The Loire Valley and ‘le Calabash’ a culinary destination, second to none !

The is no Culinary Adventure like the one at Le Calabash
The is no Culinary Adventure like the one at Le Calabash

Finesse rather than fireworks marks the gastronomy of this gentle, lovely region, known for exceptional white wines, delicate fish, and France’s most bountiful fruits and vegetables.

At le Calabash we are always asked, why have you chosen this area to setup ‘le Calabash’ and our answer is simply, it is Europe’s most unspoilt, undiscovered and fastest moving Culinary Destination. Putting aside some of the most beautiful countryside, architecture and history, we have so much to offer the Culinary Adventurer. The Loire boasts of the finest Wines and Sparkling wines in the world. Truffle and Saffron production is on an astronomic increase. Poultry, Pork, Beef and now Lamb is of the best in Europe. As the Loire valley borders the Atlantic, we have some of the finest Oysters and Mussels to be found on the continent. The Loire Valley is known as France’s Bread Basket, and this is evident throughout the year with wonderful Asparagus, Berries, Fruit, Vegetables and our Cheese Production is second to none.

What we have to offer our guests is an opportunity to enjoy and experience cooking in a Culinary environment second to none!

The serene and gentle Loire imposes its placid personality throughout this fertile valley region. The weather, too, is calm and cool, ideal for creating the Loire’s diverse and memorable wines, from the elegant and refined Savennières to the mildly sweet, pretty-in-pink rosés of the Anjou. No big, bold, heavily tannic wines here. The culinary repertoire evokes a sense of the good life, with a nod to the royal legacy of châteaux living over centuries past. There is more gentility than dazzle in the cuisine; many dishes are simply presented, and they couldn’t be better: a perfect pike perch, called sandre, from the river, bathed in a silky beurre blanc sauce; coq au vin prepared with a fruity red Sancerre; a tender fillet of beef in a Chinon red-wine reduction sauce.

Of Cabbages and Kings

The great kitchens of the royal households that set up camp throughout the Loire planned menus around the magnificent produce that thrives in this fecund region, dubbed the Garden of France. Local cooks still do. There are fat white asparagus in the spring; peas, red cherries, haricots verts beans, artichokes, and lettuces in the summer; followed by apples, pears, cabbages, and pumpkins in the fall.

White Wines and Reds, Too!

The Loire region spawns not only dazzling châteaux, but also some of the best wines in France—this is an important region for white-wine lovers, thanks to great chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc grapes. Top white appellations to imbibe, starting at the eastern end of the Loire and moving west, include flinty Sancerre’s, slightly smoky Pouilly-Fumés, vigorous and complex Vouvrays, distinguished Savennières, sparkling Champagne-style Saumurs, and finally the light, dry Muscadets, perfect with oysters on the half-shell.

In the realm of reds, try the raspberry-scented reds of Touraine, the heartier Chinons and Bourgueils, and the elegant rosés of the Anjou

Tarte Tatin

This luscious “upside-down” apple tart is sometimes claimed by Normandy, but originated, so legend has it, at the Hotel Tatin in the Loire Valley town of Beuvron-Lamotte south of Orléans.

The best tarte tatins are made with deeply caramelized apples cooked under a buttery short-crust pastry, then inverted and served while still warm.

Beurre Blanc

Made with a shallot, wine vinegar, and fish-stock reduction, and swirled with lots of butter, this iconic white sauce originated in the western Loire about a century ago in the kitchen of an aristocrat whose chef devised this variation on the classic béarnaise sauce.

Beurre blanc is the perfect accompaniment to the Loire’s delicate shad and pike.

Chèvre

With your glass of Pouilly Fumé, there are few things better than one of the region’s tangy, herby, and assertive goat cheeses. Le Calabash is set in the heart of the St Maures goats cheese AOC area where some of the finest goats cheese in the world is produced.

Among the best, appellation-controlled and farmhouse-made: the squat, pyramid-shape Pouligny-Saint-Pierre; the creamy, cylindrical Sainte-Maure de Touraine; and the piquant Crottins de Chavignol from Sancerre.

Try a warmed and gooey Crottin atop a salad for a real treat.

My Zulu Nanny, France and The Koeksister

In a telephone conversation with a good friend recently, I was told that French Cooking was not as highly regarded as it was a few years ago, which led me to a little deep thought.
Alison and I came to France, not for the French Cookery, but rather for their devotion to the respect and knowledge of good ingredients, which leads to good wholesome dishes.
Also their total respect of seasonal produce which is both admirable and supports local farmers and producers.
These days it is so easy for one to become distracted from what is important when it comes to the preparation of good honest dishes, with the media hype in different parts of the world,
especially TV, and the rubbish we have to endure on our screens.
Yes, without any doubt cuisine levels have risen throughout the world, when it comes to the restaurant industry. However!!!! When it comes to cooking at home, my memories are deeply rooted back in South Africa and to a woman who showed me love as a child that no other did, my Zulu nanny, Edith, I prefer to think of her as my mother I never had, and I loved her as a mother.
Here in France I have come to experience eating some of the best food I have ever enjoyed in my life, No not in a Restaurant! but in the homes of our French friends, prepared from recipes handed down to them from their parents and Grandparents. It is the saying of one of the finest Chefs I know, Raymond Blanc, who openly admits that it is his Grandmother and Mother that inspired and taught him the basics of good, honest cooking, and that is what we love about France and always try to share with our guests.
A koeksister (or koe’sister) derives from the Dutch word koekje, which translates to “cookie”. It is a South African syrup-coated doughnut in a twisted or braided shape. It is prepared by deep-frying plaited dough rolls in oil, then dipping the fried dough into cold sugar syrup. Koeksisters are very sticky and sweet and taste like honey. Koeksisters are of Cape Malay origin, among whom they were known as koe’sisters, apparently suggesting polite gossiping among spinsters.
The Afrikaner version is much more syrupy and crisp, while the Cape Malay version is a round, fried dumpling with a texture more akin to a cake. It is spicier, being rolled in cinnamon sugar, and is usually covered in dried coconut. Here I share with you a recipe my Zulu mother prepared for me so often and is a classic South African Dish.
Koeksisters My Zulu nanny, Edith was an expert at making these, which, when she did, vanished within minutes of being taken out of the syrup.

I can only compare them to India’s Gulab Jamun or a soaked doughnut.
Ingredients Syrup
• 500g caster sugar
• 250ml water
• pinch of cream of tartar
• 1 cinnamon stick
• zest and juice from ½ a lemon
Dough
• 175g self-raising flour
• pinch of salt
• 1 tsp mixed spice
• 50g butter
• 1 tbsp caster sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• 4 tbsp milk
• sunflower oil for frying
Method
1. Make the syrup the day before, so as to give it time to chill. Place sugar, water and cream of tartar in a sauce pan. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil slowly. Boil for 4 minute and remove from heat. Add cinnamon and lemon juice and zest. Place in refrigerator overnight.
2. For dough, sift flour, salt and spice into a mixing bowl.
3. Rub in butter and sugar.
4. Mix in milk and egg to obtain fairly stiff dough.
5. Draw mixture together and on a floured surface, knead until smooth.
6. Dived into 18 equal portions and roll into balls, then into oblongs about 10cm long.
7. Deep fry 4/6 at a time in oil at 185°C till golden brown, turning them over a few times after they float to the top.
8. Drop into ice cold syrup and leave for 20 seconds and lift out.

Patriotic Pride or Just plain Economical Stupidity

A recent article in a French newspaper, regarding the call by the French MP, Philippe Martin to boycott Californian wine in retaliation to the States ban of sale of foie gras, caught my eye.
Philippe Martin, the president of Gers Departmental Council, called for all restaurants and shops in France to stop selling Napa Valley wines, until the ban, passed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is repealed.
I personally, would find it interesting if California called for restaurants and shops in the USA to stop selling French wines. I believe this would bring a new meaning and dimension to the phrase ‘Shoot you in the Foot’
The USA is one of France’s largest buyers of wine and brings France an enormous amount of income from Americans visiting France each and every year.
Has Mr Martin forgot or is he ignorant of the fact that it was Californian Vine Stocks that saved French vines from a certain Death?
It would serve Philippe Martin well if he reflected that the Governor of California was democratically elected and I am sure it was a decision made through a democratic process.
I also do know that if Californians want to buy Foie Gras they can find a way to do so.
I find this call laughable and short-sighted, probably a politician who needs to revive his political career at any cost. More importantly he has no sense of diplomacy.
Most foie gras sold in the USA is produced there, and if he is concerned by the image of the product, he may want to look closer to home, as here in Europe the consumption of the product is dropping, as is wine sales. This is due to the younger population who are looking for something new and are pulling away from the traditional dishes and wines.
Has Mr Martin forgotten the catastrophical consequences by a Presidential Candidate, and where it got him when he targeted McDonald’s. It ended his Presidential campaign. McDonalds now boasts France as one of its prime locations and provides thousands of French with secure jobs in all sectors of the Food Industry.
I have witnessed the old foie gras farming methods and can understand the concerns of those who will not eat it, and yes the rogue farmers are still out there.
However, France can be proud of how far it has come to ensure and enforce proper farming methods are practised as laid down by EU laws, Philippe Martin would do the industry a favour by promoting this picture to the world, rather than bite off the hand that feeds you, and act as a ‘Crusader’ for the French foie gras industry.

Asparagus with a Sorrel Hollandaise

DSC_0045-1024x724

Our asparagus season in Europe seems to have had a hard year to date due to the extraordinary weather we have had. That is of course the asparagus that is grown outdoors and is by far the best kind, when it comes to flavour.

I have prepared a dish here with two of my favourite spring ingredients, Green Asparagus and Sorrel. I love the Kiwi and Wild Strawberry flavours that come from Sorrel and find it works well in sauces, especially with salmon.

The sorrel’s sharp taste is due to oxalic acid, which is a poison. In small quantities sorrel is harmless, in large quantities it can be fatal.

Here is a recipe that is quick and easy to prepare at home.

Serves 6 or 4 Sid portions

Ingredients

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1tsp lemon juice
  • Small bunch of young sorrel leaves
  • 190g butter, unsalted
  • 750g green asparagus spears, trimmed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Method

  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan and set aside.
  2. In a bowl over a double boiler add egg yolks, lemon juice, sorrel which has been finely sliced and the mustard. With a whisk or hand mixer beat in the butter whilst slowly pouring in to create your hollandaise. Season and set aside in a warm place.
  3. Cook the asparagus in a saucepan of lightly salted boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes. I like my asparagus tender, but still with a slight crunch at the base. Drain and place on a cloth so as to dry.
  4. Arrange on a warm plate and pour over a generous helping of hollandaise. I love shaving over a little frozen gorgonzola with a peeler. At ‘le Calabash’ we always have a few wedges of gorgonzola in the freezer, which works well over warm salads, risotto and gratinated dishes.

Asparagus at ‘Le Calabash’

 

Asparagus has just flourished all around us as it seem the season has once again come so fast and from past experience we know with a blink of an eye it will be gone again. I do however find my disappointment at the lack of green asparagus, available difficult to hide.

The French, far prefer white asparagus to green, or shall I rather say, the older generation do not eat green asparagus.

I absolutely love the green variety, and it excites me. The flavour is far more exciting, delicate, fresh and needs very little to go with it.

I find that the white variety needs more to enhance the dish when cooking with them, something I very seldom do.

Griddled Green Asparagus with Fried Ducks egg, Green Asparagus drizzled with a fine virgin olive oil and Parma ham, Griddled green asparagus with shaved parmesan and lightly dressed rocket, I could go on forever.

We know that the Egyptians ate Asparagus 3500 BC as did the Syrians, Greeks and Romans. Romans would even freeze it high in the Alps, for the Feast of Epicurus.

There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third century AD, Book III.

The ancient Greek physician Galen, prominent among the Romans, mentioned asparagus as a beneficial herb during the 2nd Century AD, but after the Roman Empire ended asparagus drew little medieval attention.

By 1469 asparagus was cultivated in French monasteries. Asparagus appears to have been hardly noticed in England until 1538 and in Germany until 1542.

France’s Louis XIV had special greenhouses built for growing it

Asparagus became available to the New World around 1850, in the United States.

Asparagus is low in calories and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of vitamin B, calcium, magnesium and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.

My fondest memories of enjoying asparagus were in Southern Italy or Spain as I find the way they approach preparing it second to none. Keep it simple and do not spoil the ingredient!

I am off to Tours now in the hope of finding some Green Asparagus at the Market, as here locally it seems close to impossible to find any.

Rego’s Prawn Peri Peri

19979_l

Serves 6

This dish brings back many memories for me, as during the mid 70s when doing my compulsory military service I was posted to the border of Mozambique in northern Natal, at Kuzilonde, just above Kosi Bay. This area is ranked as one of South Africa’s truly wild places, lakes, sub-tropical shores, and warm beaches. Even though we were warned of the danger of crocodiles, hippos and bilharzia, we would still take the odd swim in the lakes and rivers. I can remember the fish eagles, leatherback turtles and white-backed night herons and spending time with the Zulu fishermen when setting their ‘Thonga’ fish traps and then spearing the fish once in the trap.

This is where I met Rego, fleeing Mozambique in fear of his life into South Africa, with hundreds if not thousands of other ethnic Portuguese Mozambiquens. I befriended Rego and in all this madness we found some time over a beer or two to talk food. I stayed in contact with Rego and we became friends as he had an infectious enthusiasm for what I can only describe as East African-Portuguese Cookery. I am yet to emulate the Peri Peri Chicken which Rego prepared on the Barbeque, but this Prawn Peri Peri recipe is a good start.

The best prawn to use is the Black Tiger Prawn which is found on the East African and Australian coast.

Ingredients

  • 2 kg Black Tiger Prawns

Marinade

  • 200 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • zest and juice of 4 limes
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • small bunch of parsley chopped
  • 150 ml white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbls paprika
  • 1 tbsp cayenne

Method

  1. If prawns are frozen, defrost in fridge, not under water. Remove heads and with a sharp knife cut down the back and devein. Remove legs.
  2. In a bowl mix all ingredients well. Store in a sealed container for at least 36 hours so the flavours infuse.
  3. Once aged, remove a ¼ of the marinade and return to fridge, to use as a dipping sauce for cooked prawns
  4. Fire up your BBQ
  5. Toss prawns in remainder of marinade and leave in fridge for a hour.
  6. Remove prawns from the marinade. I enjoy putting them on a skewer. If you are using bamboo skewers, soak in water for 5 minutes first.
  7. Place used marinade in a saucepan and gently bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes and set aside ready at your bbq
  8. Place prawns of hot bbq and cook about 2 minutes on each side, do not overcook! The flesh should be firm but not hard, the inside of the prawn should be opaque and not glassy