Little did I realise that Wednesday 11th is Armistice Day in France and therefore a National Holiday. Thankfully the markets remain open and I avoid having to make a very sorry visit to Monoprix. I creep out early in the morning to a very sleepy Paris, for a run to Marche Monge: two birds and all that. It is a perfect winter morning; an icy blue sky allows the piercing sun to dart off the sheen on the deserted streets.
Marche Monge, running since 1921, is right in the heart of the Latin Quartier in the 5th Arrondissement. The market itself is on a charming square, aptly enough named Place Monge. There are roughly forty stalls scattered around a painfully cute fountain, that could seduce even the most hardened supermarket heart.
I reach the market pretty quickly; quickly, given that I stop more times than I wish to admit, to press my nose against a boulangerie window. I make many trips around the small square, admiring and tasting, including a delicious, thick galette filled with spinach and swiss cheese. Clem, although Breton, is not a fan of seafood so I decide to shelve experimenting with fish on this trip, although this does not stop me stopping to take in the awe-inducing sights of the fishmonger displays. The vegetables are particularly luscious at this market so I decide to stock up on some gorgeous bright greens, radishes and spring onions which will form the basis of salads with dinner over the next few days.
Every market I encounter features at least one stall with AB (Agriculture Biologique) certification, which means that the products are 100% organic (or at least 95% in the case of processed goods). I make my purchases, enjoy a café crème and croissant and make for home.
With only salad so far for dinner, I return to the apartment to drop the food and quickly change for the second and oldest covered market in Paris: Marche des Enfants Rouges. I must say, I had heard a lot about this market and having missed it on other trips, I was looking forward to it. The name, ‘Market of the Red Children’ (or something to that effect) comes from the orphanage which was located on this site during the 16th Century, in which the children all wore red clothes which were donated by Christian charities. Today it’s a much less sombre affair, with a myriad of aromas floating through the air from the cocktail of international food stalls.
The mixture of Lebanese and Moroccan spices get me thinking about dinner and my mind starts to conjure up some ideas. I pick out a substantial looking butternut squash, some plump, juicy prunes and crunchy blanched almonds. With my flavour thesaurus, I set my mind to work over lunch. My mind wanders to Clem’s kitchen where I mentally check what appliances I’ll have at my disposal. A quick text confirms my fear: no oven. This sends a little shiver down my spine as I am a person who struggles to cut a butternut squash even after it has been in the oven a little while. But, as I say to Clem, this is a good thing; it means more of a challenge. Gulp.
I stare into the microwave, as I watch the butternut squash do the rounds (don’t worry, I pierced it several times). It seems to do the trick and I slice it in half, lengthways to reveal the succulent, orange flesh. I cut it up into cubes and toss into a pan of hot water to boil for a mere three minutes. I decide to plump up the Moroccan factor with some couscous, which I start to cook at this point. I must add that I have decided to include cheese in each market haul; it would seem wholly disrespectful to the land of beautiful, delicious, delectable, gooey fromage, not to. So as I cook, Clem and I are nibbling on some of that very stuff, with chunks of fabulous baguette from her local (and 2015 winning, best baguette in Paris don’t you know) boulangerie.
I toss the cubes of butternut into a hot pan of nicely sautéed garlic, and season them with salt, pepper and lashings of the blanched almonds, which gives the squash a lovely, crunchy coating. I allow this all to brown nicely before adding the prunes, which I have chopped into small pieces. I add a little soy sauce to the couscous to up the flavour, and dollop it onto some hot plates, before spooning some of the Autumnal, Moroccan squash mixture on top.
Overall, a heavily improvised and errratic first dish but one that was truly influenced by what I saw and smelled in the Marche des Enfants Rouges; and that to me, is more enjoyable than following a recipe. Of course, it is also a plus that my critic seemed pleased. Phew!