- - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

CONQUES, AVEYRON, France

Paris is the culinary mecca of France, but gastronomic delights are not limited to the capital. Lyon is a rival of the table, and now Toulouse is in the game.

France’s fourth-largest city, Toulouse is famous for cassoulet, a rich stew of white beans, duck, pork, vegetables and sausages.

Chef Michel Sarran’s restaurant is elegant in decor and in its presentation of haute cuisine: He incorporates local produce, game and fish into his dishes.

Le Bibent, a brasserie on the central Place du Capitole, is a marvel of art nouveau decor, dating to 1882. The food is innovative and delicious.

Chef-owner Michel Bras, whose restaurant in Laguiole earned him three Michelin stars, has opened a unique “fast food” cafe-restaurant in the center of Toulouse serving sandwiches in pancakelike bread called “capucins” because they resemble the Capuchin monks’ hoods.

At Chez Navarre, a new restaurant in Toulouse, patrons share a large table with strangers, and help themselves to a home-style buffet.

Foie gras is a regional specialty.

At Restaurant Emile, a diner can splurge on a first course of pate de foie gras with mango chutney, followed by ravioli filled with foie gras in a scrumptious mushroom sauce.

The 120-year-old Victor Hugo market in Toulouse has more than 100 stalls with an extraordinary array of fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, wines, foie gras, black pork sausages and fancy ice creams. There are several lively bars throughout the market. The smaller Carmes market features beautiful produce.

A lovely garden restaurant in Albi, Clos Sainte Cecile is in a former school, close to the cathedral.

In Rodez, Isabelle Auguy is the chef-owner of a restaurant overlooking the verdant countryside.

Just outside Conques, there’s Domaine de Cambelong, a hotel and restaurant owned by Herve Busset — a little country inn offering haute cuisine prepared by a master chef.

The Midi-Pyrenees region is famous for several specialties.

Roquefort, the sharp blue cheese, comes from the Aveyron department, as do the wines of Marcillac, where vineyards can be visited along a “wine road.”

At the Rodez farmers’ market, a visitor finds “gateau a la broche” — cake on a stick — sliced horizontally and baked in layers that look like rings on a tree. Legend has it the cake was brought to Aveyron by Napoleon’s army.

“Fouace,” a yeast cake resembling brioche, is another ubiquitous specialty.

And vendors at the Rodez market offer “aligot,” a regional specialty of mashed potatoes mixed with cream, garlic and the local Laguiole cheese.

Should you return home in business class on Air France, you might get a slice of foie gras with dinner. But finish it before you get to U.S. customs.

Aligot (6 to 8 servings)

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cubed

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup crme fraiche (substitute equal parts sour cream and heavy cream)

1 clove garlic, crushed but kept intact

3 cups grated Cantal cheese (substitute good-quality sharp cheddar)

Boil the potatoes until they are tender. Drain them. Mash them and vigorously mix in the salt, pepper, and butter until the potatoes fluff up a bit. Set them aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the crme fraiche and garlic to just steaming. Remove the garlic and pour the crme fraiche into the potatoes. Transfer the pan of potatoes to the stovetop over low heat. Using a sturdy wooden spoon, beat the crme fraiche into potatoes.

Raise the heat to medium and beat in the cheese, half cup at a time. Continue beating the mixture over low heat until it forms a smooth, velvety stringy texture, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

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