French food was a revelation to me. I was expecting all the cream and butter and richness that is a hallmark of French cooking – and I was wondering how my lactose challenged tummy was going to deal with it.  Avoidance for my tummy’s sake was not an option, and I ate cheese almost every day without issue. The difference being, I suspect, that the cheese I was eating in France was locally produced, fresh and, quite often, made using raw milk.

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 complaining – but from the 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. I’ll tell you more about this when we get to Dijon and Alex Miles’ cooking class, but here leftovers are elevated into something new and delicious.

Take this savoury cake for example. Glenis (at Aupres de l’Eglise in Oyes) served it as an aperitif with champagne before we all sat down at the long table for dinner (see the pic above). Although she was kind enough to send me the recipe, at its heart this cake is a very clever use of leftovers. What goes in it are leftover vegetables, herbs, cheeses – whatever happens to be in the fridge. The eggs, yoghurt, oil and flour are just there to bind it all together.

I served it last weekend when we had friends staying – also with champagne as an aperitif. We’d made up a platter for lunch of produce from that morning’s market – fresh baguette, goats cheese, a washed rind cheese, some olives, capsicum, and cherry tomatoes. What we didn’t eat was wrapped up and used later in this cake – along with the last couple of rashers of bacon that I had in the fridge, and some parsley I’d bought in during the week.

The recipe is below, but you really can put anything in it. Just remember, though, if you’re using zucchini to 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 fresh herbs.
  • 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.

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. With champagne…it’s that special.

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