I've enjoyed visiting Provence and the Côte d'Azur; but somehow the Languedoc felt calmer, less populated, and a little less popular. Our time there was relaxing, unhurried. The region is also stunning in its natural beauty. The sea, farmland, vineyards, the mountains. Not far from the Spanish border so influences of Spain are ever present. We visited the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, a place both Robert and I had always wanted to see, the medieval villages of Pézenas and Minerve; we went to the open air markets in Béziers and Narbonne where we shopped for meals with our hostess, Anne de Ravel of Saveur Languedoc.
And we ate. And we cooked. And we drank. And we ate some more. Four incredible nights cooking with Anne at her family's ancestral home near the hilltop village of Montady. We arrived on a Wednesday and Anne had the menu set and the shopping complete for our first meal. She made us, I helped a bit, Tielles, a local delicacy of octopus pie, Gigot (leg of lamb) with Artichoke Sauce, Gratin of Braised Swiss Chard, Anne picked the chard from her garden when we arrived, Salad of Escarole and Garden Lettuce, again picked fresh from Anne's garden, or potager as the household vegetable garden is called in French, ending with les fromages, a local Cantal, a local brebis (sheeps' milk cheese) and a chèvre. Rosé, a popular local spring and summer wine, quenched any thirsts. A wonderful meal for our first night in the Langeuedoc. And it only got better from there.
Anne and I met in New York City in the early 80s when we both took classes at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School. Each cooking station needed two people and Anne and I were paired up. Surprise to me that she was French, and surprise to her that I had lived in France and spoke French. We both took classes to add to our cooking knowledge and skills. We became fast friends, cooked together when we could, and have remained close over the years. It had been quite a long time since she and I had been in a kitchen together, and it was great fun to cook with her again. The meals she planned, the food we cooked, it was all simple, local, fresh, French country food. A menu is often not decided upon until one has been to the market, or the butcher or fishmonger, to see what is good or fresh that day, or checked the potager to see what is ready to pick. This is how we cooked and ate for the four days we were guests at Anne's house. Food heaven!
I often wonder if I make these things up in my head but I swear I tasted the earth in the vegetables that Anne picked fresh from her garden. There's a quality of flavor, and I was reminded of experiencing the same when eating fresh out of my great-grandmother's garden as a child, that one gets from vegetables just picked and served. It's an earthiness, for lack of a better word. As if you can taste the earth itself in the flavors of the item being eaten. There's a complexity to the flavors not apparent in days old, trucked, store bought produce. It was wonderful to taste those flavors again. It was wonderful to cook and eat with Anne again. There is more to come.
This is the first of several posts on our trip to France and Spain. Soon more Languedoc food details with recipes. And more about our time with Anne; followed by food and eating in Barcelona.
Photos above, taken by Charles Thompson and Robert Guerrero, from top to bottom: the Canal du Midi; Carcassonne; Minerve; the Friday market at Béziers; cheeses for sale at the Béziers market; Anne picking swiss chard from her potager for our first meal; Anne's family home, 'Soustre'; Tielles, octopus tarts for sale at the Béziers market; Beth Higbee, a fellow visitor, and Anne doing prep work in the garden; Charles and Anne tasting raw milk Cantal cheese at the Béziers market.
My Status: home, over jet lag and blogging, cooking, eating, blogging...
Upcoming Posts: France and Spain: more detailed blogs about food and travel adventures in France and Spain. The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.