Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Rousquilles

Rousquilles are ring-shaped biscuits, similar to shortbread, made in the Vallespir region in Roussillon. They originated in southern Spain, and their name means “small wheels” and were looped onto thin sticks which hawkers would carry on their shoulders for sale in the streets. They are flavoured with aniseed, orange blossom water and honey and are usually eaten with coffee or before a meal with a glass of local wine such as Banyuls or a Muscat.

Aniseed (anis) is a member of the parsley family, and related to caraway, dill, cumin, and fennel. Aniseed is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and has been highly valued since ancient times. Aniseeds have a distinctive sweet liquorice-like aroma and flavour and have been used for medicinal purposes throughout history, especially as a digestive aid. The seeds are also used whole or crushed as a flavouring in various foods, from baked goods and sweets to liqueurs such as absinthe or the Greek liqueur ouzo.

Ancient Roman wedding ceremonies often concluded with the breaking of a cake of wheat or barley containing anise over the bride's head as a symbol of good fortune. And centuries later, King Edward IV was said to have slept on bed linens that had been perfumed with anise.

Orange Blossom Water (eau de fleur d'oranger) is a distillate made from the petals of the bitter orange tree (known as a bigaradier in French). It's a traditional ingredient in North African cooking where you will find it in both sweet and savoury dishes and even salads. In France it is mostly in the south where you will find flower waters used to delicately flavour various regional dishes, mostly desserts and sweets. Like Aniseed, orange blossoms were used in weddings in ancient times but in this instance they were used to make wreaths for the brides.

Languedoc-Roussillon is one of France’s main bee-keeping regions and honey is an ingredient in many local deserts. You can find Rosemary, Chestnut and Lavender Honey in the region. Chestnut Honey is from the white blossom of the red sweet chestnut tree and has a full-bodied nutty flavour.

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