Thursday, 7 September 2017

Vuelta food: Alubias Rojas de Tolosa






Cycling Grand Tours do not, as you might think, circulate the country in a continuous route.  The routes are hammered out, informed by the organising committee wanting to chop and change the nature of the cycling (more or less mountains, more sprints, time trials etc) and the stage start and finish towns, prepared to pay around 100,000 Euros to have all the traffic in their municipality brought to a standstill for several days, so they can showcase their sights.  This year's Vuelta a España route looks more like a bunch of random squiggles than a tour.




Compared with last year's route, which focussed very much on the North West of the country, the distribution was a bit more even this year (back to Catalonia again, for example).  Still, it returns to the Basque Country (or Euskal Herreria as the separatists would have it) again this year as it did last year.  For decades the Vuelta ignored the Basque region and hardcore separatists object to its inclusion in the race as they argue that the Basque region isn't part of Spain and shouldn't therefore be in the Vuelta.  This is a poor argument, as the Vuelta visits other countries (especially France) and has even started in Belgium, which isn't even contiguous.  There are actually ongoing discussions about starting it in Yorkshire in three to five years time.  Lots of Basques do take the opportunity to show the flag, though.  The Legatus  had a girlfriend once (well, maybe three times) from the Basque region, whose last name sounded like a sneeze (and would have been a high scoring word in Scrabble, given the number of 'X's in it) but I have never been there, unlike Catalonia.

Eurosport has been showing the race live, which I watch in the evening when you can fast forward through the boring breakaway days.  Unfortunately, they have two dreadful commentators; the expert but incomprehensible Sean Kelly and the quite horrible Carlton Kirby (who calls their child Carlton, anyway?) who lives in Teddington, not far from where I went to school (their used to be a very good model shop there - the only place locally you could get the famous mod-roc, as espoused in Terence Wise. Introduction to Battle Gaming.  Now the most irritating thing (of many) about Kirby is that before he starts a sentence he smacks his lips.  It is a tic of horrific annoyance.  After watching most of the live stage I then shift to  the highlighs on ITV4 where they show the last twenty or so kilometres and thave the really expert duo of Ned Boulting (whose sister runs the arts centre in Walton, just down the road) and David (drugs cheat but intelligent) Millar, who was separated at birth from Benedict Cumberbatch.  Then I noticed Ned Boulting smacks his lips too.  Aargh!  Bring back Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin, I say!


The boy was removed as I found his presence offensive


Anyway, I have had to temporarily abandon my boycott of Spanish produce to have something to go with the action and even buy some overpriced Spanish wine to console myself at the disappearance of the podium girls.  Yes, the Tour of Spain has become the first of the major tours to dispense with podium girls, under pressure from feminists and girly men (like Chris Boardman).  Interestingly, the Vuelta and the Tour de France are both run by the same company but they have admitted that they will not be removing podium girls from the Tour de France as 'that is not even a  debate' in France.  French women are more confident and sensible in their feminism; concentrating on important issues such as equal pay and promotion prospects while retaining their right to be appreciated for making the effort to look nice.  In fact, technically there are four podium girls (and a podium boy) this year but their presence has been very low key, although Chris Froome, to his credit, always goes out of his way to kiss the girl handing him the flowers.  One of the key roles of the podium girl is to place the relevant jersey on the rider at the end of the stage but this year they have been using a mixture of other people to fulfill this role. many of whom have muffed the process, leading to an undignified struggle, unlike the super efficient ladies in France.  Use a professional!




A few years ago (well, eight) I discovered the Galician wine Albarino, made from grapes of that name.  Galicia is on the the Atlantic coast of Spain and this particular wine originates in the Rias Baixas. The Rias are large inlets from the sea which legend says were shaped by the fingers of God whilst standing in the garden of Eden. Hmm. As my father used to say 'religion was invented by primitive man to explain the world around him'. This particular garden became an approved Denomination of Origin only in 1988 and it's really only in the last fifteen years or so that Albarino has been available outside Galicia.  




It really is one of my favourite summer wines.  I used to drink the amusingly titled Lagar de Bouza in the Leadnenhall Tapas Bar which is now, sadly, a Rioja only branch of La Tasca.  One month in 2009 my friends and I drank so much that they ran out.  The food there has improved but the wine is less interesting these days.  Fortunately, my local supermarkets of Sainsbury, Waitrose and Tesco all do examples.  Perfect with olives, chorizo, jamon and manchego


Alubias de Tolosa


With the Vuelta moving into the Basque region, this week, the food and wine becomes clear.  It's like when the Tour de France goes through Languedoc-Rousillon and you have cassoulet. In this part of Spain you have Alubias Rojas de Tolosa.  Its is very like a Spanish version of cassoulet, except it is made with red (almost black in the town of Tolosa itself, which the Vuelta visited last year) beans. 


Members of the Cofradia Alubia de Tolosa


The celebrated black Alubias de Tolosa even have their own bean festival in the town in November, which is run by the brotherhood of the bean (they sport bean coloured berets and cloaks!).  Purists just boil their beans for three hours, with maybe a bit of onion and a bay leaf and serve it like a soup.




Like Cassoulet there are many different versions but this is a reasonable attempt at one of the variations from the region. It is partly based on a Spanish cookbook I used to have, which was stolen by an ex-girlfriend, partly on some Basque tourist websites and partly on the advice of the aforementioned Basque  girl,who I knew in Rome (oddly), until my Italian girlfriend found out and put a Sicilian hex on her (she really did!)






Gently fry a chopped onion, a leek, chopped garlic and a chopped green pepper until the onion is clear and soft.  Then reserve them.  Some people don't include the leek but I think it adds to the taste.




Next, you have to start on the all important sausage element.  In the Basque country you would use morcilla, a blood sausage, which in the north contains a lot of onion (southern varieties contain rice as well) but we have to make do with blood pudding which uses oatmeal rather than onion.  It doesn't matter that much as it's job is to dissolve into, well, blood.




The normal chorizo (which just means 'sausage' in Spanish, of course (or txistorra in the Basque language), should be cut into 3cm chunks and gently fried to seal it.




While these gently fry, start on the other sausages (this is not a World Health Organisation approved recipe) which you should grill.  Waitrose's chorizos (which need to be cooked) are ideal.






You should also add some pork. Technically you should use salt pork but I tend to use either belly pork (grilled) or pig cheeks (fried). Some people use gammon or bacon joint but the meat shouldn't really be cured.




From this point on some of my pictures become a bit blurred due to the fact that I had one more bottle of Albarino than I thought and needed something to drink while I cooked. You need to start putting everything that you have cooked back into the casserole, all cut into chunks.  I briefly fry the pieces of black pudding first but these will melt anyway.




Once all this has been reassembled into the casserole, another artistic decision needs to be made.  Tomatoes or not?  Some recipes add tomatoes to the pepper, garlic, onion, leek, chorizos and pork but some do not.  I have made it both ways and it does change the character of the recipe quite a lot.  Certainly you need beans and all the recipes bang on about pre-soaked dried beans but I don't have time for all that, even if the brotherhood of the bean wouldn't approve!






What you get is two rather different looking dishes.  The top one has tomatoes the bottom one does not but even in the non tomato version the black pudding dissolves to make a dark gravy.




Traditionally this dish is served with cabbage and chilli peppers.  Savoy cabbage is the best option here.  Now, the Legatus doesn't much like cabbage. For many years it was my least favourite food (until I tried Kimchi in Korea. Oh wait. That is fermented cabbage!) largely caused by the foul, slimy leaves, swimming in water, we had at junior school lunch. The first girl I ever loved was S, at junior school, as she would take my cabbage off my plate and eat it, thus meaning that I avoided the punishment of having to sit there looking at your uneaten, slimy vegetation during lunch break, overseen by the glowering figure of the head dinner lady, the appropriately named. Mrs Common.  When I found myself, some years ago, completely naked in a sauna in Sweden with my twenty one year old naked lady friend (who I had seen naked before), her naked fifteen year old sister and naked forty four year old mother (who I had not) it was boiled cabbage I thought about in order to retain some decorum.




Remove the loose outer leaves of the cabbage, cut into four and cut out the hard white core from the base and boil for around ten minutes (crying 'die, cabbage die!' is optional).








Next take three to six (they are hot) Spanish Guindilla peppers (a Basque favourite) and fry them gently. Chop them and put about a third of them into the casserole then stir fry the cooked cabbage leaves with the remaining Guindilla pieces.




Serve the alubias rojas mixture on a bed of fried cabbage and Guindilla peppers. Espléndido!  This dish is known as sausage splat in our house, due to the mess I always seem to make when producing it.




I had it with a nice red from the regionally appropriate Navarre (or Nafarroa, in Basque).


Feminism hasn't totally won out on the Vuelta this year, although I cannot imagine a Tour de France hostess appearing without having shone her shoes properly before being photographed!


So, now you are ready for the next stage of the Vuelta!

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Food and Drink!


Christmas food and drink presents from my sister, sister-in-law, daughter and the Old Bat. Pork pie, cheddar, piccalilli, pickled onions (Barry Norman's...and why not? - truly excellent), diabetic chocolate and shortbread (to help off-set the pork pie).

 To drink, I have more of the increasingly difficult to find Lifeboat tea, a South African Merlot, four Badger beers (to celebrate the badger in the garden this year - and also the fact that is what the Old Bat looks like if she can't find her hair dye) and, finally, a gift set of the new Thames Side Brewery's beers from my home town of Staines (only on sale in two shops in Staines at present.

I saw an excellent programme called Victorian Bakers' Christmas last night that said that, before the Prince Albert version of Christmas, British Christmas celebrations would last from Christmas Day until Twelfth Night. Charlotte and I intend to follow this tradition with our food this year. Why pig out on just one day when you can pig out on twelve?

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Scotch Woodcock




I first had this savoury, often served at the end of a meal in Oxford colleges, in my first term at university in 1979.  It makes a better breakfast or brunch than the end of a meal and here is how I cooked it today, after coming back from the Warfare wargames show at Reading..




Ingredients are very simple: just three (or four if you are hungry like I was) eggs per person, bread for toast (I had Dutch rye bread) a tin of anchovies and some black pepper and butter





Reserving four of the anchovy fillets mash up the remainder of the anchovies with half a teaspoon of butter and add some black pepper.  Many people use Gentlemen's Relish instead of mashed anchovies which is fine if you can take the rank, cat food smell and the rank, cat food taste.




Scramble the eggs with a knob of butter, add black pepper and optional cayenne pepper.   Toast the bread, spread the mashed anchovies on the toast, add the scrambled egg (and maybe some chopped fresh parsley) and top with the four reserved anchovies.  Ideally eat with a relaxed redhead...

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Tour de France food and drink Stages 6 to 8: a new wine




My time shifted viewing of the Tour de France continues (yes I know it finished weeks ago) as the race approaches the Pyrenees so what can we enjoy to accompany it?

Passing over the viticulturally barren Stage 5  we head south-west where the route of Stage 6 between Arpajon-sur-Cere and Montaubon passed jus south of the town of Cahors which was one of my father's favourite intermediate destinations on the rambling routes we took south to reach our holiday house near Perpignan when I was small.  Cahors, I seem to recall had a famous market and one of the famous things they sold in their famous market were hats.  Famous hats.  Now the Legatus has no interest in hats whatsoever and is deeply suspicious of men who wear them.  They are nearly, but not quite, as dubious as men who wear bow ties with suits or coloured waistcoats (Old Glory UK springs to mind here). There is always that faint air of narcissistic foppishness about them.  "Hello! I am going to wear an eccentric hat in the hope that no-one notices that I am actually really boring.!"




The Cahors hat is far from foppish, however, is made from the wool of Pyrenean sheep and has something of the hunter about it.  When we used to travel up high into the Pyrenees in the sixties we sometimes used to see isolated houses with bearskins pinned to them, as the diminishing bear population was still being hunted,  No doubt such hunters wore Cahors hats.  It looks not unlike the English Civil War Montero but probably should be worn while striding up the foothills of the Pyrenees heading for the Spanish border while accompanies by a large dog from Belle and Sebastien as you out fox the pursuing Nazis (or Germans as we are now not allowed to call them).




Anyway, enough of hats and on to the real contribution of Cahors to world civilisation; it's black, Malbec dominated red wine.  Unlike the Languedoc wine which was grown in my childhood, the Cahors always had an air of quality.  I  had my first glass down there when I was six or seven and even at that age I could tell the difference between it and the mouth puckering Corbières from further east.  My father used to stock up on the way down so we didn't have to buy the local stuff when we got to the house.  I got this one at about one third off in Sainsbury's and it is still traditional enough to sport a cork.  Surprisingly fruity with blackcurrants as well as blackberries and a bit of oak, A bargain for £5.50.  Probably should have had porc aux prunes with it but no time to cook much this year so more saucisson and cornichons.


Julian Alaphilippe gets the white jersey from the splendid Elsa Boirie (left)  He is standing on a box and her hips are still higher off the ground than his. 


Stages 7 and 8 took the Tour right down to the gates of the Pyrenees and growing down there is the Tannat grape, which these days is popular in the New World as well.  The Tannat is the principal grape of a wine I have never had before: Madiran.




I had this with French Pyrenean ham and more cornichons, inevitably.  No doubt the people who produce this wear Cahors hats.




This was a good buy from Tesco at about 25% off, taking it down to under £5 a bottle.  It was certainly unusual; tasting like a claret that had been produced in the Southern Rhone.  Still, an old style wine with  a lot of character for the price.


Stage 7


Next we will hop over the Spanish border for the Legatus' signature dish: alubias rojas de tolosa or, as it is know to my family, sausage splat.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Tour de France food and drink Stages 3 to 4; Memories of delicious things


A fairly traditional route this year


The Legatus always looks forward to following the Tour de France on TV (and in person on four occasions) but this year I will miss nearly all of it due to a two and a half week business trip to Botswana.  Grr!  So, no real opportunity to match food and wine to every stage this year. I was concerned that ITV 4 had dispensed with the mellifluous tones of classic commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen for Ned Boulting and David (drugs cheat) Millar but actually their cycling commentary is actually better than Liggett's and Sherwen's, even if it removes some of the nostalgia for past Tours.


 Green jersey for points (sprints)  Symmetrical!


 Polka dot jersey for mountains  Hippy!


A good part of the appeal of the live TV coverage is looking at the aerial shots of mountains, pretty villages and chateaux in the biggest advertisement for the French tourism industry of the year.  In fact my very first memory is of the Tour de France, in St Malo in 1962, when I was two and a half.


White jersey for the highest placed young rider  Flirty!


Red number for the most aggressive rider on the stage  Elegant!


Speaking of the acceptable faces of France; another important thing to consider every year is the standard of the Tour hostesses, who present the various jersey's and prizes on the podium at the end of each stage.   One year, unusually bowing down to pressure from feminists, the Tour organisers had a couple of podium boys but it was an experiment that was not repeated!


Yellow jersey for the overall leader  Smart!


Stage winner  Odd!


The yellow jersey podium girls are the most conservatively dressed (and have the longest hems) but some of the other outfits have been a bit strange in the past (some of the Coca-Cola sponsored mountains jersey girls' outfits were very avant garde).  Nothing too controversial this year (except perhaps for the trousers of the stage winner's girls).




 A start in Normandy (the team presentation took place in D-Day's Sainte-Mère-Eglise - with the teams being driven in in World War 2 vehicles) with the finish of Stage 1 being on Utah Beach, meant Normandy cider to accompany the coverage.  Last year when the Tour was in Normandy I managed to get a Normandy cider in Waitrose but it has disappeared this year, sadly.  I have really noticed, over the last few years,  the gradual disappearance of French produce in our supermarkets.  Even things like saucisson sec are getting harder to find (you can still get it in Waitrose)  with sliced cooked meats now only coming from Spain or Italy.  While you can get Brie and Camembert easily, other French regional cheese is more difficult to find.


Château d'Angers in 1983


It's three years since the Tour has been to the Loire but this time we have two stages there, (3 and 4).   I have always liked the wines of the Loire since a wonderful holiday there in the summer, after I finished law school, in 1983 (something of the atmosphere of this trip can be found in this post, which I wrote during 2014's Tour).  Stage 4 finished in Angers, somewhere I visited during this bucolic two weeks; which contained a lot of food, a lot of wine, a lot of chateaux and a lot of fun with young ladies.




The food was provided by the charming little hotels we stayed in, which all came from a book by Arthur Eperon.  We didn't book ahead but just rolled up in a little village at about four pm using Eperon's infallible guide.  My male friend, B, and my immediate ex-girlfriend, J,  would go for an hour's walk and explore the village, locate bakers and grocery shops etc. while my girlfriend of two months, V, (she had seamlessly followed on from the other one) and I  'relaxed' (she drove the car (she was the only one who owned a car) and I navigated - all very stressful!).


The Hotel Splendid in Montreuil-Bellay, which is still there 


We would then all meet up, let the others show us what they had discovered and have dinner at about eight. Then the other two would go for another walk after dinner while V and I 'relaxed' again.  It was a very relaxing fortnight, especially when we managed to arrange relaxing morning visits to the bathroom as well, although a surprising number of the hotels had a jug and ewer, rather than a washbasin in the room. Washing V with a sponge one morning, as she stood in an enamel metal bowl, with cold water from the jug was all very La Vie Bohème, although she squealed a lot.  She looked like the subject of a Bonnard painting.




Not having time to cook anything special this week, as I try to remember how to pack for a two week  trip, I am going for simple food like pate, cornichons and from the Loire, Port Salut cheese, which I first ate when I was small, on the way down to the house the family spent the summer in, in Roussillion.  This Pays de Loire cheese is not as old, historically, as some (it celebrates its bicentenary this year ) but was created by Trappist monks at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  It doesn't exactly have a lot of character but goes well with saucisson sec and originates in a town, Entrammes, just a few miles east of stage 3, in the north of the Loire region.  There are some fabulous regional cheeses from the Loire but you can't get them here.




Dried sausage, cheese and pate are  all very Loire anyway and their is no real signature dish for the region (although they eat quite a lot of game, often with mushroom sauces).




Probably the most characteristic dish is rillettes, which come from around Le Mans, some way east of Stage 3.  Waitrose to the rescue again, here.  It's very rich so this pot kept me going quite a few days.  They really need the acidic cornichons to offset the fattiness.  Somehow I don't think that the World Health organisation would approve.


V in the gardens of the Château d'Angers in 1983  What a splendid young woman she was


Anyway, the wine choice for Stage 3 was easy, as the race finished in Angers, somewhere we visited on our 1983 trip.  So the accompanying wine had to be a Rosé D'Anjou, a wine I have not had for many years.  It used to be quite cheap and was popular with lady friends in the eighties (until I met girls with more expensive taste in wine as the decade went on (stinky C, the paratroopers daughter springs to mind, who had a penchant for classed growth claret).  On our Loire holiday V started with quite unsophisticated taste in wine (was it my sister who called her a 'Niersteiner'?  Surely not!) so was fond of the Rosé D'Anjou but gradually, as we discovered the Loire reds, her tastes changed.  You always had to give her full marks for trying new things.




So, off to Waitrose to find a pink Anjou and they had Champteloup Rosé d'Anjou reduced from £7.99 to £6 something.  Honestly, I remember when you could get a bottle of this for £1.99!  I was expecting this to be too sweet for my tastes but it was actually really rather lovely and while still fruity, quite dry.. So nice that if it is still on offer I might get another one just in case we get a summer. As Waitrose say on their website: "a perfect match to charcuterie".  Easily the nicest pink wine I have had for a long time.



Off to Sainsbury's


Early on Stage 4 the peloton went through the little town of Montreuil-Bellay, where we had stayed 33 years ago.  While V and I had a particularly satisfying relax, B and J had made a discovery which they wanted to share with us.  For there, in the shadow of the Château, was the very producer (as we identified by the large palettes of bottles stacked outside) of Sainsbury's Rosé d'Anjou  - V's favourite!   It was a Saturday evening and we popped into the local church for a look, where we were instantly grabbed by some of the locals who wanted us to do the readings in church the next day, as they thought we were very exotic.  V, a Catholic, readily agreed on behalf of us all.  V's French was very good (A-level) whereas B did all Maths A-levels and struggled with English, and J was a nuclear physicist (despite looking like Alice in Wonderland - when people asked her what she did she used to say "a secretary" as no-one believed her real job.  She was actually the first women in the world to 'drive' a nuclear reactor and was in all the papers at the time).  My French was largely confined to culinary terms, parts of the body and words relating to wine (like terroir and remuage).  Fortunately, they wanted us to read in English.  Next morning we all performed and V read a passage in French too, much to the admiration of the locals.




Anyway, as Stage 4 started in Saumur I had a Saumur red with the (time shifted) live coverage.  Of course a sparkling Saumur might have been more appropriate but with the rise of Cava and now Prosecco there was no chance of tracking any of this down.  This was a nice, slightly smoky, herby cabernet franc.




Unlike Sainsbury's or Tesco, Waitrose still do packs of French charcuterie and this went perfectly with bread and more cornichons.  It all took me back and tasted like the lovely V (well, actually, she tasted like oysters)!



Mountain jersey podium girls Marie and Sabrina probably don't eat anything during the Tour


Hopefully, my Tivo box will have recorded the mountain stages and the highlights programmes so I can explore the cuisine and wines of some of the other stages when I return to England in a week's time.  There is a dip over the border into Spain and that means the recipe for one of my favourite dishes.