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Under the Sun: Caroline Conran's French Country Cooking (January 8, 2004)


Not a moment too soon. We're just beginning the worst part of winter: the long, cold, and too often dark days of the season. Oh, dear, another blizzard is forecast for tomorrow... I simply can't stand this weather.

We can't get away right now, but let's pretend for tonight anyway...

Ah, the scents of freshly cut lemons, wild thyme, simmering tomatoes, mushrooms and garlic sizzling in olive oil – this surely says southern French cooking! Caroline Conran should know; for she's lived and cooked in the region for more than 25 years. Before that, Conran was the cooking editor of The Sunday Times Magazine in England and co-authored The Conran Cookbook with Terence Conran.

We love her latest, Under the Sun. It's full of glorious recipes and photographs guaranteed to transport you to sunnier climes – it certainly did for us!

Open the wine, darling, for this trip is about to begin. Let's start with Sautéed Green Bell Pepper and Tomato Salad, and ease into the fish course. What about that divine Squid with Green Peas, then follow that with the Braised Lamb Shanks with Beans and Black Olives. We'll make a perfect ending to this meal with some store-bought cassis sorbet and lemon cookies... while laughing over the Weather Channel. Santé everyone!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (68 KB)


Sautéed Green Bell Pepper and Tomato Salad

A Spanish import, this Basque and Catalan salad took on a French accent with the addition of anchovy fillets and hard-boiled eggs. If possible says Conran, use small, thin-skinned, long bell peppers called pimentos doux or piments du pays for this dish, but the grocery story variety will do well.

Serves 4

  • 4 green bell peppers
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 5 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 4–5 Tbsp olive oil, for serving
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup black olives
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the green bell pepper in half lengthwise; remove the seeds, cores and any whiteish parts with a small knife. Sprinkle the interiors with the salt and leave the pepper, cut side up for an hour or more. Rise, drain and cut or tear into wide strips.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and cook the pepper strips on both sides until cooked through and beginning to brown. Remove, drain and allow to cool slightly, then remove the skin from the strips.

Arrange the pepper and the sliced tomatoes in alternating lines on a large plate. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with the olive oil and white wine vinegar, and sprinkle with the chopped garlic and black olives.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
Try a Sauvignon Blanc with good acidity – that means Loire Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé or New Zealand Sauvignon or South African Sauvignon. Semillon would work well too or a white Bordeaux.


Squid with Green Peas

We really like squid, and we find it year round at the fishmonger. The French feel the same; their favourite version is sautéed in olive oil for 5–10 minutes and served with aïoli. Conran's take on this classic was borrowed from Basque country in Spain, where they add a little garlic sauce plus green peas. It's easy and unusual, and will quickly become a classic in your kitchen too!

Serves 4

  • 2¼ lbs. squid
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
  • 1 cup shelled fresh green peas
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Carefully skin the body of each squid. Remove their heads and the contents of their bodies, including the transparent backbone. Cut the tentacles from the heads, reserving the tentacles. Wash the tentacles and the body pocket thoroughly and drain them well.

Heat the oil and cook the onions and garlic gently for approximately 20 minutes, until they are cooked through and beginning to turn a golden colour. Add the squid and the peas and season well. Continue cooking over a medium heat, for about 5 minutes, until the squid has turned opaque.

Add the white wine and bring to a boil. Simmer for a minute or two, then remove the squid and keep them hot. Reduce the sauce until it is fairly thick, then pour it over the squid and serve hot, with warm crusty bread.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
A medium-bodied dry white like Soave (from Veneto) or Gavi (Piedmont) or an unoaked Chardonnay – Chablis or Ontario Chardonnay (unoaked).


Braised Lamb Shanks with Beans and Black Olives

Conran comments, "One of southern France's favourite combinations is lamb and beans, but in this recipe the usual haricot blancs are replaced by brown beans which give a warm rich flavour. If you can find fresh beans, so much the better." Let it snow, everyone, this dish will take you through any climate!

Serves 4

  • 1¼ cups dried rose coco (cranberry) beans, soaked overnight and drained
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 lamb shanks
  • 12 shallots, peeled
  • 8 carrots, peeled, halved widthwise and quartered lengthwise
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup black olives
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the soaked beans into a pan of cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes. Throw this water away and start again with fresh water. Simmer the beans until just tender, about 1¾ hours, and drain, reserving the cooking liquid.

Heat the oil in a heavy pan and brown the lamb shanks all over. Add the shallots and carrots, stir them around in the oil, lower the heat, and soften them for 5 minutes. Next add the garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves and wine and season with salt and pepper.

Add the drained beans, together with 2/3 cup of their cooking liquid. Stir everything together and cover the pan. Simmer for 45–60 minutes. Turn the lamb shanks over fairly often.

Next stir in the olives and cook for an additional hour or until the meat and the beans are melting and tender.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
A medium-bodied red Bordeaux or a Washington Merlot or Ontario Cabernet Franc. If you want to go Italian, make it a Chianti Classico Riserva.

We wish to thank Raincoast Publishers, Vancouver, BC, and Laurel Glen Publishing, San Diego, CA, for permission to re-print recipes and photographs from Under the Sun: French Country Cooking by Caroline Conran.
Text © Caroline Conran 2002
Special photography © Gilles de Chabaneix 2002


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (68 KB)




More Gourmet Recipes