I recently discovered Tours, a city that is neither north nor south, but a little bit of both. Right in the heart of the Indre et Loire department, it is said that the natives speak the most pure French in all the realm.
I went for fun and emerged from a weekend there besotted with a very special wine made with hand-harvested Chenin Blanc from Domaine Georges Brunet. Floral, deep and exciting, this is a wine to stock it the cave. I was delighted, too, to realize that shad swim in the Cher river near Tours, and tasted a pate made from this remarkable fish. Other gastronomically notable specialties include fat, white asparagus, hearty chunks of pork that are slow cooked to a crisp tenderness and called rillons, and of course, the pure-pork rillettes de Tours (like a succulent pate).
There is much more to Tours, the city and Tours, the food as well. The botanic garden, for instance, is worth a visit for its peace, calm, and remarkably fascinating herb and aromatic garden; and I wouldn’t miss the sweet little restaurant Tartines & Co, which is open all day and offers surprisingly sophisticated and richly flavored open-faced and club sandwiches stuffed and topped with locally produced ingredients. There is also Le Mille Pates where owner Jean Lécureuil makes the dough for his ethereal pizzas according to exacting standards developed over a multi-decade career.
And there is, too, La Ballade Gourmande, a specialty food store stocking local products like the shad pate, glorious smoked eel from the Cher river prepared by Jerome Monfray, and a host of jellies and jams, honey and wines. As they say in France, “Tours vaut le detour.”
Tartines & Co 6, rue des Fusilles, Tel: 011.33 (0)18.104.22.168.60
Le Mille Pates 31, Rue Bretonneau , 37000 Tours Tél : 011.33 (0)2 47 64 03 95
La Balade Gourmande, 26 Place du Grand Marché Tél : 011.33 (0)22.214.171.124.65
BRAISED WHITE ASPARAGUS WITH PISTACHIO OIL
This recipes offers a whole new spring temptation from Tours! If you cannot find white asparagus, use thick green asparagus stalks.
2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup (125ml) water
1 large clove garlic, green germ removed, cut in thin strips
Several sprigs fresh thyme
2 pounds (1kg) white asparagus, peeled and trimmed
Sea Salt and freshly ground white pepper
About 2 teaspoons pistachio oil
Chervil sprigs – optional garnish
1. Place the olive oil, the water, the garlic, and the thyme in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and add the asparagus. Turn the asparagus so it is coated with the oil and water mixture and when the water and oil come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook the asparagus until it is tender, turning it from time to time so that it cooks evenly and turns golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. When the asparagus is nearly tender through, remove the cover and cook it, shaking the pan and stirring it, until any liquid in the pan evaporates. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper and transfer the asparagus to a serving dish. Garnish with the pistachio oil and the chervil and serve immediately.
4 to 6 servings