Our son, Léo, has recently finished an intense cycle of competitive exams and interviews for his next three years of further education. He wants to pursue viticulture/oenology studies in an agricultural engineering establishment, and the relevant schools are based either in Bordeaux, Toulouse or Montpellier. After visiting Toulouse, Léo made a rapid decision to strike it from his list because, although it’s an excellent school — wait for it — there was ‘no bread shop within walking distance’. WTAF? Even allowing for cultural differences (Léo is French born and bred, or bread as the case may be, and I was born in the UK), I had trouble seeing the lack of a bread shop as a major hurdle. Luc, on the other hand, found Léo’s logic to be irreproachable. Once Léo had settled on, and been offered a place at the institute in Bordeaux and we started to look for an apartment, we quickly realized that a bread shop, or boulangerie, in the immediate vicinity is one of the biggest selling points for property; estate agents’ maps feature little baguettes to indicate their locations. I became mesmorised by the baguette icons, and began to count those in central Bordeaux, but only got to 78 before going cross-eyed. Google then fed my new-found bread shop statistic obsession with the reassuring fact that Bordeaux has 277 boulangeries/patisseries for 250,000 inhabitants. In the Anglo-Saxon world, we tend to prioritise things like schools, general shops, perhaps hospitals, and other amenities. Not so in France, the baguette is all powerful!
We had a delivery from a man this morning whose first bemused question, once he’d eventually found our house at the end of the sandy track, was: ‘what do you do for bread?’. Reassured to learn that Luc made sure we had a constant supply, and delivery completed, he made his way back to civilisation in a shocked daze, shaking his head disbelievingly and muttering to himself: ‘Putain, ils n’ont même pas de boulangerie!’ (‘Fuck, they don’t even have a bread shop!’) I think the fact that, to all intents and purposes, we live in one of the few remaining boulangerie deserts in France, was a lot for the poor chap to process. I don’t think we’ll be seeing him again any time soon.
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 green peppers (or any other colour)
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
150g arborio rice
750ml chicken or vegetable stock
20g pine nuts
Sprig of thyme
1 teaspoon coriander grains
1 teaspoon paprika
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful black olives, pitted and chopped
200g goat’s cheese or feta cheese, sliced
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare the peppers by cutting off the top and scooping out the seeds. Place on a roasting tray with a little olive oils and pre-roast for about 15 minutes, until softened. Gently fry the chopped tomatoes, onions and garlic in a little olive oil until soft. Add the rice and continue to fry, mixing with a spatula. Add the stock, stirring well, and then the raisins and pine nuts. Then add the thyme, seasoning and black olives, and leave to cook on a gentle heat until the liquid is absorbed. Once the rice mixture is cooked add the cheese, mixing well. Fill the emptied peppers with the mixture, adding the fresh coriander at the end. Put the tops back on the peppers, pour over a little olive oil and return to the oven for 45 minutes.