Sunday, 22 July 2012


The Tour de France has finished on the Champs-Élysées in Paris every year since 1975. By this point in the race, the overall classifications are usually confirmed, and the stage is more show-case than race, though for the sprinters there is huge kudos in winning on the Champs-Élysées.

The final stage starts with champagne served by the race leader's team, on-the-road photo-opportunities, and plenty of joking around. As the riders approach Paris, the racing heats up as the sprinters and their teams begin the real racing of the day. When the riders reach central Paris, they enter the Champs-Élysées riding up the Rue de Rivoli, on to the Place de la Concorde and then swing right on to the Champs-Élysées itself. The riders ride now a total of 8 laps (up towards the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, round les Tuileries and the Louvre and across the Place de la Concorde back to the Champs-Élysées).

For the final stage of the Gastro Tour de France, rather than post a recipe, I would like to review the last three weeks of my culinary journey around France. When I started out on this randonée, I wasn't sure if I could keep up the momentum (clearly, not an issue for British cyclist Bradley Wiggins!), but, with a few exceptions due to work commitments, I have cooked a regional French recipe every day. Highlights include chicken cooked with chicory, from one of the early stages, Ficelle Picarde, choux pastry, Pate en croute from Lorrain, Tartiflette pizza, and Cassoulet. None of the dishes I have cooked have been particularly complicated, nor use unusual or hard-to-come-by ingredients. Where I couldn't get the exact ingredient (wild mushrooms), I simply improvised - as any good cook would.

In terms of food, Paris is, for me, synonymous with sampling lambs' brains for the first (and last) time in my life (I misread the menu), eating fresh baguette and creamy unsalted butter with a chocolat chaud in a cafe for breakfast, dining at the famous Belle-Epoque Chartier restaurant, buying crisp, freshly-made quiches in a little deli in Montmartre, and wandering the food and flower markets (as I do whenever I visit France).

When I first started these blog posts, a friend said that I couldn't possibly blog about French food without mention Croque Monsieur and Steak Frites. Which I now have.....

Au revoir, mes amis. I'm off to the French Alps (Haute-Savoie region) to enjoy Tartiflette, fondue, and more....

Croque Monsieur

Saturday, 21 July 2012


A hilly time-trial for the penultimate stage of the Tour. For Bradley Wiggins this stage should be a mere formality, with victory in Paris more than confirmed by his performance in the Pyrenees.

The stage finish is in Chartres, 60 kms south-west of Paris, a city which boasts a fine gothic cathedral and a rich food heritage of flour-milling, brewing, and distilling, game pies, macaroons, Mentchikoffs (a chocolate and praline confection covered in meringue), beer and pâté, Sablé de Beauce biscuits (wheat & butter cookies), cochelins (a sort of fruited scone), poule au pot, and edible flowers.

Today's recipe is for a classic poule au pot, a dish associated with Henri IV of France, whose ambition was that every family in his kingdom might be able to afford to eat this dish every Sunday. There is no standard recipe for poule au pot for it varies according to the seasons and what is available. It is literally "chicken in a pot". Delia Smith recreates a simple poule au pot in her recipe. My own version is even more minimalist: a whole chicken sat atop quartered lemons, onions, whole unpeeled garlic cloves, a sprig of thyme or tarragon, a few bay leaves, and a dash of white wine. Sometimes I add waxy Charlotte potatoes. I cook it in my chicken brick to ensure it stays moist, and by cooking it this way, it also makes its own gravy. You could also add bacon lardons, carrots, leeks, celery, and turnips. Serve it with a dollop of homemade aioli, nothing more. And a glass of chilled white wine (French, of course).

Friday, 20 July 2012


Making Aligot at a fair
Today's stage ends in a town famous for another sport: rugby. Brive is in the Limousin region of France, which is situated largely in the Massif-Central. This region boasts some dishes which are regarded as classics of French regional gastronomy: clafoutis, aligot, frogs' legs, walnut bread, and many more.

Aligot is a lovely, rich, smooth, comforting dish of pureed potatoes with melted cheese, butter, cream and garlic. Its texture is similar to fondue.  The dish was originally made by monks, who prepared it for pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela who stopped for the night in that region. It is traditionally served with a red wine from the Auvergne. The Larousse Gastronomique gives the following recipe for Aligot: 1 kg potatoes, 500 g tomme fraîche, Laguiole, or Cantal cheese, 2 garlic cloves, 30 g butter, salt, pepper. And here is the Sainted Delia's method for making it.

It goes well with grilled and roasted meats, or sausages: but be warned - it is very rich and moreish!

Thursday, 19 July 2012


Another punishing day "in the hills" on a stage just as difficult as the previous day's outing in the Pyrenees. The stage ends in Peragudes in the Haute-Pyrenees. The mountain cuisine of this region has both Gascon and Basque flavours. Specialities include garbure soup - a thick, slow-cooked broth made from ham with cabbage and other vegetables, usually with the addition of cheese and stale bread. Its name originates from the word garb, used to describe sheaves of grain depicted on a heraldic coat of arms. Thus garbure, which is eaten with a fork rather than a soup-spoon, comes from the word for pitchfork, a reference to the tool used to pick up sheaves of grain. Garbure was the daily sustenance of Gascon peasantry. It differed from one home to the next and varied with the rhythms of the seasons, the resources of the cook, and with household income. The basic principle behind this dish is the lengthy simmering of an assortment of vegetables and meats, generally meats preserve.

Other regional dishes include Cassoulet, that thick slow-cooked and comforting stew of duck, pork belly, Toulouse sausages and white beans, confit de canard (salt-cured duck poached in its own fat), and foie gras.

For stage 17, I'm cooking Ragout de Mouton aux Olives Vertes (Mutton stew with green olives). The meat of the sheep which graze on the high pastures of the mountains is flavoured with the aromatic herbs on which they feed. Since mutton is not readily available in my local supermarket, I'm making this with shoulder of lamb, which lends itself perfectly to slow cooking and has a sweet flavour.

Serves 6

250g green olives, pitted
1 tbsp olive oil
15g butter
1 kg boned shoulder of lamb or mutton, cut into 5cm/2" cubes
2 tsp flour
1kg tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
salt & pepper

Blanch the olives in boiling water if they are very salty. Heat the oil and butter in a large casserole/Le Creuset pot and add the lamb pieces. Brown them all over.

Sprinkle with the flour, stir well and cook over a low flame until lightly browned. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic and olives, and add a pinch of pepper. Cover and simmer on a low heat for about an hour, or until the meat is tender. Check for seasoning. Serve with mashed potato, boiled new potatoes, rice or couscous.

A rider tackles a mountain pass in a much earlier Tour de France

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


After a second rest day, the riders face a gruelling day in the high Pyrenees, and no matter what the time gap is, the race leader and wearer of the Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey), Bradley Wiggins, may dread this stage for he will have to defend his position while climbing some of the most monstrous "cols" (mountains) of the Tour - the Tourmalet, the Aubisque, the Aspin and the Peyresourde.
An earlier Tour de France ascent of the Col du Tourmalet

In 1997, my husband, then a keen and very slim road cyclist, took part in the amateur Tour de France, the Etape du Tour, which features a single stage, in the Alps or the Pyrenees. The route he rode was the same one the riders will take today. And so, watching the highlights, as we do every evening, he will no doubt relive every single painful pedal turn of that memorable day in the mountains, and the massive and very drunken celebrations that took place that evening, and the next evening, and possibly the one after that. Oh, and he was on French TV too.....

A French 'classic' for today's stage of the Gastro Tour de France, gigot of lamb. This is a Pyrennean version, ideally suited to the hardy mutton that lives on the lower slopes of the mountains. The long cooking time ensures the meat is meltingly tender and full of flavour. In fact, in his article about this recipe in 'The Guardian', Heston Blumenthal says that seven hours is "the shortest time you should cook it for". Fortunately, it's one of those dishes that requires little preparation and only a few tweaks during its cooking: for the most part, you can leave it alone, giving yourself time to watch the live coverage of le Tour!

This recipe is from Anne Willan's excellent book French Regional Cooking. It's a one-pot dish par excellence, a tender roast surrounded by vegetables

Gigot de Sept Heures

Total time: About 7 hours (mostly unattended)

Serves: 6 to 8

Note: Don't hesitate to add generous amounts of vegetables as they lose a surprising amount of volume and contribute intense flavor to the cooking juices. To make this a one-pot meal, add unpeeled potatoes, cut in quarters, about 40 minutes before the lamb is done.

1 (2-3kg/5- to 6-pound) leg of lamb, on the bone
22 to 27 garlic cloves, divided
Salt and pepper
1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, 3 to 4 sprigs thyme and 5 to 6 parsley stems), tied with kitchen string
4 leeks (about 675g/ 1 1/2 pounds total), white and light green parts
1 medium celery root (about 675g/1 1/2 pounds)
4 large carrots (about 450g/1 pound total), peeled and each cut into four lengths
4 turnips (about 450g/1 pound total), peeled and quartered
4 onions (about 450g/1 pound total), peeled and quartered

1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Trim the meat of excess fat and any skin (fat on mature lamb can be very strong). Peel and cut 12 of the garlic cloves into slices lengthwise. Poke holes in the meat with the point of a small knife and insert the garlic slices. Tie the meat as tightly as possible with kitchen string, first across the entire length, then around the lamb at intervals of about 2 inches. Season with salt and pepper. Put it in a large, flameproof casserole with the bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon of salt and enough water to cover it by three-fourths.

2. Bring the water slowly to a boil on top of the stove, skimming often, 15 to 20 minutes. Cover the casserole and transfer it to the oven. Poach for 3 to 4 hours, checking every hour or so, turning the meat and adding more water if it evaporates rapidly. If the water starts to simmer, lower the heat as slow cooking is important.

3. Cut the leeks into 2-inch lengths, wash them and tie them in bundles of two with string. Peel and quarter the celery root and cut each piece in quarters to make 16 chunks. Season all vegetables with salt and pepper.

4. After 3 to 4 hours, or when the lamb is fairly tender when pierced with a two-pronged fork, lift it out and transfer the meat to a baking pan. Add the leeks, celery root, carrots, turnips and onions to the pot with the remaining 10 to 15 peeled garlic cloves and set the meat on top. If necessary add water so the leg is half covered. Continue cooking until the meat and vegetables are very tender, about 2 hours more.

5. To finish the dish, lift out the lamb again, place it on the baking pan, cover it with foil and set it aside. If the vegetables are not very tender, simmer them, uncovered, on top of the stove. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to a deep platter, discarding the bouquet garni and the strings for the leeks. Boil the cooking broth until well reduced and concentrated -- this may take 15 to 20 minutes. Skim the fat from the surface, taste the broth and adjust the seasoning.

Sheep in the Pyrenees

Monday, 16 July 2012


Samatan is nicknamed the "mecca" of foie gras and the capital of "pink gold". It is one of France's most ancient delicacies, and the Romans are known to have force-fed their geese with figs to fatten their livers. Today, the method of production, which many people consider very cruel, makes foie gras a 'forbidden' food in many ways.

The French Basque region's proximity to Spain is clear in its cuisine: dishes using vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, and spices like saffron and chilli. One of many local specialities is Bayonne Ham. Another is salt cod ("morue" or "bacalao"), a Basque favourite dating back to a time when cod fishing was an important regional industry. Salting was a method of preserving the fish, and its punguent flavour is ideally suited to a "basquaise" garnish of onions, garlic, tomatoes, and red and green peppers.

A good fishmonger should stock salt cod (Sandy's, in Twickenham, keeps it). It must be prepared before it is used in cooking, to wash the salt, in which it is preserved, away and to rehydrate it. Soak the salt cod for 1-2 days in water, changing the water 5 or 6 times.

Here is a recipe for Salt Cod Saint Jean, said to originate from the seaside town of St Jean Pied de Port, which has a traditional "basquaise" sauce, and contains another regional speciality, Espelette pepper, a variety of chilli pepper from the Basque country:

Serves 6

1.5 kgs salt cod
3 sweet green peppers.
2 red peppers
3 large onions.
3 cloves of garlic.
50gm flat parsley.
100gm Bayonne ham thinly sliced.
15gm breadcrumbs.
30ml tomato puree.
15gr Butter.
20cl olive oil.
1 tsp Piment d'Espelette powder.
salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the salt cod in advance.
  • Grill the red peppers in the oven or over a flame on the hob, and once the skin is blackened cover and set aside to cool. Once cool remove the skin and the seeds.
  • Remove the seed from the green peppers then slice red and green pepper into strips. 
  • Peel and chop the onions.
  • Peel the garlic cloves and chop finely.
  • Cut the Bayonne ham slices into thin strips.
  • Cook the onions in a frying pan with 2/3 of the olive oil. When soft add the Bayonne ham, half the chopped garlic and the parsley. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the sliced peppers and leave to cook for a further 10 minutes.
  • Add the tomato puree, stir and leave the mixture uncovered to cook slowly for about 1 hour.
  • Pre heat the oven to 190c.
  • Remove the ham from the sauce and set to one side. Remove and discard the parsley. Put the pepper, onion, garlic mixture into a food processor with the piment d'espelette and puree.
  • Return the ham to the sauce check for seasoning and salt if necessary.
  • Dry the salt cod, and cut into 40mm wide strips. Heat the remainder of the olive oil and the butter in a frying pan. Sprinkle the rest of the chopped garlic on the fish, then brown the fish in the pan before transferring it to a baking dish and finishing the cooking process in the oven.
    Serve the cooked fish on a bed of the sauce.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


Foix is the gateway to the Pyrenèes, and this stage marks the entry into the second mountain section of the Tour. The town of Foix is topped off with a striking Medieval castle, visible from all directions. Foix is also capital of the picturesque Ariège department, one of France’s least populous areas.

The fine food continues: this region is famous for Foie Gras - the fatty, bloated livers of ducks or geese force-fed corn. I must admit - with apologies to the faint-hearted - that I have never had a problem with eating Foie Gras. I can still recall the first time I tried it: its amazing, melt-in-the-mouth texture, its sweet smoothness, and almost chocolatey 'mouth-feel'.

Other specialities of the region include confit de canard (duck legs encased in fat), black truffles, Roquefort cheese and wines of Cahors, Gaillac and more. The blanquette is a popular dish from region. Its name means "white" and the meats in the stew (pale-coloured meats such as veal or pork) are not fried first. My mum used to make blanquette de veau in the 1970s, before veal went out of fashion with the anxieties about its production. It is becoming popular again, with rose veal now available in many supermarkets. Jamie Oliver's mate Jimmy Doherty has campaigned quite voceriferously for supermarkets to stock rose veal, and to prevent the "useless" slaughter of male calves. More here.) Veal has a delicate, sweet flavour and is very tender, but if you are anxious or put off using it, pork works well, or chicken. Veal is very popular in France, and is readily available in French butchers' shops and supermarkets.

Julia Child
I remarked in a Twitter post recently that this Gastro Tour de France is my version of 'Julie-Julia', a project which is encouraging me to cook new things and learn new culinary techniques. And so, in a hommage to the book and the film, here is Julia Child's recipe for Blanquette of Veal (quantities are American measures).

Blanquette de Veau à L’Ancienne
Serves 2

lbs. stewing veal cut into 1" pieces
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
1/2 an onion studded with 1 clove
1 half of a large carrot, peeled and cut into several pieces
a bouquet garni consisting of 1 stalk of celery, 4 parsley stems (with leaves removed), 1/2 bay leaf, &  2 thyme sprigs
9 small white onions
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp butter
9 mushrooms
3 tbsp double cream
1 egg yolk
  1. In a heavy casserole dish (Le Creuset style) or dutch oven, place the veal and cover with water by 2 inches (you may want to season the veal with salt before this step). Simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the water and veal through a strainer. Rinse off the veal and clean out the cooking pot.
  2. Return the veal to the pot and add the chicken stock to cover the veal by 1/2 inch. Bring the veal to a simmer. Skim any remaining scum from the surface. Once the scum has subsided, add the onion, carrot, and bouquet garni. Season the sauce lightly with salt. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and cook the veal at a simmer for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  3. While the veal is cooking, cook the onions: Peel the onions and cut a cross in the root end. Place the onions, a 1/4 cup of the stock from the cooking veal, 1/2 tbsp of butter, and a pinch of salt in a sauce pan. Cover and lightly simmer for 50 minutes.
  4. When the veal is finished cooking, pour the contents through a strainer into a bowl. Return the veal to the dutch oven and discard the vegetables. In a sauce pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp of butter and then whisk in 1 tbsp of flour. Cook for 1 minute. Off heat, whisk in the stock from the veal and any remaining liquid from the onions once they have finished. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle the mushrooms with a few drops of lemon juice. Add the mushrooms to the sauce mixture and simmer for another 10 minutes. Check the seasoning of the sauce.
  6. Pour the sauce into the dutch oven with the veal. Add 1 tbsp of cream. Place the dutch oven over medium heat.
  7. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk with 2 tbsp of cream. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot sauce from the cooking pot then add the mixture back into the dutch oven.
  8. Simmer the mixture for a few minutes to warm the contents.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


After a gruelling few days in the Alps, the Tour heads for the coast of the south of France. Today's stage finish is the Mediterranean seaside resort of Cap d'Agde in the Hérault departement of the Languedoc-Rousillon region. Cap d'Agde boasts a popular nudist beach, but I doubt the cyclists will be venturing anywhere near it when they arrive in the town!

The Languedoc-Roussillon region is dominated by 740,300 acres (2,996 km2) of vineyards, three times the combined area of the vineyards in Bordeaux. Some of the best known wines of this region include Corbières, Minervois AOC, Faugères, Saint-Chinian AOC, and the sparkling Crémant de Limoux, which is made by the méthode champenoise. 

As well as wine, the region also boasts a fine food heritage, with olive oil the basis of most cooking in this region. À la languedocienne means garnished with garlic, tomatoes, aubergines and cèpes (mushrooms), while à la catalan indicates a rich tomato sauce. A regional speciality I have enjoyed on holiday in this part of France is aligot, a deliciously smooth puree of potatoes, cheese and cream. Beef from the Camargue has its own AOC rating, and is often cooked stuffed with Camargue red rice. Other regional specialities include snails, monkfish, local seafood, suckling lamb, olives, crème catalane, a lemon, vanilla, and fennel seed custard, Brandade (salt cod), Tapenade (olive paste), and l'Ollada, a rich stew. Food from this region is heavily influenced by Spanish and Moorish cuisine.

My absolute favourite dish of all also comes from this region: Cassoulet, that classic stew of duck (or goose) with Toulouse sausages in a rich and aromatic white bean sauce. I could cheat here and simply reproduce my Cassoulet recipe (one which I know off by heart), but since this Gastro Tour is supposed to be a culinary journey for me as well as for the reader, I decided to try something new. Browsing various Languedoc food websites, I found a mouth-watering array of dishes - all of which I wanted to cook! In the end, I settled for Bourride, another classic of the region, a delicate Mediterranean seafood stew spiked with fiery chilli, orange zest and aioli (garlic mayonnaise) or rouille (spicy mayonnaise - the word literally means "rusty" in French). As you might expect, there are numerous variants of Bourride, and you can, and should, vary the types of fish and seafood used in the dish according to availability.


  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 50 ml vegetable oil
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed   
(to turn this into rouille, simply add a teaspoonful of harissa paste - or buy a jar of ready made rouille. Waitrose keep it, and you can buy it in any French supermarket.)

For the stew
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1/4 red peppers
  • 1 tbsp chopped celery
  • 1 tsp strands saffron
  • 1 bird's eye chilli, chopped
  • 1/2 orange, grated zest only
  • 500 ml chicken stock
  • 1 x 150 g halibut fillets, cut into chunks (or any mixture of firm-fleshed fish)
  • 1 x 150 g red mullet fillets, cut into chunks (ditto)
  • 100 g white scallops (optional)
  • 50 g cooked prawns, or shrimps
  • 4 triangles fried bread, to serve 
1. For the garlic mayonnaise: in a bowl combine the egg yolks, mustard and lemon juice. Gradually whisk in the oils until combined and thickened. Be careful not to add the oils too quickly or the mixture will curdle, but it is not disastrous if the mixture splits as it will be blended later. Stir in the garlic and season with salt and pepper.

2. For the stew: heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Gently fry the shallots, pepper and celery until softened.

3. Add the saffron, chilli and orange zest, followed by the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer briefly.

4. Add the fish in the order that it takes to cook, gently simmering until it just changes colour between each addition. Begin with the halibut, followed by the red mullet and finally the scallop and shrimp. The shrimp will just need warming through.

5. Take the pan off heat and drain all the liquid into a blender, reserving the fish in the pan.

6. Blend the liquid adding the mayonnaise a spoonful at a time, tasting as you go. Stop when the mixture begins to thicken - you may not need all of the mayonnaise.

7. Pour the mixture back onto the fish and warm through before serving, garnished with the fried bread. 

Friday, 13 July 2012


Another mountain stage, but perhaps a little less punishing that the previous stage. The peloton heads into the Ardeche region, famous for its rustic food and wine. The chestnut (châtaigne) is the pre-eminent foodstuff in this region, used to make marrons glaces (candied chestnuts) and many other dishes, including a sweet chestnut soup called cousina.

You can buy sweetened chestnut purée in cans or tubes in any French supermarket, and in some UK supermarkets (Waitrose keep it). When I was little, my mum often had a can of it in her larder, for making Mont Blanc (meringue topped with chesnut purée and cream) and as a filling for crèpes. It was a little taste of France before I ever visited the country, in a tin with Art Nouveau decorations (the tin hasn't changed much over the years!). Whenever I'm in France, I always buy chestnut purée in the supermarket.

Here's a recipe for a rich yet light, flourless chestnut cake that's easy to make - and even easier to eat!

Tarte de Purée des Chataignes
(Chestnut Puree Tart)
1 x 500g can sweetened chestnut purée
80g butter
5 eggs, separated
Dark chocolate to garnish

Grease and line a large deep 9-inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350F.
  • Melt the 80g butter in the microwave or on the stove. Set aside to cool slightly.
  • Separate the eggs. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks together with the chestnut purée until the mixture becomes light and thick (the goal is to beat as much air into the mixture as possible. Then, a little at a time, beat in the melted butter. Set aside.
  • Beat the egg whites to the stiff-peak stage. Then add them to the egg yolk-chestnut purée mixture by spoonfuls and use a spatula to fold the whites carefully in.
  • When the oven is ready, pour the batter into the tin and place gently in the oven. Don't bang the oven door, as the mixture at this point is more like a souffle than anything else. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Keep an eye on the browning of the top of the tart: you don't want it too dark. If this starts happening, carefully open and close the oven door to let some heat out: then lower the oven heat slightly and bake for a few minutes longer.
  • The tart will puff up considerable while baking. Once removed from the oven, it will start to collapse. Don't panic, as this is normal. While still hot, use a very fine grater (a lemon-zest-size grater works well) to grate bitter baking chocolate over the whole top of the tart. It will melt onto the tart's top. You may want to do several layers of this.
  • Allow the tart to cool. (If you like, you might want to drizzle melted chocolate over it.) Slice and serve with thick cream, whipped cream, pouring custard or a good-quality vanilla ice-cream.


Thursday, 12 July 2012


Twenty years after Albertville hosted the Winter Olympics, the riders set out on a relatively short course (140 km) with a substantial agenda: two hors categorie climbs, including the Col de la Madeleine (1932m), and first and second category climbs.

Mention the Alps and most people think "fondue", a dish which is popular in the Alpine regions of both France and Switzerland. Fondue is simply a dish of melted cheese over a spirit lamp into which cubes of bread are dipped using long forks. In the 1930s Fondue was promoted as a national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union, but the earliest documented mention of fondue comes from a 1699 Swiss book in which it was described as "Käss mit Wein zu kochen" ('to cook cheese with wine'). It calls for grated or cubed cheese to be melted with wine, and for bread to be dipped in it.

A classic cheese fondue is made from wine, cheese and seasoning. It is often served with pickles, salami, boiled potatoes and salad.  It's a great way of using up old pieces of cheese and stale bread, and I suspect that fondue originated as a way of using up leftovers (possibly the origin of Tartiflette as well).  Fondue is a very convivial dish: gather around the bubbling bowl of cheese with a group of friends, and get dipping. Some people insist of 'forfeits' for those whose bread drops into the bowl!

A proper fondue set with a spirit heater is essential as the cheese needs to be kept at an even temperature to prevent it going stringy. Start the cheese mixture off in the fondue bowl on the hob and transfer to fondue stand over the spirit heater when it is ready to eat.

Fondue Savoyard
Serves 4 

275g/10oz gruyere cheese
275g/10oz emmenthal cheese
1 garlic clove, cut in half
300-400ml/10-14fl oz white wine
5 tbsp kirsch (optional)
1 tbsp cornflour
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of nutmeg

To serve
600g crusty white bread or slightly stale baguette, cut into cubes
Cornichons, salami, green salad
  • Rub the cut edges of the garlic clove around an earthenware fondue set.
  • Pour in the wine and heat until just simmering.
  • Add the cheese and stir constantly with a wooden spoon.
  • When the mixture is bubbly but not burning, stir in the cornflour blended with two tablespoons of kirsch.
  • Add the pepper and nutmeg and continue stirring.
  • Transfer to a fondue stove on the table.
  • Take care not to let the fondue burn and make sure it is always being stirred.
  • Place the rest of the kirsch in a dipping bowl and dip the bread into this before dipping into the cheese fondue.
It is customary to enjoy fondue with a chilled Savoie wine.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


After a rest day in Mâcon, the riders head to the real mountains, in a new stage which features the Col du Grand Colombier, a hors categorie (literally "beyond categorisation") mountain, which will impress the riders as much by its fearsome gradients as its picture-postcard scenery.

Now that the Tour is in the Alps "proper", I must mention one of my absolute favourites of the Savoie region, Tartiflette, that warming gratin of layers of sliced potato and onion, with smoked bacon, cream and Reblochon cheese. Comforting and filling, it's just the thing when you've been out skiing or walking in the mountains. We've had many holidays in the Alps, in and around Les Gets and the Portes de Soleil, in winter (skiing/snowboarding) and summer (downhill mountainbiking), and one of our favourite suppers is Tartiflette pizza, eaten at L'Optraken on the main square in Les Gets. (They also do a very fine fondue and great rustic salads, and other Savoyard specialities.) In fact, dare I say it, the pizzas I've had in the Alps are better than any I've had in Italy....

Reblochon cheese

There's no great art to making a Tartiflette pizza, and if you're feeling lazy you could buy a ready-made pizza base. (I make pizzas from a basic white bread dough and roll the dough out very thinly when I make the base. A very hot oven is also a key to a successful pizza.) So, roll out a base and just assemble the topping: spread a few tablespoonsful of creme fraiche over the rolled out pizza base and top with slices of cooked potatoes (preferably waxy potato like Charlotte) and Reblochon cheese, smoked bacon lardons and onions thinly sliced and fried gently with sliced garlic until golden. An optional extra is sliced mushrooms.

Cook in a hot oven until the Reblochon is melted and the topping is just starting to brown. I find pizzas are best served if left to "rest" for 5 mins after they come out of the oven. But you might be feeling too greedy/hungry to wait to try this. Enjoy with a cold beer or a glass of Savoie wine such as Apremont, Chignin or Crepy.

Tartiflette pizza

For a traditional Tartiflette recipe and other Savoyard specialities see my earlier post on Alpine food here

Monday, 9 July 2012


Stage 9 is an individual time trial, and the 40km course could carry a lot of weight come the end of the race.

Food from this region is rich in cream and cheese, and having cooked quite a few meals so far using these ingredients, I feel the need for a mild "detox"with a dish made from fish. Quenelles (dumplings) are a French classic, and I am sorry to confess I have never made them, before now. I remember sampling them in Lyon, and I have often seen them, ready-made, in French supermarkets. Not strictly from Besancon, quenelles are a regional speciality of Lyon and the Rhone-Alpes, and a particular speciality from Nantua is the pike quenelle with crayfish sauce (there are many lakes and rivers in this area). A quenelle is a light dumpling made from minced fish (or meat), poached in a stock and served with a sauce. The term quenelle also refers to the shape, a sort of neat rugby ball, which is formed by pressing the mixture between two dessert spoons.


I can think of no better guide for the ingénue quenelle maker then Raymond Blanc, and the novitiate need look no further than this link to Blanc's TV series 'The Very Hungry Frenchman' for an easy-to-follow recipe for a classic quenelle (and other delicious French regional dishes).

Sunday, 8 July 2012


A medium mountain stage, which promises to be very demanding as it will be short and difficult (157.7 kms and seven mountains). The Tour enters the Jura, historically part of the Free County of Burgundy, and one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution. Jura is a wine-making region, famous for its vin jaune ("yellow wine") which is made by a similar process to sherry, developing under a flor of yeast, from the savagnin grape. Undiscovered by mass tourism, Jura boasts some little-known and very distinctive wines. Enjoy a glass of sparkling crémant or vin jaune with a platter of charcuterie, cheese and cornichons.

Local specialities include Toétché, a leavened flat bread with a savoury sour cream filling which was traditionally made on a Saturday along with a plaited loaf, and is served as an appetiser; saucisse d'Ajoie, a smoked sausage; chèvre salée, salted goat meat cooked in a pot au feu; raclette jurassienne, a fondue made from Bleu de Gex cheese, and spread over boiled potatoes, charcuterie and pickles; damassine, a liqueur distilled from the damassine prune; and galette comtoise and papet jurassien, sweet tarts with an egg filling scented with orange flower water. The lakes and rivers of the Jura are home to pike, trout, crayfish and eel, and there is no shortage of game in the region either.

Fillet of guinea fowl in a Comté and potato 'pastry'
Serves 4

I found this recipe on a Franche-Comté regional website. The 'pastry' is in fact thin slices of potato. If you can't find guinea fowl, use corn-fed chicken.

250 g of Comté cheese, 
4 guinea fowl fillets
600 g of very large potatoes
salt & pepper

30 g of shallots
10 cl of white wine,
150 g of butter, salt, pepper


250 g of chanterelles
250 g of pied de mouton mushrooms
250 g of black chanterelles

Wash the mushrooms, sweat them in the butter, and drain them, being careful to keep the juice. Fry the shallots until transparent and soft, add the white wine and reduce slightly. Add the juice from the mushrooms. Reduce by 1/4, thicken with the butter and season.

Prepare the guinea fowl fillets and season with salt and pepper.

Peel the potatoes and using a mandoline, slice them lengthways, and then spread the slices out, so that they form a lattice work, like the tiles of a roof. Spread fine slices of Comté over the potatoes. Place a guinea fowl fillet and cover with slices of comté. Cover the whole with slices of potato. Fry the fillets until lightly coloured, in a non-stick frying pan, with a little olive oil.

Once they are coloured on every side, finish off in the oven at 180°C for 10 minutes.

Place the mushrooms in a plate. Place a fillet on top and pour the sauce over.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


The Tour nudges at the edge of the mountains today, though this stage is a mere trifle compared to what is to come: two third-category climbs and a nasty hilltop finish into the ski station of La Planche des Belles Filles, the quaintly named Bench of the Pretty Girls, a town in the Haute-Saone department, in the Franche-Comté region. The gastronomy of this region is famous, from the Comté cheese to Saucisse de Morteaux, a sausage smoked for 48 hours in a "Tuyé" (traditional chimney) and with its own AOC. Food from the mountains has a practical origin: it needed to last through the long winter, hence lots of cured meats, cheeses, bottled fruits and vegetables, and warming liqueurs.

Comté is a relatively hard cheese, pale creamy yellow with a strong, slightly sweet flavour. Most Comté cheeses are aged from 12 to 18 months. It makes an ideal accompaniment to red and white wine, and is excellent in sandwiches and 'toasties'. Use it in souffles and fondues too.

Haute-Saone is home to kirsch and many other fruit brandies, Morbiflette, a cousin of the Savoie Tartiflette, made with Morbier cheese, Potée Comtoise, a slowly simmered hotpot that includes smoked meats, sausages, vegetables and lard, and Croute aux morilles, morel mushrooms cooked in a rich cream sauce and served with slices of rustic bread. And many other recipes using morel mushrooms gathered from the forest.

fresh morel mushrooms

As a tribute to the cuisine of this region, I am making a supper dish of chicken in a rich mushroom sauce. While this Gastro Tour de France may be encouraging me to shop for food like a French housewife (i.e. every day), sadly, I do not have the range of food shops or a wonderful market nearby, so a little improvisation is necessary. I bought mixed dried wild mushrooms from Waitrose and soaked them before adding them to a sauce of chopped chestnut mushrooms and garlic. The sauce will be finished with white wine, cream and parsley. This is, in effect, a simple coq au vin with wild mushrooms.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Although this blog mainly focuses on food and wine from the stage finish towns and regions, we could hardly write about French gastronomy without mentioning Épernay's most famous export, Champagne.

Champagne is primarily made from the grape varieties Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, and the strict rules of its production state that it must be fermented a second time to produce its distinctive fizz. Champagne has long been associated with high luxury, celebration, festivals and rites of passage. It first gained world renown because of its association with the anointment of French kings. Royalty from throughout Europe spread the message of the unique sparkling wine from Champagne and its association with luxury and power in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and the leading manufacturers devoted considerable energy to creating a history and identity for their wine, associating it and themselves with nobility and royalty, a trend which continues today. Because of the strict appellation laws, only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region may be called 'Champagne'. Sparkling wines such as Cava (Spain) and Prosecco (Italy) are made by the same process, but cannot be called 'Champagne'.

Leaving the vineyards around Épernay, the Tour heads east, the peloton making its inexorable way towards the Alps and the extreme challenges of the high mountains. Metz, the stage finish, is a city in the north-east of France, and sits at the confluence of the Moselle and Seille rivers. It is capital of the Lorrain region; perhaps the most famous dish from this area is the Quiche Lorraine, in effect a simple egg and bacon tart. Real Quiche Lorraine, such as the elegant little savoury tarts with a crisp pastry shell you find in a French delicatessen, is really delicious and a long way from the flabby ersatz versions found in UK supermarkets, with soggy pastry and a claggy, tasteless filling.

Metz has a rich and varied cuisine, and many dishes use the Mirabelle plum which is grown in the region - tarts, jams, and liqueurs. Another local speciality is paté lorrain en croute, a coarse terrine of chopped and marinaded pork (and sometimes veal and rabbit) cooked in a crisp, puff pastry case. It makes a superb entree, served hot, and needs only a crisp green salad as an accompaniment.

Serves 8
  • 350gm puff pastry(ready made or homemade)
  • 450gm shoulder or neck of pork
  • 4 shallots.
  • 20gm parsley 
  • 1 glass of dry white wine
  • 10gm salt and 1gm pepper
Cut the pork in strips; mince the shallots over the pork and add the parsley; salt and pepper to taste and pour on a large glass of dry white wine. Leave to marinade for at least 12 hours.

Roll out the pastry: cut out a long rectangular piece. Pour off the marinade and place the pork mix on the pastry; cover it with the remainder of the pastry making sure the crust sticks to the pastry base, folding it over if need be. Brush the crust with egg yolk and place the dish on a well-greased plaque. Bake for an hour in a hot oven (200°C).

To accompany paté lorrain, why not try a Moselle wine - light and aromatic with a crisp acidity.


196.3 km + 1 sprint

Stage 5 of Le Tour finishes in St Quentin in Picardy in the Aisne departement. Usually home to the Tour of Picardy, this largely flat stage should play into the sprinters' hands.

Picardy boasts some fine cheeses, and local fresh vegetable, such as white beans from Soissons, while Amiens is famous for its pate en croute, a delicate duck liver and mushroom terrine encased in a crisp pastry case. Other specialities of the region include flamiche (called "flamique" in the Picardy dialect), the Picarde version of quiche lorraine, a pie of leeks (poireaux) in a bechamel sauce. Chantilly is of course the home of the sweetened whipped cream, and Amiens is famous for its macaroons made from egg whites, ground almonds, sugar and honey. Cider is a popular beverage in this region.

Ficelle Picarde

Another local speciality is the Ficelle Picarde (literally, "Picardy string"), a crepe stuffed with ham, mushrooms and shallots, and topped off with a rich cheese sauce. Like flamiche, this dish represents typically northern French convivial, homely, simple cooking.

Serves 8

For the crèpes
150g plain flour
3 eggs
50ml milk

4 slices of cooked ham
250g mushrooms
250g shallots
50g butter
25ml double cream
75g grated Emmental cheesesalt and pepper

Make the pancake batter with the flour, whole eggs, milk and a pinch of salt, leave to stand for 20 minutes.

Peel the mushrooms, shallots and chop them finely. Gently fry the chopped shallots in butter on a low heat for 30 minutes, add the mushrooms, stir together and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of cream, salt, pepper and stir to combine.

Make the pancakes. Fill each pancake with half a slice of ham, one and a half tablespoons of onion mushroom mix, roll up the pancake, place in a small lightly buttered dish, cover each ficelle with the rest of the cream and sprinkle with grated cheese.

Brown in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve with a green salad and a glass of chilled French cider.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


Jaques Anquetil
Rouen was the stronghold of French cyclist Jacques Anquetil, who won his first stage in his home city, and then went on to be the first cyclist to win the Tour five times. It was also the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

Rouen was the "second city" and has a rich pastry background, including the choux pastry favourites éclairs au café et au chocolat, the religieuse, a sort of cottage loaf shaped éclair, and the Paris-Brest, a circle of choux pastry, sprinkled with flaked almonds and baked, with a sweetened whipped cream or crème patisserie filling. 

Another speciality of the region is the macaroon, not those big chewy, cherry-topped discs with a base of rice paper as found in English bakeries, but elegant little sweetmeats, sandwiched together with a creamy ganache. The French macaroon company Laduree has made these pretty little biscuits very popular, and they now come in all manner of flavours and colours, including rose (pink), pistachio (delicate green), and liquorice (black). They are not hard to make and are perfect served with good strong coffee, or afternoon tea. I use Yotam Ottolenghi's foolproof recipe for perfect results.

110g icing sugar
50 ground almonds
12g cocoa powder
2 free-range egg whites (60g)
40g caster sugar 

Ganache filling
65g dark chocolate
15g unsalted butter
50ml double cream
2 tsp dark rum

Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment. Oven 170ºC.

Start with the ganache. Chop up the chocolate into tiny pieces and the butter into small dice. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just boils and then pour over the chocolate and butter pieces. Stir with a rubber spatula until you have a smooth mixture. Stir in the rum. Cover with cling film and leave somewhere cool for a few hours. Don't let it go too hard as you need to be able to spoon it between the macaroons.

Sift the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa together in a bowl. Put the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, and whisk on full speed until the whites have formed a thick, aerated meringue, but not too dry. Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the icing sugar/almond mix, then add another third and the final third until you have a smooth, glossy mixture.

'Glue' the baking parchment to the baking sheet with a blob of the macaroon mixture, and then spoon or pipe small amounts (about the size of a two-pound coin) of mix onto the sheet. Hold the tray firmly and tap its underside vigorously. Leave the macaroons uncovered to set for 15 mins before baking for about 12 minutes.

Allow to cool before sandwiching the discs together with the chocolate ganache. There are myriad variants on this theme - Ottolenghi includes Salty Peanut and Caramel, and Lime and Basil in his eponymous cookbook, and I also saw Violet Macaroons (made with Parma Violet sweets) on The Great British Bake Off last year (recipes here).

Tuesday, 3 July 2012


The flat coastal plain of the Pas de Calais is famous for chicken and turkey farming, asparagus and chicory, a regional cheese called Maroilles, Betises de Cambrai (hard mint sweets), smoked garlic from Arleux, andouillette (white sausage), as well as moules (mussels) and other seafood. There is a distinctly Flemish influence on the food of this region: a popular dish is Waterzooi, a stew made from fish or chicken with boiled vegetables. Food from this region is rich with cream and butter

Today's stage of Le Tour takes in some of the infamous sections of pavé (cobbles) which feature in the great one-day Classic, the Paris-Roubaix, before heading towards the coast. The stage ends with a long ascent, which will provide an exciting finale for spectators.

Chicory has a bitter, rather acquired taste (like olives, and gin) when raw (though a good addition to a salad of creamy Roquefort or goat's cheese), but when braised it takes on a delicious silky sweetness. The French call it endive, the pragmatic Belgians witloof ('white leaf'). Chicory are forced in warmth and darkness throughout the cold months to produce their distinctive white leaves and bitter taste.

Chicory makes an excellent gratin, cooked with bacon (which compliments the bitterness), cream and cheese. And here's a dish from food writer and cook Elisabeth Luard for Poulet à la biere aux endives (chicken in beer with chicory), a classic Belgian/northern French dish:

Serves 4

1 chicken, jointed
2 tablespoons seasoned flour
4 chicory heads (endives)
1 large leek
1 large carrot
3 garlic cloves
3-4 oz unsalted butter
1/2 pint Belgian beer (or any light full-strength beer)
1/4 pint double cream 
Salt and pepper

Vegetables: quarter the endives vertically, trim and chunk the leeks, scrape and slice the carrots, skin and crush the garlic.

Set half the butter to heat in a roomy casserole and put in the quartered endives. Let them brown a little. Remove and reserve.

Add the rest of the butter to the hot juices in the casserole and fry the chicken joints gently, turning the pieces until they brown a little all over. Push the chicken to one side, and add the chopped leeks, carrot and garlic. Let them sizzle for 3-4 minutes.

Pour in the beer and let everything bubble up. Tuck in the endives, season with salt and pepper, lid and turn down the heat. Let the pot simmer gently for an hour, until the chicken is tender; add a little water if necessary. Pile the meat and vegetables onto a hot plate.

Stir the cream into the remaining juices in the casserole, adjust the seasoning (perhaps a little sugar?), and reheat.

Pour the sauce over all and serve piping hot, with brown bread for mopping.

Monday, 2 July 2012


To celebrate today's stage, the recipe for a typical Tournaisienne dish, rabbit with prunes (Lapin à la Tournaisienne). It is traditionally served on Lost Monday (the first Monday after Epiphany) – and pretty much all the rest of the year as well. You might want to accompany your Lapin with Tournai's own Trappist St Martin beer or perhaps liqueur de chicon, made with endives

Rabbit used to be fairly widely available in UK supermarkets, but I think a general sqeamishness and dislike of eating cute fluffy animals has seen it disappear except from more specialist retailers (though I occasionally find it in Waitrose). Go to a proper butcher (if you can find one) for joints of rabbit. Or substitute with chicken thighs (but do buy the ones with the bone in, as these are more succulent and lend themselves to slow cooking). This is definitely one of those dishes which improves with being allowed to steep in its own gamey juices, so make it in advance and then heat it up before serving. And it does need to be cooked slow and long to prevent the rabbit becoming tough.

We enjoyed this wholesome, hearty dish with Orval, another trappist beer local to Tournai, followed by a pudding of Liège waffles with strawberries and ice-cream.

Serves 4

1 rabbit, jointed (or sufficient chicken thighs)
4 onions
2 tbsps of plain flour
12 prunes
a bit of butter or baking oil
1 litre of beer (Belgian, naturally)
A fresh bay leaf and a sprig of thyme

Heat a casserole with the butter and the baking oil, put the pieces in it and brown them.
Remove the pieces from the casserole, lower the heat a little, and lightly fry the chopped onions. Then add a big spoon of flour and mix very quickly. Drizzle with beer. Put the pieces back, add the rest of the beer so the ingredients are completely covered. Add salt and pepper (to taste), bay and thyme. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 2 hours if using rabbit joints until the meat is soft and falling away from the bone.

Add the prunes thirty minutes before the cooking is finished. Mix them gently with the pieces of rabbit. Serve with frites and a fine Belgian beer of your choice.

Vive le Tour!

Sunday, 1 July 2012


The first road stage, 198 km, is from Liège to Seraing, a Walloon municipality in the province of Liège. Liège is a significant place-name in cycling for it is the start of one of the greatest and oldest "Classics", the Liège-Bastogne-Liège one day race.

Stages such as this favour the “Puncheurs” (strong cyclists with explosive speed which they use on short, but steep gradients with sudden attacks), and make for exciting viewing as the riders are fresh and full of energy. The opening stages of Le Tour are always anxious: nervous fingers twitching on brake levers, and lots of psychological argy-bargy as the riders start to settle in for three weeks of racing. These early stages are often marred by accidents, usually near the end of the race.

Everyone knows that aside from mussels and frites, and beer, Belgian's most iconic food is the waffle (gaufre). Waffles are made from a leavened batter rather like brioche, and are cooked in a waffle iron. They have been made in Belgium since the Middle Ages. Liege waffles have distinctive crinkly edges and a denser, more chewy texture than their Brussels copains. They contain nuggets of pearl sugar which caramelise throughout the waffle due to its high melting point, and give the waffles their unique sweet flavour and texture. You can buy waffles all over Belgium; they are best eaten hot from a street vendor. They are often served with fruit and a dollop of whipped cream, or with ice-cream, drizzled with chocolate sauce.

The café/boulangerie chain Le Pain Quotidien (branches around London) does a pretty good Liège waffle (with toppings), and you can generally find them in more upmarket supermarkets. Don't be tempted to buy those flabby square waffles that come in a stack of six - they just aren't the same (though they do toast quite well!)