French Summer Food

In part two of our four-part food series we visit France for a range of easy-to-make summer menus devised by chefs Raymond Blanc, John Burton Race and Alex Mackay. Here, Joanne Harris remembers her French childhood holidays and the food that made them special.
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

My grandfather had a house on the island of Noirmoutier, off the coast of Brittany, and our family used to go there every summer for weeks at a time.

My grandfather had a house on the island of Noirmoutier, off the coast of Brittany, and our family used to go there every summer for weeks at a time.

One of the chief pleasures of summer food in France is the availability of many wonderful ingredients, in season, locally produced, and used to maximum effect. I think a lot of English people tend to think of French food as complicated, fussy and difficult to prepare. This is completely wrong.

French food is essentially simple, regional and very diverse. There are still places where, if you know where to look, you can eat much as you would have done 100 years ago, and where maps are like menus, each town with its own very particular set of specialities. It's part of the holiday experience to try regional specialities wherever you go, and to enjoy a change from the usual routine.

During the holidays, no-one wants to spend all day in the kitchen. Most of the time I want to eat light, fresh, flavoursome dishes, and this is where the enormous variety of French salads come into their own. Warm goat's cheese salad, a typically Breton dish often served with fresh walnuts, is a

lovely for summer because it takes so little time to prepare. With its strong flavours and contrasting textures of creamy goat's cheese, crisp green leaves and slightly bitter walnuts, to me it epitomises that summer feeling. In Brittany it is often served with pancakes, not the sweet ones to which we are most accustomed, but thin, dark galettes of rye flour. It's almost picnic food.

If you want to try something a little more substantial, there's very little that can beat a really good seafood platter, with crab, oysters, langoustines, winkles and the fat pink prawns the French call "bouquet.". Be warned, though. This is not in any way "fast" food. It takes about five hours to finish this dish - including bread, wine, occasional romance and setting the world to rights. Meals in France, especially in summer, are very much a social occasion, and should not be rushed.

Finally, pudding. Most French people don't eat puddings very often, keeping them for birthdays or for special occasions, but when I was a child my grandmother would make clafoutis, a kind of pancake about an inch thick, made from batter and seasonal fruits. It doesn't rise. You cook it in the

same way as you would cook a baked omelette. I liked it best with sour cherries, where the tartness of the fruit complements what is otherwise quite a sweet, heavy cake. It's a terrific way to use those summer fruits - or to remind oneself, in the depths of winter, that, after all, the summer is only six months away.

Joanne Harris is author of The French Kitchen (co-author Fran Warde, Doubleday, £12.99).

Comments