Comfort food Auvergne recipe

Comfort Food – Recipes from the Deep Heart of France

Memories of great food

For me, the idea of “comfort food” evokes memories of cold, black winter nights when you huddle up with a good book and warm your hands around a bowl of Mom’s homemade macaroni and cheese. For Karen, it’s the steaming kettle of chicken and dumplings in her mother’s kitchen as the family gathered on a Sunday afternoon.  You might think of your grandmother's cookies, still soft as they come from the oven, or your dad's own recipe for stuffed jalapenos.  In the deep heart of France, though, it might mean something else altogether.

Comfort food Auvergne recipe
The Ambassade d'Auvergne in Paris serves up classic recipes from the Deep Heart of France

What "Comfort Food" Means in France

I’ve been surprised when I ask my French friends about their favorite comfort food to find that the concept doesn’t exactly translate well for most of them.  Their first response is almost always “what is ‘comfort food’”?  When pressed for a memory of a favorite meal at home or a food they turn to when they just want to feel better, most of them do produce an example or two – but I don’t ever have the feeling that the idea is as evocative or powerful as it is for me.

Still, when I look over the list of responses I’ve compiled over time from people who grew up in the Auvergne, there are several common foods that make up the absolute essentials of hearty French cuisine and that bring back specific memories of good times at home.  Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Cheese and potato dishes.  The comedian Jim Gaffigan has a bit where he describes all Tex-Mex fast food as being “exactly the same, but with the ingredients sorted differently”.  (A burrito is beans, cheese, and rice rolled up in a tortilla, while a chalupa is a flat tortilla covered in rice, beans, and cheese…)  Sometimes the same principle seems to apply to the most Auvergnat of all dishes:  anything made with cheese and potatoes.  The three main variants are:

Comfort food Auvergne recipe
Aligot is a featured side dish at the Ambassade d'Auvergne
  • Truffade (my personal favorite) – thinly sliced potatoes done in a skillet with a heavy layer of local Tome de Cantal cheese and bacon (pork lardons), sometimes with garlic and onions added.  Here’s a recipe for a traditional truffade – it’s easy to make and one good serving will have you feeling full all day long!
  • Aligot.  This time the potatoes are mashed and blended seamlessly with melted Cantal.  When we had aligot as the accompaniment to our lunch in the Ambassade d’Auvergne restaurant in Paris, the head waiter made a point of bringing out the whole pan to dig long, gooey strands of puree and show us how perfectly blended it was.
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  • Tartiflette.  To be honest, this is a dish more associated with the Alps in eastern France – but many of my Auvergnat friends love it too.  The ingredients start again with potatoes (in cubes) and lardons, but this time with reblochon or perhaps an aged brie for the cheese.  Here’s a wonderful recipe for this dish – perhaps you’ll be able to tell why one of my colleagues at the office covered his PC with decals saying “tartiflette” in several different fonts!

A stew for a winter's afternoon

Pot au feu (or Potée Auvergnate) is another great example of something that recalls fond memories among the people I asked about their favorite comfort food.

Comfort food Auvergne recipe
Pot au feu (photo Copyright © 2005 André, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s essentially a very hearty stew built around a chunk of salted pork PLUS bacon PLUS a few Toulouse sausages, with plenty of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and (sometimes) turnips floating in the broth.  You can find a recipe for this winter favorite here.

The humble lentil

Lentils – the tiny beans associated particularly with the area around Le Puy en Velay in southern Auvergne – are a staple in dozens of recipes.  Like a fine wine, the lentils du Puy have been granted their own designation of appellation d’origine controlee, and while the worst restaurant examples are gray, mushy and over-salted, there are many ways to use them that elevate them to the level of fine French cuisine.

Here are a couple of recipes for lentils du Puy – one for a version with carrots, celery and onions, livened up with a little Cognac, and another for a dish with roasted carrots and beets.   

Do you have a favorite “comfort food” you associate with life in France?  Please tell us what you like – or even share a great recipe if you have one – in the comments space below.  And while you’re here, please take a second to share this post with others by clicking on your preferred social-media button(s).  As always, thanks for reading!

Comfort food Auvergne recipe
Le Puy en Velay
Lou Messugo
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featuring travel writing about France

13 thoughts on “Comfort Food – Recipes from the Deep Heart of France

  1. Many years ago, maybe 10, we stayed overnight in La Chaisse Dieu, and were served with La Trufflade, just stunning! We felt we may not have been able to move the next morning… true heart of France. We were given the recipe with an almost reverence… real comfort food!

    1. Thank you for sharing this memory, Jane. La Chaise Dieu is one of my favorite little villages, too, and a great place to sample some of the best Auvergnate cooking. Thanks for writing!

  2. Thanks Richard, I’m glad that I read this after I had eaten my breakfast of porridge with a tablespoon of yoghurt double cream and fresh raspberries on top! One of my favourite comfort foods

    1. Thanks for your comment, Pete! Your comfort food sounds good to me, too. (I’ll confess that some of my own comfort foods are from the breakfast menu, too; getting used to the “light” French breakfasts was not easy at first, although I quickly came to love the classic baguette with butter and jam.)

  3. Richard, I continue to love your articles on the Auvergne and other regions of France. As to comfort food, couldn’t agree with you more on your list. I suppose the only thing I would add is a hearty quiche. There used to be a place opposite the cathedral in Clermont-Ferrand called “Temps du Thé” (now L’Instat-T”) that had some really good ones.

    1. Hi, Michael. It’s great to hear from you! I remember the place in Clermont-Ferrand, too — we liked the quiche as well. Thanks for writing!

    1. Hi, June. Thanks very much for your comment. We last had cassoulet on a cold February night in Sarlat-le-Caneda — and we couldn’t agree more that it’s the perfect way to stave off the chill. (Great with one of the peppery red wines from the area around Brive, too!)

  4. I love all those cheese and potato dishes, especially tartiflette. My son will be back from university after his first term away soon and he has requested raclette (more cheese and potatoes), clearly something he is missing! When I think of comfort food I think of chicken & leek pie or shepherds pie. Thanks for linking this hearty post to #AllAboutFrance, it’s nearly lunchtime and you’ve made me crave some warming potato and cheese…if only aligot was available around here!

    1. Thanks, Phoebe — it sounds like the post had its desired effect! I completely forgot to mention raclette – it should be on the list, too, although it’s not purely “Auvergnat”. Thanks for the re-tweet, too, and as always thank you for hosting the forum at #AllAboutFrance.

  5. I think comfort food has to have associations back to childhood. And my childhood associations with France include tomato salad, and steak and chips, but most of my comfort food is British, because it reminds me of my mum! #AllAboutFrance

    1. Thanks, Emily. I think you’re absolutely right – real comfort food goes back most often to what we knew as children!

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