Just back from our 5th year at Chateau Ventenac with a fantastic group of very keen cooks on our French Cooking Holiday. We cooked a great deal with time to soak up the sunshine, walk along the Canal du Midi and relax with a glass of the local wine.
Pictures tell the story (there's a substantial photoset on Flickr), shame they can't let us smell and taste too. Pat suggested that we renamed the holiday ‘Cooking and EATING’ as we did ourselves proud with all the food we made and ate.
The weather was glorious, during the day, warm enough to swim, with a little rain later in the evening, we ate dinner on the terrace, such a treat to sit outside, watching the sun set, the swifts swirling above to be replaced by bats as night fell.
Dinner on the terrace
Each day we focused on specific topics, with bread and knife skills to start.
We made fougasse, a type of bread from Provence, which we topped with herbs from Julia’s garden: thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram and lavender. It must be the sun, as the herbs had a far stronger perfume than they do at home.
We used the same dough to make a stuffed fougasse, filled with onion, garlic, asparagus, green olives, capers and topped with asparagus spears and Roquefort or Camembert.
Later, we started the brioche dough - I must say it always shocks me how much butter is added. This dough was left overnight in the fridge to rise slowly. Meanwhile, our sourdough starter bubbled away, with the warmth here doesn’t take long to get going.
For lunch we made Socca/farinata, a type of gram flour (chickpea flour) flatbread or pancake, flavoured with artichokes, thyme and tarragon. Socca is such a wonderful food, gluten-free and vegan and rather like a firm omelette in texture.
We made pistou, like a French pesto, with garlic, basil, fresh radish tops and parsley.The radish tops were so fresh we chopped them up and added them to the pistou.
The colours of our salads looked vibrant in the bright Southern French light.
Cucumber, radish & mint salad
We always have cooking challenges on our holidays. Our two taste challenges for this week were (1) to convert beetroot and fennel dis-likers and (2) to make gluten-free dishes that tasted great and worked.
For gluten-free recipes we made Socca, Polenta Pissaladiere and griddled Polenta Cakes and Corn fritters. We rolled fritters in polenta rather than breadcrumbs and made a lovely gluten-free pastry that I had learnt at Ashburton (thank you, Rob)!
Finely sliced beetroot, delicate colours
In the afternoon, Jo taught knife skills and we prepped baby artichokes and sliced coloured beetroot thinly with a mandolin.
Market Challenge Vegetables "face group"
Narbonne Market Day
One of the highlights of the week is the Market challenge: two groups, two baskets, 25 euros each to choose and buy vegetables for a main meal and a cheese.They must not spend over the allotted amount (some groups do!) but this year they kept to the limit. Jo and I drank café crèmes at the coffee stall in the market and enthused over vegetables while the groups secretively shopped.
Back at the chateau, they arranged their purchases and then planned their menus and very creative they were.
Meera, Rachel, Estelle & Patrick made:
Market Challenge Vegetables 'Mediterranean'
Leah, Pat, Sarah & Jenny made:
Narbonne Market Salad
Pat, Leah & Meera filling the leek tarts
Tarte aux Poireaux et Tapenade
Cucumber with borage flowers
our last Supper, served on the terrace
Our last Supper and what a spread:
Sourdough bread, potato dauphinoise with french turnips, polenta with cooked batavia lettuce, tomato, red pepper & aubergine gratin, fennel roasted with lemon & sumac, beetroot with herbs & the hottest Aji chilli sauce!
and our cookery group photo.... Thank you all for making it such an enjoyable foodie week
Rachel & Jo
For many more French photos visit our Cookery School Flickr page.
Cookery Group Photo May 2013