Allyson Gofton in France: Spring galette
Here in the Pyrenees, spring is in full bloom. Like the other three seasons, spring requires all of its designated three months before a profusion of floral colour white washes the old farmhouses and the market stalls’ perennial veges and fruit are lost under cheery-hued strawberries, cherries, plums and peaches, white and green asparagus and peas and broad beans in the pod.
The markets are the lifeblood of the villages of the Pyrenees and they can be found hidden in closeted valleys, under plane tree-lined boulevards in tiny villages, or like mine in Vic-en-Bigorre, held right in the centre of the uncelebrated town, in an enormous open-sided, roofed halle.
So central to village life is the halle that all roads into Vic go around or past it, and when there’s no market it serves as a communal car park. Spring sees an increase in market stalls, as locals erect small stands to sell homemade pasta, conserves, baking, cheese and, as is the tradition, vegetables and fruits from their own gardens that are surplus to their requirement.
Also with the “all clear” from the bird flu epidemic, the atmosphere of the market is now much enhanced by characters bringing in their trucks laden with squawking birds of varying breeds to sell while children gather like bees around honey to watch and help the process.
It’s a time too for more casual foods to eat, and the abundance of food trucks is noticeable. There’s the roast chicken man, whose van, complete with rotisserie, sells roasted quail, free-range chickens and potatoes, sliced and cooked with garlic in the pan beneath the birds so that they are imbued with all the flavoursome fat from the chickens— fattening they may be, but they are delicious.
Paella pans the size of bus wheels simmer away with a choice between seafood or viande — meat. A Lebanese family has arrived and sells falafel, hummus, and aubergine dips — a real revelation for our part of the woods.
Galettes de ble noir, light lacy buckwheat savoury pancakes (below), are now making an appearance — think of them as the French version of pizza. The galettes were once the staple bread of Brittany in France’s northwest, an area where the poor soils would not grow wheat.
Sarassin, the French name for buckwheat, would grow quickly between harvests — and could be ground-using hand mills, saving the farmer from paying to use larger village mills — and it became the staple starch of the area. Last century, with the advent of fertilisers to bolster the weak soil, buckwheat production almost died out in favour of wheat and potatoes, and Russia became France’s biggest supplier of the flour.
Lately though, with a need for provenance and a preference for organic buckwheat, Brittany has re-established the growing of this seed, and a new generation of fast food fans has embraced the humble galette de ble noir.
The galette batter is best left to stand for a while before being cooked. Galettes can be light and delicate or mixed with wheat flour to become more crepe-like.
Fillings run the gauntlet from cheese and ham with egg to chorizo, cheese and olives or, as is very popular in the markets of Brittany, galette saucisse, where a sausage is wrapped in a galette like a blanket — mustard and cheese optional — creating a French hot dog to rival any food-cart version!
Traditional galettes were cooked on large flat iron griddles in very large 28-30cm rounds. Use whatever frying pan you have and adjust the amount of batter you use accordingly. Get the recipe