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Showing posts from July, 2012

STAGE 20: RAMBOUILLET - PARIS-CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES

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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 wo…

STAGE 19: BONNEVAL - CHARTRES

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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 i…

STAGE 18: BLAGNAC - BRIVE-LA-GAILLARDE

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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 a…

STAGE 17: BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON - PEYRAGUDES

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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 wordgarb, 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…

STAGE 16: PAU - BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON

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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.

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 …

STAGE 15: SAMATAN - PAU

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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, ke…

STAGE 14: LIMOUX - FOIX

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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 n…

STAGE 13: SAINT-PAUL-TROIS-CHÂTEAUX - CAP D'AGDE

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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 sp…

STAGE 12: SAINT-JEAN-DE-MAURIENNE - ANNONAY DAVÉZIEUX

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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…

STAGE 11: ALBERTVILLE - LA TOUSSUIRE-LES SYBELLES

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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…

STAGE 10: MÂCON - BELLEGARDE-SUR-VALSERINE

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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 specialiti…

STAGE 9: ARC-ET-SENANS - BESANÇON

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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…

STAGE 8: BELFORT - PORRENTRUY

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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 c…

STAGE 7: TOMBLAINE - LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES

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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-Saon…

STAGE 6: ÉPERNAY - METZ

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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 …

STAGE 5: ROUEN - ST QUENTIN

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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.


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

STAGE 4: ABBEVILLE - ROUEN

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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 favouriteséclairs 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…

STAGE 3: TOURNAI - BOULOGNE SUR MER

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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 en…

STAGE 2: SERAING TO TOURNAI

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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 servin…

STAGE 1: LIÈGE - SERAING

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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 Bel…