The area is split between two fierce and proud peoples, the Basque and the Gascon. Sitting side by side with the Pyrenees as a backdrop the two’s culinary heritage could not be more different.
The Basque reflect their yearning for independence into their cuisine, red is the colour of the flag and a main colour of the food with the rare use of chili in French food. The “piment D’espelette even has its own festival in October. At home on the sea, the Basque were once great whale hunters, sadly too good. They now restrict themselves to tuna, swordfish, sardines and large quantities of anchovies. These are simply cooked with a traditional mix of red and green peppers, onions and peppers, flavoured with some chili.
Charcuterie is also prized, the world famous Jambon de Bayonne, France’s answer to Parma (I prefer it) but also less well known chorizo type sausages and others covered in ash or peppercorns. They do not stop there, going to preserve pork, anchovies and cod in salt.
Gascony is known in France for its’ “douceur de vie (sweetness of life). The fertile Garrone valley supplies the region with as wide variety of fruit and vegetable as you could want. A highlight are the prunes from Agen, fresh, dried or in any local spirits.
This is mostly a rural area, an abundance of small farms breed geese and ducks for the table and for the much debated foie gras industry. This is also soup country, one pot meals being de rigueur, soupe aux abats (giblet soup), Tourins (garlic and onion soup with duck neck) or the Garbure (a broth made of salt pork, chicken and seasonal vegetables).
At the other end of the spectrum Gascony has its black gold, the truffle, found by trained pigs, these now grace the best tables in the world. The best way to eat these is grated over a simple omelette.
Cheeses are a mixture of cow and goat milk, Bleu de Causse and Cabécou being great examples.
These areas are not renowned for their sweets but the Pastis gives an interesting hint at historic influences in the area. It has nothing to do with the drink, its origins are from the Middle Eastern Pastilla, in this guise it very fine pastry layered with apples and scented with orange water.
- Salade de confit de canard
- Confit of duck salad
- Chili fish soup
- Poulet Basquaise
- Chicken with peppers
- Pot au Feu
- Casseroled chicken with vegetables
- Apple pastry
- Galette aux Pruneaux
- Prune pie