie, ready-to-eat stuff), but I'm getting there!! When I left Lille in a hurry and after a harrowing week at work, I took with me all my perishables and a few cans of preserves. With that, I'd drafted a couple of my lists to give me an idea of what to cook while in Arles, but the lists proved to be sorely inappropriate given that they were adapted for Lille's cold weather!

So here is the array of finger food I ended up improvising throughout my 2 weeks there, using local ingredients where I could:

Tartines with green olive & garlic tapenade with carpaccio of baby zucchinis and cherry halves, ribboned with stalks of chives.


Tartines with black olive & tomato tapenade, egg, parsley and cherry tomato slices.


Mini bruschettas with goat's cheese and cherry tomato slices.


Tartines with soft St Félicien cheese, Corsican cured ham and fig wedges.


Cubes of onion, herb & zucchini blossom frittata.

I prepared some of these bites when we had company one evening, and served them with glasses of rosé. I had to hint to my guests that I had nothing else lined up for dinner (these were largely enough for me), so they had to eat the rest of their dinner elsewhere, haha... :)


There are so many other lovely pictures I took and much much more to babble about, but I shall keep them for the next post...

Coming up next: a brush with Nostradamus, an enjoyable day meeting up with a terribly sweet gal I got to know through this blog, the astounding Baux de Provence valley and what happens to food when you have time on your hands!

28 comments:

bee said...

this is torture. what i will give for those figs.

glad to see you back happy and well-fed.

Richa said...

what gorgeous produce :)
just recently i came to know about zuchini flowers being a delicacy, sauteed in butter ;) this was after i researched a bit for my garden zuchini :) figs are just like we get back home, beautiful! was fun listening to the punjabi beat here ;)

Coffee said...

Thats a gorgeous spread there Shilpa!! :)

Suganya said...

Hey Welcome back. Those sure are eye-candy. You have carefully paired ingredients in each of the finger foods. And look at those tomatoes.. Big, bold and beautiful :)

evolvingtastes said...

Hi Shilpa, I just came across your wonderful blog, and enjoyed what I read. Will be back for seconds!

Jyothsna said...

Welcome back!! Those figs and bruschetta look tempting!

sra said...

Simply gorgeous. I have some tapenade at home, thanks for the ideas.

WokandSpoon said...

Hey you're back! How many people did you have over! Looks like you had a feast for 20!! The mini bruschettas with goat's chees and cherry tomato slices look a bit like fried eggs ;-)

Oh and the fig and cheese tartines - lovely! Looks like you went crazy in those local markets - I love them too - so much fresh produce! Sounds like you had a lovely time in Arles!

Asha said...

Arles sounds like foodies and nature lover's heaven!Luck girl!:))
I love that Frittata.YUM! Zucchini flowers looks great too,never used that.Looking forward to more!:))

Sandeepa said...

Shilpa
You are having such agreat time...first S'pore and now a vacation again...wow !!!
Those Tartines look so good

Mishmash ! said...

I loved the array of your finger foods...tartines look so yummy....I love such creations not just coz of the simplicity and taste but coz of the colour and freshness....Gorgeous !

Shn

Sia said...

first u torture me with ur description of sun and sea and now this!!!! grrrr....

cheesewithaspoon said...

Shilpa, great pictures! They capture the essence of Arles :-) . I do hope you will post about that gorgeous meal you made us!

You asked what I do with zucchini blossoms in an e-mail so I just answer here lah okay? I pull out the stamen/pistil from inside the flower (yeah I know this sounds terribly violent, and is the equivalent of castration, but just try not to think about it), then stuff each blossom with a good-sized ball of cheese (goat cheese of any ripeness you choose; or ricotta; or brie; or even any kind of blue cheese if you like it). Then I squeeze the blossoms tightly shut to seal up all the cheese inside, and dip them in a light batter of eggs, flour, salt and pepper, then deep fry till golden brown. (If you want to get fancy with the batter you can -- some add beer or wine, or you can do that thing where you beat the egg whites separately and fold them into the batter for extra crispness but I never bother.) Ta da! A horrendously unhealthy but scrumptious appetiser. Had this in Italy and loved it so now I make it myself whenever I can find the blossoms, which is, alas, just about never in my part of France -- so thank you for the gift of blossoms! It was much appreciated.

Sharmi said...

hey Shilpa, lovely pics. so you seemed to have a great time. Loved the spread.
About the bruschetta, my hubby does not like the smell of garlic. so I dont use them much.

Victor said...

Nice food described in beautiful language. Never seen such huge tomatoes here in S'pore before. One is enough for two? *Gulp*

tigerfish said...

I love big bad cherries..and I'm not a big bad wolf, ok ? ;p Seem to have seen those tomatoes here too - but in the US, they are usually called heirloom tomatoes (and are not mass produced like normal varieties)

Sounds like a really good and enjoyable trip :D

Shilpa said...

THANKS FOR VISITING EVERYONE!! It's good to be back! :)

bee, torture indeed, i already miss 'em! :( the ones in the picture were really soft and tasty but i don't see any here!

hi richa, thanks for visiting! :) mmm, sauteed in butter, i can imagine! did you manage to reap many from your zucchini plant?

thanks coffee! :) thanks also for your e-mail, replied you already!

thanks suganya! actally, i paired them more according to colour than taste! ;-) you will se more of those tomatoes int he enxt post!

Shilpa said...

hi evolvingtastes, thanks for leaving a comment! :) had been lurking on yours but haven't commented, sorry!

thanks, jyothsna! sigh, i still have the mini bruschetta bread (bought them in a bag) but it's chilly here so have had to resort to soups, sniff sniff..

thanks, sra! how do you normally use your tapenade? i only know how to spread them on toast, haven't tried using them in any other way...

err, wokandspoon, there were only 4 of us! :) the plates are smaller than you think.. ;-) you have a point about the yellow tomatoes making the goat's cheese look like eggs, heh heh, it was intentional! haven't been to the market in lille in ages, and i should soon!

Shilpa said...

hello asha! yes, it was indeed, sigh... :) my only complaint was the mosquitoes that made my hand and ankles swell so badly.. :( actually, the zucchini flowers did not have much taste, they're just pretty and have a pleasant texture.

hi sandeepa! :) yes, i know, my colleagues are disgusted that my vacation got approved, heh heh.. of course, that means i won't have many days left next year!

thank you mishmash! :) i know what you mean, simple is usually best but i can seldom leave well enough alone, haha!

hey sia, this is nothing, did i tell you i saw duggu by the beach while on holiday? haha.. ;-) wishful thinking! you going for the London Mela? I've been tempted but gotta think of my budget.. ;-)

Shilpa said...

Hey c.w.a.s.!!! enjoyed our meeting, but didn't you notice that i didn't take a single picture of our food? ;-) who wants to look at a pot of pasta? haha.. thanks for sharing how you use those blossoms, but that sounds like an awful lot of work! :) as for another way to partake of them, a Chinese-inspired teahouse here in Lille stuffs its blossoms with fish paste, the kind that makes fishballs, then steams them. Not too bad, but i wonder how fresh they were since i actally had them in winter...

hi sharmi, ah yes, i think i'm a bit TOO fond of garlic, so i always make a separate plate for myself with lots of garlic, heh heh..

thanks, victor! haha, i don't even remember ever seeing anything other than orangey tomatoes in s'pore (notice how they're seldom ripe enough to be red?) Yeah, i took photos of these tomatoes in my hand, they barely fit!

hey tigerfish! haha, do you also enjoy cherries that have gone bad, ie, rotten? haha!! hmmm, lemme go google heirloom tomatoes, probably that's the correct name for them, 'cos i couldn't find "coeur de boeuf" in the dictionary...

eastcoastlife said...

Woot! You are back, woman! Can see that you had a really enjoyable time.

Wah! the fruits and vegies looked fabulously fresh.

aiyooooo... wish I could try the yummy food you prepared. *slurp slurp* I'm drooling.

Kajal said...

Hi Shilpa,

Very nice post with great photo and looks yummy.:)

Keropok Man said...

i want to try those garlic!!!!

and also all the diff fruits!
but hold the cheese. haha..

u must have been very very busy at work?

Shilpa said...

Hey ECL, yah, I did, and had more ice-cream during my vacation than is humanly reasonable, haha! Not proud of it! Yes, hard to find such fresh produce in S'pore supermarkets, huh? :(

Thanks Kajal! :) It helped that I had a lot of sunlight to get such pictures!

Keropok!!! How have you been?
Actually, that garlic tastes quite the same as white-skinned garlic, but is often consumed raw, so it burns when it's raw!!

Yep, been quite busy, that's why I have been so silent! Sorry! :-P

Priyanka said...

hey Shilpa,
first time on your blog. enjoyed reading some of your posts. will be back for more...your post brought back some good old memories of how we used to hoard up on the figs when we visited our aunt in Pune...

Shilpa said...

Hi Priyanka, thank you! :) lucky you, i assume your aunt still has that fig tree! i have to continue buying my figs! :)

WokandSpoon said...

All that for only 4 of you!!!

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