Actually this bad boy is more usually made with Blette which is chard if you aren’t speaking French but if you can’t get that you can use Epinard which is Popeye’s best friend. In my experience it works well with both.
It’s called Pounti and is one of the absolute signature dishes of l’Auvergne region and in particular le Cantal. I give a recipe below. This is not a food blog so it is just my own favourite method and not cleverly photographed. For me, food is for sharing with those I care about so the food posts on my blog are just that – food for you to sample if you care to share. I was entirely put off by the description offered by a French friend who is a vegetarian which might explain her reluctance, when I first stumbled on it. However, I braved it in Salers a day or two before The Man with Two Brains morphed into The Husband with Two Brains and became rather wed to it before I was wed to him. Salers is one of ‘les plus beaux villages de France’ and as such is very much on the tourist map. It’s population is tiny (less than 350 permanent residents) but it positively teems in summer and the shops and eateries and drinkeries thrive. From Toussaint to Paques (November 1st to Easter) it is pretty well closed except for the boulangerie, boucherie and a couple of braveheart businesses. Medieval and with buildings, including the church, hewn from volcanic basalt it is certainly worth a visit but it is a fine example of a place that absolutely lights up in the sunshine and seems to don a rather gloomy shroud in less than clement weather.
This is not lightweight, fashionably clean-eating food. This is hale and hearty prop-up-the-workers in the harsh elements food. It’s a loaf and is generally served warm or cold. If you have it in a restaurant, it will be artfully cut or made as pert little individual cakes and served with a zingy salad often as a starter but also as a main at lunch. It is hefty enough not to require any starch on the side. At home, we served our first attempt two years ago cut into little squares as an appetiser with the appero at a lunch party. Our friends eyed it will a little apprehension but didn’t spit it out and as far as I could see didn’t hide it in their hankies nor handbags either. And we loved it and gave each other surrepticious self-contratulatory looks from across the room. As one does. The rest of that particular loaf (it was large and I have since invested in a smaller tin and halved the quantities for fear of onset Pounti-fatigue on day three) we sliced and took on a long and lovely hike the following day. Treating it as the Cantal equivalent of a super-succulent meatloaf, I suppose though my English reference point would have to be Pork Pie.
Now before I begin, I must warn you that the ingredients list looks odd. But hand on heart, it is really delicious. Think of it as that marriage that you secretly sneered to self would never EVER work and yet as the 2 in 3 fall like skittles by the wayside and prove the statisticians right, it glides effortlessly along with only the merest of bumps in it’s road and melds into the collective consciousness as a mysterious but undoubted triumph.
- 300g Chard (leaves only – use the stalks in a gratin or sautee) or spinach but in either case chopped fine
- 1 large or 2 smaller onions chopped equally fine
- A big bunch of parsley – about the size of a fat head of brocolli. This is much easier to find in France than elsewhere so feel free to play with other gentle flavoured herbs and use dried if you need to. Chop what you have fresh, you guessed it, fine
- 300g Sausagemeat
- 6 eggs given a light beating
- 300g flour. Traditionally it would be buckwheat but white flour is generally better behaved
- 1 teaspoon baking powder unless, of course your flour is self-raising though the comedy value of using both might be worth it for any idle onlookers
- ½ litre milk – mine is semi-skimmed (2%) but feel free to use your favourite – it won’t make any difference to the result. In fact some recipes call for a couple of dollops of creme-fraiche in addition to milk but I stop short of that addition
- 300g stoned prunes (stones removed not drugged for the avoidance of doubt)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
- Grease and flour a 2lb loaf tin or terrine. And line it too if you think your container needs it – I’m all for safety first
- If your prunes are the ready stoned, no soak variety you can now look self-righteous but if not, you need to stone them. My wandering mind now has visions of lining them up and hurling rocks at them. and set them to soak in warm water (or Armagnac if you feel extravagant)
- Once you have finished all that chopping, its a question of mixing all the greens and onions in with the sausagemeat. Squidging with your hands is really the best way and oddly satisfying though I’m not certain I should be admitting to that.
- Mix in the beaten egg and milk – alternating so it doesn’t get too slimey – this is another opportunity for some cheap comedy as getting it wrong can have the whole amorphous lump skating like Bambi on ice out of the bowl on a skid of raw egg
- Seive in the flour (and baking powder if using)
- Season with salt and pepper and add dried herbs if needed to replace or bolster the fresh parsley
- Turn half the mixture into the tin and cover with the pitted soaked prunes
- Cover with the rest of the mix and place in the centre of the pre-heated oven.
- Keep an eye on it – you may need to turn the oven back to 180C/350F/Gas 4 if it seems to be getting too brown too quickly
- Bake for a 45 minutes and then test with a skewer. If it comes out clean it’s done. It will probably need an hour in all
If you halve the quantities, you will need a 1lb tin. I know that sounds obvious and possibly even a trifle condescending but sometimes my meager brain needs a little nudging and though I am sure you are not so afflicted, I would not want to be responsible for any disaster. The baking time will drop by a third. If you choose to make individual loaves or little muffins, the baking time will drop to half.
PS: I remember being desperately disappointed a few years ago when I read that the original Iron Rating made for Spinach by German scientist Emil Von Wolf in 1870 was mistaken. His decimal point was misplaced leading to a caluculation ten times higher than it should have been. The mistake was not discovered until the 1930s. So although it is high in those essential folates, it is not actually any higher than any other green vegetable. Poor old Popeye – I wonder if it was the placebo effect.