If I wrote a blog about how the hotels in Lourdes serve the greatest food in the whole of Southern France, it would be a big fat lie. And that won't do. My abiding memory of Lourdes food is that three meals are served a day, and I struggled to eat any of them. I distinctly remember trying to discretely get rid of a seemingly endless pile of brussels sprouts that appeared as the 'vegetarian option' one year. Brussel sprouts - in August! I believe they were served with an equally large pile of potato croquets, deep fried. Lourdes is one of those places where you walk around hungry and tired all the time but you neither sleep nor eat. You long for your creature comforts, but you are abroad and so your creature comforts don't exist. My nana used to pack sausages, rashers and tea to go to Lourdes. She was a very wise lady. There were days in Lourdes where I would have done anything for a decent cup of tea. I understand that there is a hostelry for Irish pilgrims which specializes in serving up 'tea you could trot a horse across' - pots of perfectly brewed warming goodness, but I never found it. Don't let me mislead you. I loved Lourdes, and I have written about it plenty of times. It is just that the great healing and comforts of that place are not ministered through the food.
So, what to cook to celebrate Our Lady of Lourdes on 11th February? I think I am going to have to go for something that is the complete opposite of that which you are likely to be served up in the local hotels. Lourdes hotels specialize in utilitarian stodge that can be kept warm for hours. It keeps your body and soul together, but that is about it. Our Lady of Lourdes was the beautiful, fleeting 'aquero' that brought gentleness to a life of hardship. I think you need a light cleansing flavour to reflect that; nothing heavy or lingering; a recipe that speaks of health and goodness, something fleeting but beautiful, something cleansing.
Tagliatelle with lemon, cream and parsley (for 6)
I chose this also because, at the beginning of February here, the flat leaf parsley in my garden has just got shoots of new growth and looks great. I just went out and checked. OK, so you need a weekend full of time, and a waiting audience to pull this off, but it is worth it :). Or cheat, go to your local Italian deli and buy freshly made pasta. In Bedford I could do this and know it would still have been made by hand just hours before I cooked it. In Oxford I haven't found anywhere to do that, so I have to do it all myself. Bah!
Rich egg pasta (see below)
Maldon sea salt
300ml double cream
120g unsalted butter, softened
zest and juice of 4 large and juicy organic lemons
6 tablespoons of roughly chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
150g Parmesan, freshly grated
In a large thick bottomed saucepan, gently heat the cream. When warm add the soft butter, lemon juice and zest. Stir briefly together until the butter is completely melted, then remove from heat.
Cook the tagliatelli in a generous amount of boiling salted water until al dente, and then drain. Stir in the warm cream, and season with salt and pepper. Add half the parsley and toss together. Serve immediately onto warm plates with the remainder of the parsley and the parmesan.
Rich Egg Pasta (for 6)
400g '00' pasta flour, plus 100g for dusting
20 large organic egg yolks
1 tablespoon Maldon sea salt
Put the flour in the largest mixing bowl you have. Make a well in the middle and add the egg yolks and the salt (yes, you are going to have to think of a recipe to use the egg whites, it is part of the charm of making home made pasta, go mad, make baked alaska :)). With the dough hook attachment on the mixer knead the mixture to a dough. This takes about 10 minutes. Remove from the bowl, wrap in cling film and leave to rest for 1 hour.
Dust your work surface with the remaining flour. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Pass the pieces through your pasta machine set on the widest setting, at least 10 times, folding the dough and turning it each time. The dough should feel silky. Then reduce the setting gradually until you have long sheets. Do not make your final sheet too thin, about 2 - 3mm, or No. 1 on your machine.
Fold the pasta sheets over three or four times on themselves, then cut the pile as finely as you can into tagliatelli, 1 cm wide, or use the widest cutting setting on your machine. Toss the cut tagliatelli to loosen individual ribbons and lightly coat with flour. Use as soon as possible.