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This month's recipe is from the The Loire-Atlantique, this is the name given to the Pays de la Loire’s coastal region and it really is an area well worth visiting for a relaxing holiday as it has something for everyone. It is here that the longest river in France, the Loire, ends its journey where it meets the Atlantic coast with its terrain of sand dunes and salt pans.

The area is in the north west of France from Guérande in the north to the Marais Poitevin in the south where it turns away from the Vallée des Rois, the land of châteaux, to face the sea. It is where the plains stretch into marshlands with estuaries inhabited by clouds of sea birds.

As the river Loire ends its long journey to the ocean, it passes through Nantes, the capital of the Loire-Atlantique. Nantes, a university town is situated 56kms from the sea and was once part of Brittany. Indeed some of the road signs to the north of this town have bilingual road signs of Breton-French and some people hope for the day when Nantes will once again have Breton status.

The coast of the Loire-Atlantique is a very popular holiday destination, drawing thousands of visitors during the summer months. Most of the holiday makers are the French themselves and I think this is part of the charm. The coastline has the most beautiful beaches with pale sandy stretches and contrasting coves where you can enjoy a wonderful family holiday. There are many beach activities and water sports here or you can enjoy the beautiful fishing ports with their beaches, wharfs and boats.

There are plenty of places to stay, from luxury hotels which have been converted from mansions or Châteaux with fine cuisine – and of course prices to match, to the more modern chain hotels. You will also find accommodation to suit everyone at http://www.frenchconnections.co.uk and at prices to suit most pockets. Personally we much prefer self catering as we enjoy eating out in the small French restaurants and bistros where we enjoy simple but good French cooking.

Being what some people call a ‘foodie’ (to me this is a silly term but you will know what I mean) I am simply in awe of the food from all the regions of France and this area is no exception. If you enjoy sea food, this is an area where you can dine like a king. Local fish and seafood is served throughout the region and is usually cooked quite simply and accompanied with a complementary sauce allowing the fresh flavours to come through.

Such foods you can savour are mussels, oysters, scallops, sardines, bream, eels, prawns, pike, perch, salmon and many more but they are in abundance and the freshest you will find anywhere. As well as these fish platters, the mild climate and fertile soil helps produce the most succulent fruit and vegetables and one of the vegetables grown along the Loire is the asparagus. Of course, washed down with a glass of Muscadet or Gros-Plant, the pleasure will be yours to enjoy. There are some outstanding chefs (some Michelin starred) and great restaurants throughout the region.

Muscadet is produced on the slopes of the Loire, in the vineyards of around 13,000 hectares where you may also sample the produce if you visit the cellars or enjoy the wine route on your holiday. If you do take a wine tour with the local award-winning viticulteurs, you will enjoy the experience of finding the perfect Muscadet for you.

If you also want to buy some of your own fresh produce, there are many fresh markets for all your needs and it is here that I spend time wandering around, enjoying their displays and choosing our foods for the next few days. The produce is simple, fresh, exhilarating and bursting with health and goodness, tasting absolutely fantastic and making your French holiday that little bit more special. I don’t know why it is but to me it tastes far better than produce I buy at home.

There are so many French dishes in this region, some of which you can see elsewhere in France but some which originate in the Loire-Atlantique. Of course the fish and seafood has to be good in this region as it is very much a fishing area with a sea-food platter of the freshest ingredients being on
the menus just about everywhere. You simply must try the sea-food here as nothing can describe the taste of a good fish soup or fresh sea-food platter other than to try it for yourself, they are all simply divine.

You will also see river fish served with a special sauce to accompany them such as the Sandre au Beurre Blanc or pike-perch served with the famous Loire speciality beurre blanc which is a butter sauce flavoured with shallots and wine vinegar. This is quite a simple sauce but when made well has the most wonderful creamy flavour and makes the dish very special.

Another fish dish is Alose à l’oseille which is grilled shad, something like a herring, which is accompanied with a creamy sorrel sauce. Of course the Friture de la Loire is often seen in restaurants - this is a mound of tiny freshwater fish which has been quickly fried and is served with a wedge of lemon.

There are many meat dishes here too of course with pork being a popular choice, sometimes served with prunes such as Noisettes de porc au pruneaux. This is again a simple but delicious dish made from pork loin stewed in Couray wine, served with prunes and a creamy sauce with redcurrant jelly and cream.

Other pork dishes include Rillettes du Mans, made from shredded and potted pork and served as a first course.

The Loire has many fine cheeses some made with goats milk such as the Crottins de Chavignol or the Sainte-Maure de Touraine. They are all delicious and together with some fresh tomatoes, a French baguette; certainly make up the best of picnics for your holiday lunches.

Some more traditional foods from the Loire include the famous Tarte Tatin, a caramelized upside down apple tart invented (some say quite by accident) by the Tatin sisters. You will find a recipe for this famous tart at www.french-recipes-to-love/tarte-tatin.html

The area is also famous for its crêpes and galettes especially the Galette de sarrisin or Buckwheat pancake. They are made with Buckwheat flour which is lighter than our normal flour, then mixed with egg and water to form a batter. When the pancakes are made they can be filled with such things as egg, cheese, ham or meat and sometimes vegetables as well. They are very filling and can make a meal in themselves. I think they were originally made before bread was a daily food and so helped fill a hungry family.

This month I will give you a recipe for this famous galette, using a savoury filling of eggs, cheese and ham. You will see for yourself how good they are so do try this one; it’s worth the effort and really is quite easy with a little practise.

The main cooking utensils you will need are either a pan for making pancakes or a griddle or a frying pan. Other than that you will need a whisk and bowls for the batter.

Galette de Sarrasin (Buckwheat Pancake)

Ingredients – Makes about 6 galettes

  • 250gm (8oz) buckwheat flour – if you can’t find this, you can buy it online or some supermarkets sell a mixture of buckwheat with rice and potato flour. You can use ordinary flour if all else fails!
  • 1 egg
  • ½ litre of water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Olive oil or any light vegetable oil for oiling your pan/griddle
  • For the filling
  • Grated cheese – enough for your liking but at least 2oz for each galette
  • Slices of ham – about 3 – 4 small slices per galette
  • One egg per galette

Method

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl.
Separate the yolk from the white of the egg, (keep the yolk as it will be mixed into the batter) and whisk the white until it is stiff.
Add the egg yolk to the flour and half of the water, mixing it well to a soft batter and then continue to mix in the rest of the water.
Mix the egg white into the batter and mix in well.
Cover and allow the batter to stand for about an hour.

To Make the Gallettes

Heat the griddle or pan over a medium heat, smearing a little oil over the surface.
Add about half a cup of batter on to the centre of the griddle, allowing it to spread over the entire surface.
As it it cooks, you will see tiny bubbles appear, after about one minute, gently take your spatula and slip it under the galette taking it underneath and across your galette to lift it so that it can be turned. You will now be able to see if it is beginning to brown underneath.
When it is ready to turn, flip it over with the spatula and crack an egg on to the surface of the galette. It will run across the top which is normal, then sprinkle some grated cheese over the surface and place slices of ham around the egg.
As it cooks, gently lift the sides of the galette with your spatula and fold into the centre. Do this so that you fold the sides, top and bottom into the centre rather like an envelope. Then flip the galette over and cook for about thirty seconds on the other side. It doesn’t matter if it is not perfect – mine never is!
The idea is to cook the galette so that it is lovely and crisp, yet the egg yolk remains runny.
You can now serve your galette with chopped herbs such as chives or parsley, or a green salad, or simply on its own.
I think this is a great recipe whatever time of day and very tasty too.
Bon appétit!

NB
If you would like more information and pictures of the stages when making this recipe, please go to www.french-recipes-to-love.com/buckwheat-pancake-recipe.html

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