A good rummage

Since moving to France last year Ian and I have taken to the art of brocanting with a vengeance. If you are not yet familiar with this French pastime, basically every weekend throughout spring and summer (as well as a few in the winter) there are literally thousands of flea markets held in villages and towns all over France. Aside from this however there are many permanent brocantes many of which are a combination of antiques and junk, but quite often after a good rummage there are bargains to be had…………. a stylists ‘Aladdin’s cave’

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace

Hours of pleasure can be had in amongst cracked plates, dust covered pans and piles of old sheets, napkins and tea towels and I have been known to whoop with glee and jump up and down at something that even the owner considers worthless!

A few minutes drive from us is the small and very pretty village of Bors de Montmoreau and at it’s heart is one of my favourite such places L’Incontournable Brocante or The Essential Brocante. It is a collection of out buildings and barns in the courtyard of a family home. A warren of small and large rooms packed to the rafters with everything from tables, chairs and cupboards to shelves of antique glassware, plates, objets d’art and paintings.

The owner Benoit Le Grelle is always on hand to offer his advice on his latest acquisitions and can often be found in his workshop repairing and renovating old pieces. ‘My favourite pieces are the old original pieces in need of some TLC from house sales that would otherwise end up as fire wood’ Benoit told me.

He has been sharing his love of the old at Brocante L’Incontournable for the last 6 years and although many of his customers are visiting English holidaymakers he also sells to a loyal following of French, British and Dutch locals. He tells me that he scours ‘vide maisons’ or house sales around the area for the majority of his pieces and has a particular love of old paintings, which you can tell by the amount he has pinned to every spare wall.

I usually pop over when I need plates or glasses for a shoot as he has a great selection of both at very reasonable prices, although occasionally we will buy something larger for the house or garden. On my most recent visit I was delighted when I uncovered a stack of pretty dessert plates, a few off cuts of lace and lovely little mother of pearl handled tea forks, which I will no doubt inspire some wonderful French fancies or desserts – new blog post to follow soon.

Benoit also has collected masses of fabulous galvanised pots that are perfect for garden planters and other non food related items and this time Ian found the perfect old ships bell for the front door. No longer will our visitors have to bang long and loud on the window, this toll of this old beauty can probably be heard in London!

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace

Wild about garlic

As the sun starts to warm the earth after the chilly winter months the countryside is abundant with new shoots and herbs. Amongst these you may well find wild garlic especially in the danker more sheltered spots in woods, forests and roadside verges or banks. A visit to Cornwall over Easter included an afternoon foraging and with the pungent aroma of garlic everywhere we returned to our guests house with a basketful of light green leaves. The leaves are perfect for pounding into a pesto like sauce and storing for later use in risottos, pasta dishes, breads or omelettes.

Back to the kitchen to pick through the leaves and remove any dirt or bugs and so cooking could begin in earnest.

Wild garlic leaves photo Ian Wallace
Wild garlic leaves photo Ian Wallace

Once washed you can blend the leaves into a puree and this can either be used immediately or will keep well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (recipe below). This versatile paste can be added to soups and stews or used as a sauce on poached eggs, stirred into scrambled eggs or a creamy risotto. Or add a few toasted and chopped pine nuts and grated Parmesan for a simple and delicious garlic pesto.

Wild garlic puree

Wild Garlic 2
Wild garlic puree Photo Ian Wallace

A large bunch wild garlic leaves, rinsed and dried

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Place the leaves in a food processor with a little oil and blend until smooth, adding enough oil to make a pesto like sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and use at once or store in the fridge in a sealed container. Use as required. This will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Smoked salmon poached egg and garlic toasts

Wild Garlic 1
Smoked salmon poached eggs and wild garlic photo Ian Wallace

Serves: 2

2 free-range eggs

2 slices wholemeal toast


100 g smoked salmon

2 tablespoons wild garlic puree


a few rocket leaves, to serve

Cook the eggs. Place a pan of water on to boil with a tablespoon of white vinegar added to it. Once simmering, swirl the water with a spoon and gently crack the eggs into the water. Simmer very gently for 3 minutes until cooked but still soft in the middle.

Meanwhile, spread the toast with butter and top with slices of smoked salmon. As soon as the eggs are cooked pop one onto each toast and spoon on the garlic puree. Sprinkle with black pepper and serve at once with a little rocket.

 Clam and panchetta linguine with wild garlic puree

Clam and panchetta linguine with wild garlic puree photo Ian Wallace

serves: 2

1 kg baby clams, scrubbed

a splash white wine

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

125 g pancetta, diced

1 small onion, finely chopped

grated zest and juice 1 lemon

a pinch red chilli flakes

2-4 tablespoons garlic puree

200 g linguine

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper

Place the clams in a large saucepan with a splash of wine and cook, covered, over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until all the shells have opened (discard any that remain closed). Drain the clams reserving the stock, passing the liquid trough a fine sieve to remove any grit, keep warm. Remove the clams from the shells if wished.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the pancetta for 3-4 minutes until browned, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce the heat and fry the onion, garlic, lemon zest, chilli flakes and a little pepper for 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the clams and garlic paste.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pan of lightly salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes until al dente. Drain well and return to the pan. Stir in the clam mixture, pancetta, a little of the reserved cooking liquid and parsley. Stir over the heat for a minute or so, taste and add a little lemon juice and salt if necessary. Serve at once with a little extra puree if wished.