Summer has well and truly settled in. Days are long, shops are closed and people have gotten out of town. It’s like the city has been shot with an elephant dart and is slowly hobbling to a complete stop. Our appetites seem to have gone on holidays too, along with our motivation to cook anything that involves chewing or cleaning up. Maybe they’re down the beach together somewhere having a great time and rolling around like burt and deborah in from here to eternity.
The markets have shrunk, which is nice if you like shorter queues but not so good if you’re trying your hand at this food blogging thing and are looking for inspiration and ingredients. Some of them stay open but most stallholders have packed up for the month and disappeared, leaving a sea of t-shirt and cheap beaded jewellery stands in their place.
Nevertheless, markets are always a good place to be. Even if we don’t buy anything it’s always cool to see what’s on offer week to week. As you’d expect, stone fruits are killing it atm, along with summer vegetables and cut flowers. Fewer crowds also means any stallholders that are still around have more time to answer our annoying questions. Our delightfully grumpy fishmonger, in fact, seemed pretty keen on having a grumble about la politesse and tourist season. So while we were enjoying the subdued market atmosphere, we took the opportunity to have a chat to him and some of our other favourite stallholders about market etiquette, aka How To Not Be An Annoying Twat When Shopping For Food In France. Here are some tips:
Enough with the selfies: as farmers, these guys are professionals and take what they do seriously. They are not a tourist attraction and they are not there so you can take photos for your instagram feed. And they certainly don’t want an unflattering photo of themselves appearing on your facebook profile. If you want to take a photo, ask. They will generally smile and say of course, especially if you buy something. And make sure you arent blocking the view for other passing potential customers.
Bio is better… the biologique (organic) movement is very big in france and there has been a proliferation of organic market stalls and supermarkets. To achieve bio accreditation, vendors and farmers are required to adhere to strict regulations relating to pretty much everything from pesticides to transport to packaging. There are hundereds of market stalls with brightly coloured displays all over paris but they are not all bio. Seek out ones that have bio accreditation signs to be sure.
but farmers are best: try to find the stalls that supply directly from farms rather than the dudes that just buy stuff from wholesale markets. While the stalls that offer a wide range of produce look very appealing, they are often not much more than a romanticised supermarket. Look closely at the signs and you will notice much is shipped in from spain, portugal, morocco or israel. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but dont be fooled into thinking you are eating local, or that it will taste much better than what you can get at your supermarket back home. Look for stands that sell a smaller range as this means they are more likely to be producing it themselves. This might mean you will have to go to multiple stalls to get what you need but if you have the time, it is well worth it.
Be flexible – Shopping at seasonal market means you are more than likely to be frustrated on occasion because you can’t find a specific ingredient week to week. We searched for samphire for over a month until we finally scored some. Now, there is so much of it we can’t stand the sight of it. Also, weirdly, did you know frogs have a season? Basically, don’t go to the markets thinking you will be able to tick everything off your list every time. Go with a rough idea of what you want and adapt your shopping to what’s on offer. Your mushroom risotto might become a pumpkin risotto, your broad bean soup might turn into green falafel. Roll with it. It’s more fun that way. And who knows, you might come home with something comepletely unexpected (not chlamydia you dirty, dirty scoundrel. You want that, go to montmartre).
Ask questions – as we said, these guys are proud of their produce. Ask them about it. More than likely they will enjoy telling you about it – where it comes from, how to cook it, why it is best right now. Let them know when you intend to eat what you are buying. Often they will ask, ‘will you be eating this peach today?’ and if you say yes they will choose the ripest one for you. If you want it for tomorrow or the day after, they will select accordingly.
Don’t be a dickhead – might sound like a no-brainer, but it really, really isn’t for a lot of people. It’s like some of us are genetically predisposed to become bogans on holiday. What is that? If you see a queue, don’t just barge in and start asking for stuff. It’s not some shitfight at the local dog races. It’s not ‘nam. There are rules. Wait your turn and the vendor will help you when you’re up. You know. That kind of thing.
So there you have it. Snippets of advice cobbled together from some of the warmest and most genuine people we’ve had the good fortune of meeting here (if you picture a group of french market sellers bellowing over each other about good manners that’s kind of what it looked like). Oh, and our dinner conundrum? Solved by late-season samphire. Here’s a dish that we hope captures the lazy feel of summer, tastes like seafood without all the prep, is light on a waning appetite and easy on our current aversion to cleaning up.
[quick side note: croxetti – and the related corzetti – come from the ligurian region of italy. According to the interweb the only difference is in the pictures stamped on the pasta, as they were traditionally used to display the family coat of arms. We also recently came across a corsican cottage cheese called brocciu. It is made the same way as ricotta (mixing whey and fresh milk), but from ewe’s milk. So if you are lactose intolerant, this one is for you. We liked it because it was a little bit salty, and when it is super fresh it’s all wobbly and delicious]. Ok. Now we’re really done.
2 cups samphire
1 garlic clove
handful of walnuts
1/2 cup brocciu
Thoroughly rinse the samphire and leave to soak in a large bowl of cold water. Blanch in a pot of unsalted boiling water for 2 minutes then drain and refresh under cold water. Gently dry toast the walnuts in a frypan and set aside.
Bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil and cook the croxetti until al dente.
While the croxetti is cooking, heat some oil in a frypan over a medium heat. Peel the garlic clove and crush it roughly with the flat side of a knife to open it up a bit. Gently fry to flavour the oil. When it has lightly browned all over, add the samphire and fry for a few more minutes or until the samphire turns bright green. Remove from heat and squeeze half a lemon over it all. Set the squeezed lemon aside for zesting later on. Take out the garlic and roughly blend the samphire in a food processor until you have a coarse pesto. There should be enough liquid for the pesto to be loose-ish, but if you feel like it’s too thick you can loosen with a bit of olive oil here.
When the croxetti is ready, turn off the heat, drain and return to the pan. Add a generous amount of pesto and stir to make sure it is well coated. To serve, crush and scatter the walnuts and crumble the brocciu over the top. Zest the squeezed lemon skin all over. Drizzle with a little olive oil. We used chive flowers as garnish but any kind of edible flower would be super pretty here.