I love France, and naturally, I love French Food. I try and get over a few times a year to stock up on wine and tins of duck cassolet, almost always staying in my little house on the North Western coast of Brittany.
Right by the sea, I mostly eat at home, stocking up on wine from the Selier Goëlo and arrays of cheeses, salads potato croquettes and misshapen vegetables from the supermarkets of Plouzec. From time to time we eat out at the port side restaurants of Paimpol, taking advantage of the Fruits de Mer and Bretagne Tart- all the things that make me love the regional cuisine.
French Supermarkets are always exciting places from me. I run around gleefully, enjoying the packaging and reminiscing over the staples of my childhood- Cacolac and Madeline’s.
I like the little variations that differentiate them from their English counterparts. Frozen potato douphinoux are a novelty I would never buy in England, but always end up in the trolley in France.
Cheese is always bought in vast quantities- even pre-grated Ementhal, a supermarket classic that would seem lazy to me en Anglettere, but is somehow very acceptable over the channel.
I’ve yet to buy a ready-to-grill Croque Monsieur from the chilled cabinets, but seeing them always makes me laugh- especially coming from a nation that prides themselves on their cooking.
I love the Local Produce section, selling Bretagne tarts avec fourré a la crème dè Preneaux, and ‘Specialitie Brettagne Pur Beurre’ Gateux Abricot. I somehow couldn’t imagine anything similar in Sutton…
Bread and cheese is one of the best things about being alive. There aren’t many people I know who have managed to escape one of my raptures on these simple pleasures. Honestly, with some oil, balsamic vinegar and olives- I could live on it.
Growing up, I used to bemoan my summers spent in France on a diet of French bread and cheeses with varying degrees of pungency and hardness.
Now, I consider it a wasted opportunity and take it as a very serious task to catch up on lost time. I have to admit- I’m not the biggest fan of French bread. I find it too dry and porous, paling in comparison to soft and doughy English bread. I even prefer English baguettes!
That said, I now adore my lunches of bread, tomatoes, brie and Saint Nectaire Laitier, or Camembert and Chevre. The staple lunch, day in day out, accompanied with cous cous salad and tomato salads with ground pepper and balsamic vinegar.
I have happy memories of the traditions that have become ingrained in our routine-Bouchee on the patio, with bottles of red wine and cards in the summer, Mulled wine up by the Moulin de Craca and duck cassolet in the winter. It won’t come as a surprise to you that food plays such a large part in many of my happiest memories, and France wouldn’t be the same for me without the food opportunities it has presented to me. It probably even plays a large part in the relationship I now have with cooking and eating.
My little house en France doesn’t have an oven, so we have to make do with a hob and a tiny microwave-grill. I tend to cook almost entirely with a hob anyway, so it isn’t too much of a problem. I enjoy having to make the most with what we have.
Here are a few of the typically French dishes we served up on our most recent trip to Bretagne, from which I have just returned.
Goats cheese Gallettes:
Gallettes are just so damn French. The savoury equivalent of a crepe, a thicker, wholemeal wheat is used. You can make these yourself following a basic Gallette recipe (look up?) or just buy a pre made pack. In France, these are in abundance. Gallettes are a great opportunity to make the most of the quintessentially French ingredients and quality and freshness of their cheese and vegetables.
In a pan, fry some chopped onion or shallots. When they are softened, tip in a bowl of chopped tomatoes. You can also use a tin, but the tomatoes in France are so big and beautiful I prefer to use them fresh. Add a big handful of spinach and stir until wilted. Stir in plenty of Herbes de Provence (When in France…) You can also add some finely diced mushroom.
Open the Gallette and place on the plate. Be careful, as they are fragile and prone to tearing. Tip the mixture into one of the perforated quarters. Top with some thin strips of ham, a classic ingredient in gallettes. Crumble in some goats cheese.
Fold in half so it forms a semi circle. Sprinkle with grated emmenthal cheese- there is not a supermarket in France that will not sell this. Fold in half again.
In a small pan, fry an egg. When it is cooked, but still soft, tip onto the triangle. Sprinkle again with grated emmenthal and place under the grill for a few minutes, remove from the heat, and serve.
Alongside crème caramel and Tarte aux pommes, some kind of flambéed or alcohol soaked fruit is a staple on the menu of most French restaurants. My sister and I created this recipe using pineapple to recreate a similar dish at home. It is a real winter dish- warm and spicy. If you’re a fan of mulled wine, you should be a fan of this!
Chop a pineapple into slices, removing the skin. In a pan, caramelise some sugar by covering the base of a pan with caster sugar and heating without stirring until it melts into a golden caramel. Whilst this is happening, mix some honey in a bowl with cinnamon and some nutmeg. Brush this mixture over the slices of pineapple, coating them well. Once the caramel is ready, drop the slices into it and fry for a few minutes each side, turning them half way through. Remove the coated pineapple slices from the pan and drizzle with a splash of liqueur or spirit of your choice; Brandy is an obvious choice, but Rum or a fruit liqueur could also work.