Blogging for me usually follows one of two forms. Often I think of exactly what I want to say whilst in the car or in the shower (or somewhere else equally inconvenient where I am far from the keyboard!); as soon as I can I quickly write down my thoughts and then head out when I have time to search for photos to illustrate what I have written. At other times though the photos come first and then the story follows. Today’s post is definitely a case of the latter; it was just another regular early morning search for vegetables in the market, and as always I clicked away with my camera, fingers growing numb in the cold. It was only when I got home that I thought the humble winter vegetable might be deserving of a little more attention.
The weather here is still cold, definitely below average for the time of year and for the past couple of weeks we’ve had frosts every night with cold clear days, blue skies and plenty of sunshine – in fact, just the sort of winter weather I love. The market in Rochefort is always there, come rain or shine, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On market days the street leading down to the Porte du Soleil, (the arch you can see in the distance, built in 1666 and so named because it is positioned so that the spring and autumn equinox sun sets directly in the centre) is closed for the morning to traffic and stalls line the roadside with pedestrians tramping back and forth in search of their favourite purchases. There are far fewer vendors and people in winter compared to the spring and summer, and there are no exotic fruits and hardly any tourists. On a cold morning like this, one doesn’t dally too much and waiting in line can be a chilly business.
The ladies selling chickens on the rotisserie had the benefit of a little warmth
unlike this poor girl. The AB on the boards stands for Agriculture Biologique meaning organic, a status commonly referred to as bio throughout France.
Even at 9 in the morning we saw several people stop and enjoy a small warming glass of vin chaud just to set them up for the day!
You’ll be hard pushed to find anything except the usual suspects on sale in January, very little is imported and if it is it’s not from far away; mostly from Spain, but right now the cold front has taken its toll there, too. Broccoli has quadrupled in price this week thanks to the first snow in over a century in some parts of eastern Spain.
Common vegetables on offer include sprouts, swedes and turnips, spinach and leeks, garlic, onions and baked beetroot
and there are cabbages galore.
And whilst I waited as Roddy filled our basket with plenty of winter greens I glanced down at this little chap, waiting, oh so patiently, whilst his owners standing next to me made their choices
and when they had finished and walked away he turned and trotted along with them, the perfect well trained companion.
There is something incredibly satisfying having a counter overflowing with fresh produce, but even more so is the fact that we paid just 20 euros (17 pounds/21 dollars) for this stash of winter goodness. Our haul included parsnips (which I simply adore roasted alongside potatoes), red cabbage, shallots, broccoli, spinach, swiss chard and leeks; and the potatoes and carrots that wouldn’t fit in the photo!
I think now is a good time to think about underrated winter vegetables. There’s no getting away from it, we’re in the depths of winter, the festivities of December are long since passed, and I think January is definitely a month when we need to ‘up’ the comfort food levels, especially this year with such an unseasonal deep chill. Having made that easy decision, the next question is how to ‘up’ the ante in the comfort stakes without adding more cakes and sweet desserts! I think the answer has to lie in the abundance of greens and other vegetables we have just bought. They boost our immune levels and provide us with a big healthy kick that is much needed at this time of year. Of course, I apologise to all of my friends currently enjoying balmy hot weather, but please just bear with me and bookmark this post for when you need it.
Winter seasonal vegetables can often seem rather boring, but I am hoping to put that to rights. Firstly, I have to mention the most simple of quick mid-week dishes, which is just for Roddy and I as the children are at school and time is, of course, of the essence. I know, I know, we live in France, the country of two hour/three course lunches, but we’re extremely busy and we don’t usually have that sort of time to spare. However, I also don’t skip this important meal, or eat on the run, so some Frenchness has obviously rubbed off on me!
One of our favourite lunches is this terribly easy dish – spinach simply steamed for a minute or so, a fried or poached egg fresh from our own chickens, all on a slice of wholewheat toast/crusty french bread (whatever your preference might be), topped with a generous grating of black pepper.
A light evening supper or another straight-forward, fuss-free lunch has to come in the form of a hearty vegetable soup. A habit we have had for years is to make chicken stock from the leftover carcass of the weekend roast, and with this on hand I chop away at any vegetable I can lay my hands on.
For the soup above you’ll need a litre of really good chicken or vegetable stock.
In a pan gently sauté one diced onion and one diced clove of garlic. When these are sweated through you can add a handful of diced smoked bacon or ham – but this is entirely optional. Add two sliced carrots and turn the heat up for a minute or two, but don’t burn the onion and garlic. Now pour in your litre of stock, and add two cubed potatoes, a medium sized leek cut into inch-long strips, a can of white beans and two finely chopped stalks of celery. I also add a couple of bay leaves, a glass of white wine, and I season with salt and pepper. This is simmered until the potatoes are cooked, when the bay leaves are then removed and the seasoning is adjusted.
If you have no beans to hand you can substitute some pasta instead, and you can change the vegetable ingredients as you want – this is very much a “what’s in the larder” sort of soup.
Moving onwards, the broccoli, Swiss chard and carrots are regular simple accompaniments to dishes like oven-baked chicken and jacket potatoes, another typical midweek family evening meal.
Then there is my favourite, the red cabbage. I loathe green cabbage, as my school days put me off it very successfully for life. I have never been able to eat it since and even the smell of it cooking is enough to turn my stomach; I can remember the soggy mess as if it was yesterday. However, red cabbage is another matter altogether plus it has even more health benefits than its green cousin. This is one of Roddy’s recipes. Sauté gently one chopped onion and a chopped glove of garlic and four chopped rashers of smoked bacon. Add a quarter of a red cabbage coarsely shredded, sweat for ten minutes covered with a lid and then add half a cup of chicken or vegetable stock, seasoning, a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of ginger, the zest of half an orange and a teaspoon of fig jam or any other jam you have to hand and half a cup of raisins. Mix thoroughly and then bake covered at 180C/350F for 20 minutes. Cooked this way this is one cruciferous vegetable that is easily my number one winter comfort food.
There is nothing complicated about any of these dishes but they have the added benefit of being extremely budget friendly and if you make a good sized batch of the soup or red cabbage, both will keep in the fridge for a couple of days which makes life much easier for anyone pressed for time.
** Just as my blog posts have two forms so do my titles, and sometimes I have thought of a title before I have even written the post; other titles come relatively easily and a few evade me altogether. Occasionally they have been known to take as long as the post itself to write; we typically throw suggestions around the supper table and proposals go from sensible, to boring, to downright outrageous.
Today’s title was no exception; my ideas were dull, I couldn’t think of anything with the zing I wanted, and our kitchen table-talk didn’t come up with anything much better. In desperation I even messaged Izzi in the UK and Millie who is currently on a school exchange in Madrid. Nothing was forthcoming. Just when all seemed lost, Jack sauntered in from the sitting room and within seconds his proposal of ‘Cabbage & Co’ was born – so on this occasion all the title credit goes to Monsieur Jack Hays!