Go Native in the Alps and Eat Like a Local

Posted 10-06-2015

Donkey Ears or Not - Oreilles D'Ane

Have you ever eaten donkeys’ ears? No? Well, neither had I until I moved to this part of the Southern French Alps, but don’t worry, it’s not what you think it is from the name. Donkeys’ ears (Oreilles d’Ane in French) are one of the specialities of the area, and can be found on all the menus boasting local products or “menu du terroir”.

Along with “tourtons”, “ravioles”, and “tarte aux myrtilles”, these staple peasant foods from the valleys of the Hautes-Alpes have to be part of the culinary backdrop to any activity holiday. As in many countries, it is often the local recipes, however simple, that are the tastiest and seem to fit perfectly with the climate and culture of a place. Once you have tried them, you will be wanting to take them home in your backpack.


So, what are these “Oreilles d’Ane” ? As you will have guessed, they have nothing to do with donkeys or ears. Vegetarians, don’t be put off by the name, there is not a whiff of meat about them. Rather like a delicious, creamy version of lasagne, made with wild spinach, layers of pasta or crepes, crème fraiche, and topped with cheese to make a gratin. They are a traditional recipe from the Champaur and Valgaudemar valleys, close to Gap, but can now be found on menus all around the area. If you like them, you can even find a frozen version in supermarkets here, made locally, to just pop in the oven for an easy meal that the whole family will love after a day hill walking or kayaking.

Here is the recipe if you want to make them yourself at home:

Oreilles D'Ane Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Pre-cooked lasagna, 
  • Fresh spinach or chard green (about 800 g), 
  • 1 onion, 
  • Fresh cream, 
  • Very light béchamel, 
  • Gruyère cheese
  • Salt, pepper (some people add nutmeg)
Cooking: 45 min / preparation: 15 min.

Cook the spinach and coarsely chop, season with salt and pepper and add a pot of cream. In a buttered dish, arrange a base of lasagna, a layer of spinach preparation, a layer of lasagna ... Finish with the lasagna, pour the béchamel and a little cream over the top. Sprinkle cheese over the top.

Bake in the oven (covered with aluminum foil) not too hot! 

Tourtons

You can’t visit the Hautes-Alpes without trying “tourtons”, little deep fried parcels of mashed potato, most delicious when warmed in the oven, and traditionally eaten with a fresh green salad from the garden, and with some of the delicious jambon cru you find at the market, or some fresh goats’ cheese. Variations on the filling now exist which are worth a try : potato and cheese, spinach, meat, and sweet versions like raspberry, apple purée. But the original is always the best, the plain potato version is hard to beat. There is even a “tourton restaurant” in Gap if you become a fan like me. You know you are becoming a local when you go to the market on Saturday morning in Gap and come home with tourtons for lunch every week.

Hand in hand with tourtons go “ravioles”, a variation of the potato/cheese combination that is the ultimate comfort food in so many countries. Difficult to describe, rather like small pointy-ended sausages, deep fried too and traditionally eaten by dipping in some of the local honey. A strange idea that works!

Tarte Aux Myrtilles

And for tea–time or as a picnic staple, the local “tarte aux myrtilles” again from the Champsaur and Valgaudemar valleys is a simple yet delicious sweet treat. Myrtilles are from the blueberry family and are abundant in the mountains of the Southern French Alps.

Locals stock up on this vitamin-rich picking every autumn and conserve it in jams and tarts to eat throughout the year.

A sweet pastry base covered in jam made with tart, flavour-packed berries from the mountains.

You can also find other mountain berries and local transformed into

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