For several summers running, I had rather a dreamy job which involved cooking whatever I wanted for a sweet family with a broad palate in the Southwest of France. Now, if you work in a restaurant, the bottom line is always in the front of your mind (or at least, your chef’s) and therefore your style can find itself rather cramped but other than occasional requests for potatoes (they were English after all) I could and did, mess about composing menus to my heart’s content.
The house was built out of what used to be the barn and the main house of a tiny hamlet and the wood and stone construction retained a rustic feel though the kitchen boasted 2 ovens (heaven!), a fridge which dispensed ice and a dishwasher as well as windows looking out over the sunset and sunrise sides of the house. When it was particularly hot, I could take off my sandals and cool my feet against the terracotta floor.
In the cool of the mornings, I jumped on the trampoline (I love tramps!) or rambled about with the dogs past other similarly picturesque houses, one of which sold rabbits and chickens that they raised and slaughtered.
On my days off, I occasionally visited charming towns like Rocamadour, of cheese fame, which is balanced extremely precariously on a cliff or I would stay and swim and join the family for lunch. C. not only taught me how to make Pytt-i-panna but also introduced me to Pissaladiere, the French version of pizza, said to have been brought to France by the Romans in the 1300s.
Though my French didn’t improve much, I did learn that pain au chocolat in the south are called chocolatines and if you order the former, you’ll be considered a no-good Northerner (or, more likely, a tourist). If you’re ever around those parts, try it – you might get a smile.
Do you know any dialect food words?
This is definitely a not for the faint-hearted, it’s very sweet and very salty. I’ve taken some liberties with it, but I served it to a Frenchman and he seemed to approve.
NB: I got an email from C. who says she adds a bit of sugar and water to the onions at the end, as well as a layer of tomato paste under them.
1 sheet of puff pastry
6 medium onions
6 tablespoons olive oil
A jar of anchovies
About 6 Kalamata olives
A beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of water
Slice the onions as thinly as possible. To avoid tears, I put them in the freezer for about half an hour first.
Heat a frypan over medium heat and add the olive oil.
Add the onions and leave to fry for about 10 minutes without stirring unless they start to burn, in which case, turn it down a little.
When the bottom is dark golden brown, stir the onions, lower heat to medium low and cover.
Cook for 15 minutes or until jammy.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius (395 fahrenheit) and pit and slice the olives.
If you buy the pastry in a block, roll it out to a rectangle of about 25 x 35 cm otherwise just unroll it from the paper, and place onto a sheet of baking paper and then a baking tray.
Gently score a rectangle 1 cm smaller than the size of the pastry and arrange the onion jam inside.
Criss-cross the anchovies diagonally across the onions and dot an olive in each diamond.
Brush the border lightly with egg wash and bake until the sides and the bottom are golden, about 15 minutes (this is important – have a look underneath with a fish slice or something or it won’t be crisp).
Serve with a green salad.