The Paris-Correze cycling race has been running through the Centre region of France for ten years now. First imagined by French cycling great Laurent Fignon and Correze native Max Mamers as one of the first races in more than twenty years created to highlight national and international riders both established and up and coming. The two day cycling race starts outside of Paris in Contres of the Loir et Cher department. There are many races that have Paris in the title, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Tours and although you might think it would start in Paris most do not. Some of these races start close to Paris or at least in the same region, Contres is actual over 200 miles from Paris and in the Centre region.
Laurent Fignon one of the two organizers is a past Tour de France winner wining in 1983 and 1984 but then suffered injuries over the years until 1989 when it came down to the wire at the very last stage where he ended up finishing 2nd in the closest finish ever losing first by only eight seconds. Fignon continued to race until 1993 before retiring and recently made news again when he announced in the spring of 2009 that he was suffering from intestinal cancer.
It seems a bit of a stretch to call the race Paris-Correze when the start city isn’t even in the same region as Paris. Contres sits in the Loir-et-Cher of the Centre region that sits, guess where, in the center of France. But this is where we are so let’s just go with it. Contres dates back to the Middle Ages and was said to have been formed by cattle farmers out of view of the local rulers but in a perfect position between the provinces of Marche, Poitou and Berry. Floating in and out of prosperity Contres would hit a big roadblock in 1629 when the plague would sweep through and kill a third of the residents.
The first stage follows along and through the Parc Naturel Regional de la Brenne that covers 646 square miles. Located in the Indre department it is split down the center by the Creuse River with the River Anglin running in the southern half. The southern half is known as La Petite Brenne, along with La Brenne it sits in what use to be the provinces of Touraine and Berry.
Along the route sits one of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" or the most beautiful villages in France and while I would think pretty much every single village of France could have that distinction but this a real thing. In 1982 a group of people got together to create an official distinction to be given to towns and villages of France. There was a criteria that they must meet, and it wasn’t a swimsuit compitition. Each village had to have more than 2,000 people and have at least two protected sites. It could be artistic, picturesque or historic. Since it began there have been 152 villages named and today the route goes right through one. The medieval village of Saint-Benoît-du-Sault sits on a rocky hill overlooking the Portefeuille River was once within the area known as Gaul and Roman Aquitania. During the 10th century the Benedictine monks of Sacierges-Saint-Martin moved into the village and set up a priory. Walls were built around the village to protect the priory and church and in the 15th century another wall was added to protect the rest of the town. The 10th Chateau de Brosse just outside of the village was built by the de Brosse family but today all that remains is ruins sitting amongst trees and green grass but still a sight to see. The cobbled streets with Mideval structure and winding paths make it truly one of the “most beautiful villages of France”
The stage finishes after 128 miles in the town of Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat in the Haute-Vienne department of the Limousin sitting on a hill looking down onto the River Vienne. The town was named after Saint Leonard of Noblac who died in 559. A Frankish noble of the court of Clovis I and converted to Christianity on Christmas 496 by Saint Remigius the Bishop of Reims. He was given the rite to release prisoners that he found worthy of the act and this would how he would become saint. He moved into the Limousin forest and lived a life of a hermit but people were drawn to him and he had many followers. The Queen of the Franks was with child and Leonard prayed for her and her child to be born safely and a boy. For his help the Queen gave him royal land just outside of Limoges, the village of Noblac. He would go on to set up the abbey in Noblac and the town was soon to follow. The town of Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of its connection to the route of Santiago that was the road that pious pilgrims used to cross into Spain. The Romanesque church Saint Leonard de Noblat dates back to the 11th century and is topped with a graceful bell tower. Within the walls the Saint has his final resting place surrounded by the walls and town that bears his name.
The first stage started on the edge of the Loire region and and since the Tour de France 2010 didn’t go through there I was excited to do something from the “garden of France” The Loire valley has such mild temperatures and very sandy soil makes for a wonderful place for growing fine vegetables such as asparagus. One of my favorite French cookbooks is Anne Willan’s Country Cooking of France. Not only is it filled with fantastic recipes it is pages of absolutely stunning pictures and text. I made Asperges Et Champignons a la Creme D'Estagon, or Asparagus with Mushrooms in a Tarragon Cream from this amazing book and changed it a tiny bit. It was very fast to make, but having all your ingredients ready to go or Mis en Place, makes it much easier once the sauce is being made. Although the sauce looks rich and heavy, it was very light. It has lemon juice in it as well so it had a wonderful light taste of lemon
Salt and pepper
1 pd asparagus, green or white
2 tablespoons butter
5 ounces cremini mushrooms cleaned and thinly sliced
Fresh lemon juice
1 shallot finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
In a medium sauce sauté pan bring water to a boil and add chopped leaves of tarragon and bring to a boil. If your asparagus is of the fat variety use a vegetable peeler to trim down the edges, it will make for a tenderer stalk. If they are the very skinny asparagus, no need to trim. Trim the ends off so they are all the same length (just for the sake of beauty) Drop the asparagus into the boiling water and depending on size cook until tender, anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes. You can test it by piercing the fat end with the tip of a sharp knife; it should go in with some resistance. Remove from the water and set aside, cover with foil to keep warm while the mushrooms are prepared.
In saucepan melt butter, add mushrooms, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Cover and let cook for 4 to 5 minutes until tender. Uncover and add shallots and stir until liquid from the mushrooms is evaporated. Using one cup of the asparagus cooking liquid whisk in flour and then pour into mushrooms and bring to a boil and stir until thickened. Add cream and stir until incorporated and warmed up, add chopped tarragon and check for seasoning. To serve plate the asparagus and pour the mushrooms over and enjoy