The Festive Season is a time for indulgence and while many are contemplating following a plant-based diet for Veganary, let’s look at some delicious French food. After all, it’s a calorie free exercise!
A is for Aligot
Let’s start with something warm and comforting, ideal when the weather’s cold and miserable at this time of year. It’s a favourite of my beloved. It’s a potato, cheese and garlic mash. I’ll typically use a floury potato, whatever cheese is left in the cheese box rather than traditional Tomme, it’ll probably be a mixture of aged Comte, a creamy goats cheese and maybe some brie or Camembert and confit garlic. I’ll mash the potatoes by hand with some warm cream and lashings of butter before adding in the cheese and garlic. You’re aiming for a thick fondue like texture. I’ll generally serve it to him with some meaty Toulouse sausages. Not for the faint-hearted or those watching their weight!
B is for Boulangerie (Bakery)
French people love their bread and there are plenty of wonderful bakeries (and cake shops). I patronise a number depending on what I’m planning on buying. In truth, most of them are both boulangeries and patisseries. There’s one that makes wonderful sourdough, another has nutty spelt loaves – perfect for avocado on toast – and another has wonderful organic baguettes. My favourite, or rather my beloved’s favourite viennoisseries, come from yet another and then there are at least six we go to for their wonderful range of cakes, home-made ice cream and chocolates.
Don’t even get me started on all the wonderful ones in Paris. I can’t tell you how many shop windows have been imprinted with my nose!
C is for Café
Where would we be without our morning injection of caffeine?
Bonjour, un café s’il vous plaît
This is the basic request for coffee that’s probably the most commonly heard in France and it specifically means a short, black coffee, an espresso. A noisette is an espresso with a dash of milk. If you want yours with milk you can order un café au lait, un café crème (or just un crème) or un double crème if you want it really milky. Of course, no one in France – or indeed in neighbouring Italy – orders a milky coffee after breakfast.
D is for Daube
Daube is a type of French beef stew. Provençal in its roots, you’ll definitely find it on a menu in Nice where it’ll often be served with that other Niçois speciality, ravioli. The stew is heavy on tender beef chunks, onions, tomatoes, carrots, red wine and herbs. I often make it for my beloved, it’s particularly delicious when served with a hearty dollop of celeriac or potato mash.
E is for Escargot: Love them or hate them?
Hands up, I’m not a fan of snails, they eat everything in your garden. But you don’t really see them much in southern France anymore, you have to go to a typical bistro in Paris or Lyon. On their own, snails don’t taste of very much at all, everyone says they’re all about the butter, garlic and parsley sauce. Okay, pass the baguette for dipping………..
F is for Foie gras: Delicious or animal cruelty?
I used to love foie gras and I would always have some for Christmas Day luncheon, though only after a long bike ride. Now that I no longer eat meat I rarely cook it but, when I do, I try and buy it direct from the French producer so I can guarantee the traceability. I know that sometimes the process of its creation is not super humane, but I think there are worse things done to animals that should merit the same or more attention.
G is for Gateaux: What cakes couldn’t you live without?
Notice I’ve gone for the plural here. Less is not more when it comes to delicious French cakes. My beloved adores the classics: Rum baba, millefeuille, tarte au citron and éclair café. Unable to eat dairy, I’m restricted to home-made vegan cakes but even those have to be low in fat – not too many nuts or too much coconut oil.
H is for huîtres
To say the French love oysters is a massive understatement. The country produces thousands of tonnes a year and most of these are for home consumption. Les huîtres come into their own at Christmas and New Year when they form an essential part of the festive fare, but this is a year-round treat. It’s also one of the easiest to make because the French largely eat oysters au naturel with a twist of lemon.
I is for ile flottante (floating islands) also called oeufs à la neige
Another French classic and something of a traditional, nursery type dessert, one of my beloved’s favourites. It combines light and fluffy poached meringues served atop a creamy crème anglaise (custard). A topping of caramel sauce or caramelised shards of almonds is the perfect finish.
J is for Junk food: French people love McDonald’s – do you?
I’m not above popping into a McCafé for a coffee but rarely darken its door for anything else, except its WiFi. However, our local McDo’s (mostly McDrive’s) have been doing a roaring trade trade this year since Lockdown I was lifted. I have previously expressed my surprise at the French love of le hamburger and le pizza!
K is for Kouign-amann
This is a Breton cake most commonly described as: “the fattiest pastry in all of Europe.” I can feel my arteries hardening at just the thought of this pastry. The name comes from the Breton words for cake (kouign) and butter (amann). It is a round multi-layered cake, originally made from bread dough, containing folden-in layers of butter and sugar, like puff pastry albeit with fewer layers. The cake is slowly baked until the butter puffs up the dough (resulting in its layered structure) and the sugar caramelises. The effect is similar to a muffin-shaped, caramelized croissant – doesn’t that just sound delicious?
L is for Lyon
A serious foodie destination, home to the very best in French gastronomy – made famous worldwide by the late Michelin-starred chef Paul Bocuse – and its culinary capital. It’s probably no coincidence that two of France’s best known wine-growing regions are located near the city: the Beaujolais region to the north and the Côtes du Rhône region to the south. I’ve visited the city a couple of times but really want to spend more time here for obvious reasons!
M is for Moules
Typically from Normandy but served throughout the country. Regular readers will know that overcooked moules are one of my big no-nos in any restaurant. Moules marinières is the most mussels dish incorporating garlic, shallots, white wine, parsley and cream. Just don’t forget the frites to go with them.
N is for Niçoise salad
Nice gives its name to this light, summer salad whose base ingredients include lettuce, tomato, fresh tuna, anchovies and olives. However, like all great recipes, Niçoise salad comes in infinite varieties. I’m not a fan of tuna, so make mine with salmon and usually also serve it with boiled eggs, green haricot beans and boiled baby potatoes. How do you like yours?
Come back tomorrow for Part II.