This year we managed to sample just a few of the regional specialities and I wanted to record them here. The excellent book ‘Hot Sun, Cool Shadow’ by Angela Murrills, which I have already reviewed, was a great help and without it we probably would have missed some of these treats.
Tielle Setoise (Recipe from Sète Tourist Office)
The Tielle is a round pastry filled with a mixture of octopus and tomato, although we sometimes saw packaging where it was mixed with other seafood, notably squid or mackerel. The traditional Tielle is sized as an individual portion but are quite generous. You can also buy a larger pie for several people, though not usually called Tielle, which has more filling of the same type to less pastry. The crust is pinched together in a distinctive style and the tomato sauce seeps through giving the pastry an orange colouring. It is said that Tielles were introduced to this region by Italian immigrants who settled in Sète and similar pies can be found in parts of the Italian coast. Unsurprisingly the pies had a strong fishy flavour – if you like pilchards or mackerel in tomato sauce you would certainly like these. I had not been sure what to expect but these were tasty enough for us to eat several during our holiday, sometimes as part of a picnic lunch and at other times as part of an evening salad meal with the local wine Picpoul de Pinot (see below).
Les Petits pâtés de Pézenas/Pézenas pies (Recipe from Wikipedia)
Pézenas is a interesting and well preserved medieval town. We spent a fascinating morning wandering round its old streets, looking in shops and galleries and enjoying its quiet corners. We had heard about the famous Petits pâtés de Pézenas or Pézenas pies and were eager to try them. These small pies in the shape of a bobbin or cotton reel are a speciality of the region, supposedly introduced in the mid-18th century by Robert Clive of India (who came from near Market Drayton in Shropshire) when he stopped over in the town. His Indian cook invented the pies from the available local ingredients giving the recipe to a local pastrycook called Roucairol, although the exact details vary from one account to another, some telling that Clive invented the pies himself. The Très Noble et Très Gourmande Confrérie du Petit Pâté de Pézenas have a ceremony every Ascension Day and dress in extravagant robes and control the quality of the product. The pies contain a filling of minced lamb, brown sugar, candied lemon rind and mixed spice which is rolled up in hot water crust pastry. They are available from the numerous Patisseries in town, some like this with informative websites, but the pies seemed quite expensive for their size. Ideally the pies should be eaten hot and served as a starter with a glass of wine (either dry or sweet) but this was impossible for us as we bought them as an extra for our picnic so just had one each as a taster. They were delicious lemony sweet mouthfuls with a sticky surface and just a hint that they might contain meat, but I am not sure I would have guessed. One pie was not really enough but sadly we didnt get a chance to try them again.
Tapenade (recipe from Guardian weekend)
I enjoyed Tapenade spread on toasted French bread as part of the salad I ate on our visit to Sète. The classic version of this Mediterranean favourite is a grey/black paste and looks fairly uninviting but tastes great, providing you are a lover of olives. Tapenade can be purchased in the local supermarkets but is very easy to make. Variations include tapenade made with anchovies (BBC – James Martin) and Sundried Tomatoes and basil (Delia Smith online).
Squid with Setoise sauce (Rouille) (Recipe from Sète Tourist Office)
This was a favourite restaurant dinner. I was determined to try squid and was delighted with this dish of dark strips in a creamy golden sauce, served with rice and french beans. I had not been sure what to expect but the taste was quite strong, both meaty and fishy in a sauce the waiter told us was Rouille, the recipe for which varies. There are other recipes for Rouille using red peppers (capsicum), saffron or mayonnaise.
Tiny marinaded tuna stuffed peppers (Similar recipe from ‘whatdidyoueat’)
We tried tiny red peppers similar to these (no bigger than a horse chestnut conker) in several restaurants. They were stuffed with tuna paste and dripping in the olive oil in which they had been preserved. We found them in the supermarket as well, either pre packed in jars or on the counter which served marinaded olives to order. Does anyone have the French name for them please?
Picpoul de Pinet (map)
The Picpoul vineyards overlook the oyster and mussel farms of the Étang de Thau and the grapes are grown on the limestone plateau. The light, dry white wine comes from a single grape, the Piquepoul or Picpoul (also various other names), which has a fresh and fragrant smell which we felt was similar to wines we had enjoyed on previous holidays, such as Muscadet. As with Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet is recommended to be drunk with seafood but we enjoyed it with other food and brought a number of bottles home.
Each year we enjoy trying the cheeses on the regions we travel through and in the past we have made some great discoveries. Not a speciality of the Languedoc about which I have mostly been writing, Cantal cheese comes from the Departement of Cantal in the Auvergne, part of the French Massif Central and was this year’s favourite. It is a hard cheese with a creamy slightly acidic taste and we ate rather too much at lunchtimes with our French bread. We were pleased to find that Super-U did a pre-packed own branded version though it would be interesting to try cheese brought from a specialist shop.