Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pappardelle, Pea Shoots & Creamy Tuna Sauce...and irises, irises, irises!

After recently making the dumplings for our borscht (recipe), I found myself with a surfeit of dough. The more uncommon pasta like wholesome, comforting pappardelle is not easy to find here, so being a hedonistic opportunist, I pinched off a bit of dough, rolled it out until the sheet would not get any thinner without disappearing, and cut it into one-inch-wide strips. The next several days I kept on hammering out pieces of the dough until it was no more and adding to the pasta whatever fresh greens were available from our garden. The toppings were various easy-to-make sauces. One version was tossed with pea shoots and a creamy tuna sauce studded with capers and spiked with paprika and garlic.

The paprika imparts a pleasing rosiness to the sauce.

This is the first season I have potted up some pea seeds just for picking their shoots. I snap off several inches from the top, ending just above the next leaf. Before the summer heat wilts the plants, there should be several harvests.

They can be eaten fresh or cooked and are one of my favourite greens as they are so delicate in taste

In addition, I sowed the usual bed so the plants can form pea pods.

English daises galore, pea bed on the right, raspberries, bluebells, and wildlife area in the back

A golf-sized ball is enough for one serving.

Bring some water to the boil. Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is fairly thin, but feel free to experiment with the thickness you like which is something you can't do with store-bought ones.

Put a few tablespoons of cream, a teaspoon of capers, a minced garlic clove, some paprika, a tablespoon or so of the pasta cooking water, and mashed tuna in a skillet. Heat gently while stirring. Add salt to taste.

Toss a handful of rinsed shoots in first and cook for about a minute.  Fish out and reserve.

Lower each noodle slowly by hand into the boiling water. As it cooks up fast, sticking will be kept to a minimum. But still give a judicious stir here and there. Depending on the thickness, only a minute or two of cooking is needed as fresh noodles are done quickly. Scoop out the papparelle with a pasta fork or drain them.

Mix the pasta and shoots together and top with tuna sauce. So simple, so fresh, and so good!

The irises are the stars at the moment in the garden. There are just two varieties--an earlier blooming, taller, silky two-toned violet-blue and a deep, velvety purple.

Anticipating the unfurling of such a tightly rolled bud is as thrilling as watching a fashion designer slowly shaking out a bolt of purple velvet.

The furry white tongue on the lower petal is the 'beard'

The lilacs do have a supporting role in the flower flick that is running in our garden.

But the roses are promising to be the scene stealer.

Hanging out the laundry in the brisk spring wind while being regaled with the bearded irises' perfume--similar but headier than that emitted by Lily of the Valley--is one of the biggest joys ever!

Apple tree is just starting to flower

As there are about seven buds on each iris stalk, the faded flowers wrap themselves around yet unopened buds. However deadheading so many flowers is eased because of their fragrance. As I will often tightly clutch huge quantities of them while working a bed, my hands end up looking like this:

Note to self: when deadheading irises wear old, dark clothes and not white clamdiggers!

The broccoli planted last autumn went fully into flower providing a wonderful colour complement for the bluebells and irises.

That's a strawberry bed close to flowering behind the yellow riot

The impertinent splash of red just above the irises is a rose impatient to audition in our garden's cinematic endeavour.

The spring garden is beautiful, non?

À la prochaine!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

No Sorrow That It's Sorrel Season...and no pity for pityocampa

The spring after our arriving here in the autumn of 2009 was mostly dismal as the garden had been neglected over a decade. The light-green whorls of perennial, tough sorrel had beckoned like a refreshing oasis poking out of the surrounding, rock-hard soil which was mercilessly smothered in matted layers of rank, dead weeds. 

Its season which started in February will be coming to an end fairly soon. Sorrel's beloved culinary characteristics are a lemony flavour and an ability to melt into a sauce in a few minutes when sauteed in butter.

Chiffonade: stack sorrel leaves, roll into a cigar shape, and slice thinly

Adding scrambled eggs makes a dynamic duo.

Let the mixed eggs coagulate a bit before scrambling

Chez nous is still the kingdom of quick meals so the green-streaked eggs were piled between slices of sourdough rye.

In the garden it's the right time to prune lavender. More harsh pruning than just the light trim they need after their summer flowering can be done with a fair amount of safety now as the warming weather will encourage new growth. However, such reduction still needs to be paced over several years to avoid losing a plant which can happen when cutting into woody branches that may remain unproductive. It has taken several years to transform the leggy bushes flanking our front pathway into compact mounds.

Newly leafed-out roses hidden by a lace curtain, irises, not-yet-blooming peonies, and lavender hedge

Leggier /ropy lavender in June 2012

Though Thaumetopoea pityocampa is an innocuous moth, an encounter with its larval form can be injurious as it was to our neighbours' small dog. What energetic doggie could resist licking some as they seductively wiggled their sinuous way while touching each other tail to nose forming a long caterpillar caravan?

Photo taken from here

The tufts of hairs growing on their segments trigger inflammatory reactions ranging from mild to lethal. The little dog's tongue developed some necrosis. He of course needed medical attention and happily is doing well once again.

Soon after, Madame M told me that early one morning--she had wanted to wake me so I could take photos but refrained--as she entered her garden she spotted a long branch on the patio and wondered from where it fell. Then it moved! White vinegar poured on them was to no avail, so some careful foot stomping got, well, underfoot. The pile of carnage was removed to the back of the garden where I suspect Monsieur M will burn them. A fifty percent/fifty percent mixture of bleach and water is supposed to be deadly. Bleach in our cabinet? Check!

Hopefully Elmo the Cat will remain safe from the caterpillar chain gangs.

Note to Elmo:  Do not confide in processionary pre-moths, in essence, keep your tongue to yourself

Monsieur M and The Calm One raised our one-cubic-meter, rainwater harvester on cement blocks so a faucet can be fitted to enable the filling of watering cans. Elmo made himself right at home.

The black plastic covering was done by Monsieur M to stop red algae from forming

À la prochaine!


More about Pine Processionary Moths

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Minestrone Redux...and the latest mural in Angoulême

Stewing a bony and lean cut of beef is something I do at least monthly which allows the making of borscht with beef dumplings, French onion soup, and last but not least minestrone.

The Calm One lucked out and the finest Limousine jarret avec os jumped into his market basket

Since spring heralds change, I added sorrel fresh from the garden and subbed broken-up tagliatelle for the usual mini elbow macaroni.

Lemony sorrel is on the right

We each enjoyed a couple of bowls on a nippy spring day.

I forgot to put in some peas!

Conditions are still suitable for sowing in the garden.

Mid-season tater bed followed by soon-to-be carrots/beets bed followed by pea bed

Elmo the Cat visiting is always welcomed.

A cat and his apple tree

Our Angoulême is internationally known for its murals depicting various comic strip characters along with its comic book museum and its prestigious comics festival held each January. The newest wall painting which is number twenty-eight in this series of public art was recently completed in our own quartier. The Calm One during his various grocery shopping hikes--we are happily car-free though sadly sans bike--spanning from late autumn to early spring took these photos with his smart phone.

 Fregeneuil Park where we would live if living there was legal

On the other side of the park, there are several public housing buildings with windowless sides which provide the perfect setting for a three-panel comic based on the work of Turf, the artist of La Nef des Fous.

The facades were steam-blasted spanking clean and primed white in preparation for the artwork.

First the sketching and then the painting was done by artists other than Turf who directed and oversaw the completion of the work.

Though not familiar with this particular comic, I love the elegant, seemingly effortless style of fluid outlines and merrily coloured and cleanly spaced forms.

À la prochaine!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring Progresses...and yet some more quick recipes!

Weather permitting I will be found in the potager doing all sorts of totally important tasks which needed to be done the previous week! So quick and easy meals are still paramount on our menu. I saw a lovely jar of white beans in the fridge.  I saw a ripe avocado framed in a patch of sunlight beautifying the kitchen table. Soooooo...the beans were rinsed and drained then mashed with a dribble of olive oil and minced garlic while the avocado was seeded (cut lengthwise to halve, insert blade of a knife into large seed, twist a bit, and remove it) and intimately united with lemon juice and a smidgen of crème fraîche. Spread each on a slice of bread, in our case, sourdough rye The Calm One got that morning.

Bring them together to make a fresh-tasting and substantial lunch resembling at first glance a chicken avocado sandwich!

Though the soft mushiness was delightful, I suspect toast could be subbed for some welcomed texture

Another speedy meal is penne drenched in an olive-oil based sauce of cèpes, garlic, and capers. While the cèpes are rehydrating, bring water to a boil and throw in the pasta. Shortly before the penne is done, saute minced garlic, chopped cèpes, and capers in olive oil for a few minutes. Add a tablespoon or so of the pasta cooking water and an equivalent amount of the cèpes liquor. Drain the pasta and toss into the skillet, stirring everything together and heating for a minute or two over medium heat. Salt and grind freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Cèpes impart a robust accent in taste and looks.

Freshly grated Parmesan increases that robustness.

Making leftovers into fritters is still a common occurrence. So this became...

A simple meal of bangers (Toulouse sausages in this case), mash, and stewed tomatoes


Well sloshed with soy sauce

Mince the well drained tomato and sausage. Add some flour, the mashed potatoes, an egg, a half a teaspoon or so of baking powder, and salt.

Mix well.

Drop by heaping tablespoon into hot oil and brown on both sides which takes about eight minutes in total.

In the potager, fifty of the seventy-five seed potatoes have been planted.

Jeannette, a late early and mid season variety sprouts the most gorgeous coloured buds--turquoise fuzz splashed with amethyst.

The peas sowed about two weeks ago are showing off their tender, green sprouts.

There are still some more seedlings which need to be transplanted from flats.

Tomato, melon, cucumber, squash, zinnia, Black-eyed Susan, and herb seedlings

In the flower garden, deep purple irises are showing off.

Species tulips are finishing up their blooming.

Elmo the Cat loves the lawn which is festooned with English daisies.

The wolfish one enjoying himself

À la prochaine!


Detailed instructions on how to make fritters