Savouring Local, Seasonal Asparagus & Strawberries in the South of France

My writer friend Isabel Huggan makes her home in a lovely old stone house in the French countryside, near the town of Tornac, in the foothills of the Cevennes mountains, 7 km from the small town of Anduze. In the spring months, she hosts a writer’s retreat there, in her stone barn – a private, quiet haven for writers, artist or musicians seeking peace and quiet to work on their art.

When Isabel completed the Hungry Novelist Questionnaire recently, she also composed a guest blog post about the local, seasonal food she was eating and serving her guests in April. Oh, to be in France in springtime! Here’s Isabel:

April in this part of France means two things: fresh asparagus and fresh strawberries. And so this makes it very easy to have people for a meal. There’s hardly anything to do besides wash the asparagus to get the sand out, and the same procedure, although more gently done, for the strawberries.

I buy from two different stalls, both of them within 10 minutes by bike… I’ve provided a photo of the one I tend to favour, run by Madame Sestini and her good-looking son.

With asparagus, I often serve it alongside another dish, such as this salmon and wild leek quiche… it’s a simple enough recipe that I don’t even have it written down… pie crust (here in France one can buy pie crust ready to be unrolled into a pie plate) , 4 eggs beaten with 1 ½ cup cream & milk, with salt & pepper,….chopped leeks (wild are best but normal leeks are fine, use LOTS) that have been sautéed and then cooled, and 3-4 slices of organic farmed salmon OR wild salmon… put leeks into the pie crust and follow with the salmon, make sure you’ve mixed them together evenly, and if you want, add some lemon rind and/or finely chopped celery with leaves, or finely chopped green onion. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, depending… the top of the quiche should turn golden and be bubbling nicely…

I serve the cooked asparagus separately, and I try to be very careful to undercook rather than over. After it has been well drained, I arrange it in on a favorite pottery plate and trickle a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over it… I’ve been known to decorate such a place with strips of lightly sautéed red pepper arranged to look like lacing around and over the green asparagus. Very pretty, but not necessary…

At this time of year there’s always fresh roquette [editor’s note: it’s called roquette in France, rocket in the U.K. and arugula in North America. But something tells me the roquette Isabel gets at her local farm stand is the best-tasting of them all.] available, and I mix that with one or two other salad greens – mache for example — with a few cherry tomatoes and sliced mushrooms to make an accompanying salad for the quiche. These egg-based dishes come alive when they’re eaten with something that is sharp and a little bitter to the taste, such as roquette.

Strawberries are also in season now.

Nothing easier, and you don’t have to make a tarte or shortcake… Simply cleaned and placed in a bowl, and if possible, mix two or three varieties – I like Garrigette and Clery together. [Editor’s note: imagine being able to buy two different kinds of strawberries at a neighbouring farm stand, and in April. Sounds like heaven.] At this point, once they’re in the large serving bowl, I usually drizzle a bit of Triple Sec, in lieu of sugar, and it seems to bring out their taste without disguising it. Here, I serve strawberries with crème fraiche which is something like sour cream only better. You could probably achieve the same taste by mixing whipped cream with a little sour cream. I serve biscuits or madeleines along with the fruit…

Living where I do, it would be unthinkable to provide lunch without wine, and I almost always choose a rosé from a vineyard I particularly like, LE GRAND CHEMIN. It is dry and gently fruity, an inspired combo of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault, and seems to bring out the best in both the savory and the sweet parts of the meal. Sadly, LE GRAND CHEMIN wines are not yet available in Canada, but there are indeed many other lovely rosé wines from this region (Languedoc).

For more about Isabel’s writing and Le Mas Blanc Writers’ Retreat, visit www.isabelhuggan.com

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