OFF TO MARKET WE GO
Our final day in Lyon. We woke up to sunshine pouring in between the cracks in the curtains and rolled out of bed and down to the dining room for breakfast. Over coffee, orange juice and our newspapers, we discussed the only one must-do-today on our list before heading off to Annecy: the market. And not just any market. Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, the nec plus ultra of this city’s markets, the Mecca for gourmets and gourmands alike. We had seen the rest of the city, the archeology museum and the old Roman ruins, the bourgeois luxury of Centreville, we had eaten in the bouchons and wandered in and out of traboules, we basked in the atmosphere of this old, glorious city and now we had a full morning for discovering Les Halles.
You see, we are market fiends. Wherever we travel, whether small town, country village or cosmopolitan metropolis, we search out the market: sprawling across a paved parking lot, tiny booths gathered in the town square or multi-storied covered complex, we are drawn as moths to a flame. We collect markets as others collect stamps or coins, with the same glee as teens collect autographs, the same satisfaction with which vamps collect broken hearts. While other tourists are sitting in sidewalk cafes or searching out the famous monuments, we, camera in hand, are heading towards the market.
Budapest, Bilbao or Brest, we adore meandering the alleyways, discovering the unusual ingredients, the local specialties. Most of our summer in the tiny, picturesque port town of Le Conquet on the Brittany coast was spent wandering in and out of the noisy market stalls, buying scoops of bigorneaux, bulots, huge, plump crabs right out of the ocean. Throwing in a sweet kouign amann or slices of dense, prune-studded far we had for the perfect meal. The vast three-story Central Market in Budapest, vibrant and full of fabulous treasures, was as exciting an attractions as the gorgeous, jewel box of an Opera House where we heard Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, entranced, or the Old World Tea Salons with their velvet chairs, gilded fixtures, carpeted floors, the rich, thick slices of Dobos Torte and cherry tart eaten amid the ghosts of aristocrats past. Our final day in Bilbao, that glorious city of Basque cuisine and contemporary art, was spent at the Ensanche Market in the old part of town, staring at slices of blood red cured meats, chains of sausages, delicate powdered sugar cookies inviting us from behind their glass windows. Markets. We simply can never get enough.
So is it any wonder that our last, our final morning in the glorious, gastronomic city of Lyon was spent at the Les Halles Paul Bocuse, the wonderful enclosed marketplace? Nothing is left of the original mid-19th century Les Halles des Cordeliers, the covered market built to regroup many of the cities fast-disappearing markets. The modern glass building now the home of just under 60 commerçants and restaurants was finished in the early 70s and has evolved into the haut lieu of la gastronomie lyonnaise, rather surprising when one steps into the glass and cement building. If one doesn’t take too close a look at the stalls, if one only glances around at the basic lines, walls, floors, ceilings, bathrooms, one could easily imagine that one is standing in an average American high school gymnasium!
But begin your voyage… wander up and down the alleys, the multitude of alleys, it seems to go on forever, take that first, quick glance at the elegant glass cases filled with perfect rounds of every imaginable type of cheese sitting in picture-perfect straw baskets, the rows upon rows of marinated vegetables, olives, salads, perfectly aligned sardines glistening in their tiny individual containers, the urchins, shrimps, clams, crabs, the garnet red meats, raw, cured and smoked, stacked up or spread out in mouthwatering temptation, the huge bunches of sausages dangling from shiny aluminum racks like so many ballgowned debutantes waiting for the next dance. And the pastries, luscious, amazingly intricate, graciously decorated pastries sitting proudly, flaunting their beauty, trying to outshine the perfect little chocolates nestled in rows beside them.
I want one of everything! JP pulls me over after our first run through and sits me down on a bar stool and orders us coffees. It is too early for lunch and a snack he won’t hear of! He has his heart set on escargots and he is loathe to ruin his appetite, and as guardian of mine, he will not let me fill up on anything before that plate of steaming, fragrant snails is set before me, the better to savor every single mouthful.
Coffee cup drained, I leave JP to his newspaper purloined from the barman and stroll back and forth between the merchants, snapping pictures, pressing my nose against the panes of glass as I oooh and ahhhh over each luscious delicacy, each perfect pastry, breath in the heady, briny odor of seafood, the pungency of the cheeses, the spicy scent of the sausages. He finally joins me and pulls me away from my overzealous admiration and informs me that we must choose the best place to eat lunch. We walk back and forth between the tiny restaurants hidden behind bars and seafood displays, read menu after menu as he tries to remember what he has read about each spot. We find ourselves in front of La Maison Rousseau, all wood paneling, brass railings and an air of the sea, le marin, about it. It looks promising but it is still too early, no diners with plates piled high with seafood or sipping bowls of steaming bouillabaisse to inform us. But he believes he has heard great things of this restaurant from friends so in we go.
Giggling and excited like kids expecting a surprise, we order our escargots and a glass of chilled white wine apiece. The much-awaited plates are finally placed before us and the heavenly, divine, fragrant garlic-infused steam rises and coils up around our heads making us giddy. Each plump, chewy snail is tucked inside his own golden swirl of a shell, bathing in the rich buttery jus, le beurre d’escargots, the garlicky, parsley green butter created for these babies, a perfect marriage. We delicately scoop out each thick snail careful to avoid being spit on by boiling butter, and slide it onto our tongue. Soft pieces of freshly baked bread are used to soak up more of the golden green liquid and are popped into our mouth. The chilled, slightly pungent bite of the wine is cool respite from the zesty, rich, sinful flavor of the snails. This is truly our idea of decadence!
And what more perfect way to end our wonderful few days in this magical city?
Here are two wonderful recipes, true comfort food in my home, a way to cleanse the system after indulging in richer, heavier more decadent fare. The perfect, flavorful risotto made with a seasonal selection of vegetables, some steamed, some roasted, some sautéed. And finished off with a handful of freshly grated, tangy, salty Parmesan cheese. And follow it with a slice of one of my favorite cakes, a light, tender chocolate sponge cake, the perfect backdrop for a dollop of freshly whipped cream, one perfect scoop of your favorite ice cream or sorbet or simply served with a tumble of berries. Or plain, just as it is, with coffee for breakfast the next day.
9 oz (250 g) round rice for risotto, Arborio, Vialone Nano or Carnaroli
@ 5 cups (1 ½ l) warm chicken or vegetable stock
2 shallots, finely diced
1 small to medium-sized carrot, trimmed, peeled and finely diced
1 red pepper
½ bunch thin green asparagus
½ cup of oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and patted with a paper towel then sliced into strips
½ tsp chopped dried thyme leaves and 1/4 tsp chopped dried rosemary
2 Tbs freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Butter or margarine and olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese or more to taste + to serve
Trim the asparagus and cook in salted boiling water for 3 – 5 minutes until tender but not mushy. They can be slightly crunchy if you prefer. Drain and rinse under cold water then pat dry. Slice into 1-inch long (2 cm) chunks and set aside.
Trim and seed the red pepper and cut into 6 or 8 chunks and roast in the oven under the grill until charred and tender. Remove from the oven and slip the roasted slices of pepper into a small plastic sandwich bag and leave for just a few minutes: the heat will condense and the moisture will get under the skin and make slipping off the skin easier. Remove from the sandwich bag and, using a sharp paring knife, slip off the skin. Cut the tender pepper “meat” into largish bite- sized pieces. Put aside.
Trim and cut the zucchini into large dice. Place a tablespoon of olive oil and a knob of margarine in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add the zucchini dice and, tossing often, sauté until browned. Remove from the pan and add about 2 tablespoons butter or margarine and an equal amount of olive oil. When the butter is melted, add the diced shallots and carrot and, tossing and stirring, cook until softened.
Add the rice and stir so all of the rice is coated with oil. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the rice is translucent. Add the strips of sun-dried tomatoes. Now begin adding the warm stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring the rice up from the bottom. As soon as the rice has absorbed almost all of the stock, add another 2 ladles and continue cooking, stirring constantly.
After about 15 minutes, add the zucchini and the herbs and continue cooking. After an additional 5 minutes gently stir in the red pepper and the asparagus pieces. Continue to cook until the rice is very tender and creamy, adding more stock as needed until the rice is perfect risotto consistency: creamy not al dente.
Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in about ½ cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese or more or less to taste. If you like your risotto creamier and richer, simply stir in 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine until melted and well blended.
Serve hot with a bowl of extra grated Parmesan on the side.
This is a year-round dish and you can use any seasonal vegetables. Either pre-roast, sauté or steam your vegetables or add at the beginning of the recipe so they can cook at the same time as the rice.
PERFECT CHOCOLATE SPONGE CAKE
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, separated, preferably at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup cold water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).
In a small bowl, blend the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.
Separate the eggs. Place the whites in a mixing bowl (plastic is better than glass for beating whites) with either 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or, as I do, a few grains of salt and 1 or 2 drops of lemon juice. Either will stabilize your whites. Set aside.
Put the yolks in a very large mixing bowl. Beat them with an electric beater on high speed for a few minutes until very thick and pale yellow. Add the sugar gradually and continue beating for another couple of minutes. It should be pale and very thick.
Add the dry ingredients to the yolk/sugar mixture, alternating with the cold water and vanilla (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), beating after each addition until blended, scraping down the sides as necessary.
Beat the whites until stiff peaks hold (you can reserve a couple of tablespoons of the sugar and add them gradually to the whites towards the end, after soft peaks start forming. This will really stiffen the whites).
Delicately fold the whites into the cake batter: begin by folding in about a third of the whites in order to lighten the heavy batter so as not to “break” the whites (knock out the air). Then fold in another third, then the final third. Don’t overdo it or, again, you will knock out too much air.
Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan (preferably with removable bottom). Bake in the preheated oven for 55 - 60 minutes until set. If you think it is done, if the cake is risen high and seems baked through simply press the top very lightly. If you hear a foamy sound – don’t worry, if your hear or feel that foamy sensation you will know it – simply let the cake bake for another couple of minutes. If the cake is not perfectly baked through it risks falling as it cools. Cool inverted before carefully lifting the center ring out of the pan then loosening and lifting the cake (with help!) off of the bottom and placing on a serving plate.