Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Le Circuit des Remparts or Souped-up Cars...and how to make stewed tomatoes

Our small city, Angoulême, recently hosted its annual Le Circuit des Remparts which is a three-day event showcasing vintage cars from throughout Europe.  The last day features a rally traversing a section of the Charente department, giving the drivers an opportunity to see the lovely countryside.  The start and end points of the rally are about a fifteen-minute walk from our home.  The actual race along the remparts--the ancient circular fortifications--happens in the late afternoon. 

On the day of the rally, I woke up to generalised rumbling.  Being the spur-of-the-moment, sensory-focused person that I am, I rejected an organized plan including a map and ticketed seats overlooking the course and let my feet, shod in comfortable shoes, follow the noise.  The commotion was coming from the northeast, so off I went in that general direction.

The beginning of the remparts are in the distance

After a gradual incline, the streets became steeper and the roaring louder; the asphalt under my feet was vibrating. 

The steeple, square tower and dome are all part of the massive Angoulême Cathedral

A steep, narrow, one-lane street leading up to what I hoped to be a rally vantage point was lined with shuttered, terraced houses and appeared to be deserted.  Some music and a whiff of tobacco let me know people indeed were inside.  At the top, though most of the barriers were covered with advertising, there was a ten-foot strip of visible road.  The screaming engines were deafening.  I clicked the shutter as soon as I heard revving and before I actually saw a car.  Voila!






As I started my descent back home, I wondered about the people living in the shuttered houses.  What kind of conversation were they having?  Perhaps:

Can you hear the cars? 
What, ma chérie?
Merde, THE CARS, mon petit bout de chou!
The Cars, the American rock group?
Non, Non, Non!
Speak up louder, mon coeur, I can't hear you!

Soon I arrived at a small, fenced-in park terraced into a slope.  Its gate was open, inviting me to take a breather.  I am guessing the reason why it was empty was not because people have not gotten up yet on this fine Sunday morning as the rally made sleeping late an impossibility, but because they was savouring  café and croissants.


With the noise receding somewhat in the background, I continued my way home.  I mused that this densely planted roundabout could fit nicely into a pot on the Jolly Green Giant's balcony.

Fabulous!

Back home, I found Dayo seeking refuge under the duvet and eager to talk.  I told him it will be all over in a few hours.  


In the potager, the Romas, a late-season sauce tomato, is the harvest darling at the moment.


With my focus on harvesting and preserving the Romas, I did not tend the cherry tomatoes for a few days.  A spider noticed my inactivity and got to work.


The beefsteak tomatoes and basil are finishing up, but there are still some with which to compose a Caprese salad.  Alternate sliced beefsteaks with slices of mozzarella--I prefer the drier version, but the moist one is traditional--and sprinkle with chiffonade of fresh basil, virgin olive oil, vinegar, freshly ground pepper, and fleur de sel.



A simple way of quickly preserving Romas for later sauce and paste making is washing/drying them and placing them into freezer bags.  Using a straw, I suck out as much air as possible and then pull out the straw while zipping up the last bit.  When needed for recipes, I run them under cold water, cutting a small slice off the top while cupping my fingers around the pointy end and slipping off the skins with a single, downward motion.

Peeled and chopped Romas are great for pizza toppings. They are also great for stewed tomatoes, a side dish for several of our favourite meals.  First, their skins need to be removed.  If necessary sort them according to size, as small ones will need less time in the hot-water bath. Put them in boiling water for several minutes.  Test one to see if the peel comes off easily.


Fish them out with a slotted spoon and put into a large bowl of cold water.  Swish them around.  If the water gets warm, refresh with cold water.


Choose a heavy-bottom pot and put a tablespoon or so of butter in it.  As you peel the tomatoes, place them in this pot. I first slice a tiny bit off their usually hard tops, using that cut edge to start carefully peeling off the skin.  If some are hard to peel, put those back in the hot water.  Be careful not to leave them too long, as they will become mush.


Add a tablespoon or two of sugar and some salt, and let simmer about thirty minutes.  When using home-grown tomatoes, I keep it simple and leave out onions and cloves.  Instead of adding breadcrumbs to sop up excess liquid, I remove the tomatoes to a colander placed over a bowl and reduce the juice in the pot, until thick and unbelievably yummy, adding any liquid from the draining tomatoes.  Put the strained tomatoes back into the pot.  Stewed tomatoes freeze nicely.

Since it is not easy to find British bangers (sausages) here, I use instead delectable les saucisses de Toulouse--made with pork, garlic, wine, and bacon--when making the British cousin to a soufflé, Toad-in-the-Hole. 



A superb, crusty-with-a-moist-centre dish studded with plump sausages, it is a perfect cold-weather dish and is traditionally served with brown gravy.  However,  garden-fresh stewed tomatoes ups the taste notch considerably.


Watch out for the recipes for both Toad-in-the-Hole and pizza!

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