The weekend before last, our neighbors Celine and Jesse invited Nick and I to accompany them to a cheese and wine festival being held in Coulommiers, about an hour’s train ride from Paris. (Why is it that we’ve lived in this apartment for two years and only just now make friends with the neighbors? Granted, they only just moved in this year, but still it’s a bummer to have to move now that we have friends in the building.) Anyway, we all had a great time at the festival, tasting wines, cheeses, and an awful lot of sausage considering it was a cheese festival. One of the coolest things about this particular fair was that many of the companies represented came from the immediately surrounding area. We tasted hard apple cider from Île-de-France, which was good enough that we bought a case, and were amused to hear that many French people don’t accept their cider because it’s not from Normandy or Brittany.
One of the last tables we visited was selling bags of locally-grown legumes and flour. I couldn’t resist, and bought a bag each of brown lentils, green lentils, and freshly milled flour. I explained to the salesguy that I was really interested in cooking with local ingredients, and that I like knowing where my food comes from. Upon hearing my accent, he asked me where I was from. When I responded “Les Etats-Unis,” he quickly replied (in French) ”Well, you’re not very local, are you?” Touché. I explained that I live in Paris now, and he threw in a free bag of split peas. Hooray!
I love split peas, in part because split pea soup is so easy to make, yet so filling and tasty. So a few days later, I boiled up the peas with a smoky Alsatian sausage (also purchased at the festival – and not exactly local, but still only 2 hours away on the TGV) and some carrots and leeks (which came from the Loire Valley via my CSA).
Did I mention how cost-effective split pea soup is? 500 grams of dried peas, a couple fresh vegetables, and a sausage made three meals for Nick and me.
I also cooked up the green lentils for a version of salade tiède. They are definitely among some of the best lentils I’ve had, with a fresh, green flavor and nice meaty bite.
But what to do with the flour?
I mean, look at that: when have you ever seen flour marked with the date it was milled? The text explains that the flour may produce a darker-than-usual dough, due to the germ and bran not being removed and the flour not being bleached. I wanted to bake something that would really highlight how special this flour is, so a simple pain au levain it was.
And let me just say, wow! This is probably the tastiest loaf of bread I’ve ever baked. The flavor of the wheat really shines through, and the texture is perfect for sandwiches or slathering with cheese. (You don’t think we left the cheese festival without buying cheese, do you? We got a delicious Camembert, a funky triple crème that smells and tastes like a piquant blue, and another one that’s getting its very own post later on, because it’s that amazing.)
I discovered one more thing that I’m really excited about at the Coulommiers festival: Ok, two. One, I found out that Saint-Pourçain, the local wine of my first stay in France finally got an AOC after over 50 years of being a VDQS; and two, that there are several farms around Paris where you can go pick your own fruits and vegetables! I picked up a brochure from Cueillette du Plessis, which not only has the farm, but a daily market featuring locally-made products including cheese, beer, and charcuterie. A little research showed that they belong to a collective of farms called Chapeau de Paille (straw hat) which have member farms all over France. I can’t wait to go berry picking this summer!
Originally published on Croque-Camille.