Well I got my wish and the sun shone brightly on my birthday so we were able to go for a (simple) picninc.
I made a ‘tarte aux tomates’ (to follow), a large ‘carrote rapé’ (grated carrot salad) a fresh crusty baguette straight from the boulangerie, some (not too smelly) cheese cherry tomatoes, pitted black olives and a selection of fruit, and we headed off to ‘Chateau Monte Christo’ the former home of Alexandre Dumas.
This veritable jewel of an octagonal shaped ‘chateau’ (please note that the term ‘chateau is used to describe a large or grand residence and would translate as ‘stately home’ in English rather that ‘castle’) surrounded by enchanting gardens is a stone’s throw from Paris and can be reached by train and bus (though we took the car via the N13)
The main residence is open to the public, and houses a delightful display of original writings and memorabilia from Dumas’ very colourful life, and even includes an original ‘musketeer’s’ costume (no photos are permitted inside the house, so if you want to see this you will have to make the trip)
Tucked away in a secluded glade, and not open to the public, is the ‘chateau d’if’, Dumas’s romantic writing studio, named after the island prison off the port of Marseille where the fictional character ‘Dantes’ in ‘The Count of Monte Christo’ was imprisoned, and where Dumas breathed life into his characters and created arguable the most exciting stories ever written. The corner stones of the building are inscribed with the names of all his works.
One discovery that thrilled me was that Dumas’s last work was in fact a cookery book – so watch this space for some extracts from this! But for now you will have to content yourselves with ‘carrotte rapé ‘
When I first moved here I was surprised to see cartons of ready grated carrots in the supermarkets, as carrots in the Uk are usually eaten cooked to accompany a meal or eaten raw with a salad or as part of a selection of crudities. Here however, they are eaten alone (give or take a few embellishments) and I serve them alone as an entrée (maybe with a little crusty baguette!) or on the side with pizza or quiche.
They are delicious and healthy and one of my favourite foods now.
4 medium carrots – peeled and washed (I always buy carrots with their stalks still on and covered with soil fresh from the market, never ones topped and tailed and scrubbed clean in plastic bags from the supermarket)
A good handful of dried raisons (raisons secs)
A handful of pine kernals (pignes de pin)
A tablespoon (2 cuillieres de café ) of olive oil (I use ‘Oliviers & Co*.’ Speciality olive oil with mandarin)
1 dessertspoon (culliere de soupe) of apple vinegar (I use Oliviers & Co. Fruity Apple condiment)
1 dessertspoon (2 cuillieres de café) of orange juice
Grate the carrots (not too finely, they need to have a bit of ‘bite’)
Mix together the oil, vinegar and orange juice in a large salad bowel
Toss in the grated carrots making sure that they are well covered
Add the raisons
Lightly toast the pine nuts and toss them into the salad
Go on a pic nic – Enjoy!
Alexander Dumas wrote on carrots ” A comestible plant belonging to the umbelliferous family, whose root is much used in the kitchen because of its strong and pleasant taste. It is sudorific and an aperient and purifies the blood. The carrot is healthful and produces no ill effects unless used immoderately. It contains a lot of oil and essential salts and suits all ages and dispositions. The carrot is used in all sorts of soups, in braised dishes and coulis, also in meat dishes which are served in terrines and are called ‘hotchpotch’. The ones chosen should be long, large, plump, yellow or a palish white in colour, easy to snap and with a taste verging on the sweet.”
*Olivier & Co have boutiques in the US in Boston, New Jersey and New York and you can order by mail order – sadly no store in the UK – you will have to come to France to stock up!