Autumn leaves and seasonal salad

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The ‘Indian Summer’ persists with temperatures in the mid 20s in mid October, but it is a ‘Trompe d’oeil’, the trees at the back of the house are a shimmering golden yellow and the screen of poplars to the front a lemony lime.

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The morning mists are now full on as Halloween approaches. The silvery sun of the fading year filters through the fog casting an eerie light giving the little hamlet a ‘Sleepy Hollow’ effect, I half expect to see a headless rider galloping down the lane.

The sounds of autumn abound also, the tinkling of brittle leaves as the freshening breeze passes through them as they cling on to their branches, the satisfying crunch of those  who have already fallen to form a deep carpet of deep orange and nut brown and the soft sound of shiny saddle coloured conkers fallen to the ground.

Conkers are not the only nuts which are falling in abundance, walnuts are also tumbling from the trees in abundance and we have been collecting them to store over the winter to use in salads, cakes, to eat with the aperitif, and maybe make some ‘vin de noix’

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This little salad uses late season red lettuce and, of course apples which are just coming in to the shops and markets. I added some cubes of Greek feta cheese sprinkled with paprika to give a little ‘kick’ and made a dressing from L’Olivier grapefruit olive oil (but regular light olive oil would be fine) and Olivier & Co.’vinaigre de pommes’ (but a little cider vinegar or a sweet white wine vinegar would be fine also)

I ate this for a light, cleansing lunch, but it could be served as an entrée or side salad to accompany fish or pork. The feta cheese could be exchanged for grilled halloumi and a little crispy bacon and or capers could also be added – be imaginative, but keep it as seasonal as possible.

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Avocado Walnut and Bacon salad and ‘Ile Fanac’

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Back on home ground in France last weekend, I spent a lazy afternoon on the sleepy ‘Ile Fanac’ close to where I live.


Wandering around this little verdant gem nestling in the river Marne at Joinville le Pont in the east of Paris, is like stepping into a bygone age. Free from traffic and hustle and bustle, you’re likely to be accompanied on your stroll by one of the resident cats, to the gentle whir of insect wings and the methodical lapping of oars hitting the water as rowers skim past hidden from sight by a curtain of Weeping willows. Puts me in mind of a poem by W.B. Yeats
“…I know the leafy paths that witches take.
Who come with their crowns of pearl and their spindles of wool,
and their secret smile out of the depths of the lake;
I know where the dim moon drifts, where the Danaan kind
Wind and unwind dancing when the light grows cool
On the island lawns, their feet where the pale foam gleams
No boughs have withered because of the wintry wind:
The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams…”

If any of you have seen the film ‘A good year’ staring Russell Crowe, this magical place recreates that atmosphere perfectly (even down to the tennis court) all that is missing is the man himself!

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As I do not have a garden, this is where I take a book and sit on a bench at the tip of the island overlooking the boats moored on the bank opposite.

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All this greenery made me crave a crisp green salad, and as avocados  are abundant at the moment they seemed the perfect ingredient to compliment the island – green, gently, calming and a little exotic.


Avocados are hailed as being a superfood, having beneficial effects on the cardio vascular and digestive systems, reducing incidence of diabetes and cancer, improving liver function, and calming acne and arthritis.

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I just tossed some mixed leaves in a dressing of olive oil with a little splash of chili infused olive oil and some sweet apple vinegar.
Then added some steamed new potatoes, chopped walnuts, finely sliced spring onions (green and white), a teaspoon of capers and some crispy bacon lardons (leave out for veggie option).
Top this with half a sliced avocado per person tossed in lemon juice to preserve the colour and served in small salad bowls – a taste of spring in a dish……..

Now for a little more exploring this magical place – I wonder where those steps, that door and that gate lead to……follow me

 

Cetona and tomato and chorizo salad

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This time last year we were in Tuscany and this year we were back again enjoying all the fresh home grow produce from the wonderful garden including home produced olive oil, red and white wine, home made bread, fresh laid eggs, and home grown tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, chillis, shallots, garlic, peaches, plums, pears, melons.

This veritable garden of Eden is just outside the sleepy little hilltop village of Cetona, and it felt just like going home to us, sitting taking a morning coffee (me) or early apero (Monsieur le Frog) with the locals in the café in the square and wandering the pretty streets searching for a different angle to photograph from last year.

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This year a bit of a theme has emerged and I have photographed some rather swish scooters in various locations around Tuscany / Umbria also.

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I have been taken by the architecture – mainly ‘arches’ that I noticed are an integral part to Tuscan life, and the beautiful ornate street lights which you can see adorning many walls – as last year, other people’s washing has continued to interest me, so you will be treated to a glimpse of Tuscany life over the next few posts, with a few simple recipes thrown in………

 

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When we arrived after an 8 hour drive from the French Alps, all this was waiting for us, along with some chorizo, so I quickly knocked together a tomato and chorizo salad (I ‘dry fried’ the chorizo until it was crisp and drizzled the tomatoes with a dressing made of the home produced olive oil and red wine), I seasoned it with freshly ground sea slat and black pepper and sprinkled dt with fresh basil from the garden and we mopped it up with Fabio’s home made bread – food of the Gods……

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No meal would be complete without a glass of wine made from the home grown grape….

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Two more cheerful little scooters parked in Cetona

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Cranberry and Walnut Salad

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Necessity is the mother of mother of invention, so when a friend arrived with some ‘shop bought’ breaded Camembert as her contribution to a meal (she was on starters, me on main course and another friend on dessert – it goes without saying that I always have a well-stocked fridge when it comes to cheese……), we expected to find, inside the box, a little pot of Cranberry sauce – as was featured on the packet, but alas it could not be found, and as Christmas was a distant memory, I did not have any lurking at the back of the fridge.

What I did have though were some dried Cranberries which were juicy enough without soaking to liven up a little side salad to compliment the cheese.

In the UK people tend to bring wine (or chocolates) when invited to dinner, in France it is more usual to bring flowers, (as the French are very particular about their wine and if you brought an inappropriate bottle, they would feel obliged to serve it and soil the palate of the meal – sacre bleu!) unless they bring Champagne, which can never be wrong!
My friend Mireille (of Mireille’s favourite ‘Treacle Tart’ fame) always supplies the Champagne, so she is now know as ‘Bubbles’!

These lovely flowers were recently given to me by my friend Marc (who incidently brought wine and Champagne also – he would never get it wrong) And the gorgeous plant was given to me, by a friend of Monsieur le Frog who came to dinner.

Back to the salad…….

Ingredients
Salad

A good handful of mixed salad leaves per person

1 small beetroot very finely sliced

A handful of walnuts, broken into quarters

2 Spring (salad) onions, finely sliced (white and green)

A handful of dried Cranberries

Half a red or green pepper (or both!) finely sliced

Dressing

A tablespoon of olive oil (I used ‘Olivier & Co.’ olive oil with mandarin oil)

Method

Just toss it all together and serve immediately (super with my ‘No Lasagne, Lasagne’)

 (Lindy’s Non Lasagne, lasagne’ and Mireille’s favourite Treacle Tart)

 

 

 

Mozzarella Ciabatta and Pancetta parcels

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Well the grey skies are persisting (actually more like a blanket of milky opaque white), and now they have been joined by persistent drizzle and strong wind, which is all playing havoc with my hair and most days I resemble Bridget Jones after her infamous ride in Daniel Cleaver’s open top sports car!

But my defiant mood continues and here is another ‘sunny’ little recipe, that I served as a starter to my ‘Lemon Pesto Pasta’ (see last post for recipe).

This simple little dish has been a great hit on both sides of the channel and it is my step-daughter and her partner’s favourite entrée, when they come to dinner chez nous in Paris.

This can also be eaten cold and taken on a picnic – but I don’t anticipate going on one of those any time soon……….

It is fascinating, giving the miserable weather, just how cheerful Liverpudlians are, and also given the much improved climate, just how miserable and grumpy Parisians are! But while battling the wind and driving drizzle on my way to the supermarket at the weekend, I passed three complete strangers, who all greeted me with warm ‘sunny’ smiles, whereas in Paris no-one even makes eye contact and if you smiled at a stranger you would be thought a madwoman and met with a frosty glare in response, either that or be followed home….I have experienced both!

One thing that Liverpool cannot replace though is the magnificent sunrise and sunset that I avidly photographed from my apartment there – milky opaque white is not match for fiery vermillion and gold. Here is a little reminder of what I am missing………

 

Now back to the food…..

Ingredients
serves 4

2 balls of mozzarella

4 chunky slices of ciabatta each cut into four cubes

8 slices of pancetta (cut into two strips)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 large clove garlic minced

Method

Mix the olive oil and garlic together in a basin and soak the cubes of ciabatta for about two hours until the bread has soaked up the oil

Cut the mozzarella into similar sized cubes

Wrap the bread and cheese in the strips of pancetta and secure with a cocktail stick

Place them in individual dishes (3 or 4 per person as desired)

Bake in a medium oven for around 15 minutes, until the cheese has cooked and the pancetta crisp

Serve with a crisp green salad.

Simply Delicious!

 

 

RADISH STARTER

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Radish, a real ‘Taste of Two Cities’

This is a real example of the difference between English and French ways of eating. In past posts, I have spoken about the simplicity of French meals and this takes it to the limit.

Radishes will always be integral to my childhood. My Uncle Jack owned an ‘allotment’ in Liverpool, where he grew them in abundance alongside lettuce and sweet peas, and I am sure, numerous other delicious vegetables which at the time I refused to eat!

Uncle Jack’s radishes were small and round and crimson, and burnt your tongue, and my cousin Margaret and I would eat them like sweets. The ones that managed to make it to the table were sliced and served in a mixed salad with cold meats.

When I first came to France my partner and I stayed with a friend of his. At dinner she placed a bowl of radishes in the centre of the table along with a little dish of salt, a baguette and some butter and told us to begin eating. Begin eating what? I asked myself, all I could see was radishes – not salad, not cooked meats, nothing!

Unsure what to do next I waited and watched my partner, take a piece of baguette, butter it, then take a radish, dip it into the salt and begin to eat. This was the oddest thing imaginable to me at that time; but now this is a regular lunchtime starter ‘chez nous’ and a mainstay of every summer picnic.

Imagine my excitement when I saw these beauties at the local market – a far cry from Uncles Jack’s small red ‘aniseed balls’, each one with a unique taste, from spicy white to sweet purple. Delicious and SO simple – why make life complicated………

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Delightful multi coloured and multi flavoured radishes from the local market

Please note that the stalks are left on. The first time that I served them, I almost caused a riot as I had trimmed them all off and the poor French had nothing to hold on to………

TOMATO SALAD

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Our tomatoes have been a failure this year, it has just been too hot and dry and despite constant watering we have only managed to save two plants compared to ten last year.

It is always exciting when the plants to actually begin to give fruit as my partner plants seed that he saves from when we eat tomatoes and we never know which variety of seed is in which pot and just how big they are going to grow!

When I lived in the UK tomatoes always featured in my salads, but never on their own – I did make ‘tomato and Mozzarella salad – but still there was mozzarella. When I came to France I was surprised to see tomatoes eaten just by themselves with a little dressing and some fresh basil, but now we eat this all the time either as an entrée or as a side dish to serve with meat or pizza!

I drizzled the tomatoes with ‘Olivier Co.’ basil flavoured olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then sprinkled them with dried basil and sea salt, finally finishing off with a handful of roughly torn up fresh basil leaves.

This is wonderful served with some warm crusty baguette to soak up the juices and try to make sure that you have the freshest, ripest, dark red flashy tomatoes possible to ensure to have lots of lovely juice……….