There once was a castle

RECIPE:   SWEET QUAILS, ZANTE CURRANTS & ROASTED GRAPES   |   RED CABBAGE BRAISED IN CIDER

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

On Sunday morning, we left the house early instead of sleeping in, drawn like magnets to the crisp blue outdoors and looking forward to a long hike. We headed to a trail that began by a town named Retournac, rising on the banks of the Loire River. The same Loire that flows by the famed valley in between Paris and Brittany. But here in Auvergne we are at the source, also known as the upper Loire or Haute-Loire.

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

Branches at fall, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Cake pan | Infinite belly

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

Red cabbage casserole & Auvergne country-side | Infinite belly

Glass | Infinite belly

Here, there are less castles and more spacious farmhouses of verdant walls, less people on a weekend getaway and more signs for fresh goat cheese. The trail led us to a steep hill going away from all main roads. “That’s usually where the best spots are,” I thought to myself, almost out of breath after the climb. We gazed at a stone house with its own pool for swimming laps, bordered by the same stones that compose the house. Donkeys, chickens, so many animals were walking around at ease. Looking up from the house, we spot a stone structure at the top of the next hill, a kind of Auvergnat Acropolis majestically posed at the peak of our trail.

View from Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

The ruins point to the sky. The Château d’Artias, as it is called, was passed down from baron to baron for one-thousand years. After the Revolution, it was turned into a stone quarry until it became considered protected heritage. A train rolled by just as we looked out from the top at the breathtaking landscape. It sounded like a train from 200 years ago, wheels and tracks bumping rhythmically, but looking closely I saw it was a TER (the regional public transportation).

Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Ornament | Infinite belly

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

Zante currant & roasted garlic | Infinite belly

Back home, we made cailles aux raisins de corinthe, quails with grapes & Zante currants, one of Adélaïde’s all-time favorites (as it is often the case, because it’s one of her granny’s specialties, and also because of its somewhat exotic name). The Greek city of Corinth used to be the main exporter of these sweet raisins. I always found quails a little fastidious because of how much cutting up is involved — “so many bones, so little flesh”, one might say. But their delicate, slightly gamey taste is worth the trouble. The first time I had them roasted in a sweet sauce, they completely won me over. And as mamie Madeleine benevolently puts it, “puisque ce sont des cailles, avec les doigts, c’est permis” — “since these are quails, using your fingers is allowed”.

Fresh grapes & Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

As it turns out, this very dish was ridiculed by Alfred Hitchcock in his movie Frenzy. A British detective in charge of finding the serial killer terrorizing London, is being starved by his wife’s attempts to make sophisticated French cuisine at home — with most strange-looking and unappetizing results. Dark humor aside, this recipe is great for any festive, family meal, and can be prepared with any other bird (chicken, turkey…), by changing the roasting time.

Cutlery | Infinite belly

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly


Sweet quails, Zante currants & roasted grapes served with
red cabbage braised in cider | Serves 2


If you do choose to serve the quails with braised red cabbage as we did, start cooking the cabbage at the same time. You could also prepare it ahead of time and reheat it easily. Rice or polenta are great side-dishes for the quails too. 

The sweet quails:

  • 4 quails (depending on appetite and size, you can serve 1 or 2 quails per person)
  •  100g spring onions, peeled & whole
  •  60g dried apricot, sliced
  • 100g Zante currants, rehydrated overnight (make sure to keep the water)
  •  200g fresh grapes (preferably seedless)
  • 1 whole garlic bulb
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • thyme
  •  2 tbsp maple syrup
  •  1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar (or rice vinegar)
  •  1 tbsp mirin (or saké, or white wine)
  • 1-2 tbsp butter or duck fat
  • olive oil
  • fleur de sel & black pepper

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

  1. The night before, rehydrate the Zante currants in a bowl and reserve overnight. Make sure to keep the water as you will use it when cooking the quails.
  2.  In a casserole, heat up some olive oil and add the whole peeled spring onions, bay leaves, thyme and quails. Turn the birds on each side regularly to give them a nice golden color. Then, add the maple syrup, mirin, vinegar & duck fat or butter and lower the heat a little. Season to taste.
  3.  Keeping the whole unpeeled garlic bulb together, cut the top part off and add to the casserole. Throw in the whole grapes, sliced apricots & currants and leave to cook for another 5 minutes. Add 1-2 cups of the water from the currants and make sure to keep a little hydrated throughout cooking to obtain a delicious sauce.
  4.  Cover and place the casserole in a preheated oven at 190°C for app. 20 min. Take out the cover during the last 5 minutes. Rehydrate and/or turn the quails if necessary while roasting.

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

Caldron | Infinite belly

The braised cabbage:

  • 400-500g red cabbage, sliced
  • 100ml apple cider
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1-3 tbsp butter (depending on taste), diced
  • olive oil
  • fleur de sel & black pepper

Red cabbage | Infinite belly

  1. Peel off the outer leaves of the cabbage, cut it in half & remove the stem in order to slice it thinly.
  2. In a pot, bring water to a boil and parboil the sliced cabbage for 5 min. Drain and plunge in cold water for 2-3 min. Dry in a clean cloth or using paper towels before cooking.
  3. In a pot, heat up some olive oil and add the sliced cabbage. Season to taste and let it soften on medium heat. Add the cider vinegar and gradually add dices of butter, stirring often so that the cabbage doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  4. After a few minutes, add the cider and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat for app. 20-30 min. Make sure the liquids have evaporated before serving.

Trees & branches at fall, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

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16 thoughts on “There once was a castle

    1. Thank you Linda!! Yes and the Queen too… The legend says Marguerite de Valois aka “Queen Margot”, Queen of France in the 1590’s — the one from the famous Alexandre Dumas’ novel — was held captive there for some time…

      Liked by 1 person

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