When we visited France in April 2018 I knew I’d be wowed. What I wasn’t anticipating was just how much of a revelation French food would be to me.
While I was expecting all the cream and butter and richness that is a hallmark of French cooking, I was also wondering how my lactose challenged tummy was going to deal with it – and decided even before we left Australia that avoidance for my tummy’s sake was not an option. I figured that I’d deal with the inconvenience rather than forgo the pleasure, and ate cheese almost every day – surprisingly without issue. My tummy was happy. The difference being, I suspect, that the cheese I was eating in France was locally produced, fresh and, quite often, made using raw milk. Another surprising thing was that I didn’t put on weight over there – despite enjoying all that France had to offer. That, however, is a whole other story.
That aside, my revelation came not so much from the food itself – and the fact that I could happily indulge in local cheese without my tummy or the scales complaining – but from the French attitude to food. Each region has a style of its own, but one concept each has in common is that of wastage. Very little is thrown out. In France, it seems, leftovers are elevated into something new and delicious.
Take this savoury cake for example. Glenis at Aupres de l’Eglise in Oyes (main pic) served it as an aperitif with champagne in the courtyard before dinner. Also served were radishes – the long French breakfast style that we have difficulty sourcing here – with amazing butter and salt. We ate it in the courtyard under the birches on a sunny spring evening. It was everything I’d dreamed of and more.
I replicated it the other night when the friends we’d stayed with and road-tripped with while in France (but who now live in Melbourne) came to visit. It took us all back to that night in Champagne – the food, the wine, the company.
Although she was kind enough to send me the recipe, at its heart this cake (which is a cross between a frittata and a crustless quiche) is a very clever use of leftovers rather than prescribed ingredients. What goes in it are leftover vegetables, herbs, cheeses, maybe a little bacon – whatever you happen to have in the fridge. The eggs, yoghurt, oil and flour are there to bind it all together, but every loaf is just a little different.
The recipe is below, but you really can put anything in it. Just remember to dice your veg and, if you’re using zucchini/courgette, squeeze out the liquid in a cloth first.
What you need
- 150g plain flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 150g unsweetened plain or Greek-style yoghurt
- 3 eggs
- Whatever vegetables you have to hand: chopped peppers, halved (or quartered) cherry tomatoes, a small handful of chopped (and stoned) olives, chopped green beans, peas, corn, chopped fresh herbs – whatever.
- Whatever cheeses you have to hand – a handful of grated cheddar, chopped blue or goats cheese.
- Fried diced bacon, chorizo…if you have it. Otherwise, don’t bother with the meat, you don’t really need it.
What you do with it
Preheat the oven to 180C and generously grease a loaf tin. If you have them, sprinkle poppy seeds in – if you don’t, don’t bother.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and make a well in the centre for the wet ingredients.
Drop in the eggs, yoghurt, oil and some salt and pepper and whisk to blend – but don’t overmix. If you want, whisk the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl before stirring into the flour. Your call, but I can’t be faffed dirtying another bowl.
Gently mix in your vegetables, herbs, cheeses, bacon…whatever… and put it into your prepared loaf tin.
Bake in the oven for around 35 mins – until well risen, golden and firm to the touch. Depending on the types of veg and quantity of cheese you’ve used, you might need to pop it in for an extra 5 minutes or so.
Let it cool in its tin on a rack and then turn out onto a board to serve. It’s best cut with a bread knife and served in small slices as a snack, with salad for a light lunch or summer supper. With champagne… For me though, I think it’s best eaten with champagne. It’s that special.