Risotto with shrimp

Risotto with shrimp

Plump, short-grain Italian risotto rice is the only rice to use for risotto. Arborio is quite widely available, but experts say that carnaroli is the best risotto rice. In our supermarket in Nice I recently found carnaroli, so of course I had to try it.
Risotto rice has a soft, starchy exterior which absorbs cooking liquid a little at a time and gradually swells to the desired thick and creamy consistency. For this reason risotto rice must never be soaked or rinsed before cooking, these procedures only remove the starchy exterior. Cooking risotto needs attention, but is a relaxing experience.
Risotto is usually made with lots of butter, but a good olive oil works just as well- and it is heart healthy!

Ingredients for 2 servings of risotto with shrimps
Picture 1. Ingredients for 2 servings of risotto with shrimps

2 servings

400 ml fish stock (made of 400 ml water and 3 heaped tsp Ducros fumet de poisson)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
120 ml arborio or carnaroli risotto rice
150 ml white wine
Black pepper
Lots of chopped parsley (NB! You might try dill for a change)
200 g cooked and peeled shrimp or gambas, cut into smaller pieces

Cut the cooked shrimps or gambas into smaller pieces. Set aside.

Start with making the fish stock. Ducros fumet de poisson is a dehydrated fish stock in powder form, and is easy to use for making tasty stock. In a saucepan, heat 400 ml water to almost boiling. Add 3 heaped tsp Ducros fumet de poisson and whisk well. Set aside, but keep warm, barely simmering. NB! Ducros recommends using 1 heaped tsp fumet pr. 100 ml water. Because both fumet and shrimps are quite salty, I have used a bit less. You probably don’t need to use all the fish stock when cooking the risotto.

Making the fish stock from fumet de poisson
Picture 2. Making the fish stock from fumet de poisson

In a heavy large casserole, warm the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic, shallot and tomatoes. Cook the vegetables, stirring, until they are soft but not brown for about 10- 15 minutes. You may need to lower the heat somewhat. Stir in the rice and mix until the rice is thoroughly coated with the oil.

Stirring the risotto rice in the casserole and mixing with the oil and vegetables
Picture 3. Stirring the risotto rice in the casserole and mixing with the oil and vegetables

Now add a little of the wine in the casserole and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed most of the wine. Then add the rest, little at a time, and again keep stirring until most of it is absorbed before adding more. This takes about 10 minutes.

Adding the wine and the fish stock little at a time
Picture 4. Adding the wine and the fish stock, little at a time

Start adding the warm fish stock, a little at a time and stirring all the time. Do not add more stock until the previous addition has been mostly absorbed. There should always be a little liquid in the casserole, though. It is this procedure of slowly adding the liquid and stirring all the time that creates the creaminess of risotto. Total cooking time should be about 25- 30 minutes, and risotto should be thick enough to eat with a fork. You may not need to use
all the fish stock.

When about 5 minutes of cooking time remains add the shrimps to the casserole to be warmed, stir.

Adding the shrimp to the creamy risotto
Picture 5. Adding the shrimp to the creamy risotto

When the risotto is cooked, remove from heat, and stir in the parsley and black pepper. Serve at once.


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Winter hike to Madone d'Utelle

Village of Utelle with the Mercantour peaks in the background

Driving up the Vésubie river valley, the change in landscape is abrupt. Immediately after the intersection at Plan du Var, in Gorges de la Vésubie the mountains rise several hundred meters straight up on both sides above the narrow valley .

On a plateau at about 1180 m north of the valley lies the Sanctuary called La Madone d’Utelle. The sanctuary was constructed in 1806 at the location where an oratory was first built in 850 by Spanish sailors to thank La Madone for saving them from a shipwreck.

Walking along GR5 from Utelle and leaving GR5 at signpost 6

Nowadays Madone d’Utelle is an important pilgrimage site. There is also a small hostel and restaurant which serves plat du jour, the dish of the day, when they are open. Their gift shop even sells Pastis made by the Father. Their web site in French has more information.

For hikers, several interesting possibilities exist. Below the Sanctuary, the GR 5 trail goes through the village of Utelle (about 800 m). The paved road up to Utelle starts from the village of St-Jean-La-Rivière. From Utelle, the road continues further up to the sanctuary. We have previously hiked to the Sanctuary from a hamlet called la Villette. A more interesting variant might be the one described here: Starting from Utelle along GR 5 southwest. The trail is excellent.

At signpost 6 you leave GR 5, ascend along a narrower and steeper path first to Col d’Ambellarte (967 m) then follow yellow marks to Crête de la Madone.

Sanctuary of Madone d'Utelle and the view when descending back to Utelle

The trail back to Utelle is well marked and kept as well. The whole circuit is about 8 km and the total vertical ascent very reasonable at 500 m.

We did this hike one Monday in early January so not surprisingly the restaurant was closed. A packet of nuts and dried fruit and some sports bars was a sufficient lunch which we enjoyed sitting outside in warm sunshine. We certainly recommend this tour that offers great views all the way.


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Pork chops with red cabbage and potatoes

Pork chops with red cabbage and potatoes

This is a true winter recipe for those cold, rainy and dark evenings that do occur also on the French Riviera.

Red cabbage is a member of a family which botanists call the brassicas or the cruciferous vegetables. They are nutritional power houses, full of vitamins C, K and folate, minerals and antioxidants.

In this recipe, the red cabbage is slowly braised in a small quantity of oil in a heavy casserole. This method will enhance the true taste of red cabbage and make the cabbage soft and sweet.

2 servings
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 pork chops
2 medium potatoes cut into chunks or 5 small new potatoes
About 200 g red cabbage cut into strips
2 shallots cut into strips
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1-2 tbsp water
100 ml chicken stock
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp low-fat crème fraîche (15 % fat)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground turmeric
Fresh thyme to garnish (NB! Leaves only)

Start braising the red cabbage. In a heavy casserole warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over low- medium heat. Add the red cabbage, shallots, turmeric and water and stir. Cook for about 5 minutes without covering stirring now and again. Then reduce the heat to low, cover the casserole and let simmer for 45 minutes. Stir now and again, and check if you need to add 1 tbsp more water.

Meanwhile cook the pork chops and potatoes. In a frying pan heat 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over medium heat and brown the chops on both sides until nicely coloured. Mix the mustard in chicken stock and pour into the pan. Reduce the heat a little until the source is nicely simmering. Cover and continue simmering for 20 minutes. The pork needs to be well-cooked, and this will take about 30 minutes in all. Towards the end of the cooking add the crème fraîche in the pan and mix; this will make a nice sauce. Grind over black pepper.

Microwave the potatoes. I now think that this is the easiest way to cook potatoes, or do you still cook them in water in the traditional way?

Divide the chops, cabbage and potatoes on the plates. Sprinkle with the sauce and decorate with thyme.


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Exploring the Eastern peninsula of Cap-Ferrat

If a competition of the most beautiful coastal walks on the French Riviera would be arranged, the one starting from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and going around the smaller eastern peninsula and pointe Saint Hospice  should certainly be shortlisted.

Not exactly a hidden gem, this trail nevertheless is missed by many visitors to the Riviera. This is a leisurely walk for everybody. The path is quite narrow after La Paloma beach, widening soon. The Guide Randoxygène has included the walk in their selection of coastal trails. The guidebook's duration of two hours seems to include the stops as the walking time is much less.

The legend tells that in the Middle Ages a hermit called Hospice stayed his whole life praying in a tower on the highest point of this peninsula. On this point, a chapel was later constructed.

There is also a reminder of the madness of war. 90 Belgian soldiers who were badly poisoned by mustard gas in WW I were later treated on the French Riviera and eventually buried in the cemetery of the chapel.

On a lighter note, in good weather the trail seems to be popular among locals all year round. Needless to say, the three small beaches (La Paloma, Les Fossettes and Les Fosses) on both sides of the peninsula attract sun seekers in summer.


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My Best Endive Recipe

my best endive recipe (with duck breast)

Endive is a true winter vegetable. It has been available in Nice supermarkets for some time already. Endive is a cousin of chicory, and it can be a bit bitter. So, how to prepare the poor, pale endive which has many nutritional virtues?

I used to think that the traditional Belgian recipe by covering the sautéed endives with ham and cheese sauce and then browning in hot oven was the only way to prepare them, until I started braising them. Most braising recipes use butter for braising, but I have replaced it with heart healthy rapeseed oil.
I have also used other more Mediterranean ingredients such as lavender honey and freshly pressed orange juice in this recipe. Braised endives are great with pork chops, grilled salmon or magret de canard, duck breast (as shown in the picture). And they even look nice when caramelized properly.

2 servings
2 endives
Juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tsp lavender honey (or other runny honey)

Choose crisp and pale endives that are not brownish in the stems. Slice off about 1 cm from the stem end, because this part is often quite bitter.
Simmer the whole endives for about 15 minutes in orange juice in a heavy casserole under lock. Turn once halfway. Dry them with kitchen papers.
Heat the rapeseed oil on a medium- high heat in a heavy pan. Add the honey in the pan. Halve the endives lengthwise and add them the flat side down in the pan. Fry them until they have a nice caramel colour. This will take about 10 minutes.


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Auron - Aprés les Fêtes

Las Donnas

Nice-Matin recently reported of crowds never seen before in Mercantour ski resorts during the weekend after Christmas. To make things worse, Téléphérique Las Donnas in Auron was out of order one afternoon. Traffic and parking was chaotic as many had driven up there without snow chains or winter tyres. As we all remember, the storm called Dirk recently brought a lot of rain to the Riviera and snow to the mountains. The landslide on the main road  just north of St Sauveur sur Tinée did not make things easier.

Avalanche risk sign at Auron
Avalanche risk still 3/5

After the holiday season, January is usually a low season in French ski resorts. Even attractive package deals are offered. Lured by a favourable weather forecast, we booked a night in Auron for the 9th of January. Traffic was light. The landslide near St Sauveur sur Tinée had been dealt with; one line was open for traffic –no delays!

According to the Auron web site, the snow depth at high altitude was 120 cm with 41 open ski runs.  The figures do not tell the whole truth. Having previously skied in Auron several times, the conditions this time were one of the best we have ever seen. The weather was exceptionally mild, it was almost like spring skiing in January, but with proper snow! The runs were well prepared. Even Riounet, the long descent marked as red from Cîme de Chavalet (2453 m) down to  the Butières chair lift, was in an excellent condition. This sector has not any snow making facilities and has even been closed during bad winters some years ago.

Cime du Chavalet
 Cîme de Chavalet (2453 m), the starting point for  several long runs

Auron preparing for the day
The resort preparing for the day. The Teleriou cable car station is visible in the lower right corner. It's just the transport between the village and the Las Donnas cable car station and the lower lifts

Las Donnas Cable Car
Las Donnas (1640-2256 m) cable car upper station.

So if you are considering skiing in Alpes Maritimes, this year seems to be really good so far. We will certainly go back.


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Minestrone soup recipe

After the festivities many wish to lighten and simplify their eating and maybe lose a little weight. Minestrone, the Mediterranean vegetable soup, is perfect for this purpose.

There are many variations of minestrone, but they all rely on a mixture of fresh seasonal vegetables. The word minestrone describes a thick soup in general. In Italy, pancetta, Italian bacon is often added, but the meat is just as often left out. In Italy, pesto is stirred in the cooked soup whereas in Nice they add pistou. Pistou is made of crushed basil, olive oil, garlic and salt. Good pistou from Provence is sold in Nice supermarkets, the greener it is the better the taste. The richness in the soup comes from a dollop of olive oil and freshly grated parmesan which are added just before the soup is served.

In winter, in Nice supermarkets they sell packages of Italian minestrone vegetables. There are chopped cabbage, borlotti beans (I usually pick these out because they won`t be fully cooked in an hour as the other vegetables), leek, celery, lentils, Swiss chard. Most minestrone recipes include pasta or rice. I leave them out because I like to serve my minestrone with good whole wheat bread.
Any leftover soup can be frozen.

4 servings

500 g package of minestrone vegetables
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
400 g tin chopped tomatoes
400 g tin white beans, rinsed
700 ml vegetable stock made from 1 cube organic vegetable stock and 700 ml water
3 tsp pistou from Provence
4 tbsp olive oil
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Warm the rapeseed oil in a heavy casserole and soften the shallots and garlic for about 10 minutes.
Add the minestrone vegetables, water, vegetable cube and tinned tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the temperature and let simmer partly covered for an hour. Stir now and again.
Rinse the white beans, add to the soup and let simmer for a while so that they are heated.
When the soup is cooked, stir in the pistou.
Divide the soup in bowls. Add the parmesan and olive oil just before serving. Serve with good whole wheat bread.


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Snowshoeing in Alpes Maritimes

Snowshoeing in the Alpes Maritimes (Le Boreon)

In Nordic countries, in spite of the long winter, snowshoeing is not at all that common. The traditional way to more around in wintery landscapes has always been cross country skiing. Even the military moves on skis. Therefore, it was not surprising that our first snowshoeing or rando raquette experience took place here.

Map reading before the snowshoe hike Snowshoe hike preparation with the guides

This winter we have unfortunately seen quite a few accidents in the Alps, many of them avalanche-related. We did the hike presented here a few years ago with guides. We recommend hiring a guide for a high terrain hike in winter even for experienced snowshoers. Local guides know their territory very well, for instance they know the areas prone to avalanches.

Taking a break during the snowshoe hike in Le Boreon Snowshoeing in Le Boreon

Le Boreon is the starting point for many trails. The route was specially chosen by our two guides. During the ascent, we even got a crash course in avalanche victim search, as shown in the video clip. The route was partly off-piste both during the ascent and descent back to Vallon de Salèse. Some parts of the tour actually followed the summer hike called “Circuit des Adus” described in the Randoxygène guide (posted recently in our blog). The summer hike, however, proceeds anticlockwise whereas the snowshoeing tour was done clockwise and started a little lower in the valley. Col de la Vallette (2356 m) was the highest point in both hikes.


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Pan-fried scallops with clementine sauce

Pan-fried scallops with clementine sauce recipe

Scallops, noix de saint-jacques, are usually sold removed from their shells. The edible part of the scallop is the pale muscle and orange roe (coral). They are sold either with or without the roe. I personally think that it is trickier to pan-fry the scallops with the roe. The frying time will depend on the thickness of scallops. Many French recipes recommend frying for only 1 minute, and then the pan has to be really hot. Over-cooking results in tough and rubbery scallops.

In this recipe, the scallops are decorated with grated clementine zest. Alimea Corsican clementines are 100 % organic. They are in season from October to the end of January. They are not waxed or treated after harvest so that you can safely use their zest in cooking, after washing them of course.

Because pan-frying scallops takes only 1- 1 ½ minutes on both sides and they should be served immediately, some planning is wise. It is best to prepare all the vegetables that you are going to serve on the side as well as the clementine sauce before you start frying the scallops. You might try steamed leeks, green beans or braised endives, all go very well with scallops. Serve good whole wheat bread to mop up the sauce.

2 servings

Ingredients for pan-fried scallops with clementine sauce recipe

For the scallops:

6-8 fresh scallops
2- 3 tbsp rapeseed oil for frying

For the clementine sauce:

Juice of 2 Corsican clementines
Grated zest of 1 clementine
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
150 ml water
½ cube vegetable stock, preferably organic
1 tsp soya sauce
2 tsp lavender honey or other runny honey
Black pepper

Zester the clementine

Step 1: Zester the clementine

In a small saucepan, warm the rapeseed oil and soften the shallot for about 10 minutes. Add the water and the ½ cube vegetable stock and bring to a boil.

Zester one clementine and  set aside the zest.

Cook and whisk the sauce

Step 2: The sauce

Press the juice of the clementines and add in the saucepan. Add the soya sauce, lavender honey and black pepper. Continue cooking and whisking occasionally until the sauce is reduced to about half. Set aside and keep warm.

Dry the scallops

Step 3: Dry the scallops

Dry the scallops with kitchen paper. The scallops I bought today are a real challenge to fry because of such a range in size, but this was what they had in our local supermarket today. I am planning to fry the large ones 1 ½ minutes on both sides and the small ones 1 minute on both sides.

Fry the scallops

Step 4: Fry the scallops

Heat the rapeseed oil in a heavy frying pan over a high heat and fry the scallops. The planned timing of frying turned out nice.

Divide the vegetables and the sauce on the plates. Place the scallops on top of the sauce and decorate with clementine zest.


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