Local Black Olives from the Farmer's Market & Mariella in Jean-Claude's Walnut Grove meadow 
We went on a road trip to visit various friends in Southern and Southeastern France and discovered magical villages tucked into small corners far from the toll roads. This story features the first stop on our trip, Caunes-Minervois, about 20 minutes from Carcassonne and at the foot of the La Montagne Noire (The Black Mountains). Our friend Imelda's father lives here. Imelda, her partner Francesca, and their new baby,  spend as much time down here as they can. We were lucky enough to be invited to join them for some Summer sun and Bastille Day festivities ( more commonly known as Le Quatorze Juillet in France). There is a strong Spanish influence in this region, which is why it seemed too perfect to experience Francesca's Paella on our first day in the village. We stopped by the farmer's market and found some delicious home cured olives and a big basket of strawberries and walked over to find them in their back yard (a former Monk's garden). Jean-Claude lives directly behind a beautiful 8th century Abbey.

 Francesca's Sangria & The Table in Jean-Claude's Garden under a Wysteria and Mulberry Canopy

Californian-Spanish friend, graphic designer and inspired cook, Francesca, prepared a delicious Sangria before the Paella prep began. With lots of fresh oranges and tart green apples, I couldn't imagine a better afternoon drink on a super-hot Summer day in Southern France. We stepped into the kitchen and immediately jumped into the Paella assembly line. 

Toasted Saffron freshly ground in a Mortar and Pestle
First she toasted some saffron and ground it using her mortar and pestle. She added the saffron to a simmering broth later to be used for the Paella rice to give it that distinct earthy flavor and warm yellow color.

The outdoor Paella Kitchen & Francesca cooking the diced onions, minutes before the rice gets added

We all helped chop and prep while Francesca got her ingredients lined up on the garden cooking table. I like when everyone has a hand in the meal, because the atmosphere feels instantly family style. The ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, diced white onions, chopped tomatoes, green beans, green olives with pimentos, saffron broth, short round Paella rice, squid, shrimp, clams, mussels, and sliced roasted red peppers.

Toasting the Rice with Olive Oil and sautéed Onions

 Saffron Broth going into the Rice Mixture & Green Beans being added after the Broth

After sautéeing the onions for a bit, she added the rice  and some chopped tomatoes. Once mixed together, she added the Saffron broth and the green beans. This is the stage where you employ the secret perfect Paella trick: don't stir the rice. After the rice mixture cooked for a tiny spell,  she added the chopped green olives ( stuffed with red pimento) and began the seafood layering process.

Clams waiting their turn
Shellfish laid out in a circular motif. First the Clams, then the Mussels.
 Shrimp and Red Peppers added after the Mussels. This is the moment before the last step, the Squid

The finished Paella, with perfectly steamed Squid added at the very last moment & Lovely Imelda plating it up
Á Table
This was the first time I've eaten such a delicious Paella. The seafood was added in such careful order, so that every bite was perfectly cooked. YUM.
Local Cheeses from the Laungedoc Region, including the pretty wheel of Cathare raw-milk cheese

Imelda's Apricot Tart

We ended the meal with a sampling of some local cheeses and a homemade apricot tart, baked by Imelda. She made a perfect buttery crust and added only a pinch of sugar in order to allow the apricot's lively tartness to come through. Thank you, Merci, Gracias to the Picherits and Bautistas!

 Sunflower fields tucked in-between vineyards outside of Carcassonne

Caunes-Minervois celebrates Bastille Day one day early. They do this because the neighboring city of Carcassonne has the largest fireworks show outside of Paris. To avoid the competition, they have a beautiful tradition take place on the 13th, in front of the Mairie (and outside our hotel, Hôtel d'Alibert). All children are invited to carry a colorful paper lantern, handed out in the town square, and then walk with the procession to a field where the firework show awaits.  This tradition has been in place for many years, and the entire town comes alive with music and dancing, all in the glow of the flickering candle lit lanterns amidst the old village buildings and narrow streets. Magical.

The Children of Caunes-Minervois with their Paper Lanterns

We spent the afternoon of the 14th in Carcassonne before the madness began, and got lost in the surrounding vine covered hills. We caught a glimpse of the entire fortified old town from there and it was like a fairy tale vision come to life.

Cité of Carcassonne
Horse led Wagons walking along the Ramparts of Cité

On our last night, we had our friends over for dinner at the Hôtel d'Alibert. Our hotelier, Fréderic, was a jovial character to say the least. He made us laugh and took good care of us. The hotel is well known for their local cuisine. They serve hearty regional dishes like Cassoulet and Daube (red wine stewed beef). We loved staying here and had a fantastic farewell dinner.
Our bedroom window at Hôtel d'Alibert
Hotel d'Alibert's inner Courtyard and Restaurant Terrace
Our Breakfast Table in the Courtyard

Foie Gras Créme Brulée at Restaurant d'Alibert. Insane.
One of the days found us up in the marble quarries in the hills of Caunes-Minervois. It was one of the most striking places we have ever seen. Rose colored thick slabs of marble that created an amphitheater like space. I could take photos here all day. The rosey marble of this quarry was made famous by it's use in palaces like Versailles. It was a favorite of Marie-Antoinette.

Rose Marble Quarries of Caunes-Minervois

Another Guest's Summer Kit


1 comment :

  1. Oh my goodness. Just LOOK at those clams! And the summer kit: I'd like to know more about that book!


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