by Kay Baumhefner
With the Greatest of Ease —
Monday marked the ninth anniversary of Come Home to Cooking. And even though our freshly stocked pantry and intentional reserve of leftovers so easily reflects how much we already feel just as much at home here in the deep southwest of France, it also reveals how quickly one can both adapt to and take advantage of readily available regional differences. While I always major in fresh fruits and vegetables back where we’re lucky enough to normally live in the bounty of northern California, I don’t keep smoked lardons, serrano ham, duck confit, goose rillette, AND foie gras all on hand as a matter of course. But right now along with all the produce, every one of those normally special occasion items is in our much smaller refrigerator here in France.
Part of the reason why is that they’re much more affordably priced, but the other is that you don’t have to seek out a specialty store to find them. All these culinary treats are both readily available and an assumed part of everyone’s regular diet as well. And you will probably feel relieved to hear that no matter how much you might love to cook, you’re still expected to rely on help from the professionals, who so obviously take pride in their work to provide. Farmers, artisans, chefs, market vendors, fish mongers, cheese makers, butchers, bakers, and fine pastry creators abound. You don’t have to know and/or try to do it all yourself.
Case in point: You can even buy cassoulet already made for you to finish off at home, and then you just bring back the clay pot for them to fill up again!
This long developed and well supported culture makes it all so easy and truly tempting. I can only add that it’s a good thing walking everywhere is such an integrated and necessary part of every day. That means we actually get to have our cake and eat it too, without being forced to upgrade to larger seats for the flight home. Is this what they mean by the joy of living? Got my vote.
So instead of our normal muesli routine on this beautiful morning, before we head out the door to restock our pantry, why not start the day sharing fresh croissants, pain au chocolat, yogurt and last-of-the-season ripe melon?
Better check our bread supply. These all came from Les Maître de mon Moulin in Cucugnan, considered by many to be the best boulangerie in the Aude.
Besides making and baking, they also both organically grow and grind their own grains for flour. We purposely bought four different varieties to taste and compare (all amazing!), cutting each loaf into hunks we could keep in the freezer to take out and refresh as needed later.
Now off to the market! On Saturdays, there’s one just outside our front door in this little village.
But on Wednesdays, we can go to the much larger one in Lézignan-Corbières, where Don gets to practice his French with Pierre, a very friendly vendor with a biologique farm closer to Carcassonne. We are so delighted to find more and more of these organic producers at all the markets.
Or you can go to the highly revered Market Hall in Narbonne to shop, eat, drink and be merry any day of the week. I was particularly drawn to these signature fresh cheeses.
And at any of these larger markets, you will be overcome by a staggering selection of fresh fish and shellfish, all artfully and often amusingly arranged with care. Good heavens. Which one to choose?
How about some shellfish that look like escargots? They’re called Bulots.
Ever wonder what Coquille Saint Jacques look like?
We finally decided …
… and got some of these filets to take home.
Don’t forget the mushrooms,
… and we need some more lettuce!
How about these pears? They look and smell divine!
Don still waiting for Kay to make the final rounds before heading home.
Hey! What happened to all the beignets?
Oh, my gosh! All these years later, Marcel Pagnol would have reason to feel proud to see he remains such a lively part of this timeless scene.
We better get our bulging bags home and start cooking!
First make sure all the perishables are in the fridge. Now what about a simple lunch before we crank up the burners?
Now let’s get that roast chicken stock going.
Sauté the mirepoix. (Hmmm… that name sounds familiar. Weren’t we just there?)
And then hours later, strain the stock, and add more fresh vegetables, the roast chicken meat, and some Serrano ham bits to round out this primal pot of soul-satisfying soup.
Would you like a little Serrano ham snack to tide us over before a late dinner?
Meanwhile, let’s fire up the oven and get things roasting …
Now why don’t we fry up those Sébaste filets for dinner? Can you set the table?
Yes, I’d love a glass of rosé. Which one are we opening tonight?
Mmmm…That nutty quinoa pilaf offers a nice balance to the rest. Could you pass the salt flakes for a final fleury on this delectable fish?
The fridge is full.
The freezer’s stocked. We’re good to keep going.
All in a day’s play.
Bon Appétit and Sweet Dreams! — Kay
Originally published October 18, 2016 on Come Home to Cooking.