Heather Atwood, food writer for the Gloucester Times in New Hampshire, spent few days with me last week.  In between touring the region, cooking dinners and enjoying few wine tastings, she managed to write about few of the things she discovered.

http://blogs.gloucestertimes.com/foodforthought/2011/02/07/je-suis-en-languedoc/.

http://blogs.gloucestertimes.com/foodforthought/2011/02/08/lessons-from-languedoc/

http://blogs.gloucestertimes.com/foodforthought/2011/02/10/au-revoir-languedoc/

 

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Making orange wine is the easiest thing in the world but, as I discovered, it takes an infinite amount of patience.

First, go to a Bigarade* Festival in the dead of winter and enjoy the pageantry, the artisanal foods and other activities.  Such festivals happen in many towns along the Mediterranean, the one near me is in the medieval village of La Caunette. Never mind that the oranges are not grown in the said village — that’s beside the point.

*bigarades are bitter oranges also know as Seville oranges.

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Buy lots of oranges (not much to do around here in February, you might as well pick up extras to make marmalade and jam)

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Now for the recipe; sorry no how-to pictures — I had sticky hands.

There are many variations to orange wine; some recipes include sweet liqueurs such as Grand Marnier, others are spiced up with cinnamon or cloves, some use rosé wine instead of white, etc.  This particular one is a very good straight-forward family recipe.  I’m posting the original recipe and my changes, as I reduced the amount of sugar by 200 grams. I personally prefer orange wines with a little more tartness than sweetness that are reminiscent of the sweet bitterness of grapefruit; I found them to be a refreshing drink to serve as an aperitif or after-dinner drink. Not everybody agrees with me, if you’re not sure use the full amount of sugar.

What you need:

  • 8 large untreated Seville oranges or more depending on the size (about 2.5lb)
  • 2 untreated lemons
  • 4 litres (about 1 gallon) dry white wine (the best inexpensive white wine you can find)
  • 1 litre (about 1 quart) 80 proof clear unflavored alcohol  such as Vodka
  • 1 to 2 vanilla beans, split in half
  • 1 kilo (about 2 lb) sugar (I used 800 gr, about 1.7 lb)
  • 1 2-gallon plastic jug or 2 1-gallon jugs thoroughly wasted and dry

Wash and scrub the citrus.  Cut into very small pieces, it will be easier to add them to  the jug and more importantly to discard them at the end of the marinating. Drop the citrus pieces into the jug and slide in the sugar and the vanilla beans. Using a funnel, add the wine and alcohol. If using more than 1 jug, divide the fruit, sugar and liquids evenly among the 2.

Shake vigorously and place in a dark cool place for at least 50 days or more – I kept mine for 21/2 months.  You should visit your jug and shake it to redistribute the content periodically. I did it every 2 days for the first month and then once every 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, start collecting and recycling your bottles of white wines. Clear bottles are best — your prefect wine will show better. They should be carefully washed and dried. Buy new corks. You can also use screw top bottles such as gin, vodka or whisky; in that case you can keep the tops.

When you think the wine is ready to be decanted, pour it through a fine mesh strainer into a large clean bucket.

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Then, line a funnel with 5 layers of cheesecloth. I used a sturdy paper filter specially designed for decanting wine. Do not use coffee filters, they are too flimsy. Carefully ladle the wine, a little at the time, into the funnel and let it drip into the bottle.  Cork the bottle as soon as it is filled. This may take several hours depending on the number of bottles to be filled and the number of funnels you own.  I did a double batch of the recipe and filtered 11 bottles through the only one I have —  it took the entire day! Next year, I’m definitely  investing in a couple of funnels.

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The idea is to have as little residual pulp as possible to avoid a new fermentation in the bottle and end up with a fizzy wine.
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Label the bottles, make sure to include the year. If properly stored, the wine will keep for several years and will get better with age. And, if you make a batch every year, it’s always fun to compare vintages.

Now the bad news: before you can start enjoying this very fragrant wine,  it needs to be stored in a dark cool place for at least a month to let the flavors mellow.

It is best served chilled; I’m planning to keep a bottle in the frige throughout the summer for impromptu aperitifs.

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If you ask a Parisian butcher for coustillous, he will look at you as if you have just landed from another planet. This happened to me a couple of months ago in Paris. And, if you ask a Languedocian butcher what are coustillous in French, he too will look perplexed. This happened to my Parisian aunt when she asked our local butcher what her niece (that would be me) had been grilling the day before.

I’m not sure why we call travers de porc, coustillous. I’m only guessing that it has something to do with the spanish costillas de cerdo. In any case, they decidedly hold their place in the local gastronomy.  In the winter, you’ll find them braised with lentils, preserved confit-style and pan-roasted with Pardailhan turnips, and they play a substantial role in cassoulet.  During the summer, we like to cut them into thick slices and grill them over vines simply seasoned with salt and pepper, or bathed in flavorful marinades.  The following recipe is my current favorite inspired from the herbs growing in my garden.

Oh, I forgot to mention that coustillous are spare ribs.

Grilled Coustillous

Serves 6

  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 4 scallions, green and white part, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced coriander
  • 3 tablespoons minced lemon balm, or 1 minced stalk lemon grass
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons harissa paste or to taste (see note)
  • 3 pounds slab spareribs, cut into ½-inch pieces

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a mixing bowl. Wisk to combine.

Place the spare ribs in a shallow glass baking pan.  Pour the marinade over the meat and turn to coat all sides evenly.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

When ready to serve, preheat the grill to medium hot.

Remove the ribs from the refrigerator, uncover and shake each piece gently to allow excess marinade to drip off.

Grill for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the ribs. They should be fully cooked and juicy. Remove from the grill and let the ribs rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: harissa is a Moroccan paste made from hot peppers and spices. If not available, use your favorite hot sauce to taste.

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A trip to the fish market always turns up new strange creatures with intriguing names or looks, begging to be cooked and sampled. The experience can go from wonderful to down right awful. Shopping recently with my friend Kellie at the Halles in Narbonne, we came upon such a species with pretty hues of brown, green and blue named la vieille. While gently nudging me to buy it, the lady at the fish counter described it as a firm white fish with delicate flavors and very few bones. I was tempted for a split second to pick it up for my dinner party that night but my little hostess with the mostest inner voice told me to stick to the original plan: monkfish wrapped in bacon and sage.

Among the many monkfish preparations, one local favorite besides bourride, the garlicky aioli-laden fish stew, is gigot de mer (leg of lamb of the sea) scented with garlic and herbs, roasted on the bone on a bed of potatoes or vegetable.  In this part of the world, monkfish (baudroie in southern France, lotte for the rest of the country) is sold whole with or without its ugly head. In fact, I have seen so many of them that I no longer think of them as ugly. It comes in assorted sizes from petite for just two servings to large for six and extra large, which is perfect for roasting or grilling.  Once you make your selection, a good fishmonger will ask for your recipe and skin, remove any extra thin membranes and prep the tail accordingly. Above Nathalie, my favorite fish lady in Narbonne,  is intently listening to my instructions, which were to remove the central bone keeping the two fillets attached.

The idea was to make a boneless gigot de mer, stuffed with bread crumbs, garlic and sage, wrapped in bacon and tied like a roast. As the fish and bacon were sliding all over my cutting board, it quickly became apparent that the tying part required a lot more patience and time than I had that day — the guests were due in half an hour and the table wasn’t set, yet. I ditched the twine and tightly draped the bacon over, tucked the ends underneath.

I once made a less labor intensive version of the dish by simply wrapping each fillet individually and pan roasting them over medium heat. The crispness of the bacon played nicely against the moist pearly fish. But I prefer the oven method – what I lost in crispness, I gained in succulent, herbaceous, sweet and salty cooking juices.

Gigot de Mer Wrapped in Bacon and Sage

Serves 6

  • 2 monkfish tails, about 11/2 lb each
  • 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 6 sage leaves
  • 8 to 10 thin slices of bacon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Finely mince the garlic clove and 2 sage leaves. Combine them in a small mixing bowl with the bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper.

Rub the monkfish tails with the mixture. Arrange them on a chopping board in opposite direction, so each end has one thick and one thin end tucked together.

Lay the bacon on a board, slightly overlapping and arrange the remaining sage leaves on top. Place the monkfish in the centre and wrap the fish as tightly as you can. At this point, if you have the time (and patience) tie the ensemble with kitchen twine as you would for a roast, in which case add 5 to 10 minutes of cooking since the “roast” will be more compact. Place in a roasting dish seam side down. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Drizzle the fish with a little olive oil and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, basting once or twice with the cooking juices, until it feels firm to the touch and the bacon golden.  Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5 minutes.  Cut into thick slices and serve with the cooking juices on the side.

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If the weather doesn’t seem to make up its mind, the crisp, just-plucked radishes showing up at the local markets and farmers’ stands tell us that spring is indeed here. Their alluring crispness makes a wonderful offering for an aperitif or with a sprinkling of salt and a dab of sweet butter as a light appetizer.  The unblemished tender leaves can be saved and served as a peppery delectable soup that is invigorating and hearty enough for a cool spring day.

If you plan to make the soup, the radishes should come from a farmer’s market. The greens should be bright and sprightly, and not showing any sign of fatigue. Those that have been kept under the supermarkets’ “reviving” sprinklers are loaded with water and often look kind of funky by the time you get home, and they should be discarded.

A garnish of thinly sliced radishes adds a nice crunch and looks pretty against the intense green background.  I also like to serve this soup with toasted slices of baguette, smeared with a thin layer fresh goat cheese and top with the radish slices.

Creamy Radish Greens Soup

Serves 4

  • One large bunch of radishes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large spring onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large potato
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy cream, to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cut the greens from the radishes and wash carefully. Dry and chop coarsely.  Peel and quarter the potato.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the radish greens and a good pinch of salt, and toss until wilted. Add the potato and chicken broth. Season with salt to taste. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Puree the soup with a hand held mixer or in a food processor, or blender. Return to the pan. Swirl in the crème fraîche or heavy cream, and stir over medium heat until hot. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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I was recently asked by Catherine Nakasato, a friend and publisher of the quarterly ezine, Les Mots des Anges (Words of Angels), to contribute a recipe to the winter issue. It gave me the opportunity to play with ingredients and flavors I seldom have a chance to use in my French kitchen — in particular star anise, one of my favorite.

I chose the incredibly versatile duck legs as my canvas and infused them with herbs, ginger and crushed star anise along with few pinches of salt to extract moisture. The inspiration for the glaze/sauce came from leftover maple syrup brought by American friends last summer and is loosely based on a gastrique, the sweet and sour reduction that is the foundation for great recipes such as the classic duck à l’orange and many fruit sauces. The legs were slow-roasted until the meat was fragrant and tender, then glazed with the maple gastrique and finished in the oven for few more minutes until the skin was crackly and mahogany. They can be paired with pan-roasted turnips or potatoes, and steamed basmati rice. I also suspect that fluffy mashed potatoes would make a great sidekick.  I wouldn’t dare to say that the result was heavenly. Was it pretty good? Definitely.

Maple-Glazed Duck Legs

Six servings

  • 21/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • 2 star anise, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 6 duck legs
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 11/2 cups red wine
  • Bouquet garni: 1 ½-inch slice fresh ginger, ½ teaspoon dry thyme, 5 peppercorns, 1 star anise wrapped in cheesecloth
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the coarse salt, ginger, pepper flakes, star anise and thyme in a large mixing bowl.  Add the duck legs and rub with the salt mixture until they are evenly coated.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whip off the duck legs with paper towels and place them skin side up on a single layer in a baking dish. Roast for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, bring the maple syrup to a boil in a heavy saucepan and simmer for 2 minutes.  Add the vinegar, stirring constantly.  Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the red wine and bouquet garni, and simmer until the liquid is reduce to about ¾ cup.  Season to taste with freshly ground pepper, if desired.  Remove from the heat and set aside.  Discard the bouquet garni.

Remove the legs from the oven and carefully pour off the fat from the pan.  Add ½ cup of cold water, gently loosen the legs, scraping the bottom of the pan.  Generously brush the maple sauce on the legs to glaze evenly and roast for another 30 minutes.

To serve, reheat the remaining sauce.  Arrange the duck legs on individual dinner plates and drizzle with the warm sauce.  Serve immediately.

The temperature outside is flirting with the 100F mark. No air conditioner, although the thick stone walls are keeping the house at a steady 85 degrees, and near the work counter, an oven preheating to 375F.  The coolest (in every sense of the word) rolling pin I could grab to prevent a pie dough from turning into a wet tissue before draping it into the mold was a chilled bottle of Domaine du Bosc, Chardonnay 2006 wrapped in Saran wrap.

Note: The crisp fruity wine with an oaky undertone is also the perfect refreshment for the cook.