This evening I am not cooking for one, but TWO Parisians (Breton, sorry Clem), as Clem’s friend Claire is joining. Claire, who has taken a Patisserie course with Christophe Michalak (see previous post). Gulp.
I have decided that I’m going to make an array of nibbles for my last night, beacause: 1. The weekend means party food, which to me is being able to stray from ‘sitting at the table’ kind of eating. 2. Small bites will allow me to experiment with more flavours. All in all, excellent reasons to tapas or indeed, pinxto (as Rachel Khoo says is as common in the Basque region of France as it is in San Sebastian). Sold.
Even though I’m en vacence, I can still sense a very clear Friday Feeling in the air as I make my way to this morning’s market, Marche d’Aligre in the 12th arrondissement. I decided last night that I would focus solely on this market today, not because I’m feeling lazy, but because this market is in fact, THREE markets in one: outdoor, indoor and flea market. The area has a distinct local feel, perhaps as it is slightly off the beaten track and dare I say, not typically cute, in the Parisian sense. Fine with me. I arrive at the market to see that it has a halo of mist around it, a sign that the morning hasn’t quite woken up yet. It’s quiet too, so I decide to do what I do best: seek out a coffee and croissant.
First up, I take a myself to the flea market section of Marche d’Aligre, which I must say, is quite a display. I love to rummage around Camden Passage back in Islington, an antique market which has often sent me away with more dainty plates and cups than I dare carry. I have been really looking forward to finding treasures here and I think I have found my match. Tables are piled high with books, records,plates, cutlery, china, enamel… the list goes on.
In my limited experience of collecting old kitchenware, I have come to know that the cleaner and prettier the display, the more expensive. So to start, I make my way over to a rather decrepit pile of boxes,stocked high with trinkets of every description, priced, the seller tells me, at around 1 euro each. He need say no more. Within ten minutes I have found an array of plates which, when shined up, will pass for the calibre of their elite cousins at the next table. I find some amazing enamelware at one table which, when I see it, feels like all of my markets have come together at once, but alas the price tag (as is the norm with highly coveted enamel) is not the price tag I’m looking for. A little more gentle rummaging and I think I’m satisfied with my Parisian antique haul.
After subjecting my hands to the cold and dust, I seek refuge in the indoor section of the market, which itself is known as Marche Beauvau. Sadly, this beautiful building, which was built in the mid 19th century, was partially ravaged by fire in July this year. It has reopened but it’s echoed halls represent the units which have not yet reopened following the disaster.
Inside the draughty walls are pops of colour from the units which have reopened, selling succulent cuts of meat (anything from game to horse) and effervescent rows of fish, gleaming under the harsh wattage from the lights above. The small bakery inside seems an unworthy opponent to it’s pungent neighbours. Outside one of the entrances is a smaller row of traders: a fromagerie and a butcher. Both look exceptional and have a large but orderly queue formed at the side. First up is the butcher: Clem is a big fan of jambon fume, so onto the list it goes! Next, to the cheese. I have already accumulated a lot, but when it comes to almighty cheese, it is always a case of heart before head. And so I take a ,etit Breton and am on my way.
One of my favourite packed lunches is a salad of sweet potato, goats cheese and beetroot, so with these items in abundance today, I pick some up. If they can be so delicious in a salad, imagine what taste explosion could occur in a single pinxto mouthful. Crikey. I can’t resist the temptation of the figs either and decide I will make, what have become known in my house, as “fig kisses”. Sadly I did not create these sensations, Rachel Khoo did, but surely it’s not cheating if I remember the recipe and adapt it?? Into my bag they go, along with some juicy tomatoes, a jewel coloured pomegranate and a big bunch of coriander. Phew, I’m ready for lunch!
Love them or hate them, oysters have a special place in my heart. Ever since I had my first taste three years ago on a beach in Cancale, I have loved the adrenaline rush you get when you knock one back. Honestly, trust me. When I see a lone table at the fishmonger in the covered market, offering a selection of their oysters, I need little persuasion. La Maree Beauvau was opened in 1998 by Mr and Mrs Durains, and is a very special establishment offering an array of delicious sea treasures, from shellfish to sushi. I order the Assiette Decouverte No2, which consists of 2 Fines de Claires, 2 Normandes and 2 Bretonnes, all to be washed down with a glass of Sancerre. The cold air and recent rain shower seems to make them more delicious as the taste of the sea is all the more present. Parfait!
Cooking lots of small dishes can often be more time consuming, so I get organised in good time. I love the taste of fresh coriander at the moment, so I decide to make a simple coriander and tomato salad, which can almost pass as a chunky salsa. This dash of freshness will be a nice refresher in the midst of the more rich offerings. I prepare the fig kisses next, chopping off the stalk and cutting a little “x” into the top, before sliding a small slab of Neufchâtel cheese into the cross. I would usually bake these in the oven until they melt and ooze into a sort of gooey oblivion, but sans grill, I will endeavour to create a similar effect in the pan, with a splash of raspberry infused red wine vinegar. Oh my. I sprinkle them with a little brown sugar and chopped walnuts, and leave them aside.
The sweet potatoes have been parboiling while I tend to the figs and now they are just nicely softened and ready to be cut into orange disks. I fry the disks for a few minutes on each side while the beetroot cooks to purple perfection. The beetroot eventually becomes corresponding disks to sit atop the sweet potato, covered with a generous wedge of goats cheese and a pomegranate hat to complete the look! Now, all that’s left to do is cut the baguette!
After much feasting, Clem reveals a decadent dessert: three dreamy, pastel éclairs from local boulangerie extraordinaire, Hure. I must admit, that while I can eat a dozen oysters without batting an eyelid, I’m a little irked by cream. Well, this is not the case tonight, as I am transported to patisserie heaven with one mouthful of the creamy, flaky éclair.
My Paris Market Challenge has come to an end on a gastronomic high. It has been a fantastic adventure, and one which will be continued until I have cooked my way through each and every Paris market, big and small! But until then, I will continue to eat my way through the markets of London and further afield, sharing my culinary triumphs and mishaps along the way!