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Diary from Southern France Continued

I was in France all of last week for our French Cookery Holiday at Chateau Ventenac in Languedoc, Southern France. It was a busy trip but I managed to find time to take a few notes, some of which you'll find in last Wednesday's Diary from Southern France. Here's my diary from the rest of the trip...I've included links to recipes where available. Enjoy!

La 'Coeur de boeuf'


On Tuesday we started with Fougasse, a type of bread from Provence, similar to Italian focaccia. Fougasse is a flat bread with slits that can be shaped like the ears of corn. The dough started off sticky, but after 10 minutes of concerted kneading it becomes silky and smooth and ready for its first prove.

Kneading fougasse dough

When the dough had doubled in size we made half into traditional shapes and half into stuffed fougasse, filled with a mix of well-fried onions, roasted red pepper, roasted garlic, cherry tomatoes and asparagus tips and topped with Roquefort cheese or Goats curd. Perfect to eat for lunch on the terrace, and by then the sun was out.

Stuffed Fougasse

We also made a beautiful roasted tri-coloured beetroot salad with a sprinkle of borage flowers from the garden.

Tri colour beetroot salad

In the afternoon we prepped dinner, with an Italian & Spanish twist. Jo showed us how to make Aubergines au gratin, a version of Melanzane alla Parmagiana, the Italian classic, using delicious aubergines from the Languedoc.

Jo also made a classic Carluccio polenta dish. This recipe came straight from the kitchen of Antonio Carluccio: Jo spent a day cooking with him and he showed her this unusual way of cooking polenta to make a polenta “pizza", served with a soupy style braised vegetable “minestra” which comes from the Naples area. We made it with a huge frissee chicory. The polenta on its own is fairly plain but is delicious served with the vegetables-soaking up their flavours and juices.

And for dessert our favourite Spanish Orange Almond Cake which we made vegan and I must say we preferred this version without eggs as it made the cake caramelized and nutty.

We finished the day with a Wine tasting, with Juliet Bruce Jones Master of Wine who has lived in the Minervois since 2004 and now has her own vineyard. We tasted local wines, my favourite being the Langeuedoc Picpoul de Pinet. Picpoul is a white variety found only in the Languedoc; it’s name comes from the Occitan and translates as ‘lip stinger’ as it's a very dry wine, traditionally drunk with local oysters.


Market day in Narbonne

French White Asparagus

A highlight of the week is food shopping in Narbonne Market ‘les halles de Narbonne', built as an indoor market in 1901 and looks very much like a grand old railway station. The market is filled with 72 stalls, specialising in fresh local produce:

  • Local cheeses, especially Goats cheese made with the smoothest sweetest smelling local goats cheese curd
  • Vegetable stalls, with the best of what's available, and yes we found broad beans, still tiny, young cucumbers, cut to about 10 cms and translucent white asparagus (the French prefer the subtler sweeter taste of the white)
  • Olive stalls filled with lovely Picholine green pointy olives
  • A stall serving just Tapenades
  • Hot slices of pizza, on a thin crust, reminiscent of Venice Pizzas, fold up and eat, which is just what we did!
  • Cafes with high stools to drink strong little cups of coffee

For the market challenge, we divided into two teams, each with 20 euros to spend on the makings of a main dish each. It gives the shopping experience a definite buzz, a challenge in a fun ready-steady-cook way! Without a recipe to go on, our students had to work with a limited budget limit, practise French, buy what's there and looks the best that day. So our intrepid teams went off with wicker baskets and came back with a fabulous array of vegetables.

Market Produce Lynnes group

Market Produce Virginie group

Back at the chateau over a lunch of local goats cheese and French bread we planned the menu and this is what we came up with….

  • Salad of red & white radish
  • Salad of broad beans and asparagus with pinenuts topped with local goats cheese (with a twig of vine branch to garnish)
  • Anas tomato salad, the colour of pineapples and even a taste of pineapple.
  • Braised baby lettuce
  • Sweet potato wedges roasted in tomato chilli tapenade
  • Small thin-skinned green peppers with an herby couscous, pine nut and sun dried tomato filling which we casseroled with tomatoes.

All washed down with the wine from the Ventenac Cave, the Rose being the most memorable.

Market Supper


Brioche, sourdough, cinnamon buns and tarts.

This was the first time we got out the big packs of creamy unsalted French butter to make brioche and the crispiest pate sucree for our Tarte aux Citron.

Both required cool hands and a cool kitchen, not the easiest in the South of France! We succeeded, the brioche tasted better than they looked! And the pastry was perfect. As vegan alternatives we made vegan pastry to fill with a cashew vanilla filling and one of the hits of the week was Cinnamon buns, a simple dough rolled up with a cinnamon syrupy filling like Chelsea buns.

Cinnamon & Chocolate Buns

For our last supper we made buttery hollandaise to dip with white and green asparagus, tapenades to eat with warm sourdough made with Hobbs House 50 year old starter all the way from Gloucestershire - it loved the warm humid French air.

Crudites with hollandaise

Followed by Tomato Farcies and then Tarte aux Citron, and a caramelised bruleed lemon pudding made with the left over citron filling, which late at night after a few glasses too many tasted the best of all, tucking into a big dish of hot lemon soufflé.

Thanks to everyone who joined for our French Cookery Holiday, especially Jo and Helen, our fabulous tutors, and Julia Bristow for hosting at her beautiful Chateau Ventenac, a place that entices us back year after year - it's just fantastic. We'll be back again in October for another fabulous holiday. Visit the Vegetarian Cookery School website for more details.

Knees up for the final photo!

For more photos from our trip, check out the full photoset on Flickr.

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