yes, there is more food!! But the walking is great, allows me to walk off some of those calories. Walking around Saint-Chinian there are a lot of little discoveries to be made, quirky things, like the door handle that has a face on it, or some of the old insurance plaques which are still on a few buildings. Down the Route de Cessenon there are some wonderful examples of “vigneron” houses, mostly two storey buildings with living accommodation above the workshop and cellar. Some of the houses tell a story of former use, such as this old storefront.The former abattoir is now a storage facility for the municipality, but the art deco lettering is still in evidence, as are two cow horns which someone stuck on there.A narrow alley along the side of the abattoir takes you to a little iron bridge across the river (there’s another one further upstream), and from that bridge you have a wonderful view of the town with the church tower peeking out above all the roofs. Walk up the river towards the bridge and you’ll pass by Les Hirondelles and Le Puits, where you could spend your holidays in St Chinian, overlooking the river and watching the swallows swoop and dive. There’s a lot more to see in St Chinian. Don’t miss the cloisters in the former abbey, and whilst you are there take a peek inside the town hall: the staircase is ornately painted with a mural.There are more quirky things to be discovered in the village: weather vanes, ancient doors and beautiful door knockers, ironwork, glass, mediaeval alleyways, the canal which waters the vegetable gardens and used to drive mills …
So now for the food… This week our cooking group got together in La Caunette; we had planned to try our hands at bread and pasta making. Bread was first because of the longer rising time, and the pasta making could fill in the gap. Three one kilo batches of bread flour were weighed out (half regular flour and half multi cereal flour) and after a fair bit of sticky work mixing the dough, hands got to work kneading and stretching the dough.
We also made a smaller batch of dough for ciabatta, to have with our starter that evening (rillettes and pate from the previous get together). Soon we had all the various doughs in their bowls, resting on the terrace in the warm. Then came the fun bit with the pasta dough. The recipe was for egg pasta, found in James Beard’s book Beard on Pasta and the dough consists of only flour, some salt and eggs. The flour was from the windmill in Felines Minervois, organic stone ground wheat, with a fair bit of bran, wich accounts for the colour of the dough. After about 10 minutes energetic kneading the two batches were wrapped in film and left to rest.
Time for a cup of tea and a walk around the garden of our hosts, to admire everything there was in bloom! Back to the kitchen, to “knock” down the bread dough and knead and shape. We ended up with six loaves, five tin loaves and one round one, to be baked in a terracotta bread baker. This was made by one of our hosts and consists of a heavy base with a cloche to put over the loaf. I’ve been using that for some years, and the best results are obtained with a loaf that’s almost fully risen but not quite, and the whole put into a cold oven. Turns out wonderfully light bread!
Once the loaves were out of the way for the final rising, we started on rolling the pasta dough, and that really was fun! The dough gets fed through the rollers of the pasta machine, to start with a few times on the widest setting, folding the dough into a square after each time, and then rolling it out progressively thinner, until the strip was almost as long as the kitchen table! The strips of dough were then put over the backs of the kitchen chairs to dry, before being cut, again with the pasta machine. For cutting there are two options – tagliatelle or spaghetti width noodles. We made some of each, the finer noodles to have with sage and butter as a little antipasti pasta, and the tagliatelle to have with a tomato sauce for a main course. Once cut we left the pasta to dry on tea towels, while we got ready for aperitifs and looked after the bread.
Focaccia was the first to be cooked and ready – if you have a chance try this, it’s so good and very simple to make! Fresh pasta cooks very quickly and only takes a few minutes – so keep tasting! It was all worth the effort: the pasta had a wonderful texture to it, which shop-bought fresh pasta cannot match, and the bread turned out wonderful!
And here’s the gallery: