CASA’S Maria Broadbent brings a touch of summer sunshine into these rainy autumn days by telling us about her boating holiday in the Languedoc region of France and giving us a flavour of the region with a couple of recipes
Arriving by plane into Nimes, we took a train to Montpellier where the market halls for food were out of this world. They had every fruit and vegetable I could dream of using and almost all the produce was locally produced and displayed beautifully!
Laden with provisions, we made our way by taxi to the marina at Lattes and collected our traditional Canal du Midi boat, called a Penichette. Somehow a floating caravan is a wonderful thing when surrounded by the ever-changing scenery of the Languedoc region of France.
The following seven days were spent navigating the widely varied water of this well known but perhaps less visited area of France – from the remote areas of the Canal de Rhone et Sete through the Brackish waters of the Etangs and into the tranquil green waterways of the Canal du Midi. One morning I was able to walk a mile to the Mediterranean past flamingoes, egrets and herons, for a swim in the sea.
1 medium aubergine
2 red onions
2 cloves garlic
2 yellow peppers
1 tin chopped tomatoes (good quality)
4 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of Herbes de Provence
Cut all the vegetables into bite-size pieces about 2cm dice. (You can sprinkle the courgettes and aubergine with salt and leave for 30 minutes if you have time – then rinse and pat dry.) This reduces the amount of oil that, especially the aubergines, absorb.
Use half the oil to fry the onions and aubergines – keep cooking until nicely soft. Add the tomatoes and garlic and leave this to cook gently with a lid on (check it’s not going dry and add a little water if needed).
Use the other of half the oil to roast the courgettes and pepper. – rub with the oil, sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper and roast for about 15 minutes at 200 degrees centigrade.
Check the seasoning of the tomato mix and adjust (occasionally this needs a teaspoon of sugar). 10 minutes before serving add the roasted courgettes and peppers and heat through.
2 kilograms mussels
4 shallots finely sliced
2 cloves garlic (peeled and finely sliced)
500 millilitres white wine
2 teaspoons medium curry powder
125 millilitres double cream
Clean mussels (see below).
Take a large pan with a lid. Add the sliced shallots, sliced garlic, white wine and curry powder, and bring to the boil.
Tip the mussels into the pan, clamp on the lid and cook on a high heat for about 3 minutes. Shake the pan around as they are cooking.
When you lift the lid, the mussels should have opened. Discard any that haven’t. Add the double cream and then turn into a bowl to serve, or take the pan straight to the table.
Remember to put out plates for the shells.
Mussels are in season from October to March (when there is an ‘r’ in the month). Mussels are environmentally friendly in their production.
To clean and prepare
Place the mussels in a colander in the sink and run water over them, using your hands or a clean scrubbing brush to rub off any debris like seaweed, sand, barnacles, or mud spots that could be on the shell. If you find any mussels with open shells, lightly tap that mussel against the side of the sink. If the mussel closes up again in response to this turmoil, it’s alive. If it doesn’t move, discard it – also discard any with broken shells.
The “beard” of a mussel is the clump of hair-like fibres that sprouts from the shell. Often farm-raised mussels will come debearded, but even so give them the once over! To remove the beard from the mussels, grab it with your thumb and forefinger and tug it toward the hinge of the mussel shell. You can also use a knife to gently scrape away the beard.
After cooking, chuck away any mussels that have refused to open.
Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds.
Tel 01284 701313.