We had to drive until we almost fell into the Mediterranean Sean to find the sun. So we did. It took eight hours and about a thousand kilometres, but we found blue skies, thirty degrees and the perfect excuse for silly sun hats. A glorious thing, especially after a non-summer of trousers, umbrellas and sniffly noses so far.
At one point, we even ended up in the Mediterranean. I lasted for about three minutes before listening to my chattering teeth and retreating to the beach. But what a perfect reason to snuggle down in the warm sand and let the early evening rays toast my skin.
When we weren’t on the beach, taking walks or surfing (husband only), we cycled and hiked, rambled through towns and over markets and got wet again on a (downstream) canoe trip. And was there eating? Of course there was:
The discovery of vacherin
Thus far known to me first and foremost as a beloved cheese, this holiday showed me vacherin in its sweet form. Layers of crunchy meringue, ice cream and whipped cream, deliciously tied together with a swirl of fruity sauce. Once is never enough, so after I tried one early on in the first week (which I greedily destructed before thinking to take a picture) I ordered one immediately when I saw it in the second week.
A huge pile of it on a salad with nuts and country ham thrown in for good measure, right before visiting the Roquefort Papillon caves. Which were empty. At the start of the tour, the guide told us “The last cheeses of the season left the cave yesterday. This is not a joke.” It was not:
The yearly town fete in St-Georges-de-Luzencon
We imagined that the kind, red-nosed man offering us free sangria was the mayor and were charmed by the warm reception. Not so much by the tripoux they went on to serve. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste and we were happy we also had wood-grilled sausage to nibble on.
A potato dish I liked
Previously mentioned here, but I feel it was momentous enough to share again. Well, for me. For the rest of you there’s the picture of all that yumminess. Get thee to the Aveyron for a plate of cheesy mashed potatoes.
An almost-seaside meal of seafood
With fish soup we got to ladle into bowls and customize with rouille, grated cheese and croutons, followed by charcoal grilled fish with herby, garlicky oil and velvety stewed zucchini and eggplant.
Buying olive oil straight from the mill
Roadside stalls for buying produce
Ripe apricots (so good), peaches, melon, zucchini and tomatoes to make sauce. If supermarkets sold stuff that looks this good, I bet more people would get their five-a-day.
Cooking on our camping stove
Sometimes with a friendly neighbourhood dog watching over proceedings. Of the salad and cheesy omelette variety in this case.
But I didn’t just fry eggs. I also branched out into vegetables and concocted this pasta:
Summer vegetables, red wine, melty cheese. Tasts even better with grass under your bare feet and blue skies overhead.
Pasta with summer vegetables and goat’s cheese
- A selection of summer vegetables, enough to feed the number of people eating (I used three tiny eggplants, two small zucchini, three tomatoes and 1 bell pepper for two)
- A chunk of fresh goat’s cheese (preferably rindless, but I used one with a rind and it was fine; I imagine you could also substitute something soft and blue, or even a herb and garlic cream cheese)
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- generous glug of red wine
- generous pinch of thyme, herbes de province, rosemary, or similar
- olive oil
Cut the vegetables into bite-sized chunks. They will all end up in the same pan, and you could just sautee them together in some olive oil. That would be efficient camping cooking, and I will only insist that you make very sure the eggplant is not undercooked (oh, how I loathe rubbery eggplant) by starting it off in a generous amount of olive oil before adding the other vegetables.
If, however, you have a good skillet with a heavy bottom (yup, I travel with my cast iron skillet), you can make your vegetables extra tasty by blistering the zucchini separately first. Slice the zucchini into thick coins, about 5mm or so. Get your skillet hot, then put in a layer of zucchini coins. No oil, just the vegetable. Cook until brown and blistery on one side, then flip over to get a nice color on the other side as well.
Remove cooked zucchini from the pan and add new slices, until you have cooked them all and they patiently sit on a separate plate while you cook the rest of your vegetables.
Bring a pan of water to a boil. Whether you go with the separate zucchini or not, the next step is to add a generous amount of oil to your skillet and adding the eggplant, tossing energetically so that all cubes get an oily coating. Cook the eggplant until it is mostly soft, then add in your other vegetables, except the tomato. Also add the finely chopped garlic. Cook until the vegetables are almost done to your liking, then add the tomato chunks and heat through. Hopefully, the water is boiling by now, so add your pasta.
Add the wine and the herbs, stir well and let the mixture bubble for a few minutes. Then crumble in the cheese and stir to melt it over all your vegetables. If you have cooked the zucchini separately, add it back in to warm through.
Drain your pasta when it is cooked, divide over plates and top with the cheesy vegetable mixture. Eat.