Friday, 24 August 2012

Two ways with French black pudding

Sitting on our tiny, high-walled patio last night, as the wind whipped and whistled above, nursing an espresso and a glass of rosé, it was hard not feel a great sense of satisfaction.

Most immediately, perhaps, because I can drink coffee after a meal these days: it no longer seems to upset my stomach. Or perhaps that’s just when I’m in this neck of the woods.

But second, because I was enjoying rolling round in my mind a feeling that something, somewhere, has clicked slowly but decisively into place.

The other day – I have lost track of time a little – my revamped eating plans saw me nip into one of the village’s little alimentations after we’d finished with everything else for the day, and picking up an utterly essential packet of coffee, plus a pack of two boudin catalan.

Boudin noir is the French version of black pudding, although it’s moister than ours in the UK – possibly down to its still being prepared with raw blood. Boudin catalan is a lightly spiced regional version.

One of the recipes in the little book I’d picked up at the beginning of our holiday had stuck in my mind when mulling what to cook.

It was an omelette, with boudin, bacon, artichoke hearts – and various other ingredients.

Actually, it was more what we’d call a frittata, but let’s not be pedantic.

Since we hadn’t had any boudin at this stage – and we usually have it at least once while here – I decided to cook something along these lines.

Simply, I softened a large and finely chopped banana shallot in olive oil, before adding a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic.

The local rose garlic is absolutely wonderful: I carried a kilo back to London last year. It was gone in six weeks. The intention this year is to double that.

Anyway, back to the frittata.

The shallot and garlic were allowed to cook very gently for a long while – probably far longer and far more gently than I’d normally do at home.

Into this went three of the remaining cooked potatoes from the duck a few days earlier, drained, dried and sliced.

A touch of paprika and a very generous grinding of black pepper were stirred in. Then the skinned and sliced boudin was added, before everything was topped with four large eggs, beaten and lightly seasoned.

It was cooked very gently for around 10 minutes (and checked to see if the egg had set enough that it would fall easily away from the side of the frying pan) before being popped under a pre-heated grill until it was just starting to turn golden.

Now I really don’t have the best record with frittatas – they’ve been, in the past, too solid and probably over-seasoned.

But that’s another thing that’s happening here, without any deliberate intent: the amount of salt I’m using has decreased. And I’m not finding that I need to add any when I get to the table.

What also appears to be happening is that I’m cooking at a less rushed pace – and this is almost certainly helping too.

But fast forward a couple of days. There was a boudin and a bit left over in the fridge, and it needed using up.

Popping into the alimentation again at the end of the day, I was wondering what to accompany it with, browsing the shelves, when I spotted tins of haricot beans.

The germ of an idea took root.

More shallot and garlic, chopped finely again and then softened just as gently in plenty of olive oil.

Then a couple of roasted peppers from a jar in the cupboard, sliced and popped in the pan, along with some of the beans, rinsed and drained, the remaining two potatoes (drained and dried) and a sprinkle of paprika.

And leave for a further 10 minutes of very gentle cooking.

Two teaspoons of Catalan tapenade (olives, tomatoes, peppers and spices) were stirred through, before the remaining boudin, skinned and sliced thickly, was added, and the whole given a further 10 minutes, so that meat could warm through.

It didn’t look particularly pretty, but it tasted pretty good, and all it needed on the side was the usual bread – not least to mop up the juices.

The feeling, though, was that something had clicked about cooking – slow and gentle particularly, but also in terms of a little bit of an understanding of and feel for the cuisine of this area.

Of course, sausage and beans is a classic combination, but I seem to be managing combinations better.

And all without a hundred cookbooks to hand – although I will stress that those books have helped me learn a very great deal: arguably a huge part of the foundation of what I’ve been doing here.

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