First sign of Spring: wild garlic and walnut pesto

DSCF1077I always know that Spring is here when i’m walking the dog in the forest and we stumble upon a carpet of luscious, green leaves. All of a sudden our nostrils are filled with the perfume of fragrant, musky garlic.I prefer to eat it fresh, but as it arrives in such abundance, I tend to freeze bunches of it. For best results, the leaves should be picked young , before they flower. It’s very easy to identify – mainly due to the garlicky fragrance which is released when when the ground gets warm in the sun, or when you rub the leaves between your fingers.It is found in dappled shade, woodland areas, often near water. In Yorkshire, I used to find a lot along the banks of the river Wharfe. Do be careful though. It could be mistaken for toxic plants such as Lily of The Valley if you are not familiar with it. Its flowers are small, white and star-like. I always blanch it as you never know if a passing fox has relieved himself on a leaf! Wild garlic is wonderful, simply tossed into pasta, in an omelette, a tart etc…DSCF1081

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“Ail des ours”, or wild garlic (one of my illustrations from my camera-less period!)

 

Below is a recipe I am very fond of which works well with walnuts or hazelnuts.I tend to throw everything into the pasta, but if you have the luxury of a blender, you could always mix the pesto in your appliance and add to the pasta afterwards. I do like the simple approach though!

Blanch a good handful of leaves for 3 minutes.

Drain and finely chop them.

Add to hot pasta and throw-in a handful of ground walnuts (or walnut powder if you have it).

Generously drizzle the pasta with some virgin walnut oil. Of course, i’m biased, having lots of oil to hand(we do ship to the UK and Europe, do contact us if you’re interested). You could, of course, substitute the walnut oil for a good virgin (cold-pressed) olive or sunflower oil.

Mix-in a handful of grated comté (or your favourite hard cheese).

Add a touch of cider vinegar and season well.

Serve immediately.

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Scallops before Spring

Pan fried scallops with a walnut-oil and lemon dressing

st jacquesThis is one of the simplest starters to impress your guests, or even yourself with! It makes the most of scallops before they go out of season. I enjoyed some freshly caught scallops in Brittany in December, in a beachfront bistrot, during some unusually mild weather. This was a particularly precious moment, as we live in continental, Eastern France, we couldn’t be farther from the sea. The nearest fishmonger to us is about an hour away, so a holiday on the coast was perfect for enjoying an inexpensive feast of fish for a week. Scallops are in season from October to May, yet sustainable fishing advice recommends not consuming them from April till September, during breeding time.March is time to savour the last of the scallops and a sign that Winter will soon be behind us.

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I am always surprised, as with most seafood, that we don’t enjoy more of it in the UK, being an island. Most of our shellfish is exported, bizarrely. and local fishmongers seem to be a rarety. I feel strongly that we should support fishmongers who are always keen to advise on how to prepare and choose your seafood. Such information has not always been passed on from generation to generation as it has in French coastal regions.Fish and chips are great but there is so much more to seafood! Sustainability is obviously much discussed nowadays and for scallops there is a “good practice guide” to help consumers make an informed decision, when buying.There is also an online guide to fish labelling which makes for an interesting read.

Simply pan fry 2 scallops per person(ready-shelled), in a knob of butter for 2 minutes on each side. When serving generously drizzle with walnut oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Add a touch of black pepper. A pinch of salt may be necessary but unlikely as you will have an obvious taste of the sea.

You will be surpised by the subtleties hidden in these little blobs of white flesh! The tougher, more bitter, orange part of the scallop( the “coral” or “roe”),  can be an acquired taste. Some people also believe it can contain harmful toxins, although all parts of the scallop flesh are classed as “edible”. I feel the coral cuts through the richness of the white flesh, so adds a positive element to the recipe.

An absent camera and the yellow wine festival

Snowy Salins Les Bains

Snowy Salins Les Bains

Documenting things, food, drink, events, non-events has been very difficult lately. Preferring to live in the moment, rather than step back and view events as a blogger has been an eye opener.I have been very busy making and selling walnut oil, of course, but have also written a cookbook full of recipes using walnuts, hazelnuts and their cold-pressed oils; have been working on the blog for our local veg-basket group; oh and we have developed a walnut jam with a local artisan jam maker.

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Our new jam, created in partership with a local jam maker.It’s more like a spread, but fearing association with a certain quality of nutty spreads, we thought jam was a more elegant name! I also discovered I can take pictures with my laptop, which I won’t be doing very often. Although, somehow like the grainy effect…

I have been somewhat forced to live without a lens, as a blogger’s worst nightmare has occurred…my camera is broken, beyond repair. Yes, I know. What to do?  Anyway, to cut a long story short, after several hours of sitting with my head in my hands, lamenting the sparkly snowy, sunny scenes outside, fearing they will be lost forever as not documented, I started to question my reliance on my camera and insistance on describing things. My absent camera has actually forced me to start drawing food! Illustrated recipes to follow soon!

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Scallops with a walnut oil and lemon dressing

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Coquilles Saint-Jacques

 

 

 

 

 

Below are my last photos, before being struck by camera deficiency, and thoughts on the wonderful yellow wine festival.

 

 

La Percée du Vin Jaune“, literally the “piercing” of the barrel containing yellow wine, is an annual event in the Jura.The wine is aged for 6 years and 3 months, so on the first weekend in February, breaking open the barrel is celebrated in a different wine producing village each year. This year it was in Montigny Les Arsures, near Arbois.

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The village square in Montigny

This enigmatic wine is sold in 62cl bottles, the amount remaining from a litre of wine after the evaporation process. The alcohol which  evaporates is poetically called “La Part des anges” (the angels’ share). Made from the savagnin grape variety, for me, as with all great wines, you drink vin jaune with your eyes and your nose before you taste it! It has a glossy, golden yellow colour and fills your nostrils with walnut, dried fruit and spicy saffron aromas. This is particularly relevant for us, as walnut and walnut oil producers, it makes for a perfect apéritif: a handful of walnut kernels and a glass of “vin jaune”. It was a cold, snowy day, but our cheeks were soon glowing as we wandered from cellar to cellar, walnuts and cubes of comté in our hands and a special tasting glass in a little pouch around our necks!

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Devastated that one of my last photos was a terrible selfie…

Some of my favourite Jura wines:

The wine festival is not just about yellow wine. It allows you to taste the various wines made from different grape varieties.

“Trousseau” (a red grape variety unique to the Jura) .Domaine Daniel Dugois‘ trousseau is excellent with subtly intense red-fruit flavours.

“Pinot Noir”, Château de Quintigny, blackberry and chocolate flavours, with a hint of woodiness from the oak barrels.

“Ploussard”, again a grape variety only found in the Jura. Not to be mistaken as a rosé, this grape variety is made into wine using the same techniques as a red, but the finished product has a natural, pale red colour. A light fruity wine, with hints of raspberry contrasted with peppery, earthy undertones. The organic Domaine Hugues Béguet is one of my favourites.

“Vin jaune”, Domaine de La Pinte.Next time I go to the wine festival, I shall take a note book. So many wines to savour, 70 winemakers were there this year. This one really struck me, however, due to its rich walnut flavours. This is an organic vineyard in Arbois, a picturesque winemaking town.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are so many fantastic wine producers here, different “terroirs” from village to village and of course different vintages, of which my list does not take account. The best thing to do is to come and visit the Jura and meander around “La Route des Vins“! If you are unable to do so you can find details of stockists on this blog about Jura wine:

http://jurawine.co.uk/uk-stockists/

Apologies for my wine vocabulary.I probably watched too much Gilly Goolden during the 80s(wine critic on BBC’s Good Food program). That was a great programme by the way. Loved her perm and sparkly jumpers. I am definitely not a wine professional, but have got to know quite a few bottles since i’ve been here!

Incidentally the Jura is the department with the largest proportion of organic vineyards in France(15%). I shall definitely be going to the organic wine show next month, Le Nez dans Le Vert .

Hopefully I will have a camera by then!

Michelin starred chef, Jocelyne Lotz-Choquart, cooking live on the radio with Jean-Pierre!

On friday morning, Jean-Pierre was delighted to be invited, as the guest producer, on Jocelyne Choquart’s radio show. She concocted a surprising dish: organic mussels with garden vegetables and walnut oil.

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Jocelyne Lotz-Choquart, was the proprietor and Michelin-starred chef of the famous “Mungo Park” restaurant in Besançon, from 1990 to 2006. She now has a radio show on France Bleu Besançon, where each week she puts local food in the spotlight, as she creates a recipe using a product she has chosen when visiting farmers’ markets in the region.It takes place live in the bustling, covered market in Besançon, in the presence of the said producer.

The result was spectacular: the salty, tender mussels worked perfectly with the sweet crunchiness of the vegetables. The delicate walnut flavour added a soft, almost creamy contrast to the dish. Topped off with the walnut powder (grated pressed walnuts, which remain after pressing), this added an earthy kick to the dish.I was familiar with scallops and walnut oil but had never thought of associating these ingredients. What a discovery! Perfect for the season and the imminent arrival of Christmas feasts!

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The outing also enabled us to rediscover the covered market (Marché des Beaux Arts), which has been somewhat revived by the arrival of a restaurant and bar in the centre of the building, where you can enjoy a great “plat du jour”, inspired by the fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from the surrounding stalls.

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I had no idea that organic mussels even existed, but apparently it is a very recent phenomenon, first recognised officially in 2011. The organic label is mainly based on the quality of the water, the mussels are grown on shellfish beds in special conservation areas that our free from pollutants, with regular tests being carried out.The term “bouchot”, the sort of mussels Jocelyne uses in her recipe, designates a traditional method in aquaculture, whereby the shellfish are grown on ropes, attached to wooden poles in the sea.The term also has an AOP (“appelation d’origine protégée”), meaning that to be called  “Bouchot” mussels, they must originate from La Baie de Mont St Michel, on the coast of Brittany and Normandy. Organic mussels are also produced in Scotland and Ireland.

Organic “Bouchot” Mussels With Garden Vegetables and Walnut Oil

Serves 4

1kg of “Bouchot” mussels

2 baby leeks

2 small white turnips

1 carrot

2 celery sticks

2 shallots

1 heaped dessert spoon of double cream

10cl of chardonnay

4 dessert spoonfuls of walnut oil

50g of walnut powder (or ground walnuts if you can’t get this. Do contact us if you would like to order some!)

2 dessert spoons of neutral flavoured oil(rice-bran or organic sunflower oil)

1. Rub the mussels with a knife to remove any dirt stuck to the shell.

2. Rinse them in cold water, rubbing them together. Leave to one side in a colander.

3.Wash, peel and finely chop the vegetables.

4. In a large pan, sweat the vegetables in the rice-bran oil until tender but maintaining a crunch.

5. Add the wine, cream and some ground pepper. Leave to reduce for a few minutes.

6. Add the mussels to the pan. Cover and leave to cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly until they open.

7. When open, check the flesh which should be tender and not rubbery.

8. Shell the mussels by using another shell to pull out the flesh. To prevent them from continuing to cook, you will need to remove some of them with a slotted spoon and leave to one side in some foil.

9. While you are shelling, place the remaining sauce in a frying pan and cook on a low-heat for 5 more minutes.

10. Put the shelled mussels back into the sauce and heat for a minute or two.

11. Serve using a ladle. Add a generous drizzle of walnut oil and the walnut powder or ground walnuts.

12. DO NOT ADD SALT. Mussels are naturally salty. Bon appétit!

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The recently inaugurated tram in Besançon

The recently inaugurated tram in Besançon

Fresh Walnuts, Figs and Goats’ Cheese

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The first walnuts are starting to fall. What a delight to see their green husks opening-up gradually, like little hands releasing their closely guarded babies. The nuts seem to be holding on for dear life, secured only by a few white fibres now.

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A few kilos have made it out.  The sound of the walnuts rattling around in the basket is always a pleasure,  reminds me of marbles hitting each other, a  reassuring familiar noise. I always feel like I have won a prize when I hear it. We have only harvested the first few kilos, as ripe walnuts fall naturally and are collected from the ground. Thin on the ground for the moment, but rich in texture and taste – the creamy white flesh, with a hint of bitterness is delicious. When walnuts are freshly harvested, they contain lots of water –  hence the rather unattractive term “wet” walnuts in English and the soft texture . We do not produce oil with them until they are dry and crunchy (in 2-3 months time). 

 

DSCF0649We are enjoying the fresh walnuts when having an aperitif with friends, with a glass of Savagnin. They are marvellous with fresh figs (French ones are in season now) and goats’ cheese, not forgetting a drizzle of walnut oil. I have never been to Crete but am somehow transported there, tasting creamy walnuts and earthy, spicy figs. These are apparently abundant in the Cretan diet which is known to promote longevity. At this rate we will live to 150 years old.

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Sunny food for a grey day: lemon and walnut tart

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It really is grey today. The fort Belin, on the hilltop opposite, looks like a black and white photo of itself. I wanted to make something light and sunny, but still making the most of seasonal ingredients. The fruit bowl is overflowing with lemons. I can’t get enough of them, very cheap and seasonal at the moment. We’ve also got lots of dry walnuts and “pain de noix”, which remains after each press of walnut oil.There is still a surplus of puff pastry in the fridge, due to the “galette des rois” tradition, which is wearing on me now. I feel the need for a variation on the theme.The decorative petals have been hanging around for a while to be honest, after we bought them on a market in summer. Perhaps they should be used in more of a summery dish, but what the heck! They cheer me up. These pretty cornflowers and marigolds come from a local organic producer Carole Sutty, just up the road from Salins. She works mainly with herbs and plants that she gathers in the countryside, but also with her own production.We are very lucky in the region to have a network of local herbalists(with a recognised qualification from the local agricultural college). We are drinking gallons of herbal tea from La Serpolette, at the moment, still trying to undo the ravages of the end of…and beginning of the year festivities!

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Another reason for making this tart: an inspirational, sumptuous description of a scrumptious, “classic” lemon tart, on Roger Stowell’s blog.

This tart is extremely comforting: its light and fluffy filling and the subtle creaminess of the walnuts, perfectly complimented by the fruity bitterness of the lemons.The only thing I would change is to use sweet, shortcrust, rather than puff pastry. I think it would set-off the fluffy filling much more effectively.

What you need:

A sheet of all-butter puff or preferably sweet, shortcrust pastry

4  heaped tablespoons of ground walnuts or grated and sieved “pain de noix”

4 heaped tablespoons of caster sugar

2 beaten eggs

1 tablespoon of walnut oil

1 tablespoon of runny honey

The juice of one lemon

2 tablespoons of double cream

Simply beat the ingredients together until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Blind-bake the pastry sheet or disk. This prevents the dreaded “soggy-bottom” syndrome!You can use ceramic baking beans, but I tend to just prick a  lot of holes in the pastry(not too deep). It prevents the pastry from having bubbles. The holes simply cover themselves over when the pastry cooks anyway.

When the edges have only slightly hardened, after about 10 minutes in a hot oven, place the mixture into the tin. I use a proper tart tin, but a high edged baking tray would do if you don’t mind having an oblong tart!

Swirl around the tin, until even.

Place in the oven for around 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the mixture has risen.

Decorate as you like and serve, preferably warm.

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Sprouts and Walnuts Are Not Just For Christmas…

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Sprouts are not simply an ironic, festive friend, they are a Winter staple in our vegetable garden – one of the few things that survives the frost and snow.Walnuts are certainly not just for wassailing! The reason we eat them at Christmas is simple: 3 to 4 months after harvesting, they are dry and crunchy and ready to eat. Some people prefer a “wet walnut”, an acquired taste: the softer, freshly harvested version which has an almost creamy texture, but  a lot of work, as you have to peel off the  bitter skin. Festive fayre as we know it (turkey and trimmings, fruit and nuts),perhaps originates from the Victorian diet and especially the popularity of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, which conveyed an image of what Christmas food should be to a wider audience. This was perpetuated by the power of cinema, in later years and the popular adaptations of Dickens’ works.In his book, “Hard Times”, walnut ketchup was consumed, a recipe favoured in Mrs Beeton’s “Book of Household Management”. In terms of walnut oil production, we only use dry nuts, there is too much water in a fresh walnut. We start the pressing process in the January following the harvest(we are now starting to press walnuts harvested in Autumn 2013). Dry walnuts can be kept in their shells in a dry, ventilated storage area for up to a year.
Don’t forget that sprouts and walnuts are packed full of antioxidants, so let’s not limit their use to Christmas day.

This brings me to a recipe tried out today. If you find Roquefort a bit too strong, try Gorgonzola, which still has the blue element, but is a lot creamier.

Brussel Sprout, Roquefort and Walnut Risotto

  1. Chop a medium sized onion and cook, without browning, in a couple of table spoons of olive oil and a small knob of butter.
  2. When the onions are soft, add enough Arborio rice for the number of people you are cooking for(125g per person).
  3. Stir and cook on a low heat for a few minutes, until the rice becomes translucent.
  4. Stir in a glass of white wine. Let it bubble for a few minutes.
  5. Add enough vegetable stock to cover the rice. Season. Leave to cook down and stir regularly.Add stock gradually as it is absorbed by the rice.
  6. After 10 minutes, add some shredded sprouts.I used a whole stick for 4 people. Mine were rather small, so I simply halved them, but added them fairly early so they had time to cook.
  7. When the sprouts are tender, the rice still has some “bite” (don’t wait till it goes mushy!),and a little bit of stock remains in the pan, sprinkle on some Roquefort cheese, (depending on your taste). I used a quarter of a pack for 2 people.Sprinkle on a handful of crushed walnuts, to add some crunch.
  8. Drizzle with cold-pressed walnut oil.
  9. Season and serve.

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