After Armistice day yesterday it’s back to work for the people of Paris. For me it just means I have the pavements to myself again, well, as much as is humanly possible in such a visited city as Paris.
First on the agenda this morning is Marche Bastille in the 11th arrondissement, which is a quick jaunt up the road from where I am in the 4th. It’s a particularly chilly morning when I set out on my run, with my hands slowly getting numb, so I tuck them snugly into the sleeves of my hoodie. I must move quicker than usual to keep warm as I arrive at my destination in no time. The Place de la Bastille is a bustling square, inundated with the sound of car horns and throngs of people navigating their way around this slightly overwhelming thoroughfare. The slightly frantic atmosphere is to be expected, given the tumultuous history of this spot. The vibrant area around where stands the July Column, commemorating the events of the July Revolution, is simply known as Bastille.
The Marche itself sprawls greedily up Boulevard Richard Lenoir, with as many as 100 traders selling their wares. Maybe it’s the cold, or maybe it’s just being in the land of flaky, buttery deliciousness, but I simply cannot wait any longer before coffee and croissant. To my delight I notice a coffee stand among the flurry of shoppers and I move quickly to grab a a hot cup with both icy hands, along with a complete (Oeuf, jambon, fromage filled galette) from the neighbouring galette stall (oh joyous proximity!) and off I go to a bench for a a euphoric feed.
Now with my energy charged, I’m ready to navigate one of the biggest markets in Paris. One of the most prominent sights in the markets this week has been the array of beautiful, autumnal mushrooms. Their gorgeous earthy colours are so fitting for the chill in the air, and the onslaught of the impending Christmas season, when all you want is warm, comforting nourishment. There is one particular stall which is proudly adorned with garlic, shallots, herbs and baskets of the most decadent looking mushrooms, just begging to be paired together. Who am I to ignore such blatant flavour combinations? Within seconds, items are chosen, money exchanged and I am escaping with the loot safely in my bag.
The dairy produce is heart stoppingly delicious looking today so it’s not a question of finding a ‘good’ producer, but rather which one! I eventually settle in front of a big dairy canister which the fromager tells me, to my surprise, is crème fraiche. I like to cook with creme fraiche more so than cream as I find it has more of an edge, but this is creme fraiche like I have never seen before; it is thick and silk-like and more than that, it is the colour of buttermilk. Overall, it’s a world apart from the imposters I’ve been eating before now. I choose a piece of comte too(why break with tradition now?) and make my way home for a quick change and on to market number 2.
Next up is Marche Saint-Eustache-Les Halle, or what I simply like to call Marche Rue Montmartre, because, well, it’s on Rue Montmartre. Anyway, whatever the name, it is a quaint little affair and one I have visited before on it’s weekly Sunday appearance. On Thursdays, however, it is an afternoon market, which suits me perfectly today. Upon arriving, I am a little surprised by the subdued atmosphere; it is not the clamorous market I had visited back in February. There is a lesson in this: the bustling Paris market is to be found early in the morning, as such in Bastille earlier today. The Thursday afternoon version is it’s own low key thing; it is not to be confused with it’s Sunday counterpart. It is a sleepy afternoon in Paris, with a dullness in the sky so perhaps this calm atmosphere is a welcome relief after all.
The market is in the gastronomic hub of Paris with the once thriving Les Halle, keeping an ever watchful eye in the background, as it undergoes lengthy construction. Even though this once fresh food market is no more, the tradition of food lives on not only with this small street market, but with the handful of excellent food related stores on Rue Montmartre and it’s neighbouring Rue Montorgueil. My favourites of which are A.Simon, Mora (two amazing kitchen supply stores) and Librairie Gourmande (wonderful cookbook store, where I was serendipitous enough with my timing, to get a book signed by renowned French patissier, Christophe Michalak).
Bringing my thoughts back to dinner, I decide I need something a little fresh and perhaps sweet, to ease the richness of the creamy mushroom sauce. I come across some orange fruit I don’t recognise, and I must stare at it for longer than seems acceptable, as the vendor invites me to taste, explaining that it is a ‘kaki’ or of course, a persimmon. I take a few, along with some of the wonderful golden walnuts on offer, and make my way up Rue Montmartre to consider the night’s feast ahead.
Over dinner last night, Clem told me about a favourite dish of hers that her grandmother makes using leftover chicken. It consists of a sort of creamy, chicken gratin, and although that is somewhat of a simplistic description on my part, it is somehow enough to conjure up thoughts of a bubbling, cheese crusted casserole, emerging from a piping hot oven. Be still my taste buds. With this memory still warm in my mind, I wonder if I can make something along the gratin line with my mushroom sauce. What could be strong and substantial enough in my freshly stocked larder to act as the bones of a gratin? Mushrooms in their very nature are strong in texture and taste. Indeed portobello mushrooms often act as the ‘meat’ in many a restaurant’s ‘vegetarian’ offering, almost to the extent that the humble portobello exists merely to get them out of a catering rut. Could I dare slice the portobellos thinly lengthways, only to add layers of sauce, before piling it all back up to form some sort of wonderful mushroom leaning tower of Pisa?? Challenge accepted.
As delicious as bread is, it is sometimes impossible to finish a whole baguette, so I decide to try and incorporate some of yesterday’s stick in the dish. First up I start on my sauce, as it can sit happily in the pan to reduce, while I cook the rest of the ingredients. It’s glory rests on a foundation of gently sautéed garlic and shallots. Add to that a sprinkling of parsley and a generous amount of cracked black pepper and it’s well on the way. Ahh. At this point I would usually add a glug of white wine or even brandy, but alas my arms could not carry any more this evening. I add in the array of fresh mushrooms and let them shrink, before adding a heaped tablespoon of the luxuriously smooth creme fraiche. At this point, I would also add some dried mushrooms and a little dark soaking liquid, but I have decided to go solely with the fresh variety on this occasion.
As the sauce simmers away in the pan, I set about the tricky task of slicing the portobello mushrooms. It reminds me of slicing a sponge cake into thin layers, for which a rotating cake stand is absolutely essential. And no I do not have a rotating mushroom stand. Thankfully they’re more robust than a delicate sponge and they (I) come away from the task unscathed. I fry the mushroom disks in the pan for a few moments so as they are just cooked and ready to be ‘lined’, just like a delicious savoury Victoria sponge. I lather a thin layer of the sauce on each disk and top it with some bread crumbs, comte and walnuts which I have pan fried altogether in a little butter and garlic. I think this should give the gratin a nice bit of crunch. Of course, the tricky part comes next: assembling them. I am not much of a multi-tasker, so sadly my conversation skills when cooking are pretty poor (poor Clem) and even more so when facing the task of assembling a mushroom tower. Miraculously, they stay intact and I pour the remaining sauce over the top. Around them, I scatter some of the chopped, and slightly caramelized, kaki fruit and I think we’re good to go!
Overall, I had good fun conjuring up tonight’s feast, and best of all it tasted pretty good too!
Until next time, a bientot!