Possibly one of the best kept secrets south of the English Channel, is the magical and unique Queille Festival. Every 2 years since 2003 I have made a little pilgrimage out to this corner of south-west France to cook for this extraordinary event. Along with a happy band of merry chefs, we arrive on the Wednesday and cook frantically till late on the sunday night. The music of course is the main reason why people go, and that I am sad to say I have not seen or indeed heard much of, our focus is of course the food and feeding the festival goers and volunteers who make this weekend such a memorable event. Holed up in the medieval kitchen we have our own agenda and program as to what needs to be done. The number of mouths to feed escalates as the days pass by, peaking at around 200 to 230 over the weekend. It is feat of wonderful teamwork, vast amounts of organisation and lots of salad washing. It is hardly gourmet or Michelin star cuisine that we create, instead it is much more rustic, country and rural, in keeping with the festival, Chateau and the whole raison d’être as to why the festival started in the first place. I love it and adore the challenge it presents, with the constant shifting of menus and juggling what one can or can’t buy locally, it is several days of very large, moveable, happy feasts.
Take this year for example. Sunday night which is traditionally a sit down dinner in the famous ‘Big Top’ had a menu looking something like this: ‘Gazpacho with white balsamic condiment and basil oil’, ‘Slow braised beef with five spice, star anise and dates’, ‘Nectarine and polenta cake’. All sounds pretty sensible stuff, apart from on arrival in France we were greeted by grey clouds, temperatures of around 8c and lots of chilly lashing rain! Uuumm, not quite what I had in mind when I sold the trip to my happy team, of what hoped to be ‘bikini clad’ cooks!! Obviously I’m joking and honestly most of our work is conducted inside, but for the troops outside aspects of the menu had to change, nothing worse than eating refreshing ‘Gazpacho’ on a cold and wet Summers evening!
Mutterings of ‘Hocus Pocus’ and ‘Abracadabra’ could be heard form the kitchen, lots of stirring of the cauldron, and the much more appropriate ‘Roasted red pepper and tomato soup with harrisa yoghurt and rocket oil’ was magiced into being! So as has happened before and I am sure will happen again, a little shifting of the boundaries, playing around with the ingredients resulted in a much happier ending. The same can be said for the pudding. We already had the ‘heads up’ that nectarines would be in bountiful supply, so it made perfect sense to incorporate them into a pudding. I had envisaged a polenta and almond based cake but had no ‘tried or tested’ recipe at my fingertips. A google search revealed a straight forward one that worked like a dream on the day, and allegedly improved with time. I can’t vouch for that, as I was not around long enough for leftovers, but the pudding on the day smelt and tasted divine. Scents of sweet sun ripened nectarines and rich vanilla wafted out of the kitchen on the breeze of what turned out to be the only sunny day. It was heavenly, the pudding and the day! Come rain or shine this is a lovely summer cake, either for tea or for pudding, particularly with lashings of nutmeg creme fraiche. As for the Queille Festival, words alone can do no justice, you will just have to go and experience it yourself, 2015 is the next one!
Nectarine, Polenta and Almond Cake – taken from http://recipes.coles.com.au/recipes/2546/nectarine-polenta-cake/
15ogms of butter at room temperature
3/4 cup of caster sugar
2tsp vanilla essence
1 cup of polenta
100g of ground almonds
1 tsp of baking powder
200g Plain yogurt
3 0r 4 nectarines
2 tablespoons of apricot jam for the glaze
1. Pre-heat oven to 180c. Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line base with baking paper.
2. Using electric beaters or a magimix beat the butter with the sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, fold in the polenta, baking powder and yogurt.
3. Spoon into prepared tin and smooth the surface. Cut each nectarine into 8 wedges, lay overlapping on top of the cake batter. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes until risen, golden brown and just firm when touched in the centre.
4. Leave to cool on a wire rack and glaze with a pastry brush and apricot jam glaze. (2 tablespoons of apricot jam with 1 tablespoon of water heated up till the melts into the water).