Food and Drink: Summer in France with one's kith and kitchen

I AM far from being the first to note that the French still care so passionately about food - despite the inroads of le quick food among the young - that it remains the main topic of conversation, all else being subject to the vagaries of fashion: la Princesse Di fading fast, politics having long been pas du tout cool (or branche), and the cinquantaine of Mick Jagger coming a poor second.

There is no puzzle about this. It forms part of a traditional French marriage between self-interest and human relations. The table is where you are most likely to see those you most care about, and probably the only place you see your family.

My wife's family vaguely centres its summers in a large, leafy house hard by Grenoble, which has, among its many rooms, two centres: two kitchens. And now that the presiding cooks of those kitchens have both died, there are as many competing meals as there are heirs.

My wife's cousins, and collateral cousins, amis de coeur and just plain friends, have been through Sete in a regular rhythm for the past fortnight. Food has been much talked about and much consumed. Custom has it that each will display his or her talents in the kitchen, and earnest discussions take place the night before, concerning the shopping of the following morning, the availability of ingredients, recipes to be used, who's best at what, the inner balance of tastes and colours.

As most of us are inexact cooks - that is, we tend not to follow slavishly the recipes we use - the three main dishes I describe below cannot be accurately traced to their origins, but they are among the highlights of our holidays; and, again unsurprisingly, they are a product of all that talking and thinking about food, part of a general food culture which may be on its way out but seems to be surviving well in our family.

Cousin Edith's Lotte Mauresque

Down here, the monkfish has two names: lotte and baudroie, the latter being the whole fish, the former the more delicate and prized tail. Almost any firmly fleshed white fish can be used for this recipe.

Serves 6

Ingredients: 3lb (1.3kg) monkfish in filleted pieces

2oz (50-60g) tomato concentrate

glass of white wine

1 large onion and clove of garlic

7fl oz (200ml) creme frache

1 level tbs curry


butter for frying

Preparation: Gently cook onion and garlic in butter until wilted; add fish, then wine and tomato concentrate and curry. Cook for 10 minutes, then flambe in cognac and remove; strain the sauce as finely as possible (in muslin or the finest sieve you have) and add creme frache at the end. Serve with sprinkled parsley.

Nathalie's French Osso Bucco or Veal Shanks

Serves six

Ingredients: 6 veal shanks on the bone, cut about 1 1/2 in thick and

preferably of the same size

1 lemon


2 or 3 large onions


2 1/2 pints (2 litres) white wine

1lb (450g) ripe tomatoes, peeled

bouquet garni

2 cloves garlic

zest of 1 orange

1tbs paprika

oil for frying

Preparation: Brown onions in oil; remove and brown the meat, previously rubbed with lemon and lightly dusted with flour. Flambe with cognac. Moisten with white wine; add tomatoes, bouquet garni, browned onions, salt, pepper, pressed garlic, zest of orange and paprika. Cook for 2 hours (until meat is tender and separating from the bone).

Botsford's Lamb with Apricots

We are fortunate to live on the sea, for fish, and with a hinterland that produces splendid lamb. For this dish, the lamb is just about right in age in the late summer; because of the powerful flavours, to use young lamb would be wasteful.

Serves 6

Ingredients: boned leg of lamb cut into chunks about 2in square with as much fat removed as possible

2oz (60g) butter


1 large onion chopped fine

2 cloves garlic unpeeled

about 20 dried apricots

some fresh almonds

12 walnuts, crushed

currants (white and black)

1tbs balsamic vinegar

juice of 2 lemons

1/2 pint (300ml) stock (chicken or lamb)

1 3/4 pints (1 litre) white wine

3 bay leaves

small sprig rosemary

1tbs fresh thyme

1tbs hot paprika

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation: Brown lamb chunks, lightly floured, in butter in which onions have been wilted. Soak dried apricots in water for 1 hour. Stuff them with almonds and add to the meat, plus lemon juice, stock, wine, herbs, paprika and garlic. Turn regularly. When the meat begins to cook add vinegar, walnuts and currants. Simmer, covered, on a low heat for about 2 hours. Check flavouring regularly. The blend of smells and tastes should be both light and 'high' (lemons and wine), and dark, rich and 'low', or earthy (vinegar and currants). Far from rendering this dish sweet, the apricots make it slightly tart.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album