A Barbecue in Duras

DSC00523One of the most memorable meals I have ever been invited to took place a few years ago in Duras, in south-west France; a barbecue hosted by a lovely family we had met there.
We were expected for the apéritif at seven in the evening, and we were not to worry about bringing anything. The weather had been somewhat cloudy that day so there was definitely a chance that we would have to postpone our plans. Luckily, by the time we had to leave, the dark clouds cleared and we arrived at Tessa and Jean-Claude’s doorstep, wine and chocolates in hand, and very much looking forward to an evening of outdoor dining à la campagne.
When we took a seat at the large wooden table in the garden, Tessa brought out some crackers and nuts for us to munch on with our Pastis. While she darted back and forth between the kitchen and the garden, we engaged in conversation with the chatty Jean-Claude who told us that he had just built the terrace we were sitting at and about all his other future building plans. The children happily frolicked about, grabbing some nuts here and there and asking when dinner would be ready.
I remember feeling very lucky that evening. I had always wanted to be invited to eat with a family in France, and I knew this meal was going to be great, even before Tessa had a chance to delight us with her culinary skills.
Dinner started with a board of sliced pâté accompanied by tiny, sweet cornichons and a small jar of onion confit, perhaps the most perfect of accompaniments to any charcuterie. I was given a knife and instructed to cut rounds from a crusty baguette. In the meantime, Jean-Claude opened a bottle of the local Sauvignon Blanc. The night was young and the conversation was as light as our spirits as we toasted to the good life and good food.
The next course was a bright courgette soup,creamy yet light enough to let the flavour of the summer courgettes shine through. Tessa served it in colourful plates and garnished each portion with a vivid orange nasturtium blossom. We laughed and made jokes as she told us how to suck out the nectar from the stem. The soup was so exquisite and delicate that we almost forgot that we had actually been invited to a barbecue. A six-course, very French barbecue!
After the soup, Jean-Claude busied himself grilling an assortment of delicately marinated skewered meats, and in the meantime, Tessa set out bowls of bean and pasta salads. We joyfully ate, washing down our meal with glasses that were never allowed to go empty, and when the skies grew darker, we lit candles and talked about pursuing dreams, about letting go of fears and about taking risks. At that moment, the sultry evening air, my beloved France, the good company and the gorgeous food was pure, sheer bliss.
When the cheese board came out, Jean-Claude and I discussed our appreciation for stinky cheeses, frog legs and other French delicacies. I couldn’t help but notice that the cheeses were not served fridge-cold, but that they had been taken out of the fridge on time, as they should be, because their centers were soft and melting.
Dessert was a perfect (and very refreshing) culmination to a lovely evening. We enjoyed sunny, orange slices of Charentais melon. Like the courgette soup, the melon was a delicious reflection of the summer’s bounty. Tessa told us that she had shopped for most of the products at the market that morning and that some of them came from an old, village farmer.
I will always have fond memories of that evening. While being served foie gras on brioche might impress me, I am more in awe of someone like Tessa and Jean-Claude, people who are obviously passionate about food, but mostly, about life. That meal was more than a barbecue. It was a feast prepared with love. Love for the food and for the enjoyment that comes with eating it in good company.

Memorable meal2

 

Tomates Farcies

The good thing about this recipe is that it is forgiving enough to handle less than perfect tomatoes, and should you not have any tomatoes, bell peppers would certainly work, too. If you do use tomatoes, I advise that you salt their insides and place them upside down on a couple of sheets of kitchen paper. That way they lose a little of their water, and the dish won’t become too soupy. You’ll want to serve these over fluffy, steamed white rice or perhaps with some bread on the side. I think a lively red wine would pair very well with this dish. Perhaps a Vin de Pays d’Oc from the Languedoc Roussillon.

Tomates Farcies

Serves 4

  • 8 medium-sized (preferably ripe) tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 300-350g minced pork and beef mix
  • 40g fresh breadcrumbs (I make my own from slightly stale bread)
  • 2 tsps Herbes de Provence
  • small handful chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsps ketchup
  • 2 tbsps pine nuts
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • salt (preferably fleur de sel) and freshly-cracked pepper

Preheat your oven to 220°C and lightly grease a large casserole with a little bit of oil. Cut the tops of your tomatoes and hollow them out. Reserve the tops. Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with salt and place them upside down on kitchen paper. Heat the olive oil and gently sauté the shallots and the garlic for about three minutes. Put the minced meat in a large bowl together with the breadcrumbs, Herbes de Provence, parsley, ketchup, pine nuts, egg, cooked shallots and garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Combine everything well, either using your hands or a potato masher like I do. Divide the mixture over the hollowed tomatoes, drizzle the dish with olive oil and pop in the oven for about 30 minutes. After this time, put the tomato caps back on, and allow the dish to cook for a further 20 minutes. Serve the tomatoes over steamed white rice, making sure you drizzle each portion with some of the wonderful pan juices.

 

Marinated Goat’s Cheese

In this recipe, soft, creamy goat’s cheese is marinated in an aromatic oil flavored with lemon rind, pink peppercorns and fragrant herbs. Both the cheese and the oil are delicious on salads.

Note: Sterilise your jars by boiling them.

Marinated Goat's Cheese

6 pieces

  • 125g soft goat’s cheese (chèvre frais)
  • 4 tbsps chilli oil
  • 1 tsp whole, pink peppercorns
  • 2 small dried chillies
  • small bunch of thyme
  • 4 pieces of lemon rind (from an unwaxed, organic lemon)
  • enough good-quality extra virgin olive oil to fill the jar (about 450ml)

Put the cheeses in the jar, add the rest of the ingredients and close tightly. Keep the jar in the fridge for one month before using the cheese and oil.

Marinted Goats Cheese Recipe

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